Shock results were few and far between in Europe’s major leagues over the weekend, although it took a last-minute intervention by Lionel Messi to save Barcelona from a first defeat of the season. For once, the spotlight fell firmly not on a player but a coach, as an extraordinarily successful manager passed a momentous milestone on Saturday. FIFA.com rounds up the latest events in Europe’s major leagues, and casts an eye northwards towards Scandinavia.
Manchester United-Sunderland, Matchday 11 in England
This was hardly the most spectacular or entertaining match of the weekend, nor was the result anything to write home about. No matter: all of Europe was abuzz with the 25th anniversary of Sir Alex Ferguson taking over as Red Devils manager. To honour the extraordinary achievement, England’s most successful club officially renamed the north stand at Old Trafford The Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, and announced the commissioning of a statue of the 69-year-old, who has led his side to 37 trophies in his quarter of a century in charge.
As for the match, United won 1-0 to keep up the pressure on local rivals and league leaders Manchester City. There was a twist to it all, of course, as the only goal of the game was an own goal by Sunderland’s former United defender Wes Brown.
It was business as usual in La Liga, where the drama and tension looks certain to centre on the race for third behind Barcelona and Real Madrid, who have settled into their customary top two spots. Valencia laid claim to the title Best of the Rest with a 2-0 victory over neighbours and surprise package Levante, a fourth win on the bounce for Unai Emery’s men.
Over in Italy, Udinese seized the moment and moved to the top of Serie A, aided by the postponement of the top clash between undefeated duo Juventus and Napoli due to the weather, which also claimed Genoa’s home meeting with Inter Milan. Antonio di Natale and Co beat Siena 2-1 to go top of the pile, the club captain scoring his 120th league goal for Udinese.
In another of football’s delicious ironies, Ryan Taylor was high-flying Newcastle United’s hero against Everton. The 27-year-old right-back crashed home a spectacular volley to seal a 2-1 win, ensuring the undefeated Magpies remain third in the English Premier League. It was a sweet moment indeed for Liverpool-born Taylor, a devoted follower of Everton’s rivals in red as a boy.
Claudio Pizarro is approaching the veteran stage of his career at 33, but ‘Pizza’ has not forgotten how to go wild with excitement like a kid. The Peru striker celebrated a second-half hat-trick with boyish delight as Werder Bremen turned round a 2-0 deficit at home to Cologne and won 3-2. Pizarro, who now has 153 goals in the German top flight and long ago became the most prolific foreign goalscorer in Bundesliga history, netted with a shot on the turn, a penalty and a close-range toe-poke to underline his exceptional form this season. "He’s just getting better and better with age," noted long-serving Werder boss Thomas Schaaf.
Pizarro is up to 11 goals from as many games, but even that pales in comparison with Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portugal superstar was presented with last term’s European Golden Boot prior to Real Madrid’s meeting with Osasuna, and promptly indicated he has no intention of surrendering the prestigious award without a fight by contributing a hat-trick to Real’s crushing 7-1 triumph. Ronaldo now has 13 goals from 11 games.
200 – Dutch supremo Huub Stevens took charge of Schalke in the Bundesliga for the 200th time. Finnish newcomer Teemu Pukki, handed a chance due to an injury to Stevens‘ compatriot Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, scored twice on his debut to salvage a point for the Royal Blues in a 2-2 draw away to Hannover. Stevens, who returned to the Schalke dugout in September, led the Gelsenkirchen club to UEFA Cup glory during his first spell in charge from 1996 to 2002.
9 – Thirteen is regarded as the unluckiest number in most of Europe, but nine proved the undoing of Olympique Lyon. The former serial French champions had won on their last eight visits to Sochaux’s Stade Bonal but fell 2-1 at the weekend, completing a miserable week for OL, who lost 2-0 to Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League a few days earlier.
5 - Palermo have turned their Stadio Renzo Barbera into a fortress this season. The Sicilian outfit beat Bologna 3-1 to maintain their perfect home record of five wins in five matches. Palermo are up to fifth in the standings, although their progress has been blunted by a failure to win on their travels at all so far.
3 – Helsingborgs beat Kalmar 3-1 to seal the Swedish Cup, writing themselves into the history books in the process, as it is the first time a Swedish club has claimed all three domestic trophies in a single season. Helsingborgs won the Supercup prior to the league campaign, before wrapping up the championship with games to spare in September. "Obviously, this record can be equalled, but it can never be beaten," beamed boss Conny Karlsson.
5. Memorable moments
Best wishes from old friends: The world of football breathed a collective sigh of relief on the news that AC Milan’s Italy international Antonio Cassano had been discharged from hospital after heart surgery. There were very special wishes for a speedy recovery from the 29-year-old’s former Real Madrid team-mates, who warmed up for the meeting with Osasuna in shirts bearing the legend “Forza Cassano”, a truly moving gesture.
Fun factor returns: A hangover was somehow to be expected for Borussia Dortmund in the wake of their dynamic young side’s astonishing march to the Bundesliga title last term. Jurgen Klopp’s carefree team won hearts and admirers everywhere with their exuberant, devil-may-care approach, but had slipped to 11th in the table after five games this season. The goals temporarily dried up for the men in yellow and black, but Mario Goetze and Co have rediscovered their touch of late and are now up to second behind Bayern Munich thanks to a gala 5-1 demolition of Wolfsburg.
Sons of a legend: The sons of a former idol were the match-winners in the southern French derby between Olympique Marseille and Nice. Sub Jordan Ayew opened the scoring for OM, before André Ayew was fouled in the box in stoppage time, Loic Remy scoring from the spot to seal Marseilles’ 2-0 victory. The Ayew brothers learned the trade from their father, the great Abedi Pele.
On fire in the frozen north: The late autumn chill in Scandinavia ought not to suit a player from tropical Costa Rica, but Michael Barrantes turned up the heat in the Norwegian Cup final. The 28-year-old scored both goals in Aalesund’s 2-1 victory over Brann in Oslo, warming the hearts of the club’s faithful followers.
Lasting memories of an emotional day: We cannot end our review without returning to living legend Sir Alex. On learning that the north stand was to be renamed in his honour, even the tough-talking United boss was visibly moved: "I was really emotional. I couldn’t believe it and I didn’t expect that. I’m really proud of this moment. It's an honour to work for the best club in the world." It was a truly special day for one of the great characters in the global game.