With LaLiga and Serie A kicking off this weekend, all of Europe’s major football leagues are back in action. And even though the seasons are barely underway in leagues such as Premier League and Bundesliga, there already has been plenty of drama and storylines: Man Utd humiliated 4-0 by Brentford, Conte and Tuche ignite new rivalry, Mbappe walks off from the attack after not getting a pass, ex Chelsea Men Lukaku and Werner both scored their returning debut goals, Barcelona’s new stars Lewandowski and co. still need to mesh as Real Madrid seal late comeback… and more!
Conte and Tuchel ignite new rivalry
Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte previously only had nice things to say about each other, but Sunday’s tempestuous 2-2 draw between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur featured clashes that will surely ignite a fresh managerial rivalry.
On an unusually hot London afternoon, the temperatures were at their highest on the touchline as first Conte and then Tuchel took turns to celebrate with increasing antagonism as the teams traded blows in a pulsating 90-minute encounter. Twice, they had to be separated by players and staff from both clubs, the second time after a handshake during which Tuchel took umbrage at Conte’s lack of eye contact.
Referee Anthony Taylor sent both managers off at the final whistle as Spurs celebrated salvaging a point from an underwhelming display through Harry Kane’s 96th-minute header. Tuchel launched a furious attack on Taylor afterward, claiming he should not be allowed to officiate Chelsa games in future — a suggestion that is almost certain to land him in more hot water with the Football Association — but it was his fracas with Conte that drew the most attention.
Chelsea and Tottenham have a long-standing and bitter rivalry. But here was a new chapter, and with Spurs harboring aims under Conte to close the gap on the Premier League’s finest sides, it might be set to run and run.
Man Utd sink to new depths
A new dawn for Manchester United has only brought new lows.
One week on from Brighton’s first ever victory at Old Trafford, the Red Devils were blown away at Brentford as Erik ten Hag became the first United manager since John Chapman in 1921 to lose his opening two games in charge. The Dutchman is just the latest manager in the firing line as the public face of a failing institution.
More protests against the Glazer family’s ownership of the club are planned ahead of United’s next game at home to Liverpool on August 22. Ten Hag’s predecessor Ralf Rangnick signed off from his miserable caretaker spell last season by stating the United squad needed “open heart surgery” and up to 10 new players after labouring to a sixth-placed finish.
Two games into the new season, only three new faces have arrived in the form of Lisandro Martinez, Tyrell Malacia and Christian Eriksen.
More business is expected in the final three weeks of the window, but United again find themselves wasting their huge commercial resources on panic buying players not wanted by the Premier League elite.
Superstar or superstrop? – Mbappe frustrated in PSG win
Kylian Mbappe appeared to stop running during a PSG counter attack in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Montpellier and fans are furious. The Ligue 1 champions have started the campaign with two wins out of two under new manager Christophe Galtier, scoring 10 goals.
Mbappe opened his account for the season in the second half but cut a frustrated figure for most of the first.
He had a penalty saved with the scores level at 0-0 and just before halftime, threw a strop when PSG had a glorious chance to go 3-0 ahead. PSG midfielder Vitinha brought the ball out from the back and had the option of passing to Mbappe on the left or Lionel Messi on the right. Talk about an embarrassment of riches. Vitinha opted to give the ball to Messi, which saw Mbappe throw his hands in the air and slow down.
The 23-year-old could be seen wandering round as PSG continued to attack. Achraf Hakimi ended up putting his shot wide, but there was clearly space for a winger to dart into on the opposite flank. A clip of the incident quickly went viral on social media and supporters are disappointed with Mbappe’s attitude.
One person said: “Would have subbed him immediately after this.”
Another put: “Grow up and stay humble.”
A third tweeted: “Is he the egotistical player everyone pretends Neymar is?”
While someone added: “This is a toxic attitude, not good.”
Jesus raises Arsenal’s standards
A behind-the-scenes documentary on Arsenal last season has lifted the lid on the details behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s acrimonious departure from the Emirates last season that left the Gunners without a natural goalscorer for the second half of the season.
Mikel Arteta’s decision to freeze out the club captain for breaches of discipline was questioned as Arsenal faltered in the final months of the season to just miss out on the Champions League.
On his home debut, Gabriel Jesus showed what Arteta’s men were missing as the Brazilian scored twice, set up two more goals and missed a number of other chances for his hat-trick in a 4-2 win over Leicester.
“He is feeling disappointed in that dressing room because he said he could have scored four,” said Arteta. “That’s the standard, that’s the mentality you want. To go to a different level, you need that mentality.”
Arsenal already look a class above where they were last season when they got off to their worst start in 67 years. This time they sit level with City at the top of the table after two games.
Bench rescues Madrid in opening win
There was something familiar about Real Madrid’s LaLiga opener at Almeria on Sunday: a dramatic 2-1 comeback win, with the champions fighting back from a goal down to claim all three points. In fact, by Madrid standards, this was a rather tame turnaround, with the goals from Lucas Vazquez and then David Alaba — providing one of the moments of the weekend with a sublime free kick, curled into the top corner seconds after taking the field as a substitute — coming in the 61st and 75th minutes, rather than added time.
Madrid had been troubled by a well-organized Almeria team, with coach Carlo Ancelotti’s five changes leaving the side lacking some fluency, especially in midfield, where Casemiro and Luka Modric were missed. The game went on, though the visitors’ superiority began to tell, and by the time Vazquez made it 1-1, only one outcome seemed possible.
The fact that Ancelotti could call on Modric, Eden Hazard, Alaba, Casemiro and Dani Ceballos as substitutes showed the remarkable depth of Madrid’s bench. Even when things don’t go to plan from the off, they have ample resources in reserve to turn things around.
Barcelona’s new stars still need to mesh
Barcelona have spent over €150 million in new signings this summer, but they were held to a goalless draw on the opening day of the campaign at Camp Nou by Rayo Vallecano, who have not spent a penny in the offseason.
Barca handed debuts in attack to Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha, who arrived at a combined cost of €100 million, but neither of them could mark his debut with a goal. Lewandowski, the former Bayern superstar, failed to score in the league opening match for the first time in the past 8 seasons. It could have been even worse for Barca too, with Sergio Busquets sent off late on and Rayo striker Radamel Falcao having a goal ruled out for offside moments later.
Barca had, as expected, dominated large parts of the match against a side they lost against twice last term, registering over 20 shots on goal, but it looks like it may take time for their new arrivals to click. There is work for Xavi Hernandez to do on the training ground ahead of a tricky trip to Real Sociedad next weekend — even if he used the draw to say Barca “still need to strengthen” before the transfer window closes this month.
Lukaku’s dream start
It took Romelu Lukaku 81 seconds to score on his return to Internazionale. The goal in itself was nothing special. The Belgian player was just at the right place at the right time after Federico Dimarco’s cross and Matto Darmian’s header across goal. It was a typical Lukaku finish with his eye for goal and his anticipation in the box.
It is the dream start for second stint with Inter Milan and in Serie A. There are high expectations around Lukaku. He is back to regain the title after rivals AC Milan beat the Nerazzurri to it last season, when Lukaku was at Chelsea. Lukaku didn’t have much more than his goal to show for (only one other shot in the whole game, 32 touches, 15 passes made), but he led the line well, and that’s the most important thing. Of course, scoring on his debut doesn’t mean much for him. Remember that last season, he netted only 15 minutes into his Chelsea debut, away at Arsenal. We know what happened in the rest of the campaign. Let’s not get too carried away, then, although this really feels differently. Lukaku is back home.
The Yellow Submarine on due course
Alex Baena had already scored his first ever LaLiga goal, putting Villarreal 2-0 up at Real Valladolid, by the time he picked up the ball on the left in the 90th minute. What happened next surprised everyone — even himself — as the 21-year-old academy product cut inside before unleashing an unstoppable, viciously dipping shot past goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo, flying off the crossbar and into the net to make it 3-0.
Villarreal’s players ran off to celebrate, laughing deliriously, seemingly stunned by what they’d just seen. Beginning the season with an away win is a radical turnaround from early last year, when the team went from August to December without a victory on the road, and it’s just the start that a team with Champions League ambitions require.
Another academy product, Nicolas Jackson, scored in the game too. With Villarreal tweeting “The kids are alright” after the win, The Yellow Submarine just might be.
Teams in trouble
Not going to get easier at Man Utd
It’s almost impressive that Manchester United consistently seem to find ways to sink to new depths. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, they manage to concede four goals in 35 minutes at Brentford and drop to the bottom of the Premier League table. Stretching back to last season, United have lost nine of their past 14 competitive games and six of their past eight. That’s relegation form by anyone’s standards.
No one is suggesting that could possibly happen, but they look like a team who don’t know where their next goal is coming from, let alone their next win. United’s next two home games are against Liverpool and Arsenal, with trips to Southampton and Leicester sandwiched in between. The start to the season is already a disaster, but it could get even more messy very quickly.
Leverkusen’s struggles are real
Bayer Leverkusen were so entertaining last season, scoring for fun, with Patrik Schick and Moussa Diaby taking the Bundesliga by storm, and Gerardo Seoane got a lot of things right for his first season at the club. How different already is this campaign. Bayer have just been beaten twice for their first two league matches, at Dortmund (1-1) and this weekend against Augsburg (2-1), when they had only lost two in their first nine last season.
Having also been knocked out of the German Cup in the first round by third-division team Elversberg (4-3), Bayer are unrecognizable. They created lots of chances at the weekend with an expected goal of 2.57 and 24 shots, 10 on target, but could not finish. They ended the game with five forwards, but the efficiency, once again, was not there. The pressure is already big on Seoane, and they need a reaction at home again next weekend against TSG Hoffenheim.
Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal)
Gabriel Jesus marked his home debut against Leicester City following a £45 million move from Manchester City with precisely the sort of all-action display he was signed for. The 25-year-old curled home his first Premier League goal for Arsenal with a clever 23rd-minute finish before a back-post header doubled his contribution 12 minutes later. Jesus also registered two assists — for Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Martinelli — as the Gunners maintained their 100% record at the start of the season with a 4-2 win at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Jesus was always expected to set the Arsenal press with his energetic running, but the great unknown was whether he could prove prolific in front of goal away from the relentless chance-creating machine that is Manchester City. Tougher challenges await, but this was a hugely encouraging way to start.
Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich)
When Robert Lewandowski left Bayern Munich in the summer, little consideration was given to seeking a like-for-like replacement. Instead, ways to compensate for the loss of nigh on 40 goals per season were formulated and solutions were sought, thinking out of the box.
Sadio Mane was signed to add an air of unpredictability to the attack, and while the Senegalese forward has slotted into Lewandowski’s position on the field, another Bayern player has taken on the goalscoring mantle: Jamal Musiala.
On Sunday, the 19-year-old scored his third goal of the season, helping the Bavarians on their way to a second straight win and up to their habitual perch at the top of the table. 2 games 3 goals for Mr Musiala so far this season and only 19 years old. What a talented boy!