Damien Kayat looks back at this past weekend's European football talking point as Italian imports shine in the Premier League, the Bundesliga thrills and more!
The Italian Job – Premier League Edition
It all felt a bit Serie A in England this weekend. Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku transcribed their rivalry from Italian into English, each collecting a brace in what feels like a portent of things to come this year. I think it also underscores Guardiola’s failure to secure that alpha marksman in this transfer window. Ronaldo’s performance in and of itself was fairly unexceptional (he should seriously consider sending Freddie Woodman an early Christmas card). But his presence had a galvanizing impact on the side that was tangible. The likes of Fernandes and Pogba seemed to have a greater sense of clarity. Hell, even Martial was dummying like Cruyff. You get the feeling that those pesky low-blocks won’t be quite as effective against this United side.
Not to be upstaged, Lukaku delivered a masterclass in efficiency that somewhat flattered Tuchel’s Chelsea. This Chelsea side almost feels custom-designed for his specific skillset. He just has to hold up the ball and play within the width of the posts. There’s no need for extraneous runs out wide (I’m looking at you Jose). He doesn’t have to be an all-purpose livewire ala Luis Suarez. In fact, one could almost accuse him of looking vaguely disinterested out there. But that calmness belies a fierce determination to prove many naysayers wrong this season. On a slightly less glamorous note, Saul Niguez had perhaps one of the worst debuts I have seen for some time. I understand the whole ‘he has to get up to pace’ riff. But seriously, he gave the ball away constantly under virtually no pressure. Perhaps he should have gone to United- him and Fred would have been perfect together.
Oh, and Arsenal won. Arteta-ball finally comes to fruition. I finally get it. All you have to do is play Norwich at home every weekend. It’s genius.
Bundesliga heats up
While Wolfsburg maintained their flawless start to the season with an efficient away victory this weekend, things are starting to look rather predictable in their slipstream. The two Bundesliga giants gave major notices of intent this weekend. Bayern were scintillating as they picked apart RB Leipzig. Julian Nagelsmann’s side are starting to play with real vivacity (Barcelona be forewarned). Teenage sensation Jamal Musiala was a difference-maker in the 2nd half while Leroy Sane is starting to thrive on that left-hand wing. Under Pep it would have seemed sacrilegious for Sane to not be cutting in from the right (Pep does love his inverted wingers). Marcel Sabitzer also looked remarkably assured on debut against his former club. This isn’t just the Robert Lewandowski show.
Almost certainly the best match in Europe this weekend, Leverkusen and Dortmund offered a glimpse into why the Bundesliga is considered by some to be the most exciting league in Europe. This seven-goal thriller demanded a lot from Marco Rose’s side: they went 3-2 down in the 55th minute. But Erling Haaland and his men turned on the style to secure a remarkable 4-3 victory. One particular highpoint came when an irate Leverkusen supporter threw a beer until the field. Jude Bellingham- showcasing remarkable elan- proceeded to take a drink from the beverage on the field! It was supposedly the first time that the 18-year-old has ever drunk beer (he’s apparently not a huge fan). Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that Man United are looking towards Declan Rice to solve their midfield woes. I would be more inclined towards Bellingham. He is more dynamic and already versed in elite European competition.
Life after Messi and Ronaldo
Koeman may feel relieved that his LaLiga match against Sevilla was cancelled due to the South-American qualifiers. He will need all his players operating at maximum capacity this week to compete against the mighty Bayern. And things are already looking slightly ominous. Could you ever imagine a scenario where Barcelona were incapable of selling out the Nou Camp ahead of a Champions League tie? That despite the fact that the capacity will only be 40 000 this week due to Covid restrictions. The post-Messi feeling of bereavement is still massive and Roland Koeman is just not the warm, cuddly patriarch that fans can take solace in. They will instead be hoping that Memphis Depay can continue his brilliant early season form.
Juventus and Ronaldo are an entirely different scenario. There’s just not the same level of kinship between Ronaldo and the Juventus faithful (it’s all a bit more mercenary). But the Old lady of Italian football will still take time to absorb his departure. Their 2-1 defeat to Napoli was a painful reminder of just how dependent Juventus became on Rolando’s goals. Despite scoring this week, Alvaro Morata is always going to be a streak merchant. Can Dybala step up and become the next figurehead of this great institution? I don’t know. Max Allegri- like Ronald Koeman- certainly has his work cut out for him.
Player of the Week (Or Unsung Hero)- Luke Shaw
I’m not trying to be deliberately provocative with this selection. Ronaldo was obviously the back-page story. Benzema scored a magnificent hat-trick for Real Madrid. This is more like a body-of-work type of award (you see this at the Oscars from time to time). Luke Shaw is just brilliant, week-in, week-out. Ronaldo may be the icon and Fernandes the conductor. Shaw is the silent engine of Manchester United. I don’t know when he inherited the mantle of Roberto Carlos and became such a buccaneering presence on that left-hand side. He was immense all afternoon, proving far more influential than the much-ballyhooed Jadon Sancho on the left. If only Wan-Bissaka had 25% of his creative output. Shaw must be the greatest indictment of Jose Mourinho and most powerful symbol of his managerial decline.