- A free-scoring Goddess and rampant Reds
- One of football’s fiercest rivalries features
- A teenage phenom also stars
A few weeks have gone by since the ball stopped rolling across planet football on account of the COVID-19 epidemic, and uncertainty still surrounds a potential return date for players and matches.
But irrespective of the outcome of leagues or the eventual length of the hiatus, the trying circumstances worldwide cannot disguise some of the notable feats accomplished before football was forced to take an unplanned break. FIFA.com takes a look back at five striking sub-plots of an already memorable season.
Atalanta on the attack
Atalanta’s 2018/19 campaign, during which they finished third in Serie A and secured a berth in the UEFA Champions League for the first time, was a historic one for the club. But this season, 'La Dea' ('The Goddess') looked set to scale even greater heights. Sitting fourth in the table when the league was suspended, the Bergamo side had also already cruised through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Aside from their eye-catching results, Atalanta’s exciting style of play and attacking prowess have turned them into one of the most watchable teams in Europe. Spearheaded by their clinical triumvirate of Josip Ilicic, Duvan Zapata and Alejandro Gomez, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have scored 70 goals in Serie A – the best attack in the league – and recorded some resounding victories in the process, against, among others, Parma (5-0), AC Milan (5-0), Torino (7-0) and Lecce (7-2).
The season may not yet be finished, but it can already be viewed as a significant success for Atalanta.
Reds and records
Despite being reigning European champions and lifting the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019™, Liverpool have not won the English league title for 30 years. For now, COVID-19 has prevented Jurgen Klopp's team from bringing this long wait to an end, but their season can already be regarded as remarkable. With 27 victories from 29 matches, Jurgen Klopp’s charges are the first team to record 22 successive home wins in Premier League history.
And, with just nine games to go, Liverpool are within touching distance of other records: having already accumulated 82 points, they need six wins to equal Manchester City’s benchmark of 100 points, set in 2017/18. In doing so, they would beat the record of wins in a single season (32), which is also held by the Citizens. Presently boasting a 25-point lead over their nearest challengers (City again), the record pertaining to the largest margin of victory (19 points) is within their grasp as well.
Irrespective of whether these records are eventually broken or not, there is little doubt that Liverpool’s fans will remember this season for many years to come.
Qatar 2022: Surprise packages abound in Asia
With the Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ postponed, fans of Syria, Vietnam and Turkmenistan can enjoy glancing at the group tables for another few months. This is because, at the halfway stage of the second round, those three teams unexpectedly find themselves on top of Groups A, G and H respectively.
The Syrians’ campaign, with five wins in five encounters, has been particularly impressive, as has been some of the results picked up by Vietnam, such as their 1-0 win over an experienced UAE team situated several places above them on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, and the performances put in by Turkmenistan, who gave Korea Republic a run for their money in Ashgabat.
Boca gain revenge on River
There was an incredible climax to the Argentinian title race, which saw eternal rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate battle it out from afar in early March. On the final matchday, River simply had to win to be crowned champions, while Boca were hoping for an unlikely slip-up that would allow them to pip their old foes at the post. Much to the surprise of football aficionados in Argentina, 'Los Millonarios' were held to an unlikely 1-1 draw at Atletico Tucuman.
At La Bombonera, meanwhile, 'Los Xeneizes' seized their chance in an atmosphere that reached fever pitch when club legend Carlos Tevez scored the only goal of the match against Gimnasia la Plata, coached by an even more revered Boca idol, the one and only Diego Maradona.
The victory offered some semblance of revenge for Boca’s fans, 15 months after watching their heroes lose to River in the Copa Libertadores 2018 final.
Haaland hits the headlines
With the exception of one day in May 2019, when he scored no fewer than nine goals in a FIFA U-20 World Cup™ match against Honduras, Erling Haaland’s name had not transcended the borders of Norway until recently. Just nine months after leaving his homeland, the striking sensation is now on the verge of becoming a household name right across Europe.
Haaland scored 29 goals in 27 matches for Salzburg, eight of which came in the Champions League. That remarkable record convinced Borussia Dortmund to purchase his services in January, and the 19-year-old Norwegian hit the ground running, finding the back of the net 12 times in 11 games, a run which included a 23-minute hat-trick from three shots on target after coming off the bench to make his debut.
“Since I was a boy, I’ve known I was capable of putting in these types of performances,” he said. “I knew I could be a match-winner. And I also know I’ll be able to perform even better in the future.”