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The Watercooler: five talking points from the weekend’s football

Paul Ring rakes over a busy weekend of football action throughout Europe.

Image: Sergio Torres/AP/Press Association Images

United built from the back

Manchester United remain unbeaten atop of the Premier League after another draw away to Tottenham yesterday.

The Red Devils continue to grind their way to a record-breaking 19th English title. It would be a success built on defence where Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have been imperious.

The Serb has justifiable claims to be the finest central defender in the world while England captain Ferdinand is back to his Rolls-Royce best after a crippling back injury.

They have needed to be. United’s attack,  or lack of it was on show again at White Hart Lane. While Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney have shown glimpses of a productive partnership, the absence of Paul Scholes in midfield has left the front two short of any penetrative service.

The comparison between Luka Modric and United’s middle yesterday was not a favourable one for Fergie’s men.

Grab the popcorn and watch Real

It is beyond question that as far as La Liga goes, Barcelona are the purists’ side. But Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid are building something and it’s a hell of a lot of fun watching them do it.

Real have welcomed back Kaka from nearly 10 months out and Jose has to find room for the €56m man. He didn’t manage it at Almeria where Karim Benzema replaced the Brazilian early in the second-half.

Mourinho drew universal praise last season for devising a system for Inter Milan that eventually saw the Italians crowned European champions. It was one primarily based on defence.

It is fascinating then, to watch the Special One try to mould a cohesive unit out of renegade attackers like Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil. He didn’t manage it at Almeria where a 1-1 draw could prove very costly in the pursuit of Barcelona.

Hooper proving worth to Celts

Life has never been ordinary around Celtic manager Neill Lennon. Bullets in the post and touchline bans have been the latest headlines accompanying the  Irishman. He must be thankful then for the reliability of top scorer Gary Hooper.

It was feared that Hooper would be out for a considerable amount of time after suffering a serious leg injury three weeks ago but he returned to lead the line and score at Hibernian on Saturday.

The former Scunthorpe man has now scored 10 times in 11 appearances in the SPL and his continued fitness is fast becoming essential to any Hoop aspirations to regaining the title.

Leonardo reigniting Inter

The previously stumbling world champions have rediscovered their mojo under former AC Milan manager Leonardo. His record since taking over from Rafa Benitez is played four, won four. The latest success came at the expense of Bologna. The nerazzurri were comfortable 4-1 winners.

Benitez came under fire while at Inter for his training methods and his lack of any real relationship with the likes of club captain Javier Zanetti. His public questioning of club owner Massimo Moratti’s lack of investment is not a mistake likely to be made by the more reticent Leonardo.

Should the Brazilian lead Inter to another unlikely Scudetto than Moratti will loosen the purse strings for him in the summer.

Bayern continue to struggle

The 2010 champions league finalists drew 1-1 with Wolfsburg last week. That result leaves the German champions a staggering 16 points behind table-toppers Broussia Dortmund.

Louis Van Gaal’s side suffered a similar slump in form last December before a spring surge brought silverware. That does not look likely this year.

Van Gaal suffered subtle criticism from Franz Beckenbauer last week over his decision to make young goalkeeper Thomas Kraft his number 1. Writing in Bild, the German legend said:

”It would have been wiser if Louis van Gaal had talked about such an important issue with those in charge at Bayern beforehand.”

Van Gaal must hope his faith in the young keeper is vindicated and that Bayern move up the league before more serious questions are asked.

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Paul Ring

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