Football Features

A 33-year trophy wait ends plus other stats & stories you might have missed around Europe this weekend

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 11:23, 5 April 2021

In what has been a unique season of domestic action we are now entering the final stretch.

‘Squeaky-bum time’ as once coined by Sir Alex Ferguson is well and truly upon us, meaning every game from here on out holds significant importance in determining eventual champions, European spots and leaving top division football altogether.

Given so much is happening across Europe it’s only natural if an important event slips by your attention. But don’t worry, Squawka is here, with nine things you might have missed across the weekend.

1. Champion-elect?

Since the mid-2010s there’s been one undisputed champion of France with Paris Saint-Germain winning seven of the previous eight Ligue 1 titles. Monaco — speared by teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe — had the audacity to disrupt PSG’s monopoly in 2017, but they and the rest were subsequently put down. However it’s fair to say the Parisians are currently facing their biggest challenge since Les Monegasques dethroned them.

With seven matches remaining, no fewer than five points separate the four top clubs. Leading the way is five-time French champions Lille — last winning the title in 2010/11 when they had Idrissa Gueye, Yohan Cabaye, Eden Hazard and Gervinho on their books — who after 31 matches have accumulated 66 points which is their highest tally at this stage of the competition since three points were awarded for a win. More so, of the 26 previous teams who registered at least this number with the exact number of games played, 21 have gone on to be crowned champions.

2. Unstoppable machine

Just when it seems PSG’s grip on France’s championship seems to be slipping, the same cannot be said in Germany where Bayern Munich continue to rule with an iron fist. As things currently stand their lead atop the Bundesliga table is seven points with seven matches left to play. However, coming up with a strategy to stop the Bavarian giants isn’t exclusive for coaches up and down Germany’s top division, their continental counterparts are also having a similar problem.

By finding the net against nearest challengers RB Leipzig — Leon Goretzka’s 38th-minute strike ultimately deciding the top-of-the-table clash — last time out, the reigning European champions have now scored in 62 consecutive matches across all competitions, which just so happens to be the longest streak put together by a team in the history of German professional football.

3. Struggling to get the job done

The honeymoon period had long been over and questions were already being raised about Tottenham’s character under Jose Mourinho following another disappointing Premier League performance. On paper it shouldn’t have been a complicated affair when facing relegation-threatened Newcastle United at St James’ Park, but football rarely adheres to convention.

Joelinton, who has been struggling in front of goal all season, gave the Magpies a surprise lead before Harry Kane’s quick-fire brace restored a semblance of normality. England’s leading marksman has now netted at least five goals at five different Premier League away grounds — King Power, Selhurst Park, Goodison Park, St Mary’s and St James’ — a feat matched only by his Three Lions predecessors Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.

But those strikes were not enough to secure the win as an 85th-minute Joe Willock finish earned Steve Bruce’s men a much-needed point which also ensured Spurs have now failed to win six league games this season in which they’ve led at half-time. The most of any side. Their 15 points dropped from winning position, though, is only behind Fulham (16), Brighton (17) and Southampton (18).

When asked whether  holding onto a lead was something he was so good at doing, Mourinho replied: “same coach, different players”. It will be fascinating to see if he’s leading the Lilywhites out next season especially as they could miss out on Champions League football with Liverpool, West Ham and potentially Everton breathing down their neck for that final place currently occupied by Chelsea.

4. Home discomforts

Going back to PSG for a minute. Since their acquisition by Qatar Sports Investments (QSi) early last decade, we have not been used to seeing them struggle this much at the Parc des Princes where they’ve already dropped 17 points this season. Making up the bulk of those setbacks are five defeats which is one fewer than what PSG have suffered at home in eight previous seasons combined. A narrow 0-1 loss against title rivals Lille means it’s now three consecutive Ligue 1 home defeats, which is their longest such run since 2007 when they also suffered three losses on the bounce.

5. Welcoming Rom

It’s often said leaving Manchester United is resigning yourself to obscurity, there are of course exceptions (see Gerard Pique, Cristiano Ronaldo and even Paul Pogba, before his ballyhoo return), but that all depends on swapping Old Trafford for the right environment. Inter Milan and Romelu Lukaku were made for each other, or should that be Antonio Conte and the aforementioned Belgian marksman, who reportedly was close to linking up with the Italian tactician at former stomping ground Chelsea, though instead opted for Mourinho’s revamped Red Devils.

Deemed surplus to requirements by Mourinho’s successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the 27-year-old striker is going from strength to strength in Italy’s top division. His strike at Bologna, ensuring a 0-1 win, helped Inter register a ninth league win on the bounce, something they haven’t produced since 2007 when the Nerazzurri set the all-time Serie A consecutive winning record of 17 matches. That said, Lukaku is now the seventh Inter player in history to net 20+ goals in back-to-back Serie A campaigns. He joins Giuseppe Meazza, Amedeo Amadei, Roberto Boninsegna, Mauro Icardi, Stefano Nyers and Christian Vieri in that exclusive group.

6. Statement win 

Reports of Liverpool’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. That was the conclusion most reached after they produced their biggest margin of victory away from home in a league game against Arsenal at the weekend. That result also saw them register successive Premier League wins as they chase a top four finish. On hand was talismanic figure Mohamed Salah, who personally ended a five-game scoring drought.

This latest strike was also historic as the ‘Egyptian King’ netted his 50th away goal for Liverpool in all competitions. Only record goalscorer Ian Rush reached this feat in fewer appearances. Salah’s latest Emirates visit was away-day appearance number 93, while the former Reds ‘number nine’ brought up that half century in one fewer game.

7. Raging Bull

There are very few derbies more one-sided than Juventus against Torino (Derby della Mole) at least in modern times. Before their most recent meeting Il Toro had won just one of their previous 29 league encounters against the Old Lady, a 2-1 success in April 2015, and there was also the fact Juve left 10 of their last 11 visits to Torino with all three points. Even though it’s not been a vintage Bianconeri season very few expected anything less than a win for Andrea Pirlo’s men.

It wasn’t to be as Paraguayan striker Antonio Sanabria etched his name into the history books. Cristiano Ronaldo ultimately rescued a point for the visitors as the game ended in a 2-2 stalemate but Sanabria’s brace saw him become the first Torino player since Marco Ferrante in 2000 to score more than one goal against their city rivals. His efforts doubled his tally for the season to four goals, though it leaves him seven behind strike partner Andrea Belotti who, as expected, is the club’s leading goalscorer.

8. La Liga’s most productive

Being simultaneously prolific and unselfish is a skill unto itself. Very few players can master this feat and we know this by looking at the numbers this season. After netting a brace, as well as creating another goal, in Celta Vigo’s comfortable 1-3 win at Alaves their ‘number 10’ Iago Aspas became only the fourth player to register double figures when it comes to goals and assists across Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues.

He joins Harry Kane (19G + 13A), Bruno Fernandes (16G + 11A) and Thomas Muller (10G + 15A), meaning Aspas is the first to produce these numbers in La Liga an incredible accomplishment when you consider Lionel Messi is still plying his trade. The record Ballon d’Or recipient though isn’t far behind as he’s only two assists away from making this incredible list.

9. If at first you don’t succeed…

La Liga action wasn’t the only domestic football dominating Spanish eyes this weekend as Seville hosted last season’s Copa del Rey final between Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad, with both clubs last tasting success in this competition over three decades ago. Sociedad were the most recent winners, lifting their second title in 1987, whilst Bilbao took home the honours three years prior. It was expected to be a close encounter and that prediction came true as it was ultimately decided by a 63rd-minute Mikel Oyarzabal penalty.

This long wait for silverware undoubtedly set the city of San Sebastian into raptures and even manager Imanol Alguacil even got into the act by breaking into song during his post-match press conference. As for the losers they don’t have to wait long before getting another chance to end their long wait. Athletic, who are second on the all-time winners last, face record holders Barcelona in this season’s showpiece event on April 17th, cementing 2021 as the year of two Copa del Rey finals.