Africans Abroad: Achraf Hakimi stars for Borussia Dortmund, Jordan Ayew sets personal best in Premier League
Real Madrid loanee Achraf Hakimi was the hero for Borussia Dortmund as he struck the winner in their title showdown with Borussia Monchengladbach last weekend, while Jordan Ayew broke a personal record with the winner for Crystal Palace against Watford.
The race for the German Bundesliga title is proving to be one of the most fascinating in years, with all of the top five teams firmly in contention heading towards the final furlong, and each relying -- to varying degrees -- on African stars.
Hakimi is the most high-profile of the lot, and, after his season was curtailed by injury last term, having helped transform Dortmund into title contenders, he appears determined to ensure they remain in touching distance right to the death this time around.
On Saturday, he netted a 71st-minute winner as BVB downed Gladbach 2-1 away, with Lars Stindl's second-half effort cancelling out Thorgan Hazard's opener for the visitors.
Receiving the ball in an advanced position wide on the right flank -- the kind of space he occupied increasingly as the game wore on -- Hakimi collected a delicious through ball from Jadon Sancho before finishing calmly beyond Yann Sommer 19 minutes from time.
"It's been my best season as a player," Hakimi said after the match. "I am not just a defender who stays back. I also like to get involved in the attacking side, get forward and help the team in both defence and attack.
"I consider myself a modern defender."
Ramy Bensebaini, operating in a more advanced left wing-back role, struggled while in direct competition with Hakimi, as early pace-setters Gladbach slumped nine points off the pace.
The strike was Hakimi's seventh of the season across all competitions -- smashing his previous best -- while he's had a hand in 13 goals in the Bundesliga this term.
The win moves Dortmund up to second on 51 points, overtaking RB Leipzig after they were held 0-0 at Wolfsburg -- their fourth draw in their past six matches of a title challenge that is fast losing momentum.
While centre-back Dayot Upamecano again impressed, neither right-sider Christopher Nkunku nor substitute Ademola Lookman -- whose season is still to ignite -- were able to break down a resilient rearguard display from the visitors.
Leipzig have fallen five points behind leaders Bayern Munich, who re-established their four-point advantage over Dortmund with a 2-0 victory against Augsburg.
Dutch-Nigerian youngster Joshua Zirkzee led the line for Bayern in only his second league start of his career, although the 18-year-old got little change from the Augsburg defenders during his 70-minute showing.
Finally, in the Bundesliga, a red card for Jean-Philippe Mateta compounded a tough evening for Mainz 05 as they conceded late in a 1-1 draw with fellow strugglers Fortuna Dusseldorf, letting slip the chance to pull away from the drop zone.
Jordan Ayew continued his excellent form for Crystal Palace with the only goal of the game as the Eagles defeated Watford 1-0 to extend their winning run to three matches and move 12 points away from relegation.
The strike was the Ghana international's eighth of the season, a personal best in the Premier League, and the most he's scored in a single season since scoring 12 for FC Lorient in 2014-15.
"We signed him in the summer, but we paid money to loan him last season, and he has shown his worth all the way through," Eagles boss Roy Hodgson said in his post-match press conference.
"I think he's got stronger, and we saw signs last season when he wasn't succeeding as much in terms of goals and assists, but I am delighted for him."
Wilfred Ndidi continued his return from knee surgery in January with a fine showing at the heart of Leicester City's midfield as they thumped struggling Aston Villa 4-0 to tighten their grip on a UEFA Champions League qualifying berth.
"Some of the guys have come in and done fantastic, and we've won games without Wilf," Foxes manager Brendan Rodgers told Sky Sports. "But just in general, he's irrepressible [with] what he gives the team and what he allows the others to be able to do.
"Hopefully he can stay fit now because he's very important for us."
Kelechi Iheanacho and Nampalys Mendy were also in action for the Foxes, while Mbwana Samatta and Marvelous Nakamba struggled to make an impact for a Villa side who remain two points away from safety having played a game fewer than their rivals.
"I thought Nakamba was very good tonight," Villa manager Dean Smith said after the match. "His performance was what I want to see more of as a team."
The win takes the Reds up to 82 points, and they extended their advantage over Manchester City to 25 points following the latter's derby defeat by Manchester United on Sunday.
Salah's 24th-minute equaliser means saw him become the first player since Michael Owen in the first years of the century to hit the 20-goal mark in three consecutive seasons for Liverpool, and he now has 70 goals in his first 100 appearances.
It's a remarkable achievement, bettering Fernando Torres' 63 goals in his first century of Liverpool strikes, and second only to Alan Shearer at Blackburn Rovers (79) in terms of goalscoring consistency in the first 100 Premier League appearances of a single player at one EPL club.
Moussa Djenepo became the sixth Malian player in Premier League history to receive his marching orders when he was sent off for Southampton against Newcastle United following a VAR intervention, while his compatriot Yves Bissouma excelled for Brighton & Hove Albion as the Seagulls took a point away at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Amid a much reduced Serie A schedule this weekend, due to the coronavirus, Kwadwo Asamoah and Victor Moses' hopes of a league winner's medal were dented as Internazionale were defeated 2-0 at Juventus.
Neither African was in action for Antonio Conte's side as they fell nine points off the pace, although uncertainty persists about the future of the 2019-20 season as the virus spreads across the country.
The star of the weekend was former Chelsea youngser Jeremie Boga, who capped Sassuolo's 3-0 victory over Brescia on Monday with a fine effort after beating several defenders down the left flank, cutting inside and firing into the top corner. The Ivorian had earlier hit the woodwork during a lively display.
The wideman, who remains eligible for Ghana, was a lively presence down the Basque side's right flank, and he capped a fine display with an 87th-minute goal.
ASSE, record 10-time French champions, remain only three points off the bottom three as they seek an end to a miserable run in which they've won just once since Dec. 4, although they'll have to do without Mahdi Camara for their next game against Monaco following his 75th-minute dismissal.
"Disappointed but not beaten," Bouanga told the club's media. "We take a point in the race, and it's better than nothing, better than losing.
"We came out in the second half with a mindset to conquer, but unfortunately we only got a draw. We won't give up and we'll continue to pick up points."