Football Features

Ansu’s return and the Maldini Legacy – 10 things you might have missed in Europe this weekend

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:24, 27 September 2021

This weekend saw plenty of action from around Europe’s top five leagues outside the Premier League.

We had tearful goodbyes, joyous returns, missed penalties, a rampaging goalscorer not named Lewandowski and a truly incredible upset. Here’s a quick round-up of 10 things you might have missed from this weekend’s European action!

1. The Golden Child brings the sunshine back to Barcelona

Barcelona have been in a pretty dark place this season, especially the last couple weeks. No Messi, no good football, no wins even as they drew with Granada and Cadiz while barely looking capable of scoring.

Things were different against Levante; two early goals had given them a relatively solid platform but when Ansu Fati came on with 10 minutes to go, everything kicked up a gear. Within a few minutes he’d beaten a man and had a shot blocked, then he beat a man and should have won a penalty but for VAR’s strange absence, and then finally, as the match rolled into stoppage time – Ansu scored.

The goal itself was nice, too, as Ansu linked with Memphis Depay, burrowed his way through a defender and then just let fly from the edge of the box. It was a quick shot that wrongfooted the goalkeeper to fly in; the kind of shot (and goal) that Barcelona don’t do enough of.

Ansu has that goalscorer’s edge; a potent mentality that allows him to handle pressure and expectation (he was wearing the no. 10 shirt for goodness sake!) with the greatest of ease. He is Barcelona’s Golden Child, and he brought sunshine and hope back to Barcelona.

2. Lewandowski DOESN’T score

Borussia Dortmund couldn’t do it. RB Leipzig couldn’t do it. Barcelona couldn’t do it. Robert Lewandowski scored against all three, and many others, on his way to a frankly ludicrous 19-game scoring streak. And since Bayern wins follow his goals, you could understand Greuther Furth’s trepidation ahead of this weekend – but they need not have worried!

Not about Bayern winning. Of course they still won. But for the first time since February against Hertha, despite taking three shots on the night, Robert Lewandowski played a game for Bayern Munich without scoring.

3. Atleti fall to lowly Alaves

Atlético Madrid’s title defence hasn’t exactly started off on the surest of footing. They needed the luckiest of last second goals to avoid defeat to Villarreal and were held by Athletic Bilbao. But those are decent sides at least. However they just lost to Alavés.

Alavés, for context, were bottom of the table having lost all five of their games so far this season. They had 0 points and they managed to pull off a huge win against the defending champions! As cool as that is for them, it has unfortunate implications for Atleti ahead of their big showdowns with AC Milan and Barcelona.

4. The Maldini Legacy continues

Cesare Maldini played 412 times for AC Milan, winning four Scudetti and the 1963 European Cup.

Paolo Maldini played 902 times for AC Milan, winning seven Scudetti and five European Cups.

Not much of a legacy for 19 year-old Daniel Maldini to live up to, then! He had already watched elder brother Christian fail to make the grade at the San Siro, but Daniel was always thought to be different. He had already made a dozen or so cameo appearances but made his first start against Spezia at the weekend and, hey, wouldn’t you know it? He scored! The legacy goes on.

5. Villarreal warm up for United by cooling off Madrid

Villarreal knew that they’d have one hell of a task on their hands when they drew Manchester United in the Champions League. In addition to being a talented team out for revenge for the 2021 Europa League final, Unai Emery wouldn’t have wanted to be the first Villarreal manager to lose to them (all four previous Champions League matches between the sides have ended 0-0).

Just as well, then, that they faced the high-powered Real Madrid at the weekend. Los Blancos play in a similarly uncomplicated but devastating fashion to United and Villarreal were able to outmanouver and outplay them for vast stretches of the game. Of course they drew, instead of winning, but that was even more ideal preparation for their trip to Old Trafford on Wednesday.

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6. El Tigre has Rayo in the hunt

When Barcelona signed Luuk de Jong, it was justified because on deadline day, for free, who else are you going to be able to get? Well, how about Radamel Falcao? The colossal Colombian joined Rayo for a free around the same time De Jong popped up in Catalunya, casting them into competition for this season.

And while De Jong has been… y’know, he’s been alright. Falcao has been electric. A pulsating presence in the final third who already has three goals in three games, three very different strikes. A thundering drive, a literal last second winning goal in the San Mamés with his head, and then on his first start a neat near-post finish.

Rayo are currently fifth, only four points behind league leaders Real Madrid. El Tigre has Rayo in the hunt!

7. Streich’s tears: Freiburg say goodbye in style

After 68 years, Freiburg said goodbye to the Dreisamstadion. The move to their new ground being delayed allowed fans to come back and bid a fond farewell to the old place. And Freiburg said goodbye with a dominant 3-0 win over Ausburg.

The scenes after the final whistle were incredible, with manager Christian Streich taking the megaphone to talk to the fans and then, along with the players, sit in the middle of the pitch and shed tears as the fans serenaded them withs songs.

8. Chaos at the San Siro!

When Lautaro Martinez volleyed Inter into the lead against Atalanta at the San Siro, many would have expected Simone Inzaghi’s men to pick up a big home win. Instead we got an absolute firecracker of a game. Ruslan Malinovskyi equalised with an absolute thunderbolt and then later created a go-ahead goal for the visitors when another firecracker from range was too hot for Samir Handanovic and Toloi scored.

The second half saw not let-up as Lautaro missed from a few yards out before Dzeko tapped hom a rebound from close range. Then with a chance to win it from the spot, new signing Federico Di Marco thundered his spot-kick against the bar! Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli later beat Cagliari 2-0 to extend their lead atop the standings to four points.

9. No Haaland No Party

For the first time this season, Erling Haaland missed a match through injury. And without him Dortmund were so toothless that they failed to score against Marco Rose’s old side Borussia Monchengladbach, falling to a 1-0 defeat. Now Rose has to hope that Haaland will be back before too long because it’s clear that the side can’t function without his talismanic goalscoring.

10. Gueye thunders PSG to eight straight

PSG aren’t playing well right now. Mauricio Pochettino is having trouble integrated Leo Messi as well as keeping Kylian Mbappé and Neymar on good terms. However as much as he has struggled in terms of performanes, the results have come like clockwork.

This week they made it eight straight victories by beating Montpellier, although the game was far from straightforward as they missed a host of chances and had to be settled by a stunning strike from the edge of the box by the least likely scorer: Idrissa Gueye. That goal allowed PSG to hold an advantage until Julian Draxler could wrap things up in the 89th minute.