This weekend offered some thrilling match-ups throughout Europe, including a Barcelona comeback on Sunday that will do little to allay fears about the team’s recent performances, plus a riveting back-and-forth 4-4 draw between Chelsea and Manchester City.
Also on Sunday, Bayer Leverkusen took the top of the Bundesliga as the freefall of Union Berlin continues.
On Saturday, Real Madrid were without mighty Jude Bellingham, but they still rocked Valencia. Even still, they can’t overtake high-flying underdogs Girona atop LaLiga.
Paris Saint-Germain are your new Ligue 1 leaders after beating Stade de Reims, with Kylian Mbappé netting his first hat trick of the season. Nevertheless, his coach still found nits to pick in his game after the match.
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Here’s everything you missed from this weekend’s action…
Barca scrape past Alaves as worries grow about underlying performances
Robert Lewandowski scored twice as Barcelona recovered from conceding within 17 seconds of the opening whistle to beat Alaves by 2-1 at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday — but this was far from the performance manager Xavi Hernández had demanded from his side. Barça were woeful in the first 45 minutes, were whistled off at the break by the home supporters and needed a brilliant header and a penalty from Lewandowski to eventually turn things around.
Speaking ahead of the game, Xavi insisted his team are not in crisis, but the pressure has risen in recent weeks. Defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek — Barça’s second loss in three games — led to the coach calling for a “reset” ahead of the visit of Alaves.
Xavi, who said his team needed to recover their identity, brought in Pedri, back from injury, for his first start since August, while João Cancelo was shifted to left-back. Any hopes of an easy afternoon went out of the window inside the first minute, though, when the visitors opened the scoring. Young striker Samu Omorodion, on loan from Atletico Madrid, turned home from close range with just 17 seconds on the clock.
There was no immediate reaction from Barça. In fact, they were lucky not to fall further behind. Samu hit the side netting, then fired wide when one-on-one with Marc-André ter Stegen and then smashed the crossbar after getting the better of Jules Koundé. He should have had a hat-trick inside 30 minutes. It prompted Xavi to switch around Kounde and Ronald Araújo, who was playing at right-back.
Araujo helped nullify Samu and the tactical tweak also had attacking consequences. It was from the right-back position that Kounde created Barça’s equaliser, crossing for Lewandowski to brilliantly head home after the break. Barça then won the game from the penalty spot in the 78th minute. Iñigo Martínez’s pass found substitute Ferran Torres, who was fouled, and Lewandowski converted his second goal from the spot.
The final minutes were far from comfortable, though, with Alaves pushing for an equaliser on another tricky afternoon for Barça. Three points was the minimum expected. The comeback meant the whistles that greeted the half-time whistle were not repeated at full-time, but a marked improvement will be needed after the international break. Alaves recorded a higher xG, or expected goals — 1.75 to Barça’s 1.5 — and their coach Luis García was left to lament the difference in individual quality.
“I leave here sad,” Garcia said. “The key is the first half. You have to be 2-0 or 3-0 up. The big difference is [Barça] can win games individually without being at their most fluid and, if you don’t take your chances, they can kill you.”
The good news for Barça is nothing is lost. They remain just four points behind surprise leaders Girona and two off Real Madrid. There are some big tests around the corner, mind. Rayo Vallecano, Porto, Atletico Madrid and Girona are up next. — Sam Marsden
Man City score four but concede four, missing opportunity to extend lead
Manchester City missed the chance to move three points clear of Liverpool ahead of their top-of-the-table clash after the international break after Cole Palmer’s 95th minute penalty sealed a 4-4 draw for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Palmer, who joined Chelsea in a £40m move from City in September, beat Éderson from the spot in stoppage time after Rúben Dias had conceded the penalty with a foul on Armando Broja. The 21-year-old’s goal ensured that Mauricio Pochettino’s team were rewarded for their spirited performance, six days after a 4-1 win away to early-season leaders Tottenham.
But having taken the lead on three separate occasions, City failed to emerge with all three points after repeatedly allowing Chelsea to fightback and Pep Guardiola’s side ended the game having conceded four goals in any fixture for the first time since Sept 2020.
Two goals from Erling Haaland moved the Norwegian forward to within one goal of 50 Premier League goals. Haaland has taken just 47 games to reach 49 goals, with former Newcastle and Manchester United forward Andy Cole currently holding the record for being the quickest to 50 Premier League goals by taking 65 games to do so.
City also scored through Manuel Akanji and Rodri, but Chelsea hit back with goals from Thiago Silva, Raheem Sterling, Nico Jackson and Palmer.
But although Palmer’s equaliser denied City the win, City still go into the international break as Premier League leaders and face Liverpool next at the Etihad. — Mark Ogden
Leverkusen go top of Bundesliga as Union Berlin hit rock bottom
Thanks to a decisive 4-0 win over Union Berlin, Bayer Leverkusen cement themselves as top dogs of the Bundesliga, two points clear of second-placed Bayern Munich.
Following their stoppage time victory over Azerbaijani champions Qarabag in the Europa League, Leverkusen displayed a dominant performance against a struggling Union side. While Union Berlin had finished the previous season above Leverkusen, the roles were reversed on Sunday in terms of who went into this game as the favourites.
Union Berlin had lost eight consecutive league games, unable to score in the previous three, and they once again could not find the back of the net. Union’s fans have shown support for head coach Urs Fischer and even lashed out against critical media coverage in recent weeks, but Fischer seems unable to instil some confidence into his players.
From the first minute, Leverkusen looked much sharper and went ahead thanks to another screamer by Alex Grimaldo, who at this point has to be considered one of the best wingbacks in Europe. Even though Leverkusen were wasteful with their chances, their dominance gave them plenty of opportunities to break down Union’s defence.
Suffering yet another defeat, Union have reached a new low this season, as they are now dead last in the Bundesliga. The club have shown that they like to do things a little differently. Perhaps they prove it again and stick to their manager during this exceptional slump. — Constantin Eckner
Man City continue to stumble down WSL table
Statistically, Sunday’s home fixture against Brighton was one Manchester City should have won, but the recurring theme of the Citizens creating and carving is nothing new — indeed, City have been one of the most productive teams in the WSL for years. But there is another theme with the Citizens, one that was on show last season as it was last week, with City finding plenty of chances in front of goal but not converting.
In that sense, maybe it wasn’t so much of a surprise how Man City’s 1-0 loss to Brighton played out at the Joie Stadium on Sunday afternoon: City attacked, and Brighton defended, resolutely. Despite their best efforts, the hosts could simply not turn the ball home, even striking the woodwork twice and turning up the pressure in the second half as manager Gareth Taylor went to his bench for more attacking reinforcements.
As they have so far this season, Brighton picked their moments to go forward with aplomb and a smart counter nine minutes from fulltime brought about the only goal as Lee Geum-min slotted home from close range after being found by Pauline Bremer. Even with time left on the clock, there was the inevitability of City drawing a blank and falling to a second consecutive league loss, leaving them adrift early in the season.
For Brighton who surrendered two points late in the game against the red half of Manchester last weekend, it is another clear step in the right direction for the team under Mel Phillips. — Sophie Lawson
Americans Abroad: Dest and Tillman combine in PSV romp
Sunday was a banner day for U.S. men’s national team players in Eindhoven. In PSV’s 4-0 rout over PEC Zwolle, Sergiño Dest and Malik Tillman combined for the final goal of the day.
Another USMNT member, Ricardo Pepi, came on in the second half for PSV and played 15 minutes but didn’t add his name to the scoresheet.
— ESPN NL (@ESPNnl) November 12, 2023
Elsewhere on Sunday, goalkeeper Matt Turner again started on the bench for Nottingham Forest as Odisseas Vlachodimos got the nod, suggesting last week’s change in goal was not a mere blip. — Caitlin Murray
Liverpool cruised to a comfy 3-0 win over Brentford on Sunday, maintaining their 100% win record at home this season. With their win, Liverpool closed their gap to Manchester City by just one point after Man City nabbed a draw later Sunday.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was proud of the fight his team displayed in a 4-4 draw to Chelsea on Sunday, saying that the players could’ve gone “soft” after last season’s incredible success, but it hasn’t happened.
Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino, meanwhile, used his post-game press conference to offer an apology to the match officials and to Guardiola for forgoing the customary post-match handshake. Instead, the Chelsea boss was too preoccupied with yelling at the referee as the final whistle blew. “I want to apologise because it is not a good image for me and for football, this type of behaviour,” he said.
There’s more to Madrid than Bellingham
Jude Bellingham was in the stands, not on the pitch, but Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo showed in Real Madrid’s 5-1 win over Valencia in LaLiga that there are plenty of goals in this Madrid team, with or without the already talismanic England midfielder. Bellingham had been ruled out earlier on Saturday — the shoulder injury picked up against Rayo Vallecano last weekend is more troublesome than first thought — and that gave Vinícius and Rodrygo the chance to take centre stage.
Both have been questioned this season. Rodrygo hadn’t scored in LaLiga since Aug. 12. Vinícius had scored just twice in the league, his last coming against Osasuna on Oct. 7. There was a suspicion that coach Carlo Ancelotti’s change of formation, dropping his habitual 4-3-3 to accommodate Bellingham in a midfield four, had left the Brazilians disorientated, squeezed uncomfortably into a front two.
Vinícius in particular was determined to deliver against Valencia. The last time these two teams met, on May 21 at Mestalla, he was subjected to racist abuse from the crowd. The criminal trial of the three alleged perpetrators is ongoing. Valencia’s away fans were even warned about their matchday conduct by the club ahead of this trip to the Bernabeu.
The first half was not as one-sided as the 5-1 scoreline suggests. Valencia forward Hugo Duro missed a hat trick of presentable chances, two of them saved by Madrid’s stand-in goalkeeper Andriy Lunin.
By that time, Madrid were already 1-0 up thanks to Dani Carvajal’s unexpected, left-footed strike on the bounce in the third minute. It was the right-back’s second goal this season, the first time he’s scored twice in the same LaLiga campaign in a decade.
Rodrygo was already looking confident. He almost pulled off the assist of the century for Vinicius when some electric, spinning footwork took the entire Valencia defence out of the game midway through the first half. Not long afterward, he provided the cross that allowed Vinícius to make it 2-0. It was an unconventional but somehow appropriate finish, chesting the ball into the net with the crest on his Real Madrid shirt.
In the second half, Valencia’s young team — Javi Guerra is 20, Diego López and Fran Pérez are 21 — began to crumble. Vinicius made it 3-0 in the 48th minute, cutting infield and shooting effortlessly low inside the near post. Ninety-two seconds later, Rodrygo added a fourth, finishing coolly when goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili gifted him the ball. The game’s outstanding player, Rodrygo made it 5-0 before the end, before Duro belatedly responded with a consolation goal.
Two goals for Vinícius, and two goals and two assists for Rodrygo. Their loss of goal-scoring form was temporary. Now the challenge is to maintain this uptick when Bellingham returns to the team. With all three firing, Madrid’s attack will be formidable. — Alex Kirkland
Luis Enrique unimpressed by Mbappé despite hat trick
Kylian Mbappé went home from Stade de Reims with the match ball in his bag but also with an incoming rollocking from manager Luis Enrique. The Spanish manager was not happy with his superstar after Paris Saint-Germain’s 3-0 win on Saturday.
“I’m not really happy with Kylian today,” Luis Enrique told French television after the match. “I have nothing to say about the goals but he can help the team more in different ways. I am going to talk to him about it first. I’ll never tell you what it’s about, it’s private.”
He doesn’t need to explain further.
Against a very good Reims team, who deserved much better than a 3-0 loss, Mbappé’s lack of defensive work and commitment at times was penalising for his team. He made up for it with his three goals — his first hat trick of the season — but he needs to work harder for the team out of possession. The issue is not new and has happened under many managers, but it is rare for a manager to criticise a player who has just netted three goals.
The Parisians are top of the table for the first time this season, and with Nice’s draw on Friday against Montpellier, they are certain to stay there through matchday 12. For Mbappé, it is now 13 goals in 11 Ligue 1 games and 29 goals for the calendar year, three short of his previous record of 32, which he achieved in 2022. No doubt that, with more than a month of competition still left in 2023, he will smash it. — Julien Laurens
Arsenal remind Burnley of Premier League pedigree
Arsenal love playing newly promoted teams at the Emirates. Ahead of Saturday’s game against Burnley, the Gunners were unbeaten in their past 37 home league games against such opposition.
Do Arsenal really have the firepower for another title challenge?
Shaka Hislop reviews Arsenal’s performance after they won 3-1 win vs. Burnley.
It always seemed unlikely that Vincent Kompany’s team would be the side to break that run, and so it proved as Arsenal eventually got the better of their opponents to win 3-1 in north London.
Leandro Trossard put Arsenal ahead with what was Arsenal’s 1,000th goal at the Emirates since its opening in 2006. Bukayo Saka has assisted all six of Trossard’s goals so far this season and their partnership has helped Arsenal navigate the injuries suffered by Martin Ødegaard and Gabriel Jesus.
Josh Brownhill’s deflected effort briefly had Burnley level but Arsenal regained their lead just three minutes later when William Saliba rose highest in the box to head home. Oleksandr Zinchenko doubled Arsenal’s lead with a goal that had fans of a certain age reminiscing about Paulo Di Canio’s scissor kick against Wimbledon in 2000.
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Arteta’s side. Kai Havertz was a passenger again, and it was no surprise to see him substituted in the wake of the celebrations that followed Saliba’s goal in the 57th minute. His replacement Fabio Vieira didn’t fare too much better though as he was shown a red card for a high tackle on Brownhill in midfield.
Burnley never looked like getting back into the game in the closing stages despite their man advantage. Nobody in the division has scored fewer goals than Kompany’s team this season (9).
“The first promotion up, it’s pretty ruthless,” Kompany admitted after the final whistle. — Tom Chambers
Americans Abroad: Balogun repeating his 2022-23 form is no guarantee
The longest Folarin Balogun went without scoring in his breakout 2022-23 season on loan with Stade de Reims was four games. Saturday marked his fourth straight appearance for AS Monaco in which he was held off the scoresheet.
Now, those four games last season were spread across 354 minutes while his current goalless drought is just 232 minutes. However, that tells a story of its own.
Balogun started Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Le Havre AC from the substitutes’ bench and wasn’t introduced until the 73rd minute. In Monaco’s 2-0 defeat to Lille on Oct. 29, the 22-year-old United States international was taken off at half-time.
Twice in the past three matches, then, Balogun has been on the periphery of manager Adi Hütter’s plans or seen as a detriment to his tactical vision.
It’s far, far too early for the Arsenal youth academy graduate to panic, but this month-long dry spell does serve as a reminder that it’s one thing to achieve success in Europe’s Big Five leagues, but it’s another entirely to sustain it. — Austin Lindberg
Manchester United are sweating on the fitness of Rasmus Højlund and Christian Eriksen after their narrow 1-0 win over Luton Town. Højlund was substituted in the second-half with a hamstring problem while Eriksen was forced off in the first-half with a knee injury. It’s more bad news for manager Erik ten Hag, who is already without Casemiro, Lisandro Martínez, Luke Shaw, Tyrell Malacia and Jonny Evans. Aaron Wan-Bissaka missed the win over Luton because of illness while Jadon Sancho remains exiled from the first team because of a disciplinary issue. Read the full story.
After Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta had been criticised for branding the level of officiating in the Premier League as an “absolute disgrace” following last week’s defeat to Newcastle United, he requested reporters ask him about his opinion of the officials in charge of the Gunners’ 3-1 win over Burnley on Saturday, saying that they were “so good.” “Please ask me about VAR because today it was good. … I hope that I’m on TV saying the referees are so good and I’m completely with them and being very constructive,” Arteta said. Read the full story.
Newcastle United defender Kieran Trippier confronted angry supporters of his own team following their surprise 2-0 defeat at AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday. In a video posted on social media, England international Trippier can be seen walking over to a section of Newcastle fans and responding to one supporter by saying: “Are the lads not giving everything? How many injuries have we got?” He was then led away by teammate Joelinton. Read the full story.
And finally …
Who would’ve thought that coming into the November international break, the league leaders in Spain wouldn’t be Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Atletico Madrid?
We continue celebrating 🥳
— Girona FC (@GironaFC_Engl) November 11, 2023
The Girona fairytale continues its magical run as the Catalan side had to crawl back and earn a 2-1 comeback win against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday to get their fifth straight win of the LaLiga season as they continue to top the league heading into the final international break of the year.
Michel’s side conceded early as Vallecano’s Álvaro García scored in the fifth minute but they turned it around with an Artem Dovbyk equaliser just before half-time and a Sávio winner in the 66th minute. With that win, Girona are now two points clear of second-place Real Madrid, the only team they have lost to this season.
It’s now 11 wins out of 13 matches for a Michel side who have only dropped points to Madrid and Real Sociedad, a remarkable start for a team who are only competing in their fourth-ever top-flight season. Dobvyk also extended his lead atop the goal-scoring charts with his seventh goal of the season, an incredible feat considering he is the club’s record signing at a mere €7 million.
In a season in which we’ve seen underdogs such as Tottenham Hotspur, Bayer Leverkusen and Nice have fantastic starts to their league campaigns, it’s safe to say that the Girona bandwagon might begin to fill up very soon. — Roberto Rojas