Football Features

13 things you might have missed in European football this weekend

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 20:15, 31 October 2021

Halloween weekend saw a plethora of footballing action taking place across Europe’s various domestic leagues with certain managers up and down the continent already feeling the spectre of an early termination from their contracts.

The ‘big five’ leagues are now in full swing with each already providing fascinating storylines in what should be a interesting 2021/21 season, including Lionel Messi’s scoring troubles in Ligue 1, to Napoli seeking a first Italian championship since 1990.

With so much happening, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic netting his 400th domestic league goal, it’s only natural to miss an important or memorable event. But don’t be scared because Squawka are here with nine things you might have missed across the weekend.

1. A low point

A third league defeat of the season, to go with humbling losses against Bayern Munich and Benfica in the Champions League, spelled the end for much-maligned Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman, who can now look forward to several days on the golf course. Filling the interim role ahead of Xavi’s expected appointment was Sergi Barjuan and considering how often Koeman would cover for him, when he bombed down the left wing during Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team” era, it’s somewhat poetic that roles are now reversed.

First up for Barjuan was Alaves who came into their Camp Nou test on the back of losing three of their previous away matches. Javi Calleja’s men, aware of Barca’s recent tribulations, fancied taking something at the Catalan giants, and through Luis Rioja’s efforts — which cancelled out Memphis Depay’s opener — they earned them a hard-fought point. This result leaves the Cules on 16 points after their opening 11 matches in La Liga which equals their worst start at this stage in the three points for a win era (2000/01 and 2002/03).

2. Ton-up

Torino returned to successful ways in Serie A when they ran out 3-0 winners over Sampdoria on matchday 11. Ivan Juric’s men had previously suffered a narrow 1-0 at high-flying Milan which proved to be a third defeat across four Serie A matches. The win over Sampdoria, their second at home on the bounce, saw Dennis Praet break the deadlock. He subsequently became the second Belgian player to score a top-flight goal for them after the legendary Enzo Scifo, who managed 16 between 1991 and 1993.

Rounding off the scoring was influential skipper and marksman Andrea Belotti; his effort — second of the season and first since opening day (albeit he missed five successive games due to a tendon injury) — was a landmark achievement as it was the 27-year-old’s 100th in competition history. To put this into some perspective, since 1980 only two Italians have reached this milestone younger than him: Alberto Gilardino and Roberto Baggio, with both finishing on 188 and 205 strikes respectively

3. Muller The Collector

Thomas Muller’s next Champions League strike will see him become the first German player to score 50 goals in competition history. The self-anointed ‘raumdeuter’ (or “space investigator”) will join Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Karim Benzema, Raul, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Thierry Henry in this exclusive group. Since the departure of Niko Kovac in November 2019, Muller’s enjoying a new leash on life, which has also seen him rekindle his illustrious international career.

Now a double threat, able to score or create at ease, the 32-year-old struck his fourth goal of this season at Union Berlin on matchday 10, a game that saw him create no fewer than three goals, which extended his assist tally for the campaign to nine. Back to his strike, as Bayern ran out 2-5 winners, it was a significant one as it means Muller has scored against every current Bundesliga team (other than Bayern obviously). Union Berlin was also the 26th team he’s found the net against. Only teammate Lewandowski has registered against more (28).

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4. He meant it

This season may be young but there are already some mega Puskas Award contenders and the latest aspirant arises from Ligue 1, where former Sunderland forward Wahbi Khazri now plays. The 30-year-old had previously turned out for Bordeaux before embarking on his Premier League adventure. Now into a fourth campaign at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, he’s been nothing short of productive this season. Khazri came into Saint-Etienne’s latest Ligue 1 outing having bagged six goals across 11 appearances. He also struck in each of their previous three league matches so with this momentum behind him it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he registered a goal against Metz.

Khazri did as expected but nobody saw the kind of goal he’d pull off including Les Grenats shot-stopper Alexandre Oukidja who, like everyone in attendance, was speechless. The hosts took an early lead through a long range Farid Boulaya free-kick before the Tunisia international equalised from 68 metres. You heard that right. It goes down as the longest strike registered in the competition since 2006/07 and one Khazri felt was coming. “I’ve tried it a lot, sometimes they make fun of me, but when it comes off it’s good. It’s good for the team above all,” he told Prime Video. “I took the ball forward and I didn’t have too many options, I had a go and pulled it off.”

5. The late late show

On the weekend Eredivisie leaders Ajax dropped two points, Feyenoord knew they were given an opportunity to cut into Erik ten Hag’s men’s lead and truly enter this season’s championship battle. Arne Slot’s side came into matchday 11 with a game in hand and, following the Amsterdammers’ goalless result at Heracles, found themselves seven points behind their arch-rivals. To make things interesting the 15-time Dutch champions were to play a Rotterdam derby against Sparta and it proved to be a frustrating affair heading into the final seconds.

Having lost at Het Kasteel on more than one occasion in recent years a draw looked to be on the cards until super-sub Cyril Dessers had other ideas. His effort two minutes into stoppage time floored the Sparta faithful while handing Feyenoord three more precious points. It was also somewhat historic as this was the first time since April 2003 — when Patrick Paauwe netted against RBC Roosendaal — the Club on the Meuse won an Eredivisie game scoring the first goal after the 90th minute. Heading into the final weekend before the next international break Feyenoord are four points behind Ajax but as touched upon have played a game fewer.

6. A good job so far

It feels like a lifetime ago when Julen Lopetegui stepped down from his role as Spain’s boss on the eve of World Cup 2018 for the vacant Real Madrid job. That switch turned out to be an error as the former goalkeeper lasted 14 matches in charge, which saw him win six times and lose the same number of games, before Florentino Perez decided to go in a different direction. It wasn’t long before Lopetegui landed on his feet as Sevilla appointed him as their new coach in the summer of 2019 and they’ve not looked back since then.

Aside from back-to-back top four finishes he won the club a record-extending sixth Europa League title, and last time out against Osasuna the 55-year-old tactician became the fastest to reach 50 top-flight wins as Los Nervionenses coach. Lopetegui managed to reach this feat in his 87th game in charge which just about surpasses the previous record held by Manolo Jimenez, who did so on match 91. Consequently, the Andalusia-based club now find themselves level on points with early leaders Real Madrid, but due to an inferior goal-difference they don’t hold top spot.

7. We’re mid-table now

Massimiliano Allegri was damning in his verdict following Juventus’ latest Serie A setback at Verona on Halloween Eve. The once irresistible force in Serie A suffered a 2-1 loss which is already their fourth in this campaign. “Words are meaningless right now. We’re in a bad situation, we have to accept the reality that right now we are a mid-table team. We can get out of this situation with a little more determination and quality,” he said following the game. “We will drag ourselves out of this situation. There’s no point feeling sorry for ourselves, that won’t help, we just need to focus on what we need to do and then things will sort themselves out.”

There’s lies, damned lies and statistics. The numbers don’t paint a good picture. After their opening 11 games they have conceded 15 goals, which is something the Old Lady hasn’t done since 1961/62, and back then Juve finished the season in 12th place. The defeat in Verona was the second in a row, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Juve’s squad is now set for a week-long training retreat. This means the players will not go home to their families as they’ll be remaining at the Continassa ground to better focus on the upcoming games against Zenit Saint Petersburg (Champions League) and Fiorentina (Serie A).

8. Die Mensch-Maschine

We barely scratched the surface with Bayern’s result at Union Berlin on Saturday evening. Days following a rare humiliating loss — Borussia Monchengladbach putting five unanswered goals past them en route to a DFB-Pokal last 16 berth — Julian Nagelsmann’s men reminded everyone what they are truly capable of and ‘bouncebackability’ is within their make-up. Running amok in the nation’s capital, even being so kind to hand Die Eisernen two goals, was significant as Bayern reached a magical threshold.

As the dust settles, Germany’s undisputed champions have now registered 36 goals across their opening 10 top-flight matches this season, which is more than any other Bundesliga side at this stage of a campaign in the competition’s history. Relentless is one word to describe Bayern who, interestingly enough, have only managed a 100-goal season since 1971/72, and that came in Hansi Flick’s first full campaign (100 – 2019/20).

9. In good (youthful) company

If there’s one major European league where youth excellence is prominent it’s Ligue 1, where tomorrow’s stars play today. The search for football’s next big thing continues unabated and France’s top division is a proving ground. Lens forward Arnaud Kalimuendo, on-loan from Paris Saint-Germain, is hoping to be the game’s latest breakout superstar. So far this season the highly-considered teenager has shown flashes of brilliance.

Kalimuendo’s most recent outing against Lyon saw him net in a 2-1 loss but that goal was noteworthy. The kid from Suresnes, aged 19 years and 283 days, became the youngest player to score 10 goals in Ligue 1 since Kylian Mbappe in March 2017. On top of that only six players managed this feat younger than him in France’s top-flight this century and it’s a who’s who: Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Anthony Martial, Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema and Jeremy Menez

10. There’s a new sheriff in town

Coming into this latest round of Primeira Liga fixtures no fewer than one point separated Portugal’s ‘big three’ with Benfica assuming leadership of the young championship table. FC Porto and defending champions Sporting, the league’s sole unbeaten clubs entering the 10th matchday, saw a point behind their rival. All three vying for this season’s title were in action on Saturday, ahead of their respective Champions League dates, with one coming out of this Halloween weekend not tasting success.

Porto had no trouble putting away “O Derby da Invicta” opponent Boavista as they ran out 4-1 winners — 22-year-old Brazilian centre-forward Evanilson grabbing a brace in the process — while Sporting were grateful to inspirational skipper Sebastian Coates for their slender 1-0 home win over Vitoria. As for their Lisbon neighbours Jorge Jesus’ men were held to a 1-1 draw at Estoril, meaning they conceded leadership of Portugal’s top division to The Dragons, who subsequently became the third team behind their fellow title chasers to hold top spot already this season.

11. A most interesting treble

To say Atletico Madrid were under some pressure coming into this weekend’s showdown against Real Betis would be an understatement. Diego Simeone’s champions had fallen off the pace following back-to-back 2-2 draws against Real Sociedad and Levante. In the former Luis Suarez inspired the Colchoneros to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat after trailing 2-0 at half-time. But in the latter Atleti gave away two points in the final moments. This coupled with a 2-3 defeat to Liverpool in the Champions League saw them arrive into Sunday’s game on a three-game winless streak. As the old saying goes, form is temporary, but class is permanent. The defending Spanish champions put together a much-needed 3-0 victory, a result built on the back of Yannick Carrasco’s individual brilliance.

The 28-year-old Belgian wing-back opened the scoring before creating another for Portuguese forward Joao Felix with ten minutes remaining on the block. By then German Pezzella had put the ball into the back of his own net to double the hosts lead. Felix, a former Golden Boy recipient, has endured a somewhat frustrating campaign to date. This latest effort would end a streak of 948 minutes without scoring for Atletico in all competitions which also happened to be his longest scoring drought for the club. Carrasco also attempted 10 dribbles meaning he became the first and so far only player in this season’s La Liga to score, assist and register that many aforementioned dribbles (13 attempted and eight completed) in a single game.

12. Europe’s most wanted at it again

It remains to be seen where Dusan Vlahovic will be plying his trade come next season. The 21-year-old Serbian marksman has already caught the eye of many ‘super clubs’ with Manchester City, Juventus, Liverpool, PSG and even Borussia Dortmund all reportedly keeping close tabs on his performance and progress. If this few months old campaign is anything to go by they’ll be licking their lips. Fiorentina’s weapon up front once again demonstrated his potency when Spezia visited Stadio Artemio Franchi on Halloween afternoon.

Having amassed five goals across his previous nine Serie A appearances Vlahovic decided today would be perfect for a first league hat-trick of the season and second overall in a La Viola jersey. Certainly not a one-season wonder, the Belgrade-born striker has to date netted 25 goals in 2021 this means he’s now one of two Fiorentina players — after Kurt Roland Hamrin (27 in 1960 and 25 in 1959) — to amass this amount in a single year. Given that his present deal expires in June 2023 each goal only increases that value for his signature.

13. Wise as the old owl

There’s no substitute for experience. For as much focus we place on youthful exuberance you rarely can guarantee success without a wise old owl or two. Even that Manchester United team which Alan Hansen infamously dismissed was chock full of veteran stalwarts. That would-be double winners is a far cry from from today’s Bordeaux team, who are currently situated in the bottom five of Ligue 1, but Vladimir Petkovic — like Alex Ferguson back in the day — can rely upon many battle-hardened individuals most notably the much-travelled Jimmy Briand.

A graduate of Rennes’ academy, his footballing career began there in 2003 before leaving for Lyon in 2010. The five-time French international would then enjoy spells at Hannover and Guingamp before making Bordeaux home. Until this weekend’s home clash with Reims the 36-year-old striker hadnt found the net. With his side 0-2 down Petković threw Briand and that faith was immediately repaid as the Parisian assisted Yacine Adli before grabbing a brace for himself. This subsequently meant that Briand has now scored in 17 different Ligue 1 campaigns and he’s the first player to record such a feat since Bernard Zenier in 1990/91.

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