Football Features

Five things you might have missed in European football this weekend

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 20:25, 8 August 2021

The first full weekend of August brought the return of various league and cup competitions across Europe as the 2021/22 season starts to roll out.

This season’s DFB-Pokal kicked off with 25 games spread across Saturday and Sunday, while two of Europe’s top six leagues (Ligue 1 and the Primeira Liga) were open for business.

With so much happening, it’s only natural to miss an important or memorable event. But don’t threat because Squawka is here with five things you might have missed across the weekend.

1. Starting as he means to go on

Paris Saint-Germain experienced a rare feeling last season in finishing a Ligue 1 campaign empty-handed for just the second time across the past nine seasons. Despite accumulating the most wins (26) Mauricio Pochettino’s men still ended a point behind champions Lille which undoubtedly annoyed the powers-that-be, leading to a summer transfer window for the ages.

The incomparable Lionel Messi is reportedly set to join, but PSG have already recruited Danilo Pereira, Georginio Wijnaldum, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma and, arguably the most significant, Achraf Hakimi. The Moroccan relocated from Serie A champions Inter Milan and his presence may very well force a slight tactical change at the Parc des Princes. Since being appointed, Pochettino has largely used full-backs in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but Hakimi’s brilliance at wing-back presents the opportunity for PSG to eventually transition into utilising a back-three system.

We’re yet to see that, with the Parisians utilising a 4-4-2 shape in their Ligue 1 opener against Troyes, but that didn’t stop Real Madrid academy graduate Hakimi from showcasing his brilliance. Over the past two seasons, only Atalanta’s Robin Gosens (34) was directly involved in more goals across Europe’s top five leagues than Hakimi’s 30 among defenders, with the Moroccan scoring 12 and recording 18 assists.

If you had to predict PSG’s first goalscorer before the start of the season, you’d have mostly likely gone for Kylian Mbappé, Mauro Icardi, Julian Draxler or perhaps Wijnaldum ahead of Hakimi whose strike cancelled out Troyes shock lead. Just minutes later, the aforementioned Icardi put PSG in front and the win was theirs. It’s just one game but this has the makings of a beautiful relationship.

2. First blood

If we believe PSG will impose themselves on Ligue 1 like they have been doing for most of the past decade, then expectations of Ajax doing something equally similar in their domestic championship is not as high. Even though Erik ten Hag’s side romped home last season, finishing 16 points ahead of their nearest challengers, the championship battle this forthcoming season is too close to call and expected to go all the way.

De Godenzonen remain virtually the same with Steven Berghuis added while title rivals PSV Eindhoven have made equally important additions, particularly in defence. Roger Schmidt’s campaign began this summer with PSV determined to reach the Champions League group phase, but sandwiched between De Boeren‘s third qualifying round tie against Midtjylland was a first date with Ajax in the Johan Cruyff Shield (Dutch Super Cup).

The season curtain-raiser was an opportunity for one of these sides to land the first jab in what should be an enthralling few months ahead. Both were at near full strength but it was the visitors that broke the deadlock through exciting teenage winger Noni Madueke with the game barely two minutes old. Sebastien Haller had a brilliant effort disallowed and Ten Hag’s side never recovered.

Madueke doubled his tally before Nicolas Tagliafico was given his marching orders after just 40 minutes. This subsequently enabled PSV to lay down a first marker as Yorbe Vertessen and then Mario Götze rounded off a stunning 4-0 victory, the biggest ever win in a Johan Cruyff Shield match as well as their biggest ever victory over Ajax in any competition. How significant this result will be down the road is to be determined.

3. Another day in black-and-yellow

There’s very little consensus in football but it’s universally agreed that Robert Lewandowski is Europe’s most-feared striker. He’s put in the work and the numbers back him up, scoring at least 40 goals across all competitions in each of his last six full seasons with Bayern Munich. Just last season he smashed a Bundesliga record most felt was untouchable. By netting as Bayern comfortably ran out 5-2 winners over Augsburg in May 2021 he registered his 41st of the campaign and doing so Gerd Müller’s incredible feat of most strikes in a single league season was no more.

It naturally earned him a sixth Kicker-Torjägerkanone and 14 goals behind was Lewandowski heir apparent. Erling Haaland. The Borussia Dortmund sensation is among Europe’s most wanted footballers, but regardless of interest from England and Spain his immediate future will be in Germany’s top division which is not music to the ears of defenders up and down the land.

Third division Wehen Wiesbaden found that out in their DFB-Pokal first-round tie against the defending champions. No one expected Marco Rose’s men to be troubled and those feelings were justified when Haaland gave them a 2-0 lead with less than 15 minutes before the break. He completed his treble moments after half-time, bringing his total output in a BVB shirt to 60 goals across 60 appearances in all competitions. Interestingly this was only his second hat-trick for the North Rhine-Westphalia side with his first coming in a 34-minute cameo on debut against FC Augsburg.

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4. Who else but Pote?

We all know the weekend truly starts on Friday evening and this past week, Sporting CP got their Portuguese Primeira Liga defence underway – something supporters of the Lisbon-based club had not experienced in nearly two decades. Rúben Amorim’s men were relentless last season, winning 26 of their 34 league matches while suffering just one loss. Sebastián Coates, who marshalled their backline which only conceded 20 goals (the the Primeira Liga’s best defence), was named ‘Player of the Year’ but that honour could have gone to anyone donning Sporting’s colours given how so many of them were impressive from an individual point of view.

A strong contender was Pedro Gonçalves (aka Pote), who seamlessly filled the void left by Bruno Fernandes who left for Manchester United in January 2020. The 23-year-old midfielder registered 23 goals across 32 league appearances whilst creating three more for his teammates, earning him the league’s ‘Golden Shoe’ while making Fernando Santos’ squad for this past summer’s Euro 2020 finals. Given his newfound status it comes as no surprise that Gonçalves has attracted the attention of certain European super clubs but for now he’s remaining in the Portuguese capital much to Amorim’s delight. In their season opener against FC Vizela, Pote bagged a brace in a 3-0 victory. He began last season having scored 10 goals across his opening eight starts; it will be interesting to see if he can repeat, approach or surpass that feat.

5. Unbeaten no more

There was a changing of the guard in Scotland last season when Rangers ended their rivals era of domination. Celtic were chasing a 10th-successive championship on the bounce, however, through a combination of mismanagement and Gers boss Steven Gerrard striking upon a winning formula, the Hoops’ reign came to a sensational end. It was domination in every sense of the word, Rangers put up 102 points, finishing 25 ahead of the dethroned champions. Gerrard’s men incredibly finished the 2020/21 campaign unbeaten having won 32 of their 38 matches.

The bar was set high and those associated with the club understood enjoying another year like they did was going to be a tall order. With that being said no one was thinking of Rangers coming unstuck following a season opening win over Livingston which stretched their unbeaten streak to 41 matches. That would be their lot, however, as Dundee United sensationally inflicted the first loss on Rangers since a defeat to Hamilton Academical in March 2020. Homegrown left-back Jamie Robson scored the all-important goal to give Tam Courts’ side and Terrors supporters everywhere a day to remember.