Football Features

Golden oldie in youthful Eredivisie plus other stats & stories you might have missed

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 11:32, 15 February 2021

With attention soon returning to midweek continental football, business has continued unabated in Europe’s major domestic leagues.

It may still be winter and nothing has been decided just yet, but we’re starting to get a clearer picture of where the respective championships are heading.

Considering so much took place across Valentine’s Day weekend, it’s only natural if you missed an important event. But don’t worry, Squawka is here to cover some of the weekend’s most memorable talking points across the continent.

1. Messi milestone

A week seemingly doesn’t go by without us discussing another landmark moment achieved by arguably football’s greatest player. Lionel Messi needs no introduction and his legacy has long been cemented but it’s always newsworthy when he reaches a personal milestone.

His recent outing in Barcelona’s comfortable 5-1 win over Deportivo Alaves — where he scored twice and created one more — saw him join Xavi as the club’s record league appearance holder. He’ll no doubt break that 505 mark when Ronald Koeman fields him against Cadiz this weekend.

As for Barca’s outright tally when all competitions are considered, Messi — who has made 759 appearances since debuting under Frank Rijkaard just over 15 years ago — is closing in on the aforementioned Xavi, who ended his one-club career on 767 official matches played.

That record should also fall to Argentina’s record international goalscorer this season. The chances of Messi lifting an 11th La Liga title seem remote as things stand, with Koeman’s men currently eight points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who also have a game in hand.

Spanish La Liga Top Goalscorer 20/21 (Sky Bet)

All odds stated in this article are accurate at the time of publication (11:30, 15/02/2021). You have to be 18+ to gamble. BeGambleAware

2. Shooting blanks

It’s refreshing to see that Serie A is unpredictable this season. For the best part of a decade Italy’s top division has been dominated by Juventus, but their grip on the scudetto is slipping. The Old Lady are chasing a 10th successive championship under legendary former player Andrea Pirlo, though it’s looking to be a tall order.

Focus at the moment is on Milan’s biggest clubs. Before this recent duopoly, it was the Rossoneri who sat on the throne. Heading into this weekend Stefano Pioli’s men led the way, and certainly fancied their chances of picking up all three points at lowly Spezia.

However, things didn’t go as planned, Milan suffered a second defeat in four league outings, this was far bigger than losing to an irresistible Atalanta forward line. Vincenzo Italiano’s side ran out 2-0 winners and relentlessly peppered Gianluigi Donnarumma’s goal.

His opposite number Ivan Provedel was hardly troubled. Milan boasting the attacking prowess of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Hakan Calhanoglu, Rafael Leao, Alexis Saelemaekers and Mario Mandzukic couldn’t muster a single attempt on target. It was the first time since a match against Udinese in August 2019 they’d pull off this unwanted statistic.

Italian Serie A Winner 20/21 (Sky Bet)

All odds stated in this article are accurate at the time of publication (11:30, 15/02/2021). You have to be 18+ to gamble. BeGambleAware

3. All square

No fewer than five Bundesliga matches took place on Saturday as leaders Bayern Munich continued to celebrate their recent FIFA Club World Cup triumph. Hans-Dieter Flick’s side’s nearest challenger for the Bundesliga crown is RB Leipzig, and just under 24 hours earlier Julian Nagelsmann’s men — who are soon to meet Liverpool in the Champions League round-of-16 — ran out narrow 2-1 winners against Augsburg, so all eyes were on the chasing pack, which included Bayer Leverkusen (hosting relegation-threatened Mainz) and Borussia Dortmund (facing lowly Hoffenheim).

Both, however, couldn’t make any ground as they were held to stalemates. Bayer, living up to an unwanted reputation, incredibly snatched a point from the jaws of victory. Heading towards a comfortable 2-0 win, their visitors sensationally pulled a goal back in the 89th minute through Robert Glatzel before equalising deep into stoppage time when Kevin Stoger popped up to score his second of the season.

As for Dortmund it was another frustrating outing; despite going ahead via Jadon Sancho they needed a late effort from Erling Haaland to prevent another league defeat. Interestingly, no side won on the day, making this Saturday the most draw-laden in Bundesliga history.

4. Age is but a number

Whenever discussing age regarding Ajax it’s normal to assume we’re talking about the latest wunderkind to emerge from their never-ending conveyor belt. Well, today’s player in question did come through football’s premier youth academy, but that graduation to first-team duties took place this month in 2002.

Maarten Stekelenburg, who rejoined his boyhood club from Everton last summer, could never have imagined he’d be their first choice goalkeeper but here we are. A one-year ban issued to Andrea Onana after failing an out-of-competition doping test meant he was between the sticks when the Amsterdammers faced their fellow Greek mythological namesake Heracles this weekend.

His inclusion meant Arnold Muhren is no longer Ajax’s oldest Eredivisie player in a league synonymous with young talents running around. The decorated midfielder, who once turned out for Manchester United, was 37 years and 353 days old when he played his last professional match against Willem II (May 21, 1989). Stekelenburg was 38 years and 144 days old when he lined up in Almelo.

Erik ten Hag’s men did good business on a cold Saturday evening when they registered a 2-0 win, coupled with closest title rivals PSV Eindhoven dropping two points at ADO Den Haag, and their lead atop the championship is now six points, plus they have a game in hand.

As for Stekelenburg he’ll be in goal for at least the remainder of the season. A couple more clean sheets and top performances could earn him an extension to the one-year deal he signed.

5. Scary Saints

A resounding 3-0 win over Sheffield United on matchday 12 saw Southampton move into fourth and everything at St Mary’s seemed rosy. However, they couldn’t build on that result, instead Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side could only produce one success — which came at the expense of champions Liverpool (1-0) — in their subsequent 11 outings.

This despondent period shows no signs of abating as Sunday’s home loss to an inconsistent Wolves team means they’ve now registered six consecutive league defeats for the very first time. Football being primarily a results industry means Hasenhuttl is under severe pressure, the like he’s never experienced before.

Early into his tenure, following an impressive spell at RB Leipzig, many observers began questioning the appointment as Southampton often struggled to string together a solid run of form. That soon evaporated, despite some major blemishes (see that infamous 9-0 home loss against Leicester), and early into this season they won three successive Premier League games under him, which is their best winning streak to date.

Turning it around when morale is certainly low presents a great challenge and they couldn’t have asked for a more difficult opponent when next up for the Saints is hosting a rejuvenated Chelsea side.

6. One among the greats

Going back to Juventus for a second, they lost at the former Stadio San Paolo (now renamed in Diego Maradona’s memory) for a second consecutive season. A third defeat of this campaign leaves them in the chasing pack behind Inter and AC Milan but it’s seemingly too early to write off their chances and that should also be afforded to Napoli who have recovered well following a difficult period of late. Gennaro Gattuso would no doubt be delighted with his defence keeping Cristiano Ronaldo and company at bay, though equally happy to see homegrown star Lorenzo Insigne settle the affair.

His 31st minute spot-kick was enough to give the Neapolitans a 1-0 success. It also happened to be a landmark moment for the forward as he notched up his 100th goal in all competitions. He subsequently becomes the seventh player to achieve this milestone in a Napoli jersey — which includes Maradona, Edinson Cavani, teammate Dries Mertens (who leads the way) and former colleague Marek Hamsik — but of this septet he’s the sole individual born in Italy, and given he’s a local boy done good you can expect his status among the club’s vociferous supporters has grown even bigger.

7. Guess who’s back?

It’s fair to say this has been a quiet season regarding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who ended all speculation when penning a new Arsenal deal last autumn. He’d find the net on three occasions across his opening 13 league appearances before missing back-to-back games against Everton and Chelsea, leaving many to wonder if the Gabonese marksman had lost his scoring touch.

Things didn’t get any better when heading into this weekend’s home clash against Leeds, as the former Dortmund man had only bagged two goals (a brace versus Newcastle United) in his proceeding six league outings since Boxing Day.

Those critics were no doubt left stunned when Aubameyang notched a first Premier League treble, as the Gunners claimed a 4-2 win over Marcelo Bielsa’s side, which puts him in exclusive company. Since the 2009/10 season began; only Arsenal’s ‘number 14’, Alexis Sanchez and Salomon Kalou have netted a hat-trick in three of Europe’s top five leagues.

More so, his opening goal saw him become the ninth player, since he debuted for Lille in August 2009, to score 200 strikes across the aforementioned five divisions. Form is temporary as they say.

8. Catch them if you can

Bayer and Dortmund losing ground allowed Eintracht Frankfurt the opportunity to maintain distance on RB Leipzig but they are surely not thinking about ending a 62-year wait to be crowned German champions. Even though stranger things have taken place before, this would be unreal given they are nine points behind Bayern, who have played a game less.

That aside it’s worth noting they’ve got the league’s most in-form marksman. Having joined permanently from AC Milan last summer there’s a sense of purpose in Andre Silva, who is Robert Lewandowski’s biggest threat for this season’s Torjagerkanone.

The 25-year-old Portuguese striker is now on 18 for the season after netting in Frankfurt’s comfortable win over Koln, but more impressively he netted for the fourth consecutive Bundesliga game (six goals). Since 2021 came into existence, no player across Europe’s big five league’s has been more prolific than him.

His nine strikes in this calendar year matches Man City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan who continues to amaze with each passing weekend. As for Silva, if he keeps this up then Adi Hutter’s men could very well be playing Champions League football next term.