It was another busy weekend in European club football as the Premier League, LaLiga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A all had tasty match-ups on the menu.
The weekend started with Paris Saint-Germain getting upset by Nice while Bayern Munich battled Leverkusen to a draw. Meanwhile, Saturday had its own surprises, with Manchester United falling to Brighton, Inter Milan walloping AC Milan and Valencia embarrassing Atletico Madrid.
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So let’s get into it. After an exciting weekend from Europe’s big five leagues, here are your talking points, highlights and the news you need to know.
The Saturday lead: Liverpool again offer reasons for optimism or worry (depending how you look at it)
Liverpool haven’t always been convincing this season but briefly on Saturday, after beating Wolves 3-1 at Molineux, they were top of the table with 13 points from a possible 15.
Wolves took the lead against the Reds, just like Bournemouth and Newcastle did in previous weeks already this season, but again Jurgen Klopp’s side came back to win.
Liverpool, who handed 20-year-old Jarell Quansah his first Premier League start in defence, were lucky they were only 1-0 down at half-time but in the second half, their attacking power was too much for the home side. Luis Díaz changed the game after coming on at the break, Cody Gakpo got the equaliser and Mohamed Salah chipped in with two assists. Klopp was also able to bring £85 million striker Darwin Núñez off the bench with the score at 1-1.
After missing out on the top four last season, it’s difficult to know what aims Klopp should be setting for Liverpool this season. Is securing a swift return to the Champions League enough or can this team emulate the class of 2019, 2020 and 2022 and push for the title?
They have only kept one clean sheet this season but they have the attacking talent to rival any other team in the league. –Rob Dawson
Saturday talking points around the leagues
Man United are flailing, but the club can’t turn on Ten Hag now
Manchester United are in trouble, but they have no option but to back manager Erik ten Hag. They’re a club seemingly lurching from crisis to crisis off the field, and things aren’t going much better on it, but they’ve staked so much on Ten Hag that they can’t panic now.
The Dutchman has been central to a transfer policy that has seen former players Lisandro Martínez, Antony, André Onana and Sofyan Amrabat arrive at Old Trafford, plus many others with links to Dutch football, while he’s also been given licence to lay down the law to the squad. Cristiano Ronaldo was cut loose last season after his spat with Ten Hag, and £73 million forward Jadon Sancho might have played his last game for the club following his very public row with his manager.
If Ten Hag is not the right man for this job, then who is? For the first time in the Premier League era, United have lost three of their first five games but club leadership can take solace in the fact that last season began with defeats to Brighton and Brentford and Ten Hag managed to turn things around.
Ten Hag, the 53-year-old former Ajax boss, needs some respite quickly, but it won’t get any easier with a Champions League trip to Bayern Munich to come on Wednesday. — Dawson
Dawson: Atmosphere at Ten Hag’s Man United disintegrating
Rob Dawson reacts to loud boos at Old Trafford after Erik ten Hag’s decision to sub Anthony Martial on for Rasmus Hojlund.
Guardiola’s influence palpable as Man City winning machine rolls on
Manager Pep Guardiola’s powers of persuasion came to the fore as Manchester City beat West Ham 3-1 at London Stadium on Saturday.
It appeared likely at one stage that both Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker would leave the Premier League champions this summer. Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain were courting Silva while Bayern Munich pursued Walker only for both players to sign new deals with Man City following lengthy conversations with Guardiola, who was desperate for the pair to stay. Saturday proved why.
While only Rodri, with 129 touches, got on the ball more than Walker’s 105 touches as City dominated play in east London, Silva provided the moment of quality to unlock a spirited and compact West Ham side, lifting a 76th-minute finish over Alphonse Areola to put the visitors 2-1 up. They had to come from behind after James Ward-Prowse’s 36th-minute header threatened an upset with the Hammers taking the one clear chance that came their way.
But Jérémy Doku marked his second City appearance with a fine goal just 41 seconds into the second half before Silva struck and Erling Haaland ended an afternoon in which he looked more human than he has in a while with a late third.
Haaland had as many shots (9) as completed passes and ended with an individual xG of 2.47, underlining the quality of chances he spurned. Ultimately, it didn’t matter as City maintained their perfect start to this Premier League campaign.
There was a reminder, however, that Guardiola, back in the dugout after a minor back operation, can’t always get his own way as Lucas Paquetá opposed his City side. City had two offers rejected this summer for Paqueta, who wanted to make the move, and he made a point of embracing Guardiola before and after the 90 minutes here.
Guardiola lingered a little longer than the standard post-match interaction with an opponent, appearing to whisper something into the Brazilian’s ear. We may never know what was said but West Ham will hope it isn’t as effective as his words to Silva and Walker. — James Olley
Inter Milan firmly secure upper hand in derby vs. AC Milan
Inter have made beating their neighbours and arch rivals AC Milan a bit of a habit now — think Champions League semifinals, Coppa Italia semifinals and Italian Super Cup all last season, as well as many of their head-to-heads in the league in the last few years. As of Saturday, the Nerazzuri have won the last five Milan derbies in a row for the first time in their whole history.
Yet, their demolition of their crosstown rivals on Saturday was on another level — a 5-1 margin with maximum efficiency, brilliance, directness and ruthlessness. It was manager Filippo Inzaghi’s Inter at their best, and their biggest win in the derby. Furthermore, it was first time they scored five times since March 1974 when they also won 5-1.
And Inter fans have a new hero. Marcus Thuram scored a fabulous goal to make it 2-0 before the break, coming inside onto his right foot and placing the ball in Mike Maignan’s top corner. He was also involved in his team’s first one after five minutes.
An early first-half goal, a late first-half goal and the game was pretty much over already. Milan tried after the break to come back but everything Inzaghi tried worked and his players continue their perfect start of the season with a fourth win in as many league games with 13 goals scored and just one conceded! A hugely impressive start for Inter while this defeat will hurt AC Milan a great deal. –Julien Laurens
More evidence that Bayern Munich’s grip on the Bundesliga is in jeopardy
Bayern Munich needed a spark. Yes, the long-standing Bundesliga champions came out of the international break in second place on goal difference, but their uneven play and questionable transfer window offered valid reason for concern. Friday’s visit of league leaders Bayer Leverkusen offered a golden chance to reassert themselves as the best team in Germany, and while it ended in a dramatic 2-2 draw, manager Thomas Tuchel & Co. have something solid on which to build.
An early Bayern Munich lead — thanks to Harry Kane’s reflexive header at the back post after just seven minutes — gave way to a dominant opening 20 minutes, but Leverkusen didn’t wilt. Alejandro Grimaldo scored his first Bundesliga goal with a superb free-kick to level things on 24 minutes, though Leverkusen couldn’t press their advantage as they ended the half seemingly in control.
Leverkusen’s summer signing Victor Boniface, who already has four goals in three career Bundesliga appearances, got the better of Bayern centerback Dayot Upamecano time and time again only to squander his chances. The one shot he did get beyond Sven Ullreich was disallowed for offside as the second half saw both teams have chances to take the lead.
Kane was denied by Lukas Hradecky’s foot after a sweeping Bayern move, Boniface flashed a pair of shots narrowly over the bar and Florian Wirtz hit the post for Leverkusen, but with four minutes left, the hosts would lead again. A flowing move down the left was capped by Leon Goretzka’s late goal into the box and confident, sweeping finish on 86 minutes, which had everyone in the Allianz Arena (and watching on TV) realizing that Bayern had “done it again.”
Then, in the first minute of injury time, a clumsy collision by Alphonso Davies on Jonas Hofmann in an harmless position on the left edge of the box gave Leverkusen a chance to equalize from the spot. Substitute Exequiel Palacios duly dispatched it beyond Ullreich, sealing Leverkusen’s comeback for a 2-2 finish, leaving Tuchel again searching for answers.
The draw was what both sides deserved, but both sides will invariably draw different conclusions. For Leverkusen, it was vindication that this squad has the talent and tenacity to challenge for the title. For Bayern, it was a point well-earned ahead of a Champions League date with Manchester United, and a chance to regroup before league games with Bochum and RB Leipzig to close out the month of September. At this early stage of the campaign, it should offer confirmation that things aren’t as bad as they seem. –James Tyler
Bayern denied go-ahead goal by Leverkusen’s stunning double save
Bayern Munich gets two shots on goal, but Bayer Leverkusen somehow keeps the ball out with some superb last-ditch defending.
Valencia bring Atletico Madrid back down to earth
From a 7-0 win before the international break to Saturday’s meek 3-0 defeat at Valencia — this was a reality check for Atletico Madrid, and a serious blow to their image as dark horse title contenders. Coach Diego Simeone called it “possibly the weakest game in the time I’ve been at a club” and that’s quite a claim, given that he took over in December 2011.
Atletico’s reputation was built on a rock-solid defence, but that was nowhere to be seen at Mestalla. Neither was the midfield. Captain Koke is injured, Rodrigo de Paul was hurt on international duty with Argentina, Thomas Lemar went off in the first half here, and the deep-lying midfielder who was the club’s number one target during the summer transfer window never arrived.
The Champions League group stage begins this week, as Atletico look to avoid a repeat of last year’s embarrassing elimination. They travel to Lazio on Tuesday, and then there’s a Madrid derby with Real next weekend. This was the worst possible preparation. –Alex Kirkland
Javier Guerra curls in a beauty to make it 3-0 Valencia
Javier Guerra goal 54th minute Valencia 3-0 Atletico Madrid
The Joaos add wow factor for Barcelona
Barcelona temporarily moved to the top of LaLiga as they blitzed Real Betis 5-0 on Saturday at Montjuic, with João Félix and João Cancelo adding the wow factor on their full debuts and Ferran Torres ending the team’s 866-day wait for a goal from a free-kick.
Felix opened the scoring from a tight angle before helping set up the second for Robert Lewandowski with a delightful dummy. Torres added the third as he scored Barça’s first direct free-kick since Lionel Messi netted against Valencia in May 2021. Substitute Raphinha netted the fourth and Cancelo completed the rout with a brilliant solo effort.
Deadline day signings Felix and Cancelo both came into the side for their first starts for their new club. They were the stars of a first half that saw Barça hit heights they had not previously hit this season. Despite coming through their first four games unbeaten, they had not always impressed, but this was different.
Felix had already had a few nice moments when he delivered the opener with an acute finish. The goal was born from Barça’s press and a thumping Cancelo challenge. The second goal came from a sustained spell of pressure. Cancelo provided an extra body in the middle before Andreas Christensen’s incisive pass, brilliantly left by Felix, was turned home by Lewandowski.
Only the offside flag denied Felix a second goal after the break. The floodgates soon opened, though, as Betis crumbled. Torres fired home a brilliant free-kick, Raphinha put the finishing touch to another good move and Cancelo beat his man before firing low into the bottom corner to seal a memorable evening for Xavi’s side. They move one point clear of Real Madrid, who host Real Sociedad on Sunday. –Sam Marsden
Barcelona vs. Real Betis – Game Highlights
Watch the Game Highlights from Barcelona vs. Real Betis, 09/16/2023
News of the day
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag was met with booing from the crowd as he subbed off Rasmus Højlund for Anthony Martial during his side’s 3-1 defeat to Brighton. Asked about it, the manager unsurprisingly opted to brush it off, saying it was “a positive” because it showed the fans were happy with Højlund’s performance. “It’s good they give this signal, this message,” he said. “It will give Rasmus belief.”
Why has Jude Bellingham been off to such a hot start for Real Madrid? Well, he’s talented, sure, but manager Carlo Ancelotti says it’s more than that. It’s the player’s personality that is the reason he has adapted so quickly to life at Real Madrid, Ancelotti said, adding: “Good players with personality suffer a bit less than the others.”
Paris Saint-Germain suffered their first loss of the Ligue 1 season as Nice forward Terem Moffi scored two goals and earned an assist to help his side to a 3-2 win in Paris on Friday. PSG, who on Tuesday will host Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, could have provisionally topped the standings with a win but slipped down to third on eight points.
And finally …
Fifteen Las Palmas players — over half the squad — and two of the club’s physios were left red-faced after missing the team’s flight to mainland Spain for Sunday’s LaLiga game at Sevilla.
A communication breakdown saw the group go for a coffee at a cafe inside Gran Canaria airport when their flight was delayed, only to then arrive late to the departure gate with the plane already preparing for take-off.
Transportation is a major issue for Canary Islands clubs like Las Palmas, with flights to the rest of Spain taking just under three hours.
Fortunately, the club was able to arrange a last-minute charter flight for the players later on Saturday, praising local airline Binter for “managing to find an available plane and crew” to ensure the entire squad could spend the night in Seville ahead of the match. –Marsden