It was a weekend in which several big clubs were upset, from Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain to Paris Saint-Germain in France and Manchester United in England. Meanwhile, Juventus‘ Manuel Locatelli had two reasons to celebrate and Mohamed Salah was superb for Liverpool.
Here are Rob Dawson, Alex Kirkland and James Tyler to discuss the big stuff you need to know from around Europe.
Four talking points
Ancelotti’s Madrid honeymoon is over
Last weekend’s draw with Villarreal was justifiable, given the quality of the opposition, while Tuesday’s loss to FC Sheriff could be dismissed as a bizarre accident, given the balance of play, but Real Madrid had no such excuses after Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at Espanyol.
Carlo Ancelotti, honest as ever, had no choice but to admit this was his “worst game” since taking over at the Bernabeu for a second time and he will face legitimate questions over his lineup and tactics. He picked David Alaba at left-back, having previously ruled out such a move. He played out-of-form and low-on-confidence Lucas Vazquez at right-back. He put a rusty Toni Kroos in rested Casemiro‘s place, a position the German has never enjoyed.
The Madrid midfield is misfiring and the less said about the defence, the better. Even worse, there will be no immediate chance to wipe the slate clean. There is the international break, then an empty weekend — their game with Athletic Club has been postponed — before El Clasico on Oct. 24. — Kirkland
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) October 3, 2021
PSG stars endure a day to forget
When you bring in Lionel Messi to add to Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Angel Di Maria up front, then add Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Sergio Ramos to your defense, shouldn’t you win every game at a canter? As Mauricio Pochettino’s side found out, the beautiful game is never a foregone conclusion. After rattling off eight straight wins to open the Ligue 1 season, PSG came back to Earth with a chastening 2-0 defeat at Stade Rennes.
Simply put, when you don’t score, you’re in trouble and PSG managed zero shots on target against a stubborn opponent. Messi hit the crossbar, Mbappe had a goal ruled out by VAR and Neymar wasted a couple of gilt-edged chances; despite the luxury of two extra days’ over their lowly opponents following midweek exertions in Europe, this was a reminder that Ligue 1 can never be taken for granted.
Pochettino will do well to wipe the slate clean over the international break. PSG have had hiccups before and gone on to win the title, but were pipped to the post by Lille last season after one slip too many. For all we know, there’s another sizable win streak on their horizon, but Rennes showed that on any given day, any team is capable of causing a massive shock.
Man United have issues at both ends
The attacking players are not quite clicking after the introduction of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho but, even with David De Gea back to his best, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have only kept one clean sheet in 10 games this season. Go back further and it’s one shutout in the last 18, while a nine-game run of failing to stop opponents at Old Trafford dates back to March and is a 50-year record.
It does not help that captain Harry Maguire is missing with a calf injury and, while Raphael Varane has started well following his move from Real Madrid, Solskjaer’s team are prone to costly lapses in concentration. Everton‘s equaliser was made possible by a collection of errors, including Fred twice failing to outmuscle Demarai Gray and Luke Shaw charging across the penalty area, which left Andros Townsend with a simple finish. — Dawson
Stevie Nicol has doubts over Man United’s squad depth as they give up a lead in their draw with Everton.
Problems deepen for Koeman, Barcelona
The pregame backing of president Joan Laporta meant Ronald Koeman’s immediate future as Barcelona coach was assured whatever happened at Atletico Madrid, and it is probably just as well because the team’s flaws — defensive vulnerability, toothless attack — were exposed again in an emphatic defeat to Diego Simeone’s team.
It finished 2-0, with both goals from gorgeous, flowing moves that involved Atletico’s well-balanced front three of Joao Felix, Thomas Lemar and Luis Suarez, but the result felt more comprehensive. “We could have played for three hours and not scored,” Gerard Pique admitted, while Koeman accepted his job will again be at risk in three straight home games — including El Clasico — after the international break. — Kirkland
✅ 2 goals.
✅ 3 points.
✅ 2nd in #LaLigaSantander.
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) October 2, 2021
Three must-see goals
Locatelli becomes an instant legend
Three touches of magic from Manuel Locatelli were enough to earn Juventus a 1-0 victory over Torino in the Turin derby and earn the Italian international hero status at his new club.
The first took Federico Chiesa‘s pass, another saw Locatelli get the ball out of his feet and the last whipped a right-foot finish into the corner of the net. The result handed Juve a third straight Serie A win as they continue to bounce back from a poor start to the new season and set up the match-winner for another vital “engagement” this weekend! — Dawson
MANUEL LOCATELLI IN THE DERBY DELLA MOLE💥 pic.twitter.com/EPgnx34nUm
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 2, 2021
Petersen gets on his bike
SC Freiburg are never going to contend among the Bundesliga‘s elite — though they were second division champions in 2016 and have finished firmly mid-table in the years since — but that has not stopped Nils Petersen from knocking in goals over the years. Saturday’s effort away to Hertha Berlin may be one of the prettiest, too, and was made even sweeter by the fact it clinched all three points on the road.
After Hertha failed to clear a corner — they’re the worst in the league for conceding set-piece goals this season, with eight — Petersen reacted quickest to a looping loose ball to bicycle kick it beyond a helpless Alexander Schwolow with 12 minutes remaining. It was also notable for being Petersen’s league record 30th goal off the bench, maintaining his “super sub” moniker. — Tyler
Suarez sends a message
Suarez had already set up Thomas Lemar’s opener and put an excellent chance wide before he scored the goal that narrative demanded in Atletico’s win over Barcelona. The chance was expertly constructed, with Felix and Lemar combining to leave Suarez just where you want him: unmarked and alone, in front of goal.
He paused before finishing against his former club — savouring the occasion? — and then, after an initial hands-clasped celebration that was muted, made a telling “phone call” gesture in apparent reference to the way Koeman told him he was not needed at Camp Nou. Suarez denied the link, but the smile as he did so spoke louder than his words. — Kirkland
Two teams that should be worried
Levante, Lopez are in trouble
Make it a 16-game winless streak in LaLiga for Levante, a run that dates to April. Tension ran so high in Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Real Mallorca that coach Paco Lopez had to be restrained at half-time from Mallorca defender Pablo Maffeo, who allegedly said “shut up, you’ve only got two days left (in the job)” as he made his way toward the tunnel.
Levante assistant coach — and Paco’s brother — Toni Lopez was sent off, with the referee’s report saying he “waited by the bench for [Maffeo], repeatedly and aggressively shouting and having to be held back by numerous members of staff.” Levante have been terrific for much of Lopez’s three-and-a-half years in charge, playing high-risk, chaotic attacking football, but are in a deep rut and will move on without their coach, who was fired on Sunday night. — Kirkland
Watford might have beaten them to it by making Xisco Munoz the first coaching casualty of the Premier League season, but keep an eye on St. James’ Park over the international break. Steve Bruce’s seat is scorching after Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Wolves, which marks a seventh league game without a win to open the 2021-22 season (add the Carabao Cup exit to Burnley and Newcastle have yet to beat anyone this campaign.)
At Molineux, Jeff Hendrick‘s 41st-minute goal from long range was book-ended by a brace for Hwang-Hee Chan, who is showing why Wolves took him on loan from RB Leipzig. By contrast, Newcastle had just two shots on target and that lack of creativity — or support for Allan Saint-Maximin up front — is dooming them. Callum Wilson‘s injury has left few options for goals, while Miguel Almiron has just one shot on target in six league starts. — Tyler
MVP of the weekend
Sensational Salah shows his class in epic showdown
The 2-2 draw between Liverpool and Manchester City was the pulse-quickening game of the season, but while Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola extracted every ounce of interplay and collaboration from their all-world squads, Salah showed that, when amazing teams cannot be separated by force of will, you need a flick, a turn, a change of pace or a perfect pass to make the difference.
Salah did all of that and more, seemingly spinning both Liverpool goals out of thin air. First, he showed deft ball control to torment Joao Cancelo and set up Sadio Mane for the game’s opening goal: spinning and flicking past the City defender’s challenge, Salah sprinted to goal and met his teammate’s sharp, change-of-direction run with a simple pass from which Mane did the rest.
After City’s deserved equalizer, Salah showed his delightful skill again. With seemingly no path to goal and marooned to the right side of the penalty area, he spun beyond the otherwise superb Bernardo Silva, wrong-footed Aymeric Laporte and fired an unstoppable shot from a narrow angle to clank it in off the far post.
Liverpool would ultimately relinquish this lead too, but their Egyptian superstar’s display will live long in the memory and showed why the Anfield should forget analytics and throw the farm at extending Salah’s contract beyond his existing deal, which expires in 2022. He turns 30 next year, but such line-breaking, tackle-defying brilliance can keep Liverpool up with football’s elite. — Tyler