Football Features

Six things you might have missed from Europe’s top five leagues this weekend

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 12:47, 21 December 2020

As we draw nearer to 2021 it’s worth a glance across to continent to see how Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues are shaping up.

Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 all have non-defending champions heading up their championship tables whilst Bayern Munich and Liverpool appear to be continuing from where they left off last term.

This most recent weekend is the penultimate round before ringing in the new year for some top divisions and it proved to be a significant one in terms of history-making and record-equalling feats.


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1. Blink and you missed it

The old adage ‘start as you mean to go on’ was perfectly encapsulated at Sassuolo’s home ground on Sunday afternoon. Mere seconds after referee Maurizio Mariani blew the first whistle, the visitors AC Milan were celebrating the breakthrough goal. It was a surreal moment as Stefano Pioli’s men rushed onwards from kick-off like a NFL team and that play was rewarded in the most sensational way. Hakan Çalhanoğlu, who has become one of the Rossoneri’s chief creators, fed the ball to centre-forward Rafael Leão — filling in for the absent Zlatan Ibrahimović — and his buried effort was timed at six seconds.

An astonishing record was subsequently created; not only was this the fastest timed goal in Serie A history, but there hasn’t been a quicker strike across Europe’s big five leagues. Leão and his teammates couldn’t believe what they created and this proved the perfect platform for them to go on a register ninth league win of the season (Alexis Saelemaekers doubled Milan’s lead before an 89th-minute Domenico Berardi strike made it a respectable 1-2 scoreline) thus keeping them firmly atop of Italy’s top division with one game, against Lazio at home, before the winter break.

2. Leo’s unthinkable achievement

We are starting to run out of words to describe Lionel Messi, even in what seems to be an average season, Barcelona’s ‘number 10′ continues to write history. His latest feat, which came in their lethargic 2-2 draw with Valencia, was no doubt a longevity achievement and did not even seem remotely possible for decades.

By heading the ball past goalkeeper Jaume Doménech, immediately after a missed penalty, the Argentine playmaker brought up his 643th goal for Barcelona, meaning Messi equalled Pele’ single-club scoring record for Santos. Expect it to exclusively belong to Messi very soon and from then how many strikes will he finish on before ultimately hanging up his boots? Also does that mean we will have to wait another five decades before Messi is matched?

Lionel Messi’s Football Index value: £4.71 (Sell) £5.01 (Buy)

3. C’est Magnifique!

If you asked Memphis Depay in the summer where he’d be playing his football now the uber-confident Dutchman would be thinking Barcelona where former Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman, whom he was reinvigorated under at international level, is now calling the shots. A dream transfer never transpired — although it could be rekindled — but that disappointment never brought Depay down. Instead the former Manchester United forward is playing out of his skin as Lyon seek to end Paris Saint-Germain’s iron grip on the Ligue 1 championship.

Across his opening 16 league outings Depay netted eight times, including a hat-trick on the opening week against Dijon, whilst creating four goals. Last time out against Nice he registered a goal in consecutive matches but this effort couldn’t have been more outrageous. No one can accuse Depay of lacking courage, though sometimes it goes too far, but on the spot the 26-year-old produced a delicious chipped penalty (aka panenka). L’Incroyable indeed.

Memphis Depay’s Football Index value: £1.32 (Sell) £1.50 (Buy)


4. The substituted substitute

There’s no greater humiliation than being taken off after coming on in a football game. It’s a rare occurrence and we’ve seen it happen plenty of times down the years and most recently as Bayern Munich came from a goal behind to beat Bayer Leverkusen sending them top of the Bundesliga going into the Christmas break for only the first time in two years. Robert Lewandowski, who just can’t stop banging in those goals, stole all the headlines, much to Leroy Sane’s delight.

The former Manchester City winger had started on the bench and would be thrust into action just after 30 minutes were played. His time out there only lasted 32 minutes as manager Hansi Flick decided to introduce teenage midfielder Jamal Musiala as the Bavarians chased a winner. Sane clearly wasn’t amused at the decision but has subsequently admitted he’s not quite there yet in a Bayern jersey.

“The substitution came as a surprise to me at first – I didn’t know it like that. But that also happens once,” he told Bild. “I feel the full trust of the team and I’m totally at ease with FC Bayern. I am my biggest critic myself and know how to classify the fact that I was not able to use my capabilities recently. But that will change. I will do everything I can to repay the club’s trust in me.”

But this could be part of a larger picture as Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge went on to explain. “Leroy was not happy [to be taken off], that’s clear and understandable. God gave him incredible talents. I only believe one thing: he has not yet reached this FC Bayern gene,” he told SPORT1.

5. Sharing the load

Just when everyone thought Liverpool would struggle to defend their championship they reminded their rivals, and neutrals, why Jurgen Klopp’s machine is first among equals in England’s top tier. Crystal Palace, to put it politely, were ripped apart as the Reds ran out 0-7 winners at Selhurst Park which as it turns out was the first time in their illustrious history they had registered a top-flight away win by a margin of seven goals.

Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah (who made 33 minute cameo off the bench) helped themselves to a brace. Sadio Mane, Takumi Minamino and skipper Jordan Henderson also got on the scoresheet but even more impressive were the identities of the assist-makers. Each goal was created by a different Liverpool player — Mane, Firmino, Andrew Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Salah, Joel Matip and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) meaning for the first time in Premier League history there had been as many assist providers for a team in a match.

Mohamed Salah’s Football Index value: £1.81 (Sell) £2.05 (Buy)

6. Sivori’s successor

Much like his rival in Barcelona, nothing Cristiano Ronaldo does these days amazes as much as it should. He, like Messi, is unquestionably a once-in-a-lifetime player. After conquering the Premier League he became Real Madrid’s all-time leading goal scorer before making Serie A his latest playground. Juventus, who truthfully signed him to once again become European champions (which they haven’t been called since 1996), are something else with him at Andrea Pirlo’s disposal.

Ronaldo netted twice as Juve picked up a 0-4 win at Lazio, it leaves him two clear of Romelu Lukaku in the race for this season’s Serie A Golden Boot, though from a historic perspective he became the first Serie A player this century — and fourth in history — to register at least 33 goals in a calendar year. An incredible feat that was last accomplished 59 years ago. The last man to manage this was legendary Juve forward Omar Sivori (33 in 1961). Ahead of Ronaldo and Sivori are Gunnar Nordahl (36 in 1950) and Felice Borel (41 in 1933).

With one league game remaining this year, Juve welcome struggling Fiorentina to Turin. While you can see Ronaldo surpassing Sivori’s hau,l getting close to Nordahl will be a tough ask. Then again, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Football Index value: £2.69 (Sell) £2.87 (Buy)