5 stars: Standout performers from Europe's top leagues this weekend
Each week during the 2018-19 season, upsfootball will pick the best performer from each of the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga, and Ligue 1, along with some honorable mentions.
Related – 5 stars: Standout performers from Europe’s top leagues last weekend
Premier League – Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Despite featuring only as a second-half substitute in the first two Premier League games of the season after Belgium’s extended run at the 2018 World Cup, Eden Hazard has now scored or assisted in each of his four Chelsea appearances this term. His late tally against Bournemouth on Saturday was just the cherry on top of a superb performance – the 27-year-old created five goalscoring opportunities, completed five dribbles, was fouled more times than the rest of his teammates combined, and registered a 92 percent passing accuracy. Hazard was simply too hot to handle for Eddie Howe’s lot.
Honorable mention: Philip Billing (Huddersfield Town). Billing played a sporadic role for promoted Huddersfield last season but has completed 90 minutes on all four occasions so far this term. Against Everton, not only did the 22-year-old score his first top-flight goal, he was also excellent on the defensive side, making five tackles, four interceptions, and three clearances.
Serie A – Mario Mandzukic (Juventus)
Mario Mandzukic is certainly not considered Juventus’ leading attacking superstar after Cristiano Ronaldo’s headline arrival, but Saturday’s 2-1 win at Parma showed why the Bianconeri were keen to emphasize his importance to the club this summer. After opening the scoring in the second minute, the Croatian was titanic in leading the line for Max Allegri’s side and set up Blaise Matuidi’s winner with a delectable backheel. Aside from those decisive contributions, the World Cup final goalscorer won a game-high five aerial duels to serve as his team’s chief threat – Parma’s central defensive pairing each won just one apiece.
Honorable mention: Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria). At 35 years young, Quagliarella can still drop jaws. Having already astutely set up Gregoire Defrel on Sunday, the veteran forward later pulled off an astonishing backheel volley to complete a 3-0 pasting of former club Napoli. Like a fine wine, the man who hit 19 goals last season only looks to be getting better.
La Liga – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
While it may prove difficult not to select Lionel Messi most weeks, it was impossible not to this time around as Barcelona’s captain ran riot in the madcap 8-2 win over Huesca at Camp Nou. The now-standalone best player in La Liga seemed to glide across the pitch on Sunday, scoring twice and directly assisting another two – his first goal, an equalizer after Huesca had taken a shock lead, was particularly exceptional. Dispossessed just once in 90 minutes, the Argentine was La Blaugrana’s primary impetus all game. He also unselfishly turned down the golden opportunity to complete his hat-trick by handing the ball to the fouled Luis Suarez to convert a 93rd-minute penalty.
Honorable mention: Maxi Gomez (Celta Vigo). Celta sprung one of the shocks of the La Liga campaign thus far by beating Atletico Madrid thanks largely to Gomez. The striker opened the scoring just after the interval and set up Iago Aspas six minutes later – he has now scored or assisted four goals this term, the most in Spain’s top flight.
Bundesliga – Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Robert Lewandowski, for all his unhappy bleating this summer, has started the campaign in scintillating fashion. On Saturday at Stuttgart, he netted his sixth goal in his first four appearances across all competitions before later setting up Thomas Muller with a succulent flick of the heel. The Poland talisman’s movement and presence as a constant threat around the penalty box give him the edge but, in truth, any of he, Muller, or Leon Goretzka – all of whom scored and set up one goal each – could have been chosen here for an imperious Bayern.
Honorable mention: Ondrej Duda (Hertha Berlin). Hertha secured a second successive win to start the campaign thanks to Duda’s double. It was a tremendous showing from the 23-year-old Slovak, who matched his game-winning contributions by winning four aerial duels and four tackles in a diligent defensive display.
Ligue 1 – Walter Benitez (Nice)
Nice, sitting on just one point following a 4-0 thrashing at home to Dijon last week, were not expected to come away with much at Lyon, who had won their first two home games 2-0. Step in Walter Benitez. The Argentine put in a stunning individual display, making nine saves including a superb effort to keep out Nabil Fekir’s penalty as the hosts attempted to break down the door. Benitez ultimately recorded a clean sheet to lead his side to a first win of the campaign.
Honorable mention: Ibrahim Sangare (Toulouse). The towering midfielder, 20, is tipped as a rising star in Ligue 1 and showed why against Guingamp. He steered home a volley after 12 minutes which proved to be the winner, and through the rest of the game won six tackles, completed three dribbles, and registered an 86 percent passing accuracy.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)