What You Might Have Missed: Empoli cannot buy a goal, Balotelli back with a bang

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Pep Guardiola and Manchester City returned to winning ways as a competitive Premier League title race with the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham continued this weekend.

In LaLiga, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were all victorious as they moved into the top three positions in the table.

Gonzalo Higuain haunted former club Napoli with the winning goal for Juventus in Serie A, while Bayern Munich stayed on track in Germany and Paris Saint-Germain ground out an important Ligue 1 victory.

But away from Europe's major players, there were some remarkable stories...


BALOTELLI BACK WITH A BANG AS NICE FAIRYTALE CONTINUES 

After missing two matches with a groin injury, Mario Balotelli made a goalscoring return to the pitch for Nice as they continued their stunning start to the Ligue 1 campaign.

Nice's sixth Ligue 1 win in a row saw Nantes thrashed 4-1 on Sunday, with Balotelli racing clear to score his sixth goal of the league season and add to Wylan Cyprien's opener.

Emiliano Sala got a goal back for Nantes, but another in-form Nice attacker, Alassane Plea restored Nice's two-goal advantage before Cyprien finished the victory in style after good work from Balotelli and Ricardo Pereira in the build-up.

Monaco had dropped points at Saint-Etienne the previous day, meaning Nice have a healthy six-point margin after going unbeaten in their first 11 games.

So, can Nice win the title?

Head coach Lucien Favre said: "I'm thinking first and foremost about the fact we have 29 points. 

"It is not really what we expected. We will savour this but we are already thinking about the next match."

CROTONE FINALLY TASTE SERIE A VICTORY

Crotone had been reeling after making one of the worst starts to a Serie A season, but now they are well on the way to becoming one of the league's form teams.

The side from Calabria drew 1-1 at Fiorentina on Wednesday, before finally clinching a top-flight victory for the first time in their history by beating Chievo 2-0 on Sunday, their 11th league match since winning promotion.

Marcello Trotta's penalty had Crotone ahead, but the home fans could not celebrate fully until Diego Falcinelli - who had earlier argued with Trotta over who would take the spot-kick - scored his third goal of the league season in stoppage-time.

A tiny club with an average home attendance of just over 2,500 since reaching Serie A, Crotone can now look towards their trip to play Inter at San Siro on the back of a major high.

HAMBURG HAVE MORE RED CARDS THAN GOALS

Anthony Modeste's hat-trick gave Cologne a 3-0 home victory over Hamburg on Sunday.

Markus Gisdol's visitors were in the game until Bobby Wood's red card after 58 minutes, after which Modeste struck three times in a 25-minute period. 

Indeed, that was Hamburg's third red card in as many Bundesliga games, which is more than their tally of points and goals (both two) after nine matches.

There are more unwanted statistics too, with Hamburg's 596-minute spell without a goal the longest run in their Bundesliga history.

Gidsol attempted to paint a positive picture despite the horrendous record, saying: "There were many things on which we can build. 

"That we are not suddenly exploding is also clear. We must laboriously and gradually move closer to success."

Meanwhile, Modeste's hat-trick was Cologne's first since 1997, giving their fans perfect reason to celebrate the upcoming carnival in the city.

FANS FLOCK TO GARCIA'S FIRST HOME GAME

Marseille attracted a huge crowd of over 57,000 to Rudi Garcia's first home game as the club's manager, having made a solid start in a 0-0 away draw against champions Paris Saint-Germain in his opening match at the helm.

Bordeaux were the opposition at Stade Velodrome, but unfortunately the masses were not entertained, with another goalless draw served up.

Marseille did look like the more likely team to find a breakthrough, with substitute Aaron Leya Iseka missing an excellent opportunity to score.

Garcia takes his side to play Montpellier next as the former Roma boss looks to guide his side up the table from their present 10th-placed position.

"Overall, I'm satisfied," said Garcia. "I'm just a disappointed that we didn't win, that we couldn't score the goal that would have been the perfect reward for our attacking efforts in the second half. 

"A goal would have been perfect to live up to the Velodrome's atmosphere; it was just magic that there so many people were there."

EMPOLI HAVE WORST GOAL RECORD FOR 51 YEARS

Empoli were far from free scorers last season in Serie A - they netted 40 from 38 games on their way to a respectable 10th-place finish.

Few would have predicted their misery at the start of this campaign, though.

While an impressive goalkeeping performance from Lukasz Skorupski against his parent club helped Empoli to a 0-0 draw against Roma on Sunday, it extended an unwanted goalless run.

Empoli have now scored only twice in 11 matches, failing to score in 10 of them - giving them two significant statistics.

Their tally of two goals at this stage of the season has only ever been matched by Mantova in 1946-65, who also had only two goals after 11 Serie A games.

Meanwhile, Empoli's run of eight consecutive matches without a goal is a streak not seen since Verona managed it in 1979.

Giovanni Martusciello's men play promoted Pescara next week as they desperately bid to end the streak.