Football Features

10 things you might have missed around Europe this weekend

By Ben Green

Published: 10:09, 12 May 2021

It was another busy and drama-fuelled weekend across Europe as the 2020/21 finishing line comes into view.

There were more titles wrapped up to join Inter Milan sealing an ever-elusive Scudetto and a familiar Eredivisie trophy for Ajax last weekend.

In second tiers there was heartache, ecstasy and a relieved Wayne Rooney to remind us all why we love football so much.

And the permutations for relegation, Champions League qualification and title races have altered quite drastically in some divisions.

So, what were some of the main events you may have missed around Europe this weekend.

1. Derby delight

You couldn’t take your eyes off it for one second. The three-way race for Championship survival between Rotherham United, Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday had more twists and turns than Brian Clough had one-liners, and the East Midlands immortal would have been delighted with the outcome.

For 90 minutes Derby and Sheff Wed traded leather in a slugfest that culminated in both sides scoring three goals; throughout the match, the Championship table resembled a scene out of Wacky Races, with all three clubs trading places for the coveted 21st position, but none of the clubs seemed eager to consolidate the spot.

In the end the 3-3 draw at Pride Park would have been enough to send both Rooney’s Rams and Darren Moore’s Owls down were it not for an 88th-minute Cardiff equaliser against Rotherham, with Marlon Pack cancelling out Lewis Wing’s opener and sparing the blushes of the Man Utd legend.

The play-off spots were already determined, as were the two automatic promotion places, but this relegation battle more than made up for the lack of drama at the summit, reminding us all of the emotional rollercoaster that is, being a football fan; spare a thought for some spiritually-drained Owls and Millers.

2. Ivan Toney makes Championship scoring history

The Brentford scouting network has proven resourceful and exceptionally fruitful in recent years, plucking the likes of Neal Maupay, Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma and Ezri Konsa from relative obscurity and transforming them into Premier League heavy hitters, with each player making the jump since 2019/20.

Having lost Watkins and Benrahma last summer, Thomas Frank’s reliable goal-getter and creative talisman, the Bees refused to falter and feel sorry for themselves; instead they identified a number of targets that could remedy the voids left by the top-flight aspirants and brought in Ivan Toney from Peterborough.

The former Newcastle forward took little time acclimatising to Championship football and has proven a revelation in the capital this season, with the 25-year-old notching 31 goals to set a new scoring record in the division for a single season. He’ll be hoping that form can now translate to the play-offs. Speaking of which…

3. Play-off fixtures confirmed

The clubs competing in this season’s four-way tie for Premier League promotion were determined a few matchdays back, but the question of ‘who faces who’ has now been decided too. At the start of the weekend, it was third-placed Brentford vs sixth-placed Barnsley, and Swansea vs Bournemouth in third and fourth respectively.

However, defeat for Bournemouth against Stoke and a commendable point for Barnsley against champions Norwich saw the two clubs trade places, and so, Valerien Ismael will now go toe-to-toe with Steve Cooper for a ticket to Wembley, while Frank now faces Jonathan Woodgate.

Championship play-off dates:

  • Bournemouth vs Brentford (semi-final, first leg) – Monday, 17th May
  • Barnsley vs Swansea (semi-final, first leg) – Monday, 17th May
  • Brentford vs Bournemouth (semi-final, second leg) – Saturday, 22nd May
  • Swansea vs Barnsley (semi-final, second leg) – Saturday, 22nd May

Championship promotion odds (via Sky Bet)

(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only,

4. The Premier League’s penalty party!

A new record has been set for the number of penalties given in a single Premier League season, and there are still three games to go. As Man Utd rallied and fought from behind to beat Aston Villa, Bruno Fernandes’ equalising spot-kick brought up penalty No. 113 for the campaign, surpassing the total set in 2006/07 (112).

With the introduction of VAR and some utterly shambolic handball calls earlier this season, Premier League matchdays have been awash with 12-yard strikes, Panenka fails and ‘kangaroo’ run-ups, with this weekend’s play no exception to that trend, as Sergio Aguero and Fernandes would attest to.

5. Ole’s comeback kings

There has been a Jekyll and Hyde aura to Man Utd games this season, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men often pedestrian and lethargic in the first half, before exploding to life after the restart; perhaps he has taken a leaf out of his mentor’s book and the ‘hairdryer treatment’ has been a regular half-time fixture.

But, whether Solskjaer is howling at his charges or going all ‘Mr. Motivator’ on them, whatever he is doing has been working, as the club have won 10 Premier League matches after conceding first this season, a new record set by a team in a single season in the competition’s history. 

Criticism should perhaps be levelled at Man Utd to some degree for sleepwalking to deficits, but it is a testament to the mentality Solskjaer has instilled in his players to show grit, guts and mettle to fight from behind; a ‘never say die’ attitude that underpinned ‘Fergie time’. The parallels are encouraging.

6. ‘Little Pea’ in shambles

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez garnered a burgeoning reputation at Old Trafford as a ‘super sub’, entering the fray late on and often digging Man Utd out of a hole with his poacher’s instinct. And it seems, Man Utd have a new fox in the box, with Edinson Cavani channeling his inner “Chicharito” to equal a club record.

The veteran sharpshooter was introduced for a cameo role at Villa Park, and he quickly set to work wrapping up proceedings, netting at the death to notch his fifth goal as a substitute, which subsequently matched Hernandez for the highest scored from that scenario in a single Premier League season (also five in 2010/11).

7. Maguire’s first withdrawal 

It is a testament to the stamina and fitness of Harry Maguire that prior to his side’s showdown in the West Midlands he had never been substituted off for Man Utd. In fact, the England international had played every minute of all 71 previous games in the competition since his debut for the club in August 2019.

With an almost unprecedented schedule awaiting his side, Solskjaer will no doubt feel deeply concerned that his chief defender and captain withdrew due to injury, and there are now concerns he may miss the Europa League final. The midweek bonanza got off to a horrid start as Solskjaer’s heavily-rotated side lost to Leicester, and they now face Liverpool on Thursday.

Man Utd vs Liverpool odds (via Sky Bet)

  • Man Utd win vs Liverpool 9/5
  • Man Utd draw vs Liverpool 5/2

8.  Arsenal: Top four? No more!

Not that Arsenal were ever likely to challenge for a top-four finish this term, but it is now mathematically impossible for the club to produce a miraculous end-of-season turnaround while everyone else simultaneously capitulates to spare Mikel Arteta’s blushes and seal Champions League football.

There was a time when Arsene Wenger was mocked and almost hounded to the Emirates exit doors for only managing to seal fourth for Arsenal, with the fanbase growing ever-disillusioned and driven to the precipice by the club’s lack of a title challenge; oh, how they would love to return to those days now.

Having exited the Europa League with a whimper on Thursday night to Villarreal, cancelling out their route to continental football via the backdoor, the Gunners are now in serious threat of missing out on European football altogether, something they haven’t managed to do in over two decades.

9. Bayern seal Bundesliga title & Coman makes it 10 before 24

It has been a foregone conclusion for a while (some would argue before a ball was even kicked) but Bayern Munich have now confirmed the inevitable and their status as German champions, making it nine Meisterschale in a row and ensuring Hansi Flick bows out of Bavaria in style, handing Julian Nagelsmann a Bundesliga-winning squad.

The league triumph also ensured Kingsley Coman has now won 10 top-flight titles before his 25th birthday. The Frenchman sealed the Ligue 1 championship twice with PSG, the Serie A title twice with Juventus, and now his sixth Bundesliga trophy with Bayern Munich, a staggering amount of silverware.

That medal-hoovering success has also culminated in a Champions League medal as well as various domestic cup victories, giving Coman a coruscant trophy cabinet that most players can only dream of, let alone pull off, and all before the incisive winger is allowed to hire a car abroad.

10. Robert Lewandowski: 200 up and one off Gerd Muller

Bayern marked the occasion of Bundesliga success with a performance worthy of wrapping up any title, and one that serves well to illuminate the juggernaut that Flick has created at the Allianz Arena, with the Bavarians running amok in a 6-0 demolition of Borussia Monchengladbach.

Lewandowski was the ferocious fulcrum on the day, bagging yet another hat-trick to bring his tally to 39 for the season, and ensuring he is now just one goal shy of Gerd Muller’s record for most goals in a single Bundesliga campaign (40), which is now in serious threat with the Pole in the form of his life.