Minor miracles and a magician
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This week’s statistical review focuses on the spectacular and unlikely, from Lionel Messi’s sorcery in Spain through unlikely victories for Fulham and Hertha Berlin to Independiente and Hapoel Tel Aviv’s impressive runs.

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minutes without conceding is the miserly defensive record that has been central to Independiente's position atop of the Argentinian Clausura. Since losing 3-0 to Velez Sarsfield one month, five days and six matches ago, Los Diablos Rojos – with goalkeeper Adrian Gabbarini in superb form – have embarked on a run of tight, hard-fought victories. Racing Club (1-0), Tigre (1-0), River Plate (2-0), Chacarita (1-0) and Rosario Central (2-0) have all been disposed of to leave the Avellaneda outfit two points clear at the summit, this despite a scoring average thus far of just 1.3 goals per game. With ten rounds of matches played, Independiente – whose last Clausura success came 16 years ago – are the team to catch.

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matches unbeaten is the outstanding home record that has provided the foundation for Fulham’s eye-catching European exploits. The unfashionable London outfit made waves in the UEFA Europa League last month by knocking out the holders, Shakhtar Donetsk, and on Thursday they added the scalp of the tournament favourites, Juventus. In coming from behind to win 4-1, the Cottagers also continued their visitors’ miserable run against English opposition, with Premier League sides having curtailed Juve’s last four European campaigns. London sides have accounted for the last three of those disappointments, although the Italians’ poor discipline was just as significant a contributory factor as Fulham’s dynamic display. Juventus, who have picked up more red cards in the UEFA Champions League (19) than any other club, ended the game with nine men, this after Fabio Cannavaro and Jonathan Zebina earned the 11th and tenth dismissals of their respective careers.

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goals in Lionel Messi’s last four games, and eight in the space of a week, have left colleagues, opponents and observers alike to search in vain for new superlatives. "I'm not sure he's human," was the view of Ander Herrera, part of the Real Zaragoza team beaten by the Argentinian’s second hat-trick in as many La Liga fixtures. Messi has now scored 34 in all competitions this season, and had claimed Barcelona’s last nine when he brilliantly won a penalty against Zaragoza, only to hand the kick to his under-fire team-mate, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The 22-year-old’s remarkable recent run, which amounts to a goal every 36 minutes, has taken him five goals clear of countryman Gonzalo Higuain at the top of the Spanish scoring charts, an impressive feat for a player whose game is about far more than simply goals. Indeed, Messi has also claimed nine assists, more than any other player in the Spanish top flight, and has registered the division’s greatest number of completed dribbles, with 105 compared to the 85 of his nearest challenger, Gonzalo Castro.

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points from safety and with three wins all season: it was from this position that Hertha Berlin claimed their biggest away win in 32 years, thrashing Wolfsburg 5-1. This unlikeliest of triumphs, the capital club’s most emphatic win on the road since a 5-0 defeat of Frankfurt in 1978, came about largely thanks to the clinical finishing of Theofanis Gekas. The on-loan striker, whose ten goals for Greece made him the top scorer in European Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, had just three attempts on goal – and scored with every one. However, even Gekas’s 100 per cent success rate and their surprise victory over the defending champions seems unlikely to save Hertha from the drop. Friedhelm Funkel’s side remain five points adrift at the foot of the Bundesliga table and seven points from safety, and their season is set to conclude with a nightmare run of fixtures against Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich.

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months and 23 games have passed since Hapoel Tel Aviv last tasted domestic defeat, yet the team known as The Red Demons are still heading for disappointment in the Israeli Premier League. Reigning champions Maccabi Haifa, the league’s most successful club, have suffered three losses this season to Hapoel’s one, but they lead the standings by eight points and can retain their title this weekend with victory at home to Hapoel Petach Tikva. The secret to their success has been a lack of draws, with only one in 27 matches compared to the eight endured by their closest rivals. Barring a miracle, therefore, Hapoel’s decade-long wait for a second Premier League championship looks set to continue, while Maccabi prepare to cement their dominance with a seventh championship in the space of ten seasons.