What a weekend! Barcelona and Real Madrid made big, but different, statements in LaLiga, Man City spotted Crystal Palace a two-goal lead before Erling Haaland‘s hat trick saved the day, Arsenal remain perfect in the Premier League and Liverpool responded to last week’s loss at Man United with a record-equalling win over Bournemouth. Oh, and Bayern Munich ran into a goalkeeper in form and Neymar showed the good, bad and ugly in Paris Saint-Germain‘s draw with AS Monaco.
It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Jump to: Barca’s party | Haaland powers City | Benzema delivers | Liverpool score nine | Sommer stops Bayern | Man United win again | Neymar flare-up | Arsenal’s maturity shows through | De Ketelaere stars for Milan | Tuchel, Chelsea’s ‘lucky’ win | Juve, Roma draw | Dortmund win | Spurs keep pace with Arsenal
Barcelona show how it’s supposed to work vs. Real Valladolid
If generating hype and entertainment — along with, obviously, results — was the big justification behind Joan Laporta’s massive “lever gamble” this summer, Sunday afternoon felt like a vindication. Barcelona demolished Valladolid 4-0, with Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele and Gavi cementing their reputations as dispensers of goals, assists and magic, respectively. Few places in the world can match the Camp Nou for glitz and sense of occasion, and Barcelona delivered this in spades.
Of course, there are still question marks. Jules Kounde, finally registered with LaLiga since moving from Sevilla, slotted in at right back and while you can imagine him playing there permanently — in what, with Alex Balde or Jordi Alba on the left, is more like a “back three-and-a-half” — it’s probably not what he was signed for and they could use a specialist right-sided defender. (Sergino Dest doesn’t seem to be the answer, and neither does Sergi Roberto).
Frenkie de Jong played the final half-hour, but whether he’ll still be a Barcelona player at the end of the week remains to be seen. Kounde’s registration was made possible because some Barca directors offered financial guarantees that the money to meet LaLiga’s financial requirements would be found by deadline day: to do that, they need to either shift somebody (De Jong, possibly Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang) or renegotiate some contracts. Gerard Pique was an unused substitute (again) and at some point it will be legitimate to wonder whether, at 35 years old and with two years left on his contract, he might be best suited to a role not in the playing squad.
But putting all that to one side, Sunday night was what Xavi wants to bottle this season, and it’s worth also noting how quickly some of the pieces have gelled. Lewandowski has fit in seamlessly (and no, the old cliche that “great players can fit anywhere” is simply not true), Gavi and Pedri (who didn’t play together that much last season) already have tremendous chemistry, and Ronald Araujo is already the leader at the back. A lot of this is down to the work Xavi has done in difficult circumstances, lest we forget, because for every “lever” cheerleader, there was one “lever” skeptic (and often more than one).
The reasons to doubt Laporta’s actions this summer — the “levers” that have effectively mortgaged the club’s future, doubling down on spending rather than trying to claw your way back towards breaking even via austerity measures — remain, and they are valid, but Xavi is channeling them as best he can. If the big spin of the roulette wheel is going to work, Xavi will be as central to this project as Laporta or anybody on the pitch.
Haaland powers another Man City comeback… but this one is different
Janusz Michallik praises Erling Haaland after the striker scored a hat trick against Crystal Palace.
If a week ago, it was a case of both teams playing very well and Manchester City‘s quality making up the difference when they came from two goals down to snatch a draw at Newcastle, the 4-2 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday was another story. Other than City being two goals down, there are few parallels.
Palace took the lead when a double ricochet off a free kick caromed off John Stones and past Ederson. They doubled it when Joachim Andersen‘s header found the back of the net after 20 minutes. From there on, there was virtually nothing, which is why Palace ended up with just two shots and an xG of 0.09.
City, on the other hand, ran rampant, even more so at 2-1, when Pep Guardiola shifted to a back three and simply squeezed the life out of Palace. Erling Haaland ended up with a hat trick: a header and a trademark run sandwiched around the goal that gave them the lead, an easy finish after a delightful move that saw City string five passes together in the box.
Pep says City are still figuring out how to play with Haaland and get the best out of him. Given that he’s already scored six goals in four games, it’s a pretty scary proposition.
Benzema delivers for Real Madrid… again!
On Thursday, Karim Benzema was crowned UEFA’s Player of the Season. On Sunday, he was doing what he does best, materialising at the far post to tap in with a minute to go for the game winner, and then adding the goal that made it 3-1 away to Espanyol in injury time. (Oh, and it was a free kick, no less, and his first as a Madrid player, although scored against an outfield player who went in goal after Benjamin Lecomte had been sent off.)
As great as he is, Benzema is to Real Madrid what the blanket is to Linus and Carlo Ancelotti knows the club need to be weaned off him. (His backup, after all, is Mariano Diaz.) In that sense, there were encouraging signs — Aurelien Tchouameni looked sharp in midfield, as did Eduardo Camavinga after coming on — and less encouraging ones (Espanyol played well, but Madrid needed more input from Thibaut Courtois than they would have liked).
Ideally, there might still be some movement on the transfer front before the window closes later this week. Still, it’s a perfect start to the campaign having played all three games away from the Bernabeu. That’s not a bad place to be.
Liverpool bounce back in the most emphatic way
Janusz Michallik singles out Trent Alexander-Arnold as the driving force behind Liverpool’s record-equalling win.
I’m not sure Jurgen Klopp could have devised a better script for Liverpool following the defeat Aug. 22 at Old Trafford. Winning 9-0 over Bournemouth is a thumping reminiscent of a famous win over Crystal Palace 33 years ago (in which my ESPN FC colleague Steve Nicol opened and closed the scoring). As an added bonus, a number of the guys who were poor against Manchester United got on the scoresheet (Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Roberto Firmino) and there was a first club goal for the exciting Fabio Carvalho.
I guess the script would have been even better if Mohamed Salah had scored or assisted on a goal, and it’s kinda incredible that he didn’t when his team scored nine. Then again, he sure as heck doesn’t need to pad his stats…
Sensational Sommer helps Gladbach hold Bayern
OK, let’s get this out of the way. Bayern Munich dropped points at home against Borussia Monchengladbach and sure, that’s noteworthy because it rarely happens. But let’s be clear, this was a freak event made possible by two things: an individual error at the back and an opposing goalkeeper, Yann Sommer, who had one of those mystical nights he’ll tell his grandkids about.
Bayern had a whopping 20 shots on target (33 overall) and 19 of them were saved by Sommer. The xG were 3.60 to 0.65 for Bayern and without Dayot Upamecano‘s error that led to Marcus Thuram‘s gallop and finish, it would have been 3.60 to 0.17. So yeah, this was a one-sided butt-kicking. It’s just that this is a low-scoring sport and you can run into a keeper who stands on his head and saves everything in sight. Well, almost everything: Leroy Sane eventually broke through in the 83rd minute.
I don’t think there’s much for Julian Nagelsmann to be concerned about here, and certainly not Upamecano’s error (stuff happens). He even got to experiment, late in the game, with a neat Plan B: Matthijs de Ligt channeling his inner Daniel van Buyten and playing centre-forward. Probably not the sort of option you want to resort to (if you do, it means you’re in trouble), but it may be something worth revisiting.
Same players, same system, same outcome for Man United at Southampton
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens discuss rumours that Cristiano Ronaldo is on the way to Napoli with striker Victor Osimhen possibly heading in the other direction.
Erik ten Hag sent out the same XI that beat Liverpool against Southampton on Saturday, which meant no Luke Shaw, no Fred, no Harry Maguire and, of course, no Cristiano Ronaldo. I don’t know if he’s superstitious — far more football folk are than you may realize — but on paper, that side built to counter so effectively against Liverpool didn’t seem like a great fit to face Southampton. Nor, you imagine, is it much of a blueprint for how Ten Hag wants to play.
In the end, Bruno Fernandes‘ finish would prove the difference between the two sides. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s young and inexperienced Southampton side actually won the xG battle and outshot United. The three points are great, but it’s evidence this setup isn’t what Ten Hag has in mind going forward. With Antony reportedly on his way, expect some sort of 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, with the Brazilian and Jadon Sancho out wide and one of Marcus Rashford or Antony Martial (or possibly a last-minute transfer signing) up front. In midfield, you’d imagine Casemiro and Fred in the mix and with that front three, it’s hard to see both Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen finding space.
PSG held by Monaco as Neymar’s nerves fray, and then settle
It’s hard to figure out Neymar sometimes. There he is, having a monstrous start to the season heading into the big clash with Monaco and then risking getting sent off in the first half-hour for two frankly unnecessary clashes with opponents. (He was booked for the first, spared for the second.) Needless to say, Neymar is not a goon, nor do PSG pay him to play the goon. They can get someone else to do that.
Thankfully, he settled down and scored PSG’s equaliser from the spot (no penalty controversy this time) in the 1-1 draw. It’s two points dropped against (theoretically) a direct opponent, but PSG had the bulk of the chances in this game, coming close with Kylian Mbappe on multiple occasions. In Christophe Galtier’s shoes, you wouldn’t worry about the draw, but you might choose to have a word with Neymar. Given the form he’s in, it would be a shame to ruin it with needless indiscipline.
Arsenal’s “maturity” shines through as they stay perfect
Janusz Michallik speaks about Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Fulham in the Premier League.
Mikel Arteta himself says his team are “maturing” and you can see what he means. The 2-1 win against Fulham — which sees them stay top of the Premier League — was the sort of game that, not too long ago, they might have drawn or even lost. They created plenty in the first half, went down to a defensive blunder from Gabriel, equalised with a deflection and then got the winner through — who else? — Gabriel.
We’ve seen Arteta’s Arsenal dazzle only to wilt when things don’t go their way. But driven by a magnificent Martin Odegaard on Saturday, they persevered and got their reward.
Sterner tests are to come, but right now, they’re hitting all the right notes.
“Prince” Charles de Ketelaere drives Milan to top of Serie A
It’s a bit reductive to call Charles De Ketelaere a “No. 10” — last season he played all over the park for Club Brugge — but that’s where Stefano Pioli used him against Bologna and he responded with work rate, physicality and some delicious touches, like the assist to set up Rafael Leao’s opener.
Bologna were under-strength and Milan are just a notch above right now, taking the lead and controlling the game on their way to a 2-0 win. What’s impressive, though, is how quickly he settled into Pioli’s system and while he won’t match Franck Kessie‘s intensity, the fact that he’s a “big kid with little man skills” gives Milan a whole other dimension.
Tuchel celebrates his birthday with Chelsea win he calls “lucky”
Janusz Michallik debates whether Chelsea still need to sign a striker after Raheem Sterling’s brace vs. Leicester.
You can tie yourself up in knots on this one. Was Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel “unlucky” that Conor Gallagher‘s two rash challenges saw him sent off inside half an hour? Or was he “lucky” that Raheem Sterling popped up with a tap-in and a deflection, and that Edouard Mendy came up with a late miracle on Jamie Vardy, enabling Chelsea to get the three points in the 2-1 win?
Tuchel plumped for the latter and no, he’s probably not being hard on his crew. Against free-falling (and depleted) Leicester City, Chelsea weren’t great 11 vs. 11 either. Nor did his new setup — a riff on the old 4-2-2-2 formation — work particularly well, particularly up front (where Kai Havertz offered little other than effort) or midfield (where Mason Mount is going through a rough patch).
Chelsea, of course, have spent close to a quarter of a billion dollars this summer and there appears to be more to come: Wesley Fofana is seemingly on his way, and possibly a forward too. Chelsea’s transfer window feels like Exhibit A in why clubs should have competent directors of football in charge and Todd Boehly will presumably get around to hiring one. You’re left with the three points, which is not nothing: they’re joint fifth in the table. But this still seems like one of those puzzles that’s missing a bunch of pieces.
Allegri happier than Mourinho as Juventus, Roma share the spoils
At least, that’s what they said. Jose Mourinho described Roma’s first half as embarrassing, while Max Allegri emphasised the progress his side made.
I tend to believe Allegri here. There was progress relative to the turgid performance against Sampdoria and they created a raft of chances they failed to convert, other than Dusan Vlahovic‘s stunning free kick. I’m more concerned with performance than results and it was encouraging for Juve to turn in that sort of first half, just as it was nice to see Allegri putting his faith in 19-year-old Fabio Miretti and the kid repaying it fully.
Roma came back after the break — Mourinho’s system change had a lot to do with it — got the equaliser with Tammy Abraham (nicely set up by Paulo Dybala, on his return to Turin) and might even have snatched a win. I don’t think they were quite as poor as Mourinho says, but there’s clearly room to improve, especially in attack, where the right chemistry has yet to be found. At the back, supposedly a problem area with this top-heavy setup, there are fewer concerns: in fact, they have yet to concede from open play.
Modest goal and baby steps Borussia in away win
Anthony Modeste obviously has big shoes to fill: they belong to Sebastian Haller, who himself was supposed to fill (OK, partially, maybe just half a shoe) Erling Haaland’s. So it matters that Modeste got his first goal in Borussia Dortmund‘s 1-0 away win at Hertha, both for Dortmund — following that unbelievable collapse last weekend — and for Modeste himself, who is 34 and had a rough start at his new club.
Take the three points and hope for a better day. Dortmund carved out the better chances (Hertha have yet to win a game all season) and yet somehow still had to rely on some big Gregor Kobel saves to hang on to the win.
Right now, this is a giant work in progress, but there are encouraging signs in midfield — newcomer Salih Ozcan served up the cross for the goal and looked solid in front of the back line — and at the back (not just Kobel, but Nico Schlotterbeck is living up to the hype).
Tottenham stay on Arsenal’s heels near the top…
It’s fair to say we haven’t seen the best of Spurs this season as much as we’ve seen a solid team that still manages to create enough chances. Until chemistry improves (and you presume it will), it’s key that you get results and that’s what they’re doing. Against a very feisty Nottingham Forest side, Tottenham took an early lead and managed the game: a reliable, if a bit traditional, script for Antonio Conte.
That they could easily have won 3-0 on the road against an opponent who was playing well — Harry Kane‘s penalty was saved by Dean Henderson and they settled for a 2-0 win in the end — speaks volumes here about the efficiency of the system, especially since neither Kane (near hat trick notwithstanding) nor Son-Heung Min were anywhere near their best Sunday. The numbers support this too: other than a header from Ryan Yates, there were few dangerous moments for Tottenham until garbage time at the end. Meanwhile, with Dejan Kulusevski cuing up the counter, they racked up 2.73 xG.