PARIS, France, Jan 27 – Kobe Bryant’s death sent fans from the football world into mourning, while new Barcelona boss Quique Setien is already under pressure following his side’s dismal La Liga defeat at Valencia and Erling Braut Haaland continues to thrill.
AFP Sport looks at four things we learned from a busy weekend of European football.
Kobe Bryant’s death rocks football
The death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash on Sunday sent shockwaves around the world and caused an outpouring of grief among sportspeople, including some of football’s leading lights.
Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku paid tribute to the five-time NBA champion, who spent large chunks of his childhood in Italy, calling Bryant his “biggest sports idol”.
“Your work ethic and mentality inspired me so much from as soon I understood what it took to become a pro,” the Belgium forward wrote on Instagram.
Brazilian superstar Neymar meanwhile honoured Bryant live on TV after scoring both goals in a 2-0 win at Lille that put Paris Saint-Germain 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1.
The world’s most expensive player slotted home the 52nd-minute penalty that put PSG two goals up and went over to the television cameras by the side of the Stade Pierre Mauroy pitch to make the number 24 with his fingers in honour of Bryant’s shirt number.
“It’s deeply saddening for the world of sport and for all of us,” said Neymar to Canal+ after the game.
“Not just for basketball fans, but for everything he did for sport.”
Setien under early pressure
Barcelona’s decision to sack Ernesto Valverde mid-season and appoint Quique Setien is already being questioned after the La Liga champions were beaten 2-0 by a rampant Valencia on Saturday.
Defeat cost Barca top spot as Real Madrid took advantage by beating Real Valladolid 1-0 on Sunday, with the pressure now on Setien to deliver a response.
His team were dominant but ponderous in possession and when Valencia did manage to steal the ball, they looked far more dangerous.
It is the first time Madrid have finished a round of matches top of the pile since October and it remains to be seen if Barcelona can wrestle back the momentum that now appears to be with Zinedine Zidane’s side.
Madrid’s scrappy win looked like the stuff of champions and gives them a cushion ahead of next weekend’s city derby against stumbling Atletico Madrid.
Gattuso healing ‘scarred’ Napoli
Gennaro Gattuso got his first home league win since taking over struggling Napoli by shocking Serie A leaders Juventus, but the Italian insisted the surprise victory would not erase their shocking 2-0 defeat to Fiorentina the previous weekend.
“I haven’t forgotten the scar of the defeat to Fiorentina, a game which was a blow to my job,” said Gattuso, who had lost three of his first four Serie A games in charge since replacing Carlo Ancelotti.
Napoli are showing signs of life after building on last week’s Italian Cup quarter-final win over holders Lazio by spoiling former coach Maurizio Sarri’s return to Naples.
“We’ve beaten two good teams now, but we are still in trouble,” said the former AC Milan coach.
“We have to keep pushing because this team has damaged itself too much with certain attitudes and behaviour.”
Last year’s runners-up Napoli are now 10th — 12 points off the Champions League places — after winning just twice in the league since late October.
‘Unstoppable’ Haaland more than hype
Two games in and Erling Braut Haaland is already making waves in the Bundesliga after two outstanding performances off the bench for Borussia Dortmund.
Haaland’s normally reserved coach Lucien Favre showered him with praise after he scored twice in Friday’s 5-1 victory over Cologne, following on from his incredible debut hat-trick the previous weekend.
“He’s unstoppable. He always wants to train, he always wants to win. As a coach, it’s fantastic to have such players at your disposal,” said Favre.
Haaland is the first ever player to score five times in his first two Bundesliga matches, and his goal rate currently stands at one in every 12 minutes.
“You dream of something like that as a child. It was absolutely fantastic,” Haaland said.
“Now I just have to keep training and get in better shape. Then it will be better on the pitch.”