Eric Bailly's season ends, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane strike again: Africans Abroad review
Eric Bailly's return to the Manchester United side ended in injury misery on Sunday, while Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita were among the goals again as Liverpool maintained their title charge during a mixed weekend for Africa's players in Europe's major league.
Following a strong maiden campaign in England after arriving from Villarreal in a £30 million deal in June 2016, Bailly's United career has been beset by injury and a loss of form. He lost his way under Jose Mourinho, and has struggled to stake his claim under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
After picking up a red card in United's 4-1 victory against Bournemouth on December 30 -- Solskjaer's third game at the helm -- Bailly had been limited to only three further starts before being restored to the team ahead of Sunday's 1-1 draw with Chelsea.
The defender coped admirably before his 70th-minute withdrawal following a collision with Mateo Kovacic, having made three clearances and completed three tackles. He also went close with a downward header in the 30th minute, before aiming a tame left-footed effort at Kepa Arrizabalaga 10 minutes into the second half.
The centre-half and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer both feared a cruciate ligament injury that could have seen him sidelined for up to a year.
Bailly was told on Monday that he could be fit return to action in two months, after tests ruled out a significant injury, but that means he is out of the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
United have the options to limp to the season's end without Bailly, but the news comes as a particularly bitter blow for the Ivory Coast, who may now face the prospect of contesting Afcon without their first-choice centre-back - and a veteran of the 2015 title-winning team.
While their draw leaves United three points off fourth-placed Chelsea with two games to play in the race for Champions League qualification, Liverpool's African players remain firmly in the hunt for the Premier League title.
Manchester City's 1-0 victory at Burnley on Sunday means they remain one point clear at the top of the table, but Liverpool served a reminder of their championship credentials with a 5-0 evisceration of relegated Huddersfield Town.
While Keita couldn't equal Shane Long's recent record-breaking eight-second goal, for Southampton against Watford recently, his accurate finish after 15 seconds -- following Salah's pass -- was the quickest Liverpool have ever scored in the Premier League.
The goal set the tone for a one-sided encounter, with Mane and Salah adding two more each as Liverpool romped to victory.
The Egyptian's form means that he's now only the third Liverpool player -- after Robbie Fowler and Luis Suarez -- to score 20 or more goals in consecutive Premier League seasons.
Similarly, with Salah and Mane reaching 21 and 20 goals respectively, Liverpool are the first club to have two players score more than 20 goals in a single Premier League season since 2014, when Suarez and Daniel Sturridge struck 31 and 21 for the Reds.
Over in Ligue 1, there was a much less familiar face on the scoresheet at the Allianz Riviera, as Algerian right-sider Youcef Attal scored a first career hat-trick as OGC Nice defeated Guingamp 3-0 to move up to seventh.
The wideman, who joined Nice from the AC Paradou academy in Algeria only in 2018, had only scored three goals all season before his inspired showing on Sunday.
His hat-trick means he's the first Algerian player to score twice in one game in France since October 1985, when 1990 Afcon-winner Cherif Oudjani struck three goals for Laval against Toulouse.
One player who'll be keen to play alongside Atal at the Afcon is Andy Delort of Montpellier, who's making very public -- and thinly veiled --- pleas for Les Fennecs to recognise his Algerian heritage and consider him for their squad.
One, two, three, viva l'Algérie 😉 🇩🇿 https://t.co/njX0ZoYPrR— Andy Delort (@AndyDelort9) April 27, 2019
The North African giants are hardly short of firepower, but the former France Under-20 international is among the three most effective attacking players in Ligue 1 this term, having had a hand in 20 goals -- scoring 13 and contributing seven assists.
He'll be in action again on Tuesday as MHSC host defeated French Cup finalists Paris Saint-Germain.
PSG's muddled end to the season continued on Saturday, when they were defeated in the Cup final by Stade Rennais, who battled back from two goals down to equalise in the 66th minute through Mozambique's Mexer to take the game to penalties.
All five of Rennes' penalty takers converted their efforts -- including M'baye Niang, Algeria's Ramy Bensebaini, James Lea Siliki and Ismaila Sarr - before PSG's Franco-Congolese forward Christopher Nkunku became the fall guy as he blazed his penalty over the bar.
"It's an outstanding performance, the fans had been waiting for this for such a long time," Niang said after the game. "We showed character, it's a deserved win."
Also in France, it was a mixed weekend for two of Bailly's Ivorian teammates.
Nicolas Pepe became the first LOSC Lille player to score at least 20 goals in a single season since Eden Hazard in 2012 when he added his 20th of the season in a 5-0 evisceration of Nimes, while Max-Alain Gradel missed another penalty as Toulouse fell to a 2-0 defeat at Saint-Etienne.
The former Leicester City, Leeds United and Bournemouth attacker has now missed seven penalties since the start of the 2011-12 season -- more than any other player during this period.
In Italy, Cameroon's Nicolas N'koulou produced what was arguably Africa's standout performer of the weekend, delivering a commanding display as Torino defeated AC Milan 2-0 to leave both sides on 56 points -- two behind Roma, occupying the final Champions League qualifying place -- with four games to play.
In Spain, Samuel Chukwueze of Nigeria weighed in with an assist as Villarreal drew 1-1 with SD Huesca, while in Germany Senegal's Salif Sane scored his second goal of the season away at nine-man Borussia Dortmund during a shock 4-2 victory for struggling Schalke 04.