Pep Guardiola turns into a football hipster, Thomas Vermaelen rises from the ashes and Stevan Jovetic has a deja-vu… Here’s this week’s European Football Roundup!
Atletico Provide Real Threat:
Atletico Madrid showed they remain a threat to be taken seriously in La Liga after a 3-0 away victory over Sevilla. The home side had only lost one game at home in the 2014/15 campaign. Atletico had to weather the early storm through resolute defending, typically seen in this Simeone side. The defensive solidity of Atletico proved key in this game, as new Sevilla striker Fernando Llorente struggled against the defensive partnership of Godin and Gimenez, with the Spanish striker left isolated. Not only does their strong defending make Atletico a nightmare to play, but their goal scoring threat from dangerously quick counter attacks can be devastating for any La Liga side.
A goal from an unlikely source proved the difference between Barcelona and Malaga on Saturday, as Thomas Vermaelen scored a second half winner to continue the Blaugrana’s perfect start. The goal was just reward for the Belgian centre-back, who may provide Luis Enrique with a selection headache upon the return of Gerard Pique, following two excellent performances. Having missed almost the entirety of last season through injury, Vermaelen must feel like a new signing for Barcelona, which is fortunate for them given their financial fair play ban.
There is a new manager in town, but standard fare resumed for Los Blancos at the Bernabeu, as Real Madrid thrashed Real Betis 5-0 in Rafael Benitez’s home debut. An early goal from Gareth Bale seemed to demoralise Betis, who seemed utterly powerless to resist the Madrid attack. Two goals from James Rodriguez were the picks of the bunch, his first a devastating free-kick from the edge of the box, his second an overhead kick from close range. Real Madrid looked to be back at their best last night, but let’s not get carried away; Betis hadn’t won away from home in 22 games before this fixture.
Joining Barcelona and Atletico Madrid with 100% records are Celta Vigo and Eibar, who both won at home at the weekend, with the latter securing a surprising 3 points against Super Cup winners Athletic Bilbao. Also, it appears new Villarreal man Roberto Soldado does actually remember how to score a goal. Soldado equalised against Espanyol before two late goals from Cedric Bakambu gave Villarreal the 3-1 win.
Pep Guardiola, Football Hipster:
As a result of both circumstance and Pep Guardiola’s ability to do whatever he wants, Bayern Munich played with three full backs in centre back. One could be forgiven for believing Guardiola has decided that the Bundesliga is simply too easy for Bayern, therefore in order to test his squad he has committed to using the most obscure starting line-ups imaginable. The unorthodox 3-1-4-3 formation the manager has been using only supports this theory! Either that or he is just being alternative because he’s a football hipster, mainstream formations being too uncool for Pep. In all seriousness however, Bayern have managed to strengthen without spending ludicrous amounts of money this summer (both Manchester clubs should take note). Douglas Costa looks to be a very effective signing, adding pace and skill to the Bayern attack that once again caused Bayern’s opposition problems from wide areas.
Without the former leader of their pack, Kevin de Bruyne, the Wolves devoured Schalke this weekend. In what was Schalke’s first defeat under new manager André Breitenreiter, goals from Bas Dost, Ricardo Rodriguez and Timm Klose dispatched the away side. This thrashing took place only days before the transfer of Julian Draxler from Schalke to Wolfsburg, symbolic of the reversal of roles between the two sides. Draxler provides a like-for-like replacement of De Bruyne; if he can stay injury free and continue his development at a steady rate, Draxler could become one of the best attacking midfielders in the world. Wolfsburg also captured Dante from Bayern Munich at the end of the transfer window as they prepare for a campaign in which they will play Champions League football once again.
On the topic of German Champions League outfits, Borussia Monchengladbach, have gotten off to the worst possible start; three losses in as many games see them in the relegation zone ahead of the international break. They were beaten 2-1 at the weekend by Werder Bremen and appear to be low on confidence following a 4-0 opening day defeat to Dortmund and a home defeat at the hands of Mainz on the second match day. Having been drawn into a tough Champions League group (they will face Juventus, Manchester City and Sevilla) Monchengladbach will need a drastic improvement in form if they are to stand a chance of European success this season.
Borussia Dortmund continue to run roughshod over Bundesliga teams, putting three past Hertha BSC at Signal Iduna Park. Thomas Tuchel’s team sit on top of the table for now, hoping this rich vein of form will carry on. Elsewhere, Ingolstadt have enjoyed a positive start to their Bundesliga season having earned a 1-0 victory away from home against Augsburg. The start to the season Ingolstadt have made is reminiscent to that of Augsburg themselves four years ago, when they were promoted. Having finished fifth last season, Augsburg would be a good model for newly promoted Ingolstadt to base themselves on.
For the first time in their history, Juventus have lost the opening two games of their campaign. Allegri’s side went behind to Roma in the 61st minute after a delightful free-kick from the underrated Miralem Pjanic, who was excellent in this important fixture. Only minutes after Patrice Evra had been sent off for Juventus, former Manchester City forward Edin Dzeko doubled Roma’s lead. The champions found a way back in to the game late on, with Paulo Dybala scoring three minutes from time to give the Bianconeri the opportunity to rescue a point in the final minutes. Juventus’ goal scorer then provided the chance for Giorgio Chiellini to level the score in injury time; however a vital save from on-loan Wojciech Szczesny preserved the points for Roma. A positive result in their next fixture against Chievo Verona will be key for Juventus’ confidence moving forwards.
Two weeks before they collide at the San Siro, both Milan clubs enjoyed three points this weekend. Late heroics from Stevan Jovetic once again earned Inter the win, as the Manchester City loanee converted a penalty in the 89th minute to put his side 2-1 ahead away from home to Carpi. Meanwhile, Milan boss Mihajlović was left unimpressed after his side underperformed at home to Empoli. Nevertheless, the effort was just enough for his side to earn three points, as they also won 2-1, with forwards Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano proving to be the difference. Following the result, the Milan boss cited the talents of his attackers as being the only reason his team were victorious.
Napoli continued a disappointing start to their campaign, with a 2-2 draw at home versus Sampdoria. A brace from Gonzalo Higuaín saw Napoli firmly in control going in to the second half, but two goals from Eder just shy of the hour mark earned the visitors a result. Chievo Verona appear to be a dark horse at this stage in the season given their 4-0 thrashing of Lazio, which takes them to seven goals and, more importantly, six points from their opening two games. This put an end to a miserable week for Lazio, who were knocked out of the Champions League before it even properly began by Bayer Leverkusen. Torino, Sassuolo and Palermo join Inter and Chievo with two wins from two.
Best of the Rest:
- In the big money match up of Ligue 1, PSG eased past Monaco with a 3-0 victory. The richest sides in France met at the Stade Louis II on Sunday, with Angel di Maria making his debut for the Parisians. The Argentine impressed, setting up the final goal with a long through ball to Ezequiel Lavezzi. Edinson Cavani also performed well, netting twice.
- PSG are now seven points clear of Monaco and nine points ahead of Marseille, who are still going through a rut despite their recent change in manager after the departure of Bielsa. Having been in high spirits last week coming off a 6-0 win, Marseille crashed back down to earth because of a 2-0 away defeat to Guingamp.
- After missing out on Champions League qualification having been defeated 7-1 on aggregate by Manchester United, Club Brugge rebounded by annihilating rivals Standard Liege 7-1 in the Belgian League.
- In the Eredivisie, PSV came from behind to defeat Feyenoord 3-1 in an important fixture on the Dutch football calendar. PSV will face Manchester United in the Champions League in two weeks’ time as they look to navigate a tricky group for the Pot A seeded Dutch team.
- A rare occurrence took place on Match day two in Portugal, with all three of the ‘Big Three’ failing to pick up three points. Regardless, proceedings reverted back to normal this weekend, starting on Saturday with Porto’s 2-0 win against Estoril and Benfica’s 3-2 away victory against Moireirense. Sporting Lisbon replied on Sunday by defeating Academica 3-1.
Coming up in European Football…
European football will resume in two weeks’ time following the international break, but big fixtures make it worth the wait:
- In the first major clash of the La Liga season, Barcelona visit the Vicente Calderón Stadium to face Atletico Madrid. Both teams head in to the game with two wins from two, looking to gain an early advantage in the campaign. Real Madrid travel to Barcelona to face Espanyol, expecting to build on the momentum they gained with their resounding 5-0 win over Real Betis.
- Europa League side Borussia Dortmund hope to carry on their path of destruction away from home at Hanover, whereas the Champions League’s Borussia Monchengladbach look for their first points when they host Hamburg. In the second home game of their season, Ingolstadt hope for a better result than their opening home scoreline (a 4-0 defeat to Dortmund) when they host Wolfsburg.
- Not quite the major a fixture it once was, but still worthy of interest, Inter and Milan meet at the San Siro in the Milan derby, with Inter heading in to the tie as favourites. Juventus look for their first points of the season against the free-scoring Chievo.
- PSG host Bordeaux as they attempt to complete five wins from five, whereas the other major teams in France are playing catch-up already. Monaco will visit bottom of the league Gazalec Ajaccio, Lyon host Lille and Marseille play Bastia at the Stade Velodrome.
This week we’ve learned that you don’t need to use conventional formations, or even centre-backs, to be successful. We’ve learned that Wolfsburg are the new Schalke, that winning is not enough for Sinisa Mihajlovic, and that Roberto Soldado is actually still worthy of being a professional footballer. Thank you for reading everyone, take care!