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Chelsea undone by mature Spurs, Juve's in-game changes, Messi magic

The one major question mark left in the Premier League season -- other than relegation -- was effectively answered when Tottenham won 3-1 at Chelsea to tighten their grip on fourth place. Chelsea, in fifth, are eight points back with seven games left and trail Liverpool, who have played one more game, by 10. It's not impossible that the reigning champions claim a Champions League place, but it's hugely unlikely.

The game turned in a most classic way: A goal just before half-time. Chelsea scored first and might have added another, which would have changed the complexion of the match. Instead, they were felled by a superb goal from Christian Eriksen, who somehow struck his long-range effort with power and topspin, making it dip beneath Willy Caballero's cross bar. It left the home players and fans deflated, after which Spurs patiently picked Chelsea off in the second half, netting twice through Dele Alli.

It was not Antonio Conte's final act as manager at Stamford Bridge. He promises to fight on -- although always with the caveat of how difficult everything seems to be -- and there's an FA Cup semifinal to come. But, in practical terms, it means Chelsea can prepare for the future knowing there won't be Champions League football and that their budget will be smaller as a result.

As for Tottenham, it's easy to forget they were playing without their best attacking player (Harry Kane came on as a second-half substitute when the score was already 3-1) and their best defender (who knows when we'll see Toby Alderweireld again?). But Mauricio Pochettino's side showed patience and maturity, evidence of their growth.

The result gave Spurs their first league win at Chelsea since 1990, but perhaps the starkest contrast from Sunday's display was with their trip to Stamford Bridge two seasons ago. That night, they relinquished a 2-0 lead before succumbing amid scuffles and hissy fits. Ten of the players who turned out on Sunday played in that May 2016 game.

Juventus boosted by Allegri's tactical tweaks

We may never know whether Max Allegri would have opted for a safety-first 3-5-2 vs. Milan if Napoli had not dropped points earlier in the day. What we do know is that at first it nearly blew up in his face, but also after getting Juve into a (relative) mess, he made bold changes to get them out of it.

Paulo Dybala put them ahead early against a Milan side that had not lost in Serie A since before Christmas. But Rino Gattuso's low growl pushed the visitors into the ascendancy and they equalized through Leo Bonucci -- yes, you can be sure he had a thing or two to get off his chest in the celebration -- then hit the woodwork via Hakan Calhanoglu and generally looked in control.

Dybala had to retreat all the way back to touch the ball and Gonzalo Higuain remained a lonely figure high up the pitch as Milan's Franck Kessie monstered the midfield. In response, Allegri turned to wingers Douglas Costa and Juan Cuadrado; the 3-5-2 became a 4-2-3-1 -- effectively, a 4-2-4 -- and, in the space of eight late minutes, goals from Cuadrado and Sami Khedira sealed victory.

It wasn't a great performance -- wheel out those first 45 minutes against Real Madrid and they will get thumped -- but it was typical Juve: Maximum result with minimum effort, thanks to fixing what needed to be fixed. The gap at the top is back to four points which, perhaps, is even bigger psychologically than practically.

As for Milan, they showed that not just can they hang, but they can get the better of a Champions League quarterfinalist away from home, at least for a time. And that's saying something.

Pluses and minuses for Sevilla and Barcelona

Lionel Messi's late goal means that Barcelona remain unbeaten in La Liga this season.

Lionel Messi was rested and Sergio Busquets was unavailable, but otherwise it was the strongest possible Barcelona team that Ernesto Valverde sent out at the Sanchez Pizjuan against Vincenzo Montella's Sevilla. And that should be cause for concern because, for much of the game, it was one-way traffic from the home side.

Sevilla could have been 3-0 up at half-time -- Luis Muriel and Joaquin Correa missed with good chances -- but they got a goal either side of the break nonetheless and looked firmly in control at 2-0. But Messi came on at the hour mark and business picked up for Barca, who then hit the woodwork twice by way of a preamble to Luis Suarez's goal and, 90 seconds later, Messi's equalizer.

Montella and Co. were left stunned and shocked but should remember that -- just ahead of their Champions League clash vs. Bayern -- they can hammer one of the best teams in Europe. Messi might have denied them on Saturday, and it's true that Bayern can hurt you in different ways, but they have nobody who offers the psychological and qualitative lift that he gives.

As for Barcelona, three things are clear. One is that the Messi-dependency isn't some evil plot cooked up in Madrid. Another is that Busquets is the second-most difficult player to replace; without him, opponents can take the game to them and force the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Paulinho onto the back foot.

Finally, Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti may be the best defensive partnership in the world on paper, but this is not a good period for them (and Umtiti struggled on international duty as well). Having the second-best defensive record in La Liga is irrelevant in a one-off game: If Barca are going to make a serious run at winning the Champions League, they need to kick it up several notches.

Bayern find form, send a warning

I had wondered if, perhaps, all was not well at Bayern. They had won 17 and drawn one of 18 games ahead of defeat at RB Leipzig just before the international break but hadn't always played well. Jupp Heynckes' continued rotation of players and mixing and matching of personnel had often made them look disjointed and lacking chemistry.

Given their massive lead at the top of the Bundesliga, maybe it understandably hard to find motivation other than, perhaps, competition for places. Even in the Champions League against Besiktas, they found themselves with a man advantage early in the first leg and exploited it brilliantly.

So maybe the Leipzig game was a sign of things to come? Maybe Borussia Dortmund and the hype of Der Klassiker might bring Bayern back to earth. Nope! Evidently I was wrong, or Dortmund are so poor and so under-strength that they weren't going to be a test for anyone.

Bayern tore Dortmund apart early, scoring three times within 23 minutes on their way to a 6-0 win, which could have been twice that. Whether the Leipzig game was a wake-up call or Bayern simply figured it's time to get serious, Saturday only served to reiterate the gulf between them and the rest of the German top flight.

Mbappe inspires PSG's first trophy

With Neymar convalescing in Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain's "other" summer signing carried them in the French League Cup final. Kylian Mbappe won a penalty and set up two goals against his old club Monaco in a 3-0 win; after an excellent performance with France vs. Russia, it seems the teenager is hitting stride at the right time.

Maybe more impressive than Mbappe's 19 goals this season are his 16 assists. Part of it obviously is playing with Neymar and Edinson Cavani, but a lot of it is simply being a clever, talented and, most importantly, team-oriented young man.

The win wrapped up PSG's fifth straight League Cup and was the first leg in what is likely to be a domestic treble. Whatever happens to Unai Emery -- no, you don't expect him to stick around -- it's worth remembering that just three teams have beaten PSG in the past 11 months: Strasbourg, Bayern and Real Madrid (twice). They're not that far away from where they want to be.

Man City are in top form

Possession is one of those stats that, on its own, doesn't tell you much. However, when taken in context, it says plenty about how the team played. Against Everton at Goodison Park, Manchester City ended up with 82.1 percent of the ball, the highest-ever total recorded for an away side in the Premier League. (And that's despite them scoring three goals in the first half which, you'd think, would dampen things a little.)

Such numbers speak to Everton's absolute futility in terms of keeping the ball and winning it back, but it also sends a signal ahead of City's Champions League tie with Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool. Pep Guardiola's players are playing exactly how he wants and, at this stage, are about as fine-tuned as possible.

Bale provides Zidane a selection headache

Zinedine Zidane is evidently taking the Juventus tie very seriously, given his starting XI at Las Palmas was devoid of Dani Carvajal, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos, Isco and Cristiano Ronaldo. That Real Madrid still rolled to a 3-0 win showed the gulf in class over a team that have won just twice in the past four months and are sliding towards relegation, but also that how understudies are firing on all cylinders.

While it may feel strange to think of Gareth Bale in such a role, it's pretty evident that Zidane has his untouchables -- and near untouchables -- and he's not one of them. But the Welsh forward scored twice, which took his seasonal total to 14 goals in all competitions and reminded everyone that Zidane has something of a headache in terms of team selection vs. Juve.

Mourinho's key players impress

OK, so the critics will say it was "only Swansea" and that's fine. But Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United's starting lineup after 26 days and picked up where he'd left off on international duty with France, turning in one of his better performances of the season. Moreover, Alexis Sanchez also played well and Romelu Lukaku scored his 100th Premier League goal.

It's the nature of United -- and perhaps Jose Mourinho -- that, unless they're in first place, some degree of controversy and turmoil will be swirling around. But what Mourinho definitely does not need is aggravation surrounding the aforementioned three players. For better or worse, together with Eric Bailly, Nemanja Matic and David De Gea, that's his backbone for the foreseeable future. Now he must file in the bits around them.

Napoli won't give up

A 1-1 draw at Sassuolo was a crushing psychological blow to Napoli's title hopes and the critics seem convinced they won't recover from it. They created plenty of chances, but Lorenzo Insigne's aim was wayward and Arkadiusz Milik's dramatic overhead kick only hit the crossbar.

The gap with Juventus is four points and that's huge. But it's not insurmountable; folks have been expecting Napoli to fold all season long and, time and again, they haven't, bouncing back repeatedly. They also still have to play Juve. Granted, it's away and the Juventus stadium is a forbidding place, but Maurizio Sarri's men can bring the deficit back to a single point in 90 minutes of football.

Beyond that April 22 showdown, there are seven other games in which Napoli can make up the other point. So, while the odds are against them, this is no time to give up or give in. They owe it to themselves, and you have the sneaking suspicion that their manager won't allow them to throw in the towel just yet.

Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.


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