Mertens motoring at Napoli
Christmas seems to be coming at the wrong time for Dries Mertens, scorer of seven goals in Napoli's last two games, including four in Sunday's 5-3 defeat of Torino – the first three constituted Serie A's fifth fastest hat-trick. "I still have to understand what I did," said Mertens, who scored four and set up three in this autumn's UEFA Champions League group stage. His fourth against Torino, a wonderful lob, drew comparisons with a notable Napoli old boy. "Maradona?" said the 29-year-old. "I think I have a way to go yet ..."
Marseille and the power of suggestion
Hypnosis apparently helped French striker André-Pierre Gignac end a two-month goal drought to score five in his final three games of 2016 for Mexican side Tigres. Similar powers of suggestion seem to be benfiting his old side, Marseille. Ahead of Sunday's 2-0 win against LOSC Lille, coach Rudi Garcia hammered home to players that victory would put them sixth in the table. "He put the number six everywhere," said striker Bafétimbi Gomis. "It was pretty overwhelming. He even redid the banners at our training base." Extreme, but apparently effective.
Is N'Golo Kanté a lucky charm?
Having won last season's English title with Leicester, N'Golo Kanté is top of the Premier League again with Chelsea, and – after just 18 months in England – has the best wins-per-game ratio of any current top-flight player who has made more than 50 appearances, 37 wins in 54 games translating into a 68.5% win ratio. The midfielder could become only the second player to win the Premier League with different clubs in successive seasons. Back-up goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer set the precedent in Chelsea and Leicester's successes of 2015 and 2016, despite not making a league appearance for the victors in either campaign.
Are Altach the new Leicester?
Altach will end 2016 top of the Austrian league, the counterattack specialists having claimed another coup with Sunday's 3-1 defeat of Rapid Wien – the side that lured away their coach, Damir Canadi, in November. The side from a small town in Austria's far west (population: 6,500) continue to thrive under Canadi's 31-year-old former assistant Werner Grabherr, and Canadi took Rapid's defeat as a back-handed compliment. "Altach are on the way to being the next Leicester City," he said. "It's very satisfying when you hand over a team to someone else and it still works after you leave."
Too young to be a veteran
A New Year's Eve exhibition game between former Slavia and Sparta Praha players is a regular fixture in the Czech Republic, and – as former international forward Roman Bednář discovered recently – not as friendly as it may seem. Slavia boss Jan Mareš protested "he's too young" when the 33-year-old was named in Sparta's side for the fixture, insisting that their city rivals stick to their 35-and-over age limit. Sparta sulkily admitted that they had not checked Bednář's age, adding: "He was willing to play – we don't take that match that seriously." A likely story.
Ex-Bulgaria midfielder's literary flair
Short of a Christmas gift? Why not buy a book. Former Bulgaria international and current Neftohimik coach Hristo Yanev has publised a thriller, The Only Way. Yanev, a former CSKA Sofia, Grenoble and Penatolikos player, 37, explains: "The idea came when I was playing in Greece. One night I woke up and with the idea and put it down. Then I started writing during the evenings. Some players like playing backgammon and cards, while something inside me makes me write."
Sassulo's private clinic
With 12 first-team players out injured, Sassuolo midfielder Alfred Duncan summed up the mood by taking some masking tape and a marker pen to the door of the home dressing room. Translation: orthopaedics and traumatology.
Incredibile!!! Neache a metà stagione ed è successo di tutto... pic.twitter.com/3NQ9gEGxP5
— IAMJAD (@Fredinho41) December 13, 2016
The biggest draw in European football?
Like games where everyone ends up reasonably happy? Come to Israel. All four of Saturday's Israeli Premier League games ended in ties, to continue a very odd season in which 37% of all games have ended level, draws having become more common than home wins. The Israeli league is currently the most draw-heavy league in Europe, ahead of Albania's, which has a 35.7% draw ratio.
Ajax ball drop
Ever wanted to leap off the roof of Ajax's Amsterdam ArenA to put the ball in the centre circle ahead of an Eredivisie game? Don't bother. Someone beat you to it.
— AFC Ajax (@AFCAjax) December 18, 2016
Our favourite goal of the week
Much has been made of Lionel Messi's slalom dribble that led to Luis Suárez's goal in Barcelona's 4-1 defeat of Espanyol, but Omonia's Cleyton did more or less the same thing in Cyprus as his side beat Anagennisis Derynia 5-1, AND he scored himself. "Cleyton's goal was worth the 90 minutes in that freezing cold and dripping rain," said Omonia's English boss John Carver. It is 9:14 minutes into the highlights here.
— AC Omonia Nicosia (@ACOmoniaNicosia) December 17, 2016
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