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Five talking points in European football this weekend

The football season goes on in Europe but continues to be shrouded in uncertainty due to the coronavirus outbreak, with games in Italy being played behind closed doors and Paris Saint-Germain having their match postponed. Meanwhile, there was another twist in the title race in Spain.

AFP Sport looks back at the main talking points from the weekend:

Ronaldo greets invisible fans in ‘surreal’ Serie A 

Cristiano Ronaldo greeted and did high-fives with imaginary fans as he got off the bus before Juventus beat Serie A title rivals Inter 2-0 in a match which would normally have been played out before a capacity crowd in their Allianz Stadium.

On this occasion the ground was eerily empty, as a surreal atmosphere surrounded one of the highlights of an Italian season thrown into chaos due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s very difficult to pretend that nothing is happening,” said Inter coach Antonio Conte amid calls that the league season be put on hold.

Juventus reclaimed top spot from Lazio, leaving Inter nine points adrift in third.

Madrid return initiative to Barcelona 

Zinedine Zidane called Real Madrid’s 2-1 defeat by Real Betis on Sunday their “worst performance of the season” and it came at a bad time, just as his team were looking to kick on after their victory in the Clasico.

After beating Barcelona, Madrid handed the initiative straight back to their title rivals, whose own stuttering 1-0 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday means they are now two points clear atop La Liga.

For Madrid, it was an opportunity squandered to build some momentum, particularly with the daunting Champions League second leg against Manchester City fast-approaching.

Their chances of overturning a 2-1 loss at home already looked remote but without form or confidence, Madrid appear even less likely to pull off a comeback in Manchester.

Joao Felix impresses, but Atletico draw again 

Atletico Madrid warmed up for their Champions League last 16, second leg in Liverpool with a 2-2 draw against Sevilla as Diego Simeone’s side missed the chance to move back into La Liga’s top four.

An Alvaro Morata penalty and a Joao Felix goal—his second in three games capping an impressive display from the 126 million-euro ($144m) winger—had Atletico on course for victory only for a Lucas Ocampos penalty to earn Sevilla a draw that keeps them third and leaves Simeone’s men fifth.

Atletico are nevertheless unbeaten in six outings and head to Anfield defending a 1-0 first-leg lead.

Dortmund emerge as Bayern’s true challengers 

After Borussia Dortmund’s hard-fought 2-1 victory at Borussia Moenchengladbach, captain Mats Hummels said his team had found the right balance of “artists” and “workers” to go far in the Bundesliga and the Champions League.

While former league leaders RB Leipzig have fallen back after dropping eight points in six games, Dortmund’s weekend win pushed them into second, four points behind Bayern Munich, helped by the January additions of Erling Braut Haaland and Emre Can.

Haaland has already scored 12 goals since arriving from Salzburg but he didn’t find the net on Saturday, instead setting up Thorgan Hazard for his team’s opener. Can again played a key role in midfield, and Lucien Favre’s team head to Paris for a huge Champions League game fresh from five straight wins.

PSG denied dress rehearsal 

Paris Saint-Germain headed to Strasbourg eager for a dress rehearsal ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 second leg against Dortmund. However, the game was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak in eastern France.

The announcement of the postponement came after the PSG delegation had already set off for Strasbourg, meaning they were forced to turn around again after a brief stop for dinner.

Thomas Tuchel’s team need to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit against Dortmund to qualify for the quarter-finals. Wednesday’s game will be played behind closed doors due to the outbreak.

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