African stars were at the heart of several eye-catching victories and scintillating attacking performances in the English Premier League this weekend, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah were all at their lethal best.
The trio shared the Golden Boot last term after ending the campaign on 22 goals, and the race between them — to see who can get their hands on this year’s prize — appeared as intense as ever this weekend.
Of the three, Auba struck first, hitting a double as his young Arsenal side overcame nerves — and Everton — to move up to ninth on 37 points.
Nicolas Pepe shone as they downed Newcastle United last weekend, but here it was Aubameyang — the cutting edge for a side that has now gone 10 games unbeaten and won its past two in the Premier League — who stole the show to take his tally for the season to 17, tied in top spot with Jamie Vardy.
Two of Arsenal’s young African stars — Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah — started the hosts’ comeback after Dominic Calvert-Lewin had given Everton a first-minute lead.
Nketiah equalised just before the half-hour mark when he touched home a delicious Saka cross, the Anglo-Nigerian having been introduced as an 18th-minute substitute for the injured Sead Kolasinac.
It was the first Arsenal goal both created and scored by players under 21 since Denilson set up Nicklas Bendtner in September 2008, and it was a moment that encapsulated the progress being made under Mikel Arteta.
“It makes us very happy and proud,” Nketiah told BBC Sport. “We are all working really hard, we have a good understanding.
“I’ve been working with Saka for some time, I knew he was just going to whip it in, so I just had to run and get on the end of [his cross].”
Auba added a composed second to put Arsenal ahead, picking up David Luiz’s through-ball to beat Jordan Pickford in the 33rd minute, and then he gave the Gunners clear breathing space in the first minute of the second half.
His downward header was right from the top drawer, leaving Pickford with little chance, but Pepe deserves credit also for his accurate left-footed cross after making space beyond Leighton Baines — the highlight of an otherwise skittish performance.
“It’s an incredible amount of work Aubameyang is doing,” Arteta told Sky Sports. “Before I took over, I had my questions about him, but he’s showed his commitment.
“I wanted him to show if he wanted to do it and do it physically. Aubameyang’s our most important player, no doubt, the impact he has in this team.
“We will have to convince him to stay with us.”
Nketiah hit the bar late on as he continues to make the most of the opportunity afforded him by Arteta, while one must spare a thought for Alex Iwobi, who watched on — along with his lethargic Everton teammates — as the team he left during the summer looked vibrant, motivated and ruthless.
The Londoners’ 3-2 victory was made in Africa, and provided further evidence of the central role the continent’s players will have in Arteta’s rebuild at the Emirates Stadium.
On Monday, it was over to Anfield, and to Salah and Mane, who were influential as Liverpool equalled Manchester City’s record of 18 consecutive top-flight wins, set a Premier League record of 21 back-to-back wins at home, and, most importantly, brought the title that bit closer to Merseyside.
Despite a spirited West Ham United showing — the visitors came back from conceding early to take a 2-1 lead — Liverpool’s African duo had the final say during a pulsating second half.
Salah had a nightmarish Lukasz Fabianski error to thank — in part — for his 68th minute equaliser after he finished Andy Robertson’s cross with a low effort, having earlier been denied by the Poland goalkeeper, for his 15th of the season.
Nine minutes from time, Mane proved to be Liverpool’s match-winner once again, tapping home from close range for his 13th after the outstanding Trent Alexander-Arnold had lifted the ball over the hapless Fabianski.
Salah and Mane’s strikes mean both extend their fine records against the Hammers; they’ve now had a direct hand in eight goals in their past six appearances against the Londoners. Mane, notably, has four in his past four against the beleaguered Irons.
At the King Power Stadium, Riyad Mahrez contributed the decisive assist for Gabriel Jesus’s 80th-minute winner as Manchester City won 1-0 at Leicester City to move seven points clear in second place.
Spanish Primera Division
It was a performance in which the Ghana midfielder showcased his rounded qualities, retrieving possession on four occasions and beating his man on six occasions through the course of the contest.
“Great teamwork,” Partey wrote on Instagram after the match, “and we take three important points.”
Atleti’s victory takes them 10 points behind second-placed Real Madrid, who were handed a shock 1-0 defeat by Levante.
Franco-Beninese defender Jules Kounde netted Sevilla’s third as they inflicted a second consecutive defeat on high-flying Getafe to move above them into fourth.
The Azulones, who beat Ajax 2-0 in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, gave starts to Allan Nyom, Djene Dakonam and Oghenekaro Etebo, but were unable to halt their slide out of the Champions League qualification places.
Pape Diop was part of an Eibar side smashed 5-0 by Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona, while Nigeria duo Chidozie Awaziem and Kenneth Omeruo were unable to prevent Leganes from falling to a 1-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Celta Vigo.
Italian Serie A
With a depleted Serie A schedule due to coronavirus fears across Italy, some of the division’s more high-profile African players were out of action.
However, Ismael Bennacer did impress alongside Franck Kessie as AC Milan drew 1-1 at Alfred Duncan’s Fiorentina, with the Algeria midfielder registering a game-high six completed dribbles during the contest. Bennacer also picked up his 12th yellow card of the season — two more than any other player in Serie A.
Genoa loanee Adama Soumaoro was unable to build on last weekend’s goalscoring display against Bologna, as he picked up a booking in a 3-2 home defeat by rampant Lazio, who remain one point behind league leaders Juventus with victory.
The top three in Germany remain separated by only four points after each picked up victories over the weekend, while Borussia Monchengladbach remain fourth after Alassane Plea missed a penalty in their 1-1 draw against Diadie Samassekou’s Hoffenheim.
Fresh from defeating Tottenham Hotspur in the UCL in midweek, RB Leipzig reaffirmed their title credentials with a rip-roaring 5-0 demolition away at Schalke 04 — a triumph orchestrated by Christopher Nkunku.
The 22-year-old, a summer signing from Paris Saint-Germain, weighed in with four assists, including three in a breathless final half hour.
Bayern Munich remain top of the pile after an unconvincing comeback victory over Streli Mamba’s Paderborn, while Achraf Hakimi again weighed in with an assist — his 10th of the season — as Borussia Dortmund won 2-0 at Werder Bremen.
Only three players — including Nkunku — have more Bundesliga assists this season than the Morocco international, who has comfortably eclipsed his previous career best of two.
French Ligue 1
Victor Osimhen failed to net his 13th goal of the season, but he contributed an assist for Loic Remy as LOSC Lille beat embattled Toulouse 3-0 at home. Le TFC have taken just 13 points from 26 games to date, and are 14 points off safety with 12 matches to play.
Also down at the bottom, Nimes’ four-game winning streak was halted by Rennes, for whom M’Baye Niang scored both goals in a performance that keeps them in third.
Boulaye Dia netted a 94th minute penalty to cancel out Denis Bouanga’s opener and rescue a point for Stade de Reims at Saint-Etienne, while Mama Balde, Stephane Bahoken and Adam Ounas were on the scoresheet for Dijon, Angers and Nice respectively.
In Moselle, Habib Diallo saw red late on for Metz as they fell 2-0 to Olympique Lyonnais following goals in each half from Moussa Dembele and Houssem Aouar.