Damien Kayat highlights talking points from this past weekend’s European football action as Arsenal, Bayern Leverkusen and Real Madird all shone.
Gunners pick up yet another statement win
Sure, last week’s victory against Liverpool showed that Mikel Arteta’s side have it in them to compete with the big boys. But away matches have really been the bane of their existence in recent times.
And West Ham- with all their physicality- had become something of a bogeyside for the Gunners of late. With that in mind, I think their 6-0 demolition of the Hammers- at the London Stadium- is just as significant as their victory against the Reds last week.
It tapped into the flamboyance that they flaunted in the opening salvos of last campaign. It also showed that Arsenal- long considered the softest touch in the Prem- have quickly become one of the most physically robust outfits out there.
They were a menace from dead-balls throughout the match (David Moyes must be livid with his side’s schoolyard defending). Declan Rice put any talk of a West Ham hoodoo behind him with a towering man-of-the-match performance, scoring a stunner and setting up two goals in a brilliant display.
The performance draws them equal on points with City (though the Citizens do have that game in hand). It also boosted their GD tremendously and that could be what separates these teams when all is said and done.
City and Liverpool got the jobs done this weekend without really having to get out of second gear. Pep will be thrilled at their clean sheet against Everton while Klopp must be delighted with the way his side is coping without the iconic presence of Mo Salah.
Leverkusen crush Bayern spirts
Harry Kane must feel like he is cursed. He left Spurs as a Premier League legend- despite never winning a piece of silverware for the North London club. A move to Bayern seemed like the perfect remedy to that: they have won the Bundesliga for the last 11 seasons.
But there is now a serious chance that his first season in Germany will also end trophyless. And let’s be frank: that’s not down to Harry Kane. The English marksman has been exemplary this season and he could end up breaking a plethora of German records.
It’s more down to the continued excellence of Bayer Leverkusen and Liverpool manger-in-waiting Xabi Alonso. They pummeled Bayern 3-0 this weekend, reducing Die Roten to just one shot on target despite having only 39% of the ball.
Tuchel made the mistake of trying to mirror Leverkusen, employing a 3-4-2-1 formation in an attempt to nullify the opposition. It didn’t work. Leverkusen pressed Bayern mercilessly, meaning that much of their possession was really in their own half. Their wingbacks remind me of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson in their pomp, bombing down the flanks and forming the impetus of their attack.
Grimaldo ran Bayern ragged while both Nathan Tella and Frimpong starred on the right. Leverkusen are still unbeaten in all competitions this season, winning 27 matches and drawing just four (with a +71 GD). Astonishing.
Alonso knew Tuchel was going to play a back three and prepared for it accordingly.— EBL (@EBL2017) February 11, 2024
It’s the biggest reason Leverkusen won.
Wirtz’ dropping movements and Grimaldo’s inversions killed Bayern’s man-to-man press in many moments and gave Leverkusen the edge.pic.twitter.com/7RZTtmMJcV
Real flex their muscles while Barca struggles continue
Leverkusen’s victory over Bayern means there’s at least one European fairytale still on the cards this season. Because I think it’s fair to say that Girona’s far-fetched La Liga dreams are pretty much done and dusted.
They were hit with a hard dose of reality during their trip to the Santiago Bernabeu this weekend. Real took control of the LaLiga race with a scintillating 4-0 victory. Everything just seemed to click for Los Blancos. Bellingham played as a false 9 while Vini Jr and Rodrygo absolutely pillaged Girona down the flanks.
Valverde, Kroos and Camavinga were immense in midfield, providing the perfect platform for the attacking trio to flaunt their assets. It’s slightly worrying that Bellingham had to leave the field through injury. In any event, his brace keeps him in control of the Pichichi race for now.
Meanwhile, Barcelona scored a late equalizer to spare their blushes as they were held 3-3 by relegation-fodder Grenada (at home). At least this performance had a bit of dynamism. Lamine Yamal is one of the hottest young prospects in European football and he almost single-handedly kept them in this match. The fact that a 16-year-old is carrying the attacking unit of this side tells you everything you need to know about the issues at FC Barcelona.
Inter produce stunning comeback in Rome
With three wins from three games in charge, Roma manager Daniele Di Rossi really had the Giallorossi soaring after the shock firing of Jose Mourinho. And they looked set for a major upset this weekend, leading league leaders Inter Milan 2-1 at half-time at a rain-soaked Stadio Olimpico stadium.
Lautaro Martinez was having a poor game by his recent standards and Inter looked destined for a first defeat in some time. But Marcus Thuram turned the game on its head, scoring in the 49th minute before proving instrumental in the 56th minute Angelino own goal.
And Roma could never recover from that dramatic tonal swing, and Inter eventually ran out 4-2 winners courtesy of a late Bastoni breakaway goal. Still, Di Rossi won’t be too discouraged and I really think that Roma have a solid chance of picking up that fourth Champions League spot this year. Defending champions Napoli incredibly sit ninth after a dour 1-0 defeat to AC Milan.
Player of the Week- Vinicius Jr
Brazilian Vini Jr is really becoming something of a regular in this slot. But how could I deny him this week? I honestly think he is the most electrifying attacking player in Europe at this moment in time (Mbappe and Salah included).
He opened Real’s account against Girona, scoring a stunning solo curler that could not have been placed better. He then deliciously used the outside of his boot to play Bellingham in for the second. And his mazy dribble for the third- ultimately scored by Bellingham- will probably be sending Yan Cuoto to therapy.
This was a complete performance from a man who is almost making the Mbappe speculation superfluous.