It was another wondrous weekend around the footballing globe. Hold onto your hats (or throw them onto the pitch). From goal scoring trifectas to top of the table statements, pouting luminaries to rising sensations, we’ve got six places to go as we look at some of the finest stories in the world of soccer. Where to begin?
Stop 1: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
We head first to the Canary Islands and the Spanish cruise-ship hub known as Las Palmas, where the mighty Real Madrid were held to a 2-2 draw by a feisty home side on Saturday. It was Real’s second consecutive La Liga stalemate, after a 1-1 result against Villareal at the Santiago Bernebeau on Wednesday night. The league leaders held a one goal advantage late on, only to see Los Amarillos tie the score with five minutes of normal time remaining.
Zinedine Zidane has taken ample criticism in the Spanish press for his decision to remove Cristiano Ronaldo from the match, the manager subbing off the superstar with eighteen minutes left.
Madrid had taken the lead in the first half through Marco Asensio, with Pedro Tana equalizing just five minutes later. Karim Benzema (who entered the match as a second half substitute) slotted home the rebound of a Ronaldo shot in the 67th minute to restore the visitor’s lead. But Sergio Araujo’s 85th minute goal canceled out the Frenchman’s effort, as the two teams shared the spoils. Madrid is now clinging to a one point lead atop the La Liga table, (Barcelona in second after a 5-0 thumping of Sporting Gijon) while the minnows of Las Palmas sit in a very respectable seventh place.
Most of the post-game discussion surrounded the substitution of Ronaldo in the 72nd minute. The Portuguese Prince looked slightly disturbed at the sound of his number being called, his manager electing to bring on Lucas Vasquez for the game’s duration. With the way it all ended, it certainly felt like an ‘egg in the face’ moment for Zidane. However, the gaffer found an elegance in simplicity when explaining his decision.
“We have a game on Tuesday,” Zidane said. “I felt he needed the rest.” That game on Tuesday is an intriguing Champions League encounter with Borussia Dortmund, on the road, inside what will be a cauldron of noise at the always electric Westfalenstadion.
Stop 2: Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
We head next to the banks of the river Rhine, where Mexico’s favorite son netted what strikers like to call a “perfect hat-trick”. Bayer Leverkusen’s 3-2 Bundesliga victory over Mainz saw Chicharito Hernandez steal the show, netting three goals in a match for the second time in a Leverkusen uniform. The hat-trick that fans saw on Saturday was special for a couple reasons. Not only did Chicharito score with both feet and his head, but his cranium to ball connection in the 92nd minute broke a 2-2 deadlock, and was the difference in his side picking up three valuable points away from home in a game where they trailed 2-1 in the second half.
Despite being heralded as a one man wrecking crew, the hero on the day was all humility in his post-match interview.
“It was Bayer Leverkusen against Mainz,” the 28 year-old said. “It was not Chicharito against Mainz… It is impossible for one player to go against eleven, to score, to defend, to do all that.”
Stay humble kids. With hard work and ample enthusiasm, you just might end up like Chicharito. What a player. What a person.
Stop 3: Buenos Aires, Argentina
While Chicharito put together a masterclass in goal scoring with his “perfect hat-trick” in the Bundesliga, Dario Benedetto put on his own jaw dropping performance in Argentina on Sunday. Backed by the always spine-chilling atmosphere of La Bombonera, Boca Juniors dismantled visiting Quilmes to the tune of 4-1, with all five of the game’s goals coming inside the first 25 minutes! Benedetto (the 26 year-old Argentine in his first season with Boca) scored three of those, including this ridiculous rocket launcher of a candidate for goal of the year. Have a look.
Benedetto has a habit of scoring hat-tricks in his early days with new clubs. Fans of Liga MX will know Benedetto from his time with the Xolos of Club Tijuana and later Club America, where he played until this summer. In 2013, in his debut league match for Xolos, Benedetto scored three goals against Atlas at Estadio Caliente. You may hear more about that Tijuana team before we end this international safari.
Stop 4: Carson, California, USA
If you were lucky enough to be in attendance at the StubHub Center on Sunday, you were able to see an integral part of America’s soccer past, and a hopeful part of its future. That future looks quite promising, for both club and country.
Seattle Sounders took down the Los Angeles Galaxy with a barnstorming second half that saw them score three times en route to a 4-2 victory on the road in Southern California. 21 year-old Jordan Morris netted twice for the visiting Sounders, with Osvaldo Alonso adding an insurance goal late on, a long distance strike that was quite the cherry on top of a superb Seattle sundae.
The man viewed by most as the greatest American soccer player of all-time, Landon Donovan, continued his fight for full fitness after coming back from retirement earlier this month. Donovan entered the match as a substitute in the 67th minute, with his team trailing by just a goal, 2-1. Morris and Alonso soon put the game to bed.
Robbie Keane matched Morris with two goals of his own for the Galaxy, a header early in the first half and a late consolation penalty. Unfortunately for the Irish legend, none of his teammates were able to chip in on the score sheet, and the Galaxy defense was left looking like creme brulee; overpriced and torched.
It was a massive win for Seattle who now trail their bitter rivals, the Portland Timbers, by just three points with two games in hand, Seattle with five matches left to go in their regular season. The two Cascadia sides are battling down the stretch for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference of Major League Soccer.
Stop 5: Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico
We venture now to Mexico, where Sunday evening saw a certain team from Baja, California (a team that many journalists and pundits have tried to laugh off this season) continue their impressive assault on the competition in the 2016 Apertura. That team was simultaneously blessed with piles of good fortune.
Miguel Herrera’s Club Tijuana somehow managed to scrape out a 2-1 victory against Santos Laguna on the road at Estadio Corona, sending them above Tigres and back into first place in the Liga MX standings.
Xolos were by no means head and shoulders above their opposition on the day. Santos refused to take their chances, the handful of post hits and agonizing misses sadly indicative of their season as a whole, which sees the club in 17th position, just two points above last place Chiapas.
The gritty midfielder known as Guido Rodriguez opened the scoring for the visitors in the 30th minute, the young Argentine getting his head on the end of a Dayro Moreno service from a free-kick. Carlos Izquierdoz equalized for Santos just before half-time, before Aviles Hurtado sent Xolos in front for good with a header of his own in the 63rd minute. Santos pressed with everything for a second goal that never came. It was the second match in five days that saw Tijuana cling to a one goal lead and grind out a 2-1 result, Xolos beating Queretaro at home on Wednesday by an identical scoreline.
This particular Liga MX match-up is a very special one off the field, as Santos and Xolos are two clubs blazing the pathway of bilingual media coverage. The conversation regarding English language coverage of Mexican soccer has been amplified of late, thanks in large part to the Torreon and Tijuana based outfits. Santos and Xolos are the only clubs in Mexico with two official Twitters, each team with an English account to accompany their traditional Spanish news and commentary. With plenty of other online material made readily available to an English speaking audience, Santos and Xolos have both set the bar for bilingual reportage of Mexican soccer. Millions of Liga MX fans are hoping other clubs will get the memo as soon as possible.
Stop 6: The Northwest, England
It’s back across the pond and straight up north, as we round off this worldwide weekend with a look at the Premier League. When you view the table after six matches, you see four sides from two Northwest cities making up the majority of the top six places.
League leaders Manchester City continued their perfect start to the campaign with a 3-1 victory at Swansea, while their cross town foes from Old Trafford thoroughly enjoyed themselves on Saturday, Manchester United beating reigning champions Leicester City 4-1. The win for United ended a horrid run that saw the team lose three matches in eight days. The Red Devils now sit in sixth place in the league.
Liverpool routed Hull City 5-1 at Anfield on Saturday, Jurgen Klopp’s men continuing to play scintillating football that has Reds fans and neutrals alike purring for 90 minutes at a time. Liverpool currently stand in fourth place. Despite Everton’s 1-0 loss on the South Coast to Bournemouth, the Toffees remain in the top half-dozen of the league, dropping only to fifth, even on points with their fellow Merseysiders across Stanley Park.
In second and third in the league is another pair of arch-rival neighbors, this one from North London. Arsenal shocked Chelsea with a dominant 3-0 win at The Emirates, the first time the Gunners had beaten the Blues since 2011. Tottenham hold the second place spot in the table after a hard fought 2-1 victory away to Middlesbrough, Spurs four points back of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.
In a never ending English tussle of north vs. south, this 2016/17 Premier League season looks destined to be more than just a battle between individual clubs. This campaign will be a fight for the perceived supremacy of geographical regions. It’s The Northwest vs. The Capital. Where does your allegiance lie? More importantly, where are you putting your money?