Football Features

“Romelu rolls over Ronaldo’s record” – 10 things you might have missed in Europe’s top five leagues this weekend

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:45, 3 January 2021

It’s been an incredible weekend of action across Europe’s top five leagues.

Here are 10 things you might have missed from around the continent.

1. Barcelona’s foul finishing

Barcelona absolutely dominated their game away to Huesca, they were much the better side, and yet the last 10 minutes were intense and full of pressure as the Blaugrana were clinging onto their lead. They managed to do it in the end, but how did it get to be so bad?

Barcelona had 20 shots, 7 on target, and yet they scored just once. Against Eibar a few days ago they had 16 shots, 5 on target yet scored just the once against Eibar. Before that they hammered Valencia, raining down 25 shots but even with 9 on target they scored just twice.

In two of those games, Barcelona dropped massive home points and they only just squeaked out the win against Eibar despite their excellent football. This is a disturbing pattern for Ronald Koeman, that his players cannot seem to finish the chances they create.

Even the great Leo Messi cannot make the difference in the way that he used to, and it’s this lack of goalscoring that will ultimately prevent the Blaugrana from mounting a serious title challenge and will even make them finishing top four potentially tricky. How can they address it? Ideally they’d dip into the transfer market, but who could they afford? Is Memphis Depay really the answer? Tricky times ahead.

2. Bayern bulldoze their way to victory

At half-time against Mainz, Bayern Munich were 0-2 down. The Bavarians had been hit with two suckerpunches and the possibility that they wouldn’t regain the Bundesliga top spot from RB Leipzig seemed to be very real.

Then they put their foot down and smashed Mainz in the second-half. Powered by Joshua Kimmich in a sensational return to form, Bayern absolutely bulldozed their visitors. 10 minutes into the half and Bayern were already level thanks to a Kimmich goal and assist, and then by the time the final whistle blew they had knocked five in and were utterly commanding.

This is Bayern’s martial excellence and why they are such a formidable side to contain. Even if you rush them and take the lead, their ability to create goals seemingly at will means that they will always have a chance no matter the game situation.

3. Shocking Schalke’s annus horribilis

Schalke are closing in on two absolutely horrible yet historic milestones. The Bundesliga side last won a domestic match in 17 January 2020. That’s right, they have gone almost an entire calendar year without winning a game. In fact they play Frankfurt away on the 17th this year so could even mark the occasion with a loss (or celebrate in incredible fashion with a streak-busting goal).

However before that they face Hoffenheim at home and here’s where it gets dicey, because if Schalke don’t win that match they will equal the longest ever winless run in German top-flight history, a 31-match run of misery set by Tasmania Berlin in the mid-1960’s. This has been a truly horrible year for Schalke, and you wonder how much longer the misery can continue?

4. Lethal Lautaro

Lautaro Martinez had gone eight games without a goal for Inter, a run that stretched back into November. But after scoring against Verona, the Argentine started 2021 with a bang as his thundered in a hat-trick to lift Inter to a huge win against Crotone.

The visitors actually took the lead at San Siro but a Lautaro pulled Inter level and even after Crotone’s equaliser, Lautaro scored again to put Inter ahead for the third and final time and he then bagged his hat-trick later.

Lautaro’s treble showed his range of skills, with his first goal seeing him run in behind and finish firmly, his second being a calm and composed finish with his weaker left-foot and his final goal showed his great instincts as he appeared in the right spot to head home a rebound, completing a perfect hat-trick and putting himself back into the kind of form that makes him a dangerous prospect as Inter will look to mount a title challenge against city rivals Milan.

5. Romelu rolls over Ronaldo’s record

Romelu Lukaku has scored 50 goals for Inter Milan. That is a phenomenal achievement but it’s made even more impressive by the fact that he did it faster than Ronaldo. Yes, Ronaldo. El Fenomeno scored his first half-century for Inter in 77 games, a total Lukaku has beaten as his goal today saw him reach the milestone in just 70 games.

Even more impressive was the way in which he took the goal in classic Lukaku fashion, starting with his back to goal and then rolling the defender to score. A goal that, as it turns out, is a product of great coaching. Lukaku recently told France Football how “for the first three months at Inter, Conte did nothing but train me with my back to the goal. At each training, he would put [Andrea] Ranocchia behind me and asked him to go hard against me. Every time I lost the ball, we had to start the drill again.”

All that brutal training has clearly improved his technique given the ease with which he can roll his defenders now. It’s become his signature move; Hitchcock with the dolly zoom… Rembrandt using chiaroscuro… Lukaku rolling his defender.

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6. Luis Suárez’s last laugh

Atlético Madrid looked like they had thrown away a win away to Alavés, conceding an 84th minute equaliser, only for Luis Suárez to pop up with a 90th minute winner. His ninth goal of the season, drawing him level atop the Pichichi standings with 9 goals, ahead of both Leo Messi and Karim Benzema.

Suárez has more goals than Antoine Griezmann, Martin Braithwaite and Ousmane Dembélé do combined and it looks like the Uruguayan’s ability to bag late goals out of half-chances is going to power Atlético Madrid to a La Liga title (they’re two points clear and have two games in-hand) so after being cast out of his dream club in this summer it looks like he’ll have the last laugh.

7. Jadon Sancho has still got it

Perhaps frustrated by managerial uncertainty behind the scenes, or perhaps unsettled by his failed move to Manchester United, Jadon Sancho hadn’t been himself this season. The Englishman had gone 16 games without a goal and looked to have lost a step.

Then in stoppage time against Wolfsburg he picked up the ball inside his own half and started running. Dortmund were breaking from a corner and Sancho ran confidently, turned a defender inside out and then finished confidently.

Don’t let his struggles in front of goal far fool you, Jadon Sancho has still got it.

8. The Lucas Vázquez season

There’s been many candidates to be the protagonist of Real Madrid’s season so far, but with the exception of the seemingly ageless Luka Modric the most enigmatic performer for Los Blancos this season has been Lucas Vázquez.

The winger has been a near-constant inclusion this season, often at full-back covering for Dani Carvajal, but today he started on the wing even though Eden Hazard was fit again. And he rewarded Zinedine Zidane with a goal and assist in Madrid’s 2-0 win over Celta Vigo. More than any player, the hard-working and cross-happy Lucas Vázquez exemplifies Zidane’s Real Madrid; a mentally powerful workhorse.

9. All square in Seville

The Seville derby is one of the most epic on the continent with legendary atmospheres every time. So it was quite fitting that the derby without fans was a disappointing 1-1 draw where two goals at the start of the second-half cancelled each other out. The result meant that Sevilla fail to leap into the top four, but the bigger issue is dropping winnable points ahead of two massive games against Real Sociedad and Atlético Madrid coming up in the next 10 days for the Andalucians. How good are Sevilla? Find out in two weeks.

10. Milan are bound for glory

Playing an hour with 10 men away from home without your best midfielder (Ismael Bennacer) and best player (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) should not end in victory, and yet Stefano Pioli’s Milan picked up their third-straight win, 0-2 against Benevento, to keep their place atop the Serie A standings.

It’s incredible to see how bristling with energy and drive the Rossoneri are given how long they’ve been in the wilderness, and although Inter are just one point behind them, the kind of mental strength Milan have shown and the fact that they are still unbeaten means they have to be favourites to win their first title for a decade.