It was a very eventful week in European football. Big teams failing, and some real stand out performers. Let’s get straight into it.
Bundesliga – Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 4-0 wins.
The Bundesliga was by far the most interesting league to discuss this week. Because I usually stick to just two matches (to not stretch the content too long and to add some consistency), it left me unable to even bring up Luka Jovic scoring 5 goals, Bayern back to winning ways, Schalke back to losing ways and Bayer Leverkusen getting a late equaliser. But let’s stick with the league leaders here, with both Dortmund and Mönchengladbach securing 4-0 victories. Let’s start with Dortmund, who earned a relatively comfortable victory over Stuttgart. This game seemed to just highlight how good Dortmund have been this season. While it is still early, it does seem that they are finally ready to challenge Bayern, with the champions underachieving massively. Dortmund did an excellent job in this game of ending any chance of their opponents of winning the game, with Sancho, Reus and Alcacer scoring in the first half an hour. Dortmund only managed 4 shots on target in this game, but were able to put their chances away, an element of their game I have not been impressed with in recent years. Favre has turned this side into a pretty multi functional one. They are able to play a possession style, while also being able to play on the counter attack (Dortmund have scored the most goals from counter attacks, with 4). While I did criticise the signings of Delaney and Witzel at the time, I cannot deny how well they have performed this season. Delaney was very good in this game, making 7 interceptions, 2 tackles and 5 accurate long balls. Witzel continued his very good start to the season, with the Belgian completing the most passes, and making 2 key passes. Both have given a very solid base in midfield, and it has given their forward players even more freedom, because of how well both have retained possession this season, resulting in more forward moving from the attacking players. It will be interesting to see how Dortmund will fair when they play both Bayern and Mönchengladbach, but they currently sit at the top, with the best attack in the league.
Speaking of Mönchengladbach, they secured a 4-0 win over Mainz. While Dortmund’s was more of a clinical performance, the second placed side in Germany produced a much more dominant performance. They out shot and had more possession than their opponent, and were fully deserving of their victory. While Hoffman will earn all the headlines for his brilliant performance, it was Thorgan Hazard who stole the show. The Belgian has lived in the shadow of his brother for a long time, but is a very, very good footballer. He is a great dribbler, like his brother, and is much more versatile, using his incredible movement to case defenses problems no matter where he plays. While Plea has been one of the signings of the season, Hazard has arguably been the player of the season so far. He has already scored 4 and assisted 3 for his side. He was the reason why Hoffman was able to get a hat trick. Hazard’s ball across for his second goal was brilliant, even though Mueller should have came out earlier to receive the ball. Hazard’s goal was superb, with the forward volleying the ball right into the top of the goal to seal the win for Mönchengladbach. It now leaves Mönchengladbach in a good position. They play Freiburg next, a team in the bottom half of the table. If they secure this win, it leaves plenty of pressure on both Bayern and Dortmund to keep getting results.
La Liga – Barca and Sevilla thriller, Madrid lose another.
La Liga is at his most competitive in years. The top teams are probably at their weakest in a long time, which left Sevilla at the top of the table. They travelled to the Nou Camp, in a tie between the top two sides, and to say it was entertaining is an understatement. The game ended in Barcelona’s favour, with the now league leaders beating their opponents 4-2. It was a marvelous display of attacking football from both sides, with there being a combined 42 shots in this game. Sevilla have had much success this season, by playing attacking players throughout their side, with their midfield persistent solely of number 10s. It is one of the main reasons why they have been so fun this season. However Barcelona did deserve the win here. They created the better chances, and definitely took them. Messi was key for the early lead, with the Argentine setting up Coutinho and scoring the second. However he came off due to injury, which now puts Barcelona at a huge disadvantage for the classico this weekend. It was still smooth sailing for Barca, with Semedo having a particularly good game. The Portuguese has been in rotation with Roberto since arriving, and definitely shown why he is such an alternative to the Spaniard. Semedo is much more direct, and might have less ability when it comes to controlling the game, but is a much better dribbler and uses his pace to cover more ground. As mentioned, he was very good in this game, in an attacking sense mostly. 42% of Barcelona’s attacks came down that right side, with Semedo having the joint most touches of the ball. While his defensive work was mostly non existent, he completed 3 dribbles and made a key pass. Both him and Alba were real driving forces on the flanks. However it was Ter Stegan who was comfortably the man of the match. He made 5 saves in the game, with one in particular being an absolutely impossible save for most keepers. I have always said De Gea is comfortably the best keeper around, and while I still believe that, Ter Stegan is comfortably the second best. It leaves Barcelona leading the pack, and with the classico coming up, it could leave their rivals without a chance.
Speaking of their rivals, Real Madrid lost another game. It leaves them with their worst start in 16 years, and has put an incredible amount of pressure on Julien Lopategui. The rumours are already circling that it could be the end for the Spaniard, and it wouldn’t be the worst decision. While I do not like the idea of him constantly wanting a high line, when they should start to grind out games instead of leaving themselves so exposed. I can sympathize with him. Florentino Perez did not back him in any way in the summer. Madrid only bought in another goalkeeper, a back up right back and bringing back Mariano Diaz, a player who isn’t good enough to start for them. I can respect putting faith in Bale and Benzema, two players who have shown in the past that they can perform at a high level. I just do not understand why Madrid didn’t make that Galactico signing. They were linked to Hazard, Icardi, Mbappe, Neymar, Dybala, yet didn’t move for any of them. Bale, Benzema and the rest of the team could add more goals, but not enough to fill in for all the work Ronaldo did. Ronaldo didn’t only score goals, but he was excellent in taking shots in really good areas, and giving Madrid a vocal point. Madrid do have a lot of shots, but are just so much more wasteful. This game might be a bad example, because they were chasing the game for 75 minutes, meaning there was definitely an element of desperation. Madrid under Zidane might have been poor defensively, but they were so good at creating good chances, and especially scoring them. Lopategui does deserve plenty of blame, but Perez is by far the biggest culprit to why Madrid are failing. It was made so clear in the summer that Lopategui was not his first choice, but it doesn’t give him a reason to throw him in a job where he would never succeed. It perfectly captures why Madrid can burn managers out. They need to fix this, otherwise attracting top talent might not seem as easy, with the club in such a mess.
Ligue 1 – Lucky Marseille, Montpellier sit in 3rd
Ligue 1 has not been great to look into this season. Paris are walking the league already, after another 5-0 victory, and Lille are closest team towards them. They do not look near equipped enough to challenge for a title. Let’s look at Marseille, who can call themselves fortunate to beat Nice. The home side had more shots on target, created more chances and dominated the game. However thanks to a brilliant ball from Sarr, Morgan Sanson put Marseille ahead and held their own throughout. While Nice did have chances to get back in the game, credit has to be given to the away side, who thanks to very good performances from Mandanda, Sarr and Amavi. Amavi had the most touches of the ball for Marseille, and put in 4 tackles and 2 interceptions. A very defensive display from a more attacking player. Nice may have deserved more out of this game, with Balotelli and Saint-Maximin having very good games. Balotelli had 4 shots, and 2 on target, whilst Saint-Maximin completed a crazy 8 dribbles. Nice have lost many of their best players since that 3rd place finish. However if they keep up playing the way they do, it will improve over time. Viera has done a very good job so far for Nice, considering it is his first job in a top five league. Marseille face PSG this weekend. If they show the same resilience they showed here, there do have a chance, but it is still very minimal.
Let’s quickly talk about Montpellier, who are currently sitting in 3rd in Ligue 1. While they haven’t been spectacular by any standards (like Ligue 1 itself), but they have been very good this season. Ever since their surprise title win back in 2012, Montpellier have been trying to get back to those glory days. They finished in 10th last season, while their 9 defeats were less than the five teams above them, they ended the season with 18 draws, struggling to turn those draws into wins. While there are elements of that not changing this season, they are unbeaten since their defeat on the opening day to Dijon. They have struggled to retain their leads, but have still been very impressive. Defensively they are one of the best sides in the division, facing the 4th least amount of shots in the league. They remain organised in their system. They are really hard to beat, and use their two forwards Laborde and Delort to do the business on the other end. Out of the pair, Delort has definitely been the standout player. He has 4 goals and 1 assist to his name this season, the most for his side. He has been a huge vocal point for Montpellier, with his 4.2 aerial duels the highest in the side. He does so much off the ball work and is still able to offer so much in the final third. Expected goals shows how this has not been a fluke, with him expected to get 4.50 goals this season. He is performing to his level. While Lille have been the real surprise package, Montpellier do deserve a mention.
Premier League – Chelsea’s equaliser, High five for City
The Premier League title race is really starting to heat up, with Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea all looking good at the top of the table. While I still think City are comfortably the best side in the league (we’ll get to them), the sides around them are still excellent sides. Let’s start with Chelsea, who fought back against Manchester United to retain their unbeaten record against the red devils at home. This was a game that many had written off for United, because of their awful start to the season and just how good Chelsea have looked this season. However United did surprise everyone here. While they did not exactly deserve to win the game, credit is due for their impressive comeback, thanks to great work from both Rashford, Mata and Martial. They were all amazing on the day and really helped United salvage a point. Chelsea were definitely the better side. Both Kante and Jorginho were brilliant in the middle of the park. Kante completed 4 tackles and 2 interceptions, while Jorginho completed 3 and 1, while also making 2 key passes. I do think Chelsea were quite lucky in this game. I do not think there should have been nearly as much injury time as was given, and on another day, United would have won that game. This does not excuse just how terrible United were on set pieces, with both Lindelof and Pogba being at fault for the first goal. The second goal was just a chaotic mess, with Chelsea players lining up for the finishing blow. It leaves Chelsea still in a very strong position, with them looking like the better side now against 3 of their rivals. United are a mess, and should not even be in the discussion for top 4.
Manchester City’s 5-0 win over Burnley is just another reason on why there is a high chance they will retain their title. This is the 3rd time they have scored more than 5 goals this season. While many critics will say the teams they are beating are not at a high level, they are still absolutely destroying these sides, showing so much ruthlessness in games. It’s Pep wanting the most out of his players, and wanting them to treat every game like it’s a cup final. Pep actually rested a few players for this game, with Sterling, arguably their best player this season, not even coming off the bench. This game actually highlighted one player’s huge influence after the absence of another, and that is Bernardo Silva. Funnily enough, Silva made the most appearances for City last season, with 53. It was crazy to find that out, because he seemed like such a bit part player through most of the season. He has really excelled as a number 8 in De Bruyne’s absence. So far this season, he has made 1.7 key passes, taken 1.3 shots, made 1.3 tackles and has scored 3 and assisted 1. It does seem Pep has really favoured him since his arrival, and De Bruyne’s injury might be a blessing in disguise for Silva. The reason why I say that City still look like the favourites is because of games like this. While they have the occasional slip in the big games, you just can’t see a team below 5th having any chance of stopping them. They are just relentless and so difficult to break up. They could go down as the best side in the league’s history of they keep this up.
Serie A – Juventus drop points, Milan Derby
Let’s start with arguably the most interesting talking point this week in Serie A, being Juventus dropped their first points of the season. The old lady were held to a 1-1 draw at home against Genoa. While Juventus did manage 21 shots in this game, only 3 were on target, and they were all Ronaldo. The 5x Champions League winner had a handful of chances to really put the game to bed. While criticising him for not scoring every chance he gets is quite unfair, I’m putting more blame on his teammates. When Ronaldo plays, the main attacking strategy is to create as many chances for him as possible. While there is still a lot of pressure for him to score the goals, he usually delivers. But when he has a day where some of his chances aren’t getting out away, the others around him as still need to contribute. Mandzukic for example. The Croatian didn’t manage a single shot or key pass in this game. And while Cuadrado did manage 3 key passes, he didn’t manage a single shot on target. His teammates cannot rely on him constantly, and need to still contribute. One player did seriously deliver in this game was Alex Sandro. The Brazilian didn’t have the greatest of seasons last year, after falling out with the board, but seems to be back on track. He had 120 touches, and was the only player to manage over 100 touches. He had a 92.5% pass accuracy and managed 5 key passes. He is one of the best full backs in Europe for a reason, because of his incredible contribution. He really showed that against Genoa. While Piatek didn’t score in this game, to continue his run of scoring in every game, he still managed to win 7 aerial duels, showing how scoring isn’t his only contribution in games. Juventus are still comfortable favourites, but it is good to see they are human.
The big game of the whole weekend was the Milan Derby, and it didn’t disappoint. The Milan Derby is a game I never miss, because of the sheer emotion felt by both teams. Inter won the derby, thanks to a late goal from their captain, Mauro Icardi. It was a deserved win. Their captain was his usual best in this game. In only 16 touches, he managed 3 shots, 2 on target and 3 key passes. Icardi is easily my favourite striker in Europe right now. His great consistency, his ability to take shots in great areas and his ability to get involved in build up play is only improving. Icardi is a rare breed of striker that barely every touches the ball, doesn’t shoot as much as others. But because of how good he is of getting on the end of chances, it makes him the most clinical striker in Europe. Last year, he scored a hat trick to win the game for Inter, has won it again. However his fellow countryman, Higuain, didn’t do so well. He seriously struggled to get into the game. He only managed 2 shots, and both were off target. What sums his bad game was he only managed 10 passes. He barely had an involvement in a game. Suso has been the best player in Serie A this season, yet he struggled to really show it today. While he did manage 4 shots, he was only player to get a shot on target for the Rossoneri. His goalscoring isn’t his best feature, it’s it’s chance creation. He only managed a single key pass in this game. While it isn’t all his fault, his wasn’t his best performance. It leaves the Milan clubs in very different positions. Inter are now looking like they are ready to finish in the Champions League spots again, while Milan still have a long way to go.