Talking points from European football this weekend


Paris (AFP) – Kobe Bryant’s death sent fans from the football world into mourning, while new Barcelona boss Quique Setien is already under pressure following his side’s dismal La Liga defeat at Valencia and Erling Braut Haaland continues to thrill.

AFP Sport looks at four things we learned from a busy weekend of European football.

Kobe Bryant’s death rocks football

The death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash on Sunday sent shockwaves around the world and caused an outpouring of grief among sportspeople, including some of football’s leading lights.

Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku paid tribute to the five-time NBA champion, who spent large chunks of his childhood in Italy, calling Bryant his “biggest sports idol”.

“Your work ethic and mentality inspired me so much from as soon I understood what it took to become a pro,” the Belgium forward wrote on Instagram.

Brazilian superstar Neymar meanwhile honoured Bryant live on TV after scoring both goals in a 2-0 win at Lille that put Paris Saint-Germain 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1.

The world’s most expensive player slotted home the 52nd-minute penalty that put PSG two goals up and went over to the television cameras by the side of the Stade Pierre Mauroy pitch to make the number 24 with his fingers in honour of Bryant’s shirt number.

“It’s deeply saddening for the world of sport and for all of us,” said Neymar to Canal+ after the game.

“Not just for basketball fans, but for everything he did for sport.”

Setien under early pressure

Barcelona’s decision to sack Ernesto Valverde mid-season and appoint Quique Setien is already being questioned after the La Liga champions were beaten 2-0 by a rampant Valencia on Saturday.

Defeat cost Barca top spot as Real Madrid took advantage by beating Real Valladolid 1-0 on Sunday, with the pressure now on Setien to deliver a response.

His team were dominant but ponderous in possession and when Valencia did manage to steal the ball, they looked far more dangerous.

It is the first time Madrid have finished a round of matches top of the pile since October and it remains to be seen if Barcelona can wrestle back the momentum that now appears to be with Zinedine Zidane’s side.

Madrid’s scrappy win looked like the stuff of champions and gives them a cushion ahead of next weekend’s city derby against stumbling Atletico Madrid.

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