European soccer delivered plenty of drama again this weekend, leaving us a lot to talk about heading into the two-week international break. In the biggest game, Arsenal shrugged off Manchester United with two late goals — and several controversial moments — though neither team really looked good. In Spain, Jude Bellingham’s rude form continued for Real Madrid as Carlo Ancelotti’s side defeated Getafe, while Robert Lewandowski converted a late penalty to give Barcelona a win at Osasuna.
Bayern Munich remained perfect in the German Bundesliga, Liverpool thumped Aston Villa with a new-look midfield, Chelsea’s billion-dollar squad couldn’t prevent defeat against Nottingham Forest and Erling Haaland scored three as Manchester City routed Fulham.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)
It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Rice delivers big win for Arsenal, but neither they nor Man United shine
Sometimes big games deliver the hype and sometimes they don’t, at least until the closing stages. You can put Manchester United’s visit to Arsenal in the latter category. Other than two very well-taken goals inside of a minute in the first half, nothing much of note happened until Alejandro Garnacho’s strike (and even that was chalked off for a marginal, but correct, offside decision).
Much of the first half was marked by Manchester United sitting and looking to hit on the break, with Arsenal, perhaps concerned with the pace of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford — rightly, as we saw with United’s goal — pressing only intermittently.
It made for a dull game, not least because when Arsenal did win the ball, the build-up play was predictable and, other than a few Gabriel Martinelli moments, there was little to cheer. (In some ways, this is odd given that the absence of Thomas Partey meant that Mikel Arteta had no choice but to go back to last year’s back four with Gabriel in the middle, Ben White on the right and Oleksandr Zinchenko on the left.)
You would have liked to see a less conservative approach from Arteta though, perhaps, if the Martin Odegaard-Kai Havertz partnership were firing on all cylinders (or if Bukayo Saka had enjoyed a better day), Arsenal would have found a way through earlier and the game would have opened up more than it did.
As for United, Erik ten Hag may believe that playing on the counter like this might suit his team in terms of results, and he may even be right. But it doesn’t do much for their long-term growth if the goal is to get them playing something like the football his Ajax teams played (which is why, you assume, he was hired in the first place).
Ten Hag wasn’t happy with the officiating for the offside call on Garnacho — he brought up the issue of “camera angles” and you wonder just why the Premier League voted against semi-automatic offside in the summer) — but that was frankly a marginal call, and it was somewhat balanced by the penalty not given when Havertz went down. The contact with Aaron Wan-Bissaka in that moment was of the “seen them given” variety.
His other gripes (Gabriel on Rasmus Hojlund, and tussles between Gabriel and Jonny Evans) seem more far-fetched, especially the Evans one. They were both grappling with each other, and maybe Evans should have focused on stepping to the entirely unmarked Rice instead.
Ogden: No way back for Sancho at Man United after Ten Hag dispute
Mark Ogden joins Gab & Juls to discuss the public fallout between Erik ten Hag and Jadon Sancho.
Arteta will have enjoyed the three points more than the performance. It’s not lost on him that as dramatic as Rice’s goal was, it benefited from some poor defending and a deflection. As for Ten Hag, once he gets past his refereeing concerns and the new Jadon Sancho headache he created — he may be 100% correct, but why talk about it now that the market is closed? — he can be happy with the performances of Hojlund and Garnacho. The latter’s directness and intensity can be a regular game-changer off the bench, while the former’s cameo showed that he’s smart, strong and athletic, and can generate the sort of second-balls on which teammates like Bruno Fernandes and Mason Mount can feast.
Bellingham to the rescue (again) as Real Madrid stay perfect in ‘new’ Bernabeu debut
Manager Carlo Ancelotti is metabolizing the fact that he’ll be without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and defender Éder Militão (for months) as well as star forward Vinicius (for weeks), while also figuring out how his blend of young and old fits together. It helps that you can do it while winning games and, statistically at least, a chunk of that is down to his record summer signing Jude Bellingham. It was the former Borussia Dortmund who popped up deep in injury time to notch the late winner against Getafe, just like last week against Celta Vigo.
Bellingham on the scoresheet for four consecutive games (he now has five in LaLiga, his league best is the eight he got last year) is not what anyone would have expected, but it’s a neat bonus. And it’s a testament to his versatility: a genuine all-rounder, he adapts to what’s needed.
– WATCH: Bellingham scores 95th-minute winner for Real Madrid (U.S. only)
Joselu, the other summer newcomer, made his first start in place of Vinicius and also found the back of the net. It was a predatory goal, which is what Madrid will need from him and why they brought him in. Taking a 33-year-old on loan from a relegated Espanyol as your first attacking option off the bench is not what you’d ordinarily expect from this club, but right now, it feels like the right, low-risk choice.
Beyond that, despite the late goal, Madrid navigated the Javier Bordalas maze relatively well. They hit the woodwork three times, only conceded after an individual error and we saw, again, that Luka Modric and Toni Kroos can be effective contributors, even in spot duty. It won’t be just about the kids under that brand spanking new roof at the Bernabeu from here.
Haaland hits a hat trick as Man City score five goals on seven shots
Why VAR was wrong to allow Man City’s 2nd vs. Fulham
Dale Johnson explains why VAR made the wrong call in allowing Nathan Ake’s goal to stand.
You can pick which one of those stats you find most relevant: Erling Haaland bagging his first (we assume there will be more) hat trick of the 2023-24 season or Manchester City somehow beating Fulham 5-1 in a game in which they took just seven shots.
I’m leaning towards the latter, and given how Manchester City play, it underscores how this was not a great performance by any stretch. Fulham stifled them effectively in the first half — the absence of Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva, as well as Jack Grealish, was very evident — and they were unlucky to go into the break a goal down. Referee Michael Oliver may get the blame for not disallowing Nathan Aké’s goal for Manuel Akanji’s movement in an offside position, but really, that one’s on the VAR: this is exactly the sort of situation where he needs to intervene and let Oliver make the call.
City’s supremacy came out after the break, largely through Haaland. There was a dose of good fortune, because there often is with strikers, even top ones. He was lucky that the ball stood up for him after deflecting off the defender, but the way he sorted out his feet and finished first-time was pure class. The second was a penalty, sure, but he took it confidently after missing one recently, while the third was a gorgeous finish after some nifty footwork from Sergio Gómez.
Center-forwards are rarely going to do it all on their own, but being in the right place at the right time to finish is a huge part of what they do.
For all the noise, Bayern Munich have three wins from three games ahead of big Leverkusen clash
It’s been a bumpy start for Thomas Tuchel and Bayern both on the pitch and off it — witness the Joao Palhinha deadline day fiasco, the internal rumblings about the defensive options, the goalkeeping situation, the Joshua Kimmich “No. 6” debate — but the numbers are clear. They have three wins from three games and the most recent one, away to Borussia Monchengladbach — where they hadn’t won in four seasons — was perhaps the most reassuring.
Bayern went a goal down, didn’t despair and kept plugging away until the wunderkind Mathys Tel served up the winner to make it 2-1. (By the way, it’s worth remembering that Tel is still 18 years old and the best thing the club can do is to continue to allow him to develop gradually: in that sense, Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann before him seem to be on the same page and the arrival of Harry Kane helps take a ton of pressure off him.)
– WATCH: Tel gives Bayern Munich the win (U.S. only)
This was a tougher test than the two previous opponents, and Bayern lifted their game accordingly at least in terms of solidly and concentration. They’re anything but fluid right now, the build-up is still too slow and without Jamal Musiala in the side, there’s a lack of creativity. But this was a test of character as much as anything and Bayern passed.
It’s a nice way to tee up the showdown with Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen — also perfect thus far — after the international break.
Big-spending Chelsea fall at home to Nottingham Forest with the wrong players in the wrong positions
Leboeuf: We’re seeing the same Chelsea we saw last season
Frank Leboeuf reacts to Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
OK, give them the benefit of the doubt for a moment: with more than a billion euros spent, most of it on young players, it will take some time to gel. Fine. Heard it all before. But consecutive home games for Chelsea — the 3-0 win over Luton, precipitated by the fact that the opposition has a shoestring budget and plays wide open football, and Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest, who are a more “grown-up” team than Luton, but still squarely a bottom half of the league side — painfully highlight how weirdly constructed this team is, as well as the fact that Mauricio Pochettino’s choices on Saturday didn’t help.
Bad construction? Yeah: all that money has been spent, including some £45 million on Cole Palmer and his grand total of three Premier League starts at 21 years of age, the transfer window is closed and Nico Jackson is still the only center-forward in the squad, at least until Armando Broja is fit again. We’ve covered that. But I was also struck by the lack of creativity, which was obviously going to be necessary against a well-drilled, defensive side like Forest.
– The €1bn club: Chelsea’s spending in three transfer windows
You break down opponents either through individual creativity or patterns of play. There’s very little of the former (other than the odd Raheem Sterling run) and even less of the latter (I get it, it’s early, but still). Playing Enzo Fernández so high up the pitch was a head-scratcher too, because it negated a lot of his passing from deep.
Equally, Ben Chilwell as a de facto winger might work against more open teams, but he becomes extremely predictable when there’s no space in which to run. And that’s especially important for Jackson, who is fast, strong and hard-working, but needs regular service. (The way he skied his finish over the bar, wasting Chelsea’s best chance, betrays just how raw he still is.)
And so Chelsea end up with a ton of shots (21), but just two on target. Pochettino can fix some of it and at some point Christopher Nkunku will return, but it’s not a great look to be booed off the pitch in your third home game of the campaign.
Late penalty helps lackluster Barcelona edge past Osasuna
Félix targets Champions League after dream Barcelona move
João Félix and João Cancelo speak after sealing deadline day moves to Barcelona.
Barcelona’s trip to face Osasuna might have been entirely different if Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gündogan had buried those early chances. But Gundogan was having an off day and Lewandowski an off-start to the season (by his standards, anyway). So they suffered considerably against, essentially, Osasuna’s B-side — Jagoba Arrasate made eight changes from the team that played on Thursday in the Europa Conference playoffs — eventually taking the lead with Jules Koundé. Then, after Chimy Ávila conjured up an off-brand, Messi-esque, thread-the-needle type finish to equalize, Lewandowski won an converted the late penalty that gave them the three points.
The three points are big, obviously, and they come after some last-ditch wheeling and dealing that delivered João Cancelo and João Félix to the Camp Nou. Both are hugely gifted, both are star-crossed, both made their debuts in the second half.
I’m hugely skeptical about Joao Felix, given Xavi’s preference for the hybrid 4-4-2 formation with Gavi in a wide position. (Joao Cancelo, on the other hand, makes more sense, but then I’m a huge fan). Maybe the plan is to play with two attacking fullbacks providing width (Cancelo and Alejandro Balde), while pairing Lewandowski with a support striker in Ferran Torres or Joao Felix. And if you need to shift to a winger system, you still have Lamine Yamal and Raphinha.
So there’s a logic to it, but you wonder whether Ansu Fati, who was loaned out to Brighton to make room for the newcomers, couldn’t have filled the Joao Felix role. Unless, of course, the plan all along was to showcase Ansu’s skills in the Premier League and hope to cash in on him there next summer.
Liverpool pummel Aston Villa, but Unai Emery makes it easy for them
Is Ryan Gravenberch suited to the Premier League?
Steve Nicol reacts to Liverpool’s interest in Bayern Munich’s Ryan Gravenberch.
I don’t get Unai Emery. Sometimes he looks like a genius, and his record suggests he may be. Other times, not so much, and Sunday’s 3-0 defeat at Anfield was a case in point.
There’s nothing wrong with playing a high line, even against speedy strikers like Liverpool’s, but you need pressure on the ball to do it. Aston Villa offered very little of it — least of all, weirdly, on Trent Alexander-Arnold, who shifted inside and became like a quarterback from deep — and the outcome was a comfortable Liverpool win that was even more lopsided than the score suggests.
Can this tactic — moving centrally when in position and having one of the center-backs slide out to the right — be a regular feature for Alexander-Arnold? Possibly, though it will continue to require tweaks. Either way, it’s something encouraging for Jurgen Klopp to look forward to, as is the form of Darwin Núñez and, especially, Dominik Szoboszlai.
But the best news of all, from Klopp’s perspective? The fact that Mo Salah started the game.
I stand to be corrected on this, but if you’re about to shift a guy for $200 million in transfer fees, you don’t play him because you know that an injury could kill the deal. Instead, Salah was out there for 90 minutes, plus time added on. That, and Klopp’s umpteenth insistence that he was going nowhere, pushes me to believe he won’t be leaving for the Saudi Pro League this week.
Unless … unless, of course, it’s some sort of reverse psychology mind-trick, hoping to invite another offer from Al Ittihad. If it works, and it generates both a sizeable bump in the money on offer and has Salah on the pitch against Villa, well, then it’s genius. Instinct, however, tells you “no” because while selling Salah might make sense from a financial perspective — he’s 31 years of age, they have plenty of attacking cover, he has two years left on a massive contract — given how clear Klopp has been that he’s going nowhere, you would not want to undermine his credibility.
Factor that into the price as well.
Thuram and Lautaro fire Inter to glory. Could they be better than they were last season?
You don’t necessarily want to get carried away by Inter’s 4-0 win over Fiorentina since Vincenzo Italiano’s sides are notoriously wide open, which means once they go down, the floodgates sometimes open. But Lautaro Martínez picked up where he left off last season — he now has 16 goals in his last 17 games going back to mid-April — and newcomer Marcus Thuram turned in a man-of-the-match performance. Relative to the guys before him (Edin Dzeko and Romelu Lukaku), Thuram is a better-rounded player and arguably just as good a complement (albeit in a different way) to Lautaro.
Are Inter better than last season? In terms of personnel, it’s debatable. I’m not a Benjamin Pavard guy, but he does add depth and experience in defense. Marcelo Brozovic is a big loss in midfield, but maybe Kristjan Asllani can continue to grow and, obviously, Davide Frattesi adds dynamism.
Up front, can Thuram give you regular minutes and produce more than the committee of strikers they had last year? Like I said, it’s debatable, but when you make a profit of more than $70 million in the transfer window, that’s what you get.
Where Inter do look better is in terms of self-assuredness and confidence on the pitch, a legacy of last year’s run to the Champions League final. That’s what manager Simone Inzaghi will want to channel this year.
Self-indulgent Napoli punished at home by Sarri’s solidity and Luis Alberto’s genius
Having hung on to their big hitters (defender Min Jae Kim aside) and having cruised few the first weeks of Serie A, maybe Napoli got a tiny bit overconfident for the visit of win-less Lazio.
Rudi Garcia’s side dominated possession, but simply moved to ball too slowly and too lackadaisically to threaten Maurizio Sarri’s conservative set-up. When Lazio did break, Napoli looked unprepared. Just as they were unprepared for Luis Alberto’s magic, both the back-heel on the first goal and the dummy on the second. It finished 2-1 to Lazio, and it could have been more given two goals that were chalked off for correct, but marginal, calls.
Sarri got to leave the pitch gloating against his former club. There’s a fine line between genius and folly, and he often crosses back and forth (witness giving a Napoli fan the finger at the airport), but when he’s got his ducks in a row tactically, he’s very hard to beat. Especially when you sprinkle the genius of Luis Alberto on top.
As for Rudi Garcia and Napoli, this needs to be a wake-up call. They’re good enough that they can cruise and take their eye off the ball against most teams and still win, but not all teams and not all the time. And certainly never Sarri’s Lazio.
Mbappe bags two goals as PSG win big at Lyon
Olley: Brennan Johnson ticks all the boxes for Ange Postecoglou
James Olley analyses Tottenham’s potential signing of Brennan Johnson from Nottingham Forest.
The scoreline — 4-0 up at halftime, 4-1 at the end — may suggest this was a road-grading by PSG away to Lyon. In fact, it was closer than it appears. Gianluigi Donnarumma had to make some big saves as Lyon managed a whopping 19 shots on goal (8 of them on target) and an xG of 2.87.
Eye off the ball since the game was wrapped up early? Maybe, but turning in a 90-minute performance is a good habit to get into.
As for Lyon, they’re an absolute mess right now with three defeats in four games, manager Laurent Blanc cracking jokes about being fired and owner John Textor about as popular in town as Vladimir Putin is in Kyiv (oh, and the guy he bought the club from, Jean-Michel Aulas, continues to troll him). Things need to improve in double-quick time.
Postecoglou love-in continues as Tottenham put five past Burnley and Son Heung-Min scores three
You knew, given how the two teams play, that this was going to be open and entertaining. And it was, the two sides combining for 37 shots on goal and plenty of risk-taking at the back (but the intelligent kind of risk-taking). Ultimately, in games like this, the winners is usually the side with better players and, predictably, that was Tottenham.
It was interesting to see Ange Postecoglou use Heung-Min Son in a central role, with Dejan Kulusevski and Manor Solomon either side of him and Richarlison initially on the bench. The move was prompted by the fact the Brazilian was not fully fit, but it may be something to revisit. Both Son and Richarlison are mobile forwards, with the versatility to play wide or through the middle.
Is Kolo Muani really worth €90million?
Julien Laurens gives the latest on Randal Kolo Muani’s €90million move from Eintracht Frankfurt to PSG.
When Harry Kane was around, they naturally adjusted their game to his movements, but there’s now a potential interchangeability and unpredictability to Spurs’ attack which was missing last year. Trust Postecoglou to try to exploit this; the deadline day addition of Brennan Johnson simply gives even more options in that regard.
Juventus get the win, but Pogba goes down (again)
Ok, this was Allegri 1.0, in case you were wondering. Against a poor Empoli side, Juve did just enough to take the lead and manage the game until Federico Chiesa (a much needed bright spot), made it 2-0 to close things out. You expect more and you hope that with no European football this season, he’ll have time to work on things.
However, how much Paul Pogba will be a part of it remains to be seen. The Frenchman came on as a sub, just like last week, but limped off at the end with a muscular issue. A scan will tell us more, but right now, it’s pretty obvious you have to treat anything Pogba gives you as gravy. There’s no way he can be central to Juve’s plans until he proves his fitness once and for all. And for those who remember what he could do before he got hurt, that day can’t come soon enough.
It’s too early to jump to conclusions on Newcastle and Brighton, but …
Four games in and, following Brighton’s 3-1 win over Newcastle, it’s hard not to issue early verdicts. Like the fact that Newcastle, for all their resources, have lost three or four games and maybe they’re not quite what we thought. Or that Brighton, despite the departures of Alexis Mac Allister and Moisés Caicedo (arguably their two standout performers last year) look even better than a season ago.
Is this premature? Maybe. It’s true that Newcastle have had a tough schedule thus far, facing four sides who finished in the top seven last year. But when you consider they will also have to contend with Champions League football and most of their players will be new to the competition, you certainly don’t want to take another top-four finish as a given.
As for Brighton, Roberto De Zerbi has made them more than the sum of their parts, great, but as the West Ham defeat shows, there’s an underbelly there that teams can learn to exploit.
Even this game needs to be seen beyond the scoreline. Newcastle had two gilt-edged early chances. Evan Ferguson is an exciting talent (we didn’t need the hat-trick to discover this), but a number of things fell into place for his hat-trick: Nick Pope spilling the ball for the first one, nobody shutting him down for the second (though it was a very well-taken strike) and a massive deflection on the third. He won’t get carried away, and neither should you.
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