DPA/PA Images Exequiel Palacios celebrates.
# Review
World Cup winner blows Bundesliga title race wide open
Exequiel Palacios struck twice from the spot as Bayer Leverkusen beat Bayern Munich.

Updated at 22.50

ARGENTINA’S WORLD Cup winner Exequiel Palacios struck twice from the spot as Bayer Leverkusen blew the Bundesliga title race wide open with a shock 2-1 win over Bayern Munich on Sunday.

With a little help from VAR, Leverkusen came from behind to hand coach Xabi Alonso a famous win on his first reunion with former club Bayern and keep the champions from regaining top spot.

Bayern are now a point behind leaders Borussia Dortmund, with the two sides set to meet in the next round of games on 1 April.

“We are not in the position we hoped to be in going into that game,” Bayern forward Thomas Mueller told Dazn.

“We deserved to lose today. Leverkusen had more bite to them and were very good against the ball,” he added.

The champions survived an early chance from Jeremie Frimpong before taking the lead themselves when Odilon Kossounou deflected a Joshua Kimmich shot into his own net.

The hosts continued to cause Bayern problems, however, and they fully deserved their equaliser from the penalty spot on 55 minutes.

Amine Adli was initially booked for diving after he was clipped by Benjamin Pavard, but the decision was reversed by VAR and Palacios converted from the spot.

The same scene repeated itself 20 minutes later as Adli was brought down by Dayot Upamecano just inside the penalty area.

Once again, he was booked for diving, and once again, Palacios smashed the ball into the bottom corner after the intervention of VAR.

The win also kept Leverkusen afloat in the race for Europe, with Alonso’s side now just three points adrift of sixth.

- Union bounce back -

Elsewhere, Union Berlin gave their Champions League hopes a boost as a rare goal from Rani Khedira helped them to a 2-0 win over Bundesliga top-six rivals Eintracht Frankfurt.

Khedira — the brother of 2014 World Cup winner Sami — stabbed in the opener to score only his seventh goal in 194 Bundesliga appearances and lift Union back into third place.

“It’s also my first goal for Union so I am very happy,” Khedira told Dazn. “Today was much more about mentality than about tactics.”

Both sides came into the game on five-game winless runs and trying to bounce back after being dumped out of European competition in midweek.

Frankfurt had the lion’s share of the chances in the first half as Union reverted to their trademark counter-attacking style.

Randal Kolo Muani grazed the woodwork three times with headers, while Daichi Kamada forced a smart save from in-form Union keeper Frederik Ronnow.

Yet the hosts struck first, as Khedira stabbed the ball home from close range after Frankfurt failed to clear a corner.

Sheraldo Becker nutmegged Frankfurt keeper Kevin Trapp to find the net again for Union on 69 minutes, but the strike was ruled out for offside.

Trapp was left blushing when he again let the ball through his legs a few minutes later to allow Kevin Behrens to double the lead.

Union — unbeaten in 18 straight home games in the league — are three points ahead of RB Leipzig in third.

In Serie A, Filip Kostic continued Juventus’ push towards Serie A’s European places with the only goal in Sunday’s 1-0 win at Inter Milan, a result which also meant Napoli had extended their lead to 19 points with a 4-0 thrashing of Torino.

Serbia winger Kostic rifled home the winner 22 minutes into an underwhelming encounter at the San Siro, his third league goal of the season enraging Inter who couldn’t believe it wasn’t ruled out for an Adrien Rabiot handball.

VAR officials took several minutes to confirm Kostic’s strike, allowing seventh-placed Juve to move up to 41 points, seven from the Champions League positions.

Massimiliano Allegri’s side are hoping their 15-point penalty for illicit transfer activity is overturned as that would put them second, a position now occupied by Lazio who won a tense Rome derby 1-0.

Inter have been wildly inconsistent all season and their ninth loss of the campaign came against a Juve team missing a host of injured or unfit players.

Napoli now only need 15 more points to guarantee the league title, even if Lazio win all of their remaining 11 matches. Without the deduction, Juve would still trail Napoli by 15 points.

The only negative for Juve was that Federico Chiesa limped off with seven minutes remaining after coming on as a substitute midway through the second half.

- Napoli march on -

Victor Osimhen took his league-leading goal tally to 21 with two towering headers with Khvicha Kvaratskhelia scoring a 35th-minute penalty in a simple win for champions-elect Napoli at Torino.

Kvaratskhelia also laid on Tanguy Ndombele’s first Serie A goal in the 68th minute following great hold-up play from Osimhen as Napoli took another step towards a first league title since 1990 in front of an army of fans in Turin.

“No one deserves this more than the Napoli fans… I’m really happy to put a smile on their faces,” Osimhen told DAZN.

It seems only a matter of time before Napoli seal a historic Scudetto, one which will follow a campaign of breathtaking football that has Osimhen convinced they can also win the Champions League.

Once Kvaratskhelia rolled in his 14th goal of the season, Torino offered up no resistance. They dropped down to 11th, level on 37 points with Bologna and ninth-placed Fiorentina, who won their seventh straight match in all competitions 1-0 over Lecce.

- Lazio’s derby delight -

Lazio are Napoli’s closest challengers thanks to Mattia Zaccagni’s 65th-minute winner which ensured his team did the double over 10-man Roma.

A typically fiery derby clash was prefaced by tensions between supporters and police and a Lazio fan display quoting William Shakespeare’s play Henry V.

But the on-pitch spectacle left a lot to be desired, especially after Roger Ibanez saw red in the 32nd minute for two daft tackles.

That was the first of what would end up being five red cards, each team having a staff member sent off near half-time before Roma’s Bryan Cristante and Lazio’s Adam Marusic were also dismissed following a post-match scuffle.

Roma were denied a leveller seconds after Zaccagni put Lazio ahead, Nicolo Casale’s own goal ruled out after Chris Smalling had strayed offside to the dismay of their fans and the delight of Lazio’s.

“It’s a great win which allows us to look at the coming matches with more enthusiasm. It’s as good as it gets,” said Zaccagni after climbing into the stands to celebrate with supporters.

Fifth-placed Roma missed the chance to move into the top four positions. They stay a point behind AC Milan who lost 3-1 at Udinese on Saturday night.

In France, Paris Saint-Germain’s march towards another Ligue 1 title was slowed on Sunday as they went down 2-0 at home to Rennes, a result that allowed Marseille to close the gap on the leaders to seven points with 10 games remaining.

Kylian Mbappe had an effort disallowed for offside before Karl Toko-Ekambi put Rennes in front with a magnificent strike right on half-time.

Arnaud Kalimuendo made it 2-0 three minutes after the restart against his former club, as PSG — faced with a defensive injury crisis — slumped to a first home league defeat of the campaign.

It is the Parisians’ fourth Ligue 1 loss this season, all of them in 2023, and the second time they have been beaten by Rennes. They also lost when the teams last met in Brittany in January.

Marseille responded by winning 2-1 away to Reims later, with Alexis Sanchez scoring twice.

“A defeat is always upsetting. Obviously, I can’t be happy with the way the match went but in the context, with the number of players we had out, we knew we were going to have difficult moments in defence,” said PSG coach Christophe Galtier.

PSG only have a ninth Ligue 1 title in 11 seasons left to play for after being knocked out of the Champions League in the last 16 by Bayern Munich.

Galtier has insisted that the prospect of what would be a French record 11th top-flight title is sufficient motivation for his team, but their performance indicated otherwise.

“The objective is to win the league. Will this defeat mean the board will consider my future? Maybe. But everything needs to be put into context,” Galtier added when asked about his position.

“There are no excuses but there are reasons for it.”

The result allowed Rennes to reclaim fifth place from Lille in the fight for European qualification.

“To beat Paris twice in the same season says something about us. If we are capable of taking six points out of six against such a team, it means we have progress to make so we can do that in 90 percent of our matches,” said Rennes coach Bruno Genesio.

 - Defence decimated -

PSG have been severely hampered by injuries, with Neymar recovering from ankle surgery and their defence decimated.

Achraf Hakimi, Presnel Kimpembe, Marquinhos, Sergio Ramos and Nordi Mukiele were all sidelined, leaving an almost unrecognisable back line featuring 17-year-old El Chadaille Bitshiabu.

PSG have usually been able to rely on their attack for inspiration but Mbappe could not add to his 19 league goals this season and Lionel Messi was denied by veteran Rennes goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, who was in fine form.

Cameroon international Toko-Ekambi, brought up in Paris as a PSG fan, opened the scoring with an emphatic finish past goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma after latching onto a long ball forward.

The home side were left facing an uphill struggle as they conceded again just after the interval, with Lesley Ugochukwu’s low centre being turned in by Kalimuendo.

 - Sanchez double -

It was a seventh Ligue 1 goal of the campaign for the 21-year-old, who joined Rennes last summer from PSG after the capital club decided not to keep the forward who had performed well on loan at Lens last season.

Marseille moved back above Lens, who beat bottom side Angers 3-0 on Saturday, by coming from behind to end Reims’ long unbeaten run.

Reims had not lost a Ligue 1 game under 30-year-old Belgian-born English coach Will Still, their unbeaten run stretching back 19 games to September.

They went ahead early on when on-loan Arsenal striker Folarin Balogun scored his 17th league goal this season.

However, Sanchez equalised soon after from a free-kick and then struck what proved to be the winner before the half-hour mark.

Fourth-placed Monaco won 2-0 at Ajaccio as Wissam Ben Yedder scored his 17th league goal this season and Krepin Diatta also netted.

Nice lost ground in the race for Europe but are now unbeaten in 13 games since Didier Digard was named coach in January after a 1-1 draw at home to Lorient.

There were also wins for Strasbourg and Montpellier.

– © AFP 2023

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