There were big games postponed in the Premier League again this weekend, but we still have a lot to dissect from the weekend’s action across the big European leagues. Real Madrid won an ugly derby over Atletico and Bayern Munich dropped even more points, while Napoli beat the defending Serie A champions to remain top heading into the international break. There was more woe for Juventus and Inter Milan, a much improved Arsenal and more goals for Man City’s Erling Haaland, too.
It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Jump to: Real Madrid stay perfect | Atletico must punish abusive fans | Huge Napoli win | Arsenal stay top | Time to worry about Bayern? | Juve have issues | Union Berlin keep leading | Son’s hat-trick | Barca thrash Elche | Man City win big | Dortmund’s step forward | Inter’s Inzaghi overthinks subs | PSG sink Lyon | Atalanta annoy Mourinho
Real Madrid win derby to stay perfect
It was Madrid’s sternest test of the season thus far — away to crosstown rival Atletico — and Carlo Ancelotti’s crew passed it with flying colors. That they did it without Karim Benzema (out injured since Sept. 6) and with an average of 22 years old in the front line (plus another 22-year-old, Aurelien Tchouameni, in front of the back four) is a testament to how flexible a team they’ve become and how effectively they control games.
We didn’t see them in the final third often in terms of chances created, but the sense of threat was always there, and when they spotted an opening or kicked it up a notch, they had the quality to make it count: witness Tchouameni’s brilliant shovel pass to Rodrygo for the opener or, for that matter, Vinicius‘s power-up acceleration that led to Fede Valverde‘s strike for the second, after Jan Oblak‘s minor miracle save.
If you like your labels and putting players in boxes, then the front three right now consists of a forward playing as a winger (Vinicius), a winger playing as a central striker (Rodrygo) and a midfielder/ultra-marathoner playing as a winger. And yet it works because these are first and foremost footballers, who understand the game and their role in the build-up.
Rodrygo is perhaps the unlikeliest example, given he’s just 21 and hasn’t yet had a full campaign as a starter. He knows he lacks Benzema’s presence, physical prowess, ability to hold the ball and in-game brains, but he makes himself useful with continuous movement. He helps the midfield when it comes to stressing opposing central defenders who never know where he’s going to pop up.
It’s not how Real Madrid planned to operate this year, they were forced into it. But it works because the combination of spirit, individual quality (try to control games with lesser players than Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in midfield and all I can say is “good luck!”) and tactical nous makes it work.
As for Atleti, Diego Simeone sprung a bit of a surprise by starting Antoine Griezmann alongside Joao Felix and dropping his leading scorer, Alvaro Morata. Perhaps he felt it would be the kind of tight match that is resolved by a moment of magic and that those two were likelier to deliver it than Morata. As it happened, it played into Real Madrid’s hands as both tended to drop in search for the ball, rather than offering a threat behind or tying up the centre-backs.
Perhaps most frustrating for Atleti is that had one of the early chances gone in, you still feel that rather than that changing the game, the opposition would simply have found a higher gear. Maybe that’s one of the biggest differences too between the Atleti of old and this version.
Atletico Madrid should take a strong stand on Vinicius abuse
This happened before the game outside the Wanda Metropolitano, and it leaves you disgusted. A number of Atletico fans (a few hundred, according to reports) sang “You’re a monkey… Vinicius, you’re a monkey.” There were contrasting reports of similar racist abuse occurring within the ground, too, and you hope they’ll be fully investigated.
There have been feeble and nonsensical “explanations” regarding why Vinicius is being targeted right now, and they have to do with some people accusing him of showboating and others finding his post-goal celebratory dance disrespectful. (Which is frankly inane, given he’s been doing it for years and given that he’s certainly not the only player to celebrate with a jig after scoring.)
I’m not interested in any of that right now. Get as angry as you like with Vinicius, that’s not the point. The point, as I see it, is that certain public expressions are simply unacceptable and racist abuse is one of them. This happened outside the ground, so jurisdiction might be down to law enforcement rather than the league or Atletico Madrid, but no matter: this is where Atleti have a chance to do something meaningful, something that goes beyond a statement.
These fans — and, reportedly, it’s an organised group — do not and must not represent the club. The club should make it clear not only that they are not welcome but that they expect the rest of Atletico supporters to shun and isolate them as well. It’s not enough to say that it’s a minority and not representative of the club: there’s too much of a permissive attitude out there, not just in Spain either, but in other leagues like Italy as well. Change is coming way too slowly, if at all.
Huge win for Napoli away to Milan as Gio has a better day than his dad
Milan hosted Napoli, and both clubs were without their best players: Rafael Leao and Victor Osimhen. For much of the game, I thought the Rossoneri actually dealt with the absence better. Rade Krunic slotted into Leao’s position, but tucked inside, leaving the flank to Theo Hernandez, and they did what they’ve often done so well under Stefano Pioli: churn out chances via patterns of play and intensity, even when individuals weren’t necessarily dominating. The half-time xG of 1.33 to 0.10 speaks volumes.
But this is a low-scoring sport, and incidents matter. Davide Calabria had to go off at half-time and was replaced by Sergino Dest, who gave away the penalty on Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, a foul that was picked up by a single — but obvious — replay angle by VAR. Milan were undeterred and continued to carve out chances, grabbing a deserved equaliser through Olivier Giroud, but a brilliant cross from Mario Rui and a superb header from substitute Gio Simeone condemned them to a home defeat.
Credit Napoli for hanging in there during the first half, picking their spots in the second and making them count. And credit both teams for an entertaining second half.
Arsenal stay top even without Odegaard, Zinchenko
Shaka Hislop feels Arsenal’s dominant win vs. Brentford shows they have resilience after their defeat to Manchester United.
I thought Arsenal’s trip to face Brentford was a potential trap game. They lost here last season and were out-muscled, outfought and out-thought. And, on Sunday, there were without two of their brighter sparks in the first part of this season: Martin Odegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko. The latter was replaced by Kieran Tierney (fine player, though a totally different one), the former by Fabio Vieira, who had played just 17 minutes of Premier League football prior to this weekend.
Vieira scored a neat goal from the top of the box in the 3-0 win, but more than that, he looked entirely at home despite how awkward it can be to play against Brentford, particularly in that role and if you’re a guy with Vieira’s physique. Thomas Partey‘s return was also a big boost (helping to get the best out of Granit Xhaka) and, up front, Gabriel Jesus continues to prove doubters (like me) wrong.
This was a statement game from Arsenal, who held up not just technically, but physically and athletically as well.
Opposition keeper heroics happen again, but is it time to worry about Bayern Munich?
Janusz Michallik reacts to Bayern Munich’s 1-0 loss to Augsburg in the Bundesliga.
It’s now four games without a win for Bayern, which amounts to a full-blown crisis at their Sabener Strasse HQ, particularly when they slip down to fourth in the Bundesliga table before the international break.
Of the four games — three draws and Saturday’s defeat in the Bavarian derby with Augsburg — they were really only poor in the last two, and that’s not encouraging. Yes, they again ran into a keeper who stood on his head with a string of brilliant saves (take a bow, Rafał Gikiewicz), but they showed defensive vulnerabilities throughout the game and a concerning lack of sharpness in the final third. Coupled with the Barcelona game in midweek, which saw them outplayed in the first half before they stormed back to win 2-0, the trend isn’t great.
What Augsburg did wasn’t rocket science. They were physical and aggressive, conceded possession to Bayern (who racked up 74%), but were direct and incisive on the counter, slicing through that midfield and giving the Dayot Upamecano/Matthijs De Ligt partnership fits. Bayern did have plenty of chances, but they also gave up tons, mainly because Augsburg went from back to front so quickly.
I don’t think there’s much wrong with Bayern other than nailing down the defensive frailties — when your fullbacks are as attacking as Alphonso Davies and Noussair Mazraoui, the only way you can get away with two big centre-backs like Upamecano and De Ligt is if your midfield does a better job covering. On Saturday, they didn’t — and perhaps accepting that Sadio Mane won’t be as clinical, especially in tight areas, as the man he replaced. But they’re too important to get right on the pitch, if you want to cut out the chatter off the pitch.
Di Maria awful, but Juve’s problems run much deeper than him in shock defeat to Monza
So you sign a veteran free agent to give you quality and experience, along with that “warrior mentality,” only he gets himself needlessly sent off after 40 minutes. Maybe I’m being harsh on Angel Di Maria, but I don’t think so. That red card he got himself after 40 minutes was an embarrassment, and it’s a credit to him that he apologized afterward. But we can’t forget that, even at 11 vs. 11, Juventus created very little and looked nothing like a team taking on the league’s cellar dwellers who had never won a game in Serie A in their history and had just changed managers. That part is on Max Allegri, who was suspended and in the stands, but obviously prepared the game.
Allegri’s behaviour feels increasingly erratic. A few days before the game, he said it was about shutting up and letting their performances do the talking. Then he opened up to give his version of events to the veteran journalist Mario Sconcerti (full disclosure: Sconcerti is my old boss). It wasn’t an interview — reportedly, Juve hadn’t authorised it — but merely a chat without quotes. And here we saw Allegri complain about the injuries and note how Juve were playing well in his view.
There was one nugget that said it all. Allegri maintains the team was built to have Federico Chiesa, Dusan Vlahovic and Di Maria up front, with Paul Pogba, Leandro Paredes and Adrien Rabiot in midfield, but that other than Vlahovic, everybody else had been injured. I would hope, for Juve’s sake, that this front six only existed in Allegri’s head and wasn’t part of the club’s plan. Because they already knew that Chiesa wouldn’t be back before 2023 and that Pogba was carrying injuries. Meanwhile, Paredes didn’t actually arrive until the end of the transfer window, while Rabiot nearly left the club in the summer.
Juve reiterated their support for Allegri, possibly because he still has an enormous contract, but the supporters are losing patience with this team that hasn’t won a game since August. Maybe the players are too.
Yes, it’s true: Union Berlin, the underdog’s underdogs, stay top after beating Wolfsburg
I’ll admit it. I didn’t write about them before because I figured they’d fall away. After all, tiny clubs like Union Berlin aren’t even supposed to be in the Bundesliga, let alone top the table. And yet here they are after their 2-0 win over Wolfsburg, two points clear of Borussia Dortmund at the top. Urs Fischer has them singing from the same hymn sheet, Jordan Pefok is showing that maybe his Swiss League exploits last season weren’t a fluke, and Sheraldo Becker is playing like a man possessed.
If you’re getting Leicester City vibes circa 2016-17, I won’t blame you.
Son comes off bench to bag a hat trick in resounding Spurs win
Janusz Michallik debates whether Brendan Rodgers has lost the Leicester dressing room after their 6-2 loss to Tottenham.
Because we like tidy narratives, this one is simple. Son Heung-Min, last season’s Premier League top scorer, had not scored a club goal in any competition since May, so Antonio Conte dropped him to the bench for the visit of Leicester City on Saturday. With half an hour to go and the game in the balance as Spurs nursed a 3-2 lead, Conte sent Son on, and he promptly notched a hat trick in a 6-2 victory. Brilliant psychology and motivation from Conte, brilliant response from Son.
Except, of course, it wasn’t quite like that.
Yes, Son hadn’t scored all season, but the thing about him is that even when he’s not finding the net, he’s usually contributing with his work rate. If he weren’t, you can be sure Conte would not have started him in Tottenham’s first eight games the season. The benching had more to do with wanting to give Tottenham a different look, trying Dejan Kulusevski with Richarlison. As it happened, it yielded the benefit of three goals in a 6-2 win (plus another he probably should have buried well). The way Son took his first two goals especially (both from the edge of the box, both beautifully hit) suggests he wasn’t lacking in confidence.
Sometimes, it’s just a case of mixing things up rather than some psychological ploy.
Barca keep rolling against lowly Elche as Depay finds new role
Stewart Robson and Rob Palmer discuss Barcelona’s development after their 3-0 win over Elche.
At some point, Barcelona may well hit a road bump in LaLiga, but it was unlikely to be against Elche, who have yet to win this season, and it wasn’t. Gonzalo Verdu‘s red card inside the opening 15 minutes didn’t help the visitors, but on a day like this, nothing short of divine intervention could have helped them as Barca rolled to a 3-0 win.
Robert Lewandowski got his goal — he has scored in every LaLiga round this year except for opening day — and Franck Kessie got his first start, but to me the interesting twist was seeing Memphis Depay with Lewandowski. The Dutchman had started Barca’s last LaLiga game, but that was at centre-forward, replacing the former Bayern man. He nominally played wide left, but came inside frequently, leaving the flank to the marauding Alejandro Balde, and scored a goal with a highlight reel worthy bit of footwork.
Regular readers will know I’m a big Depay fan and I’m well aware how, in a traditional 4-3-3 formation, he’ll always be a square peg in a round hole, whether as a winger or as a central striker. But this set up, which turns him into a de facto second forward, free to dialogue with Pedri and Lewandowski gives Barcelona a whole other dimension. It’s not something we’ll see every game, but it’s a nice alternative to have.
Man City pummel Wolves and Haaland scores his first goal from outside the box
Janusz Michallik believes Erling Haaland is “making a mockery” of the Premier League.
Manchester City effectively wrapped things up in just over half an hour against Wolverhampton Wanderers. By the time Nathan Collins was sent off, they were 2-0 up and there clearly wasn’t going to be any way back. (Indeed, Wolves managed just two shots after that point and none in the last 30 minutes, before Phil Foden added a third goal)
So the headlines were grabbed by two men: Jack Grealish and you-know-who, Erling Haaland. Grealish scored his first goal of the campaign and looked sharp. He may never live up to his enormous price tag — he’s 27 now, players tend not to get exponentially better at this phase — but he gives Pep Guardiola something different, which explains why he has started both Champions League games.
As for Haaland, it’s 100 goals in his past 99 games, which is otherworldly, and he scored his first goal for City from outside the area: it wasn’t a long-range bullet, but rather a nicely stroked pass into the back of the net. Yeah, he has that in his arsenal too, though his bread-and-butter thus far is pretty clear. He has taken 27 shots this season (excluding penalties) and 19 of them have come from central positions (i.e. no wider than the edge of the six yard box) and inside the penalty area. (Nine of them have gone in.)
Just three shots have come from outside the area: this is a young man who knows how to pick his spots.
Say it softly, but Dortmund show further growth in derby win
Gio Reyna speaks after Borussia Dortmund’s 1-0 win over Schalke in the Bundesliga.
Coaches love to say they look for a reaction after a setback, and setbacks don’t come any bigger than the 3-0 humiliation at the hands of RB Leipzig a week ago. They followed it up with a heck of a performance away to none other than Manchester City in the Champions League — they lost, but held City to just three shots on target and an xG under 1.0 while also taking the lead — and now this 1-0 derby win over Schalke.
Sure, the goal came late, but the game was one-sided to that point. And yes, newly promoted Schalke aren’t particularly good, but it’s still a derby and the sort of game you could see them screwing up a year ago, especially after losing Marco Reus to injury in the first half. Instead, they were patient, picked their spots, kept the opposition away from goal and were rewarded with substitute Youssoufa Moukoko’s winner.
Moukoko, of course, was once the resident superstar-to-be, but his development appeared to stall. Let’s remind ourselves then that the kid is still just 17, shall we? And, while we’re at it, a shoutout to Gio Reyna. His minutes are still managed and scrutinised post-injury, but after playing an hour against City, he clocked in for 52 minutes (and nearly scored) on Saturday. He has to be close to 100% fitness and, of course, he too, like Moukoko, is a teenager.
Inter look limp in Udinese defeat, but Inzaghi overthinking substitutes doesn’t help
Rotation is a must given the congested calendar and with five substitutes allowed per game, managers have more opportunities than ever to tinker. However, it feels as if Simone Inzaghi enjoys taking it to an extreme.
Half an hour into Inter’s game away to Udinese, with the score deadlocked at 1-1, he replaced two starters — defender Alessandro Bastoni and playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan — apparently because they had picked up yellow cards. Let’s be clear: it’s not the reason Inter lost (their third straight road defeat). They can blame that on some horrendous set-piece defending, a lack of ideas in midfield, the absence of Romelu Lukaku and, lest we forget, Udinese — who were top of Serie A for a few hours after the 3-1 win — playing exceptionally well, with Gerard Deulofeu looking increasingly like the player we thought he would be as a teenager when he broke into the Barcelona squad.
But it does feel like shooting yourself in the foot. Why burn two subs so early in the game? Are you that terrified that they’ll pick up a second yellow? Have you actually worked out the risk-reward of two bookable offences with those two? (Between them, they have 20 odd years of league football and it has happened just twice.) Maybe what Inter need from Inzaghi right now is a little less overthinking.
A nice combination after just five minutes between Lionel Messi and Neymar sent Paris Saint-Germain on their way to a comfortable win over Lyon. Don’t let the 1-0 scoreline fool you, either: PSG were firmly in the driver’s seat and could have scored more. They already look like a team in cruise control and with Marseille dropping points, that’s probably all they need right now.
Instead, we saw them try the back three again in Presnel Kimpembe’s absence, and it worked well. It gives Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes the freedom to push on high, it minimizes some of the nerves of seeing Sergio Ramos operate in a three, and it allows you to play without a designated holding midfielder, but rather with two passers (it was Marco Verratti and Fabian Ruiz in Lyon). It’s not something we’ll see every game, but it’s a very useful alternative for Christophe Galtier.
Atalanta down Roma, but memo to Mourinho: Check the replay before you complain
Atalanta are an entirely different side this season in terms of the way they approach games — less free-wheeling, more defensive and more through-the-middle — but their results remain stronger. Stronger, in fact, than last season after a gorgeous strike from teenage wunderkind Giorgio Scalvini gave them a one-nil away win over Roma that sees them go joint-top, level with Napoli on points.
Roma didn’t play poorly — in fact, they created tons of chances that they just didn’t take, as evidenced by an xG count that stood at 2.52 to 0.17. So let’s put this in context: Roma were unlucky from the moment Paulo Dybala got injured in the warm-up to the final whistle, after missing industrial quantities of opportunities.
No wonder Jose Mourinho was upset. Though his sending off for abusing the referee after Nicolo Zaniolo tussled with Caleb Okoli and fell in the box was entirely needless. Replays clearly showed Zaniolo fouling Okoli first before both players tugged at each other’s uniforms. Mourinho would have a stronger case earlier, when Zaniolo was clearly fouled (more than once) in the box by Merih Demiral without VAR stepping in, possibly because Zaniolo made every effort to stay on his feet.