Manchester United got back on their feet vs. Tottenham, Arsenal got some brilliance between the posts, and some big clubs (Paris Saint-Germain) are struggling to get all their stars on the same page. Plus there were goals and talking points galore around Barcelona, Brighton’s draw at Liverpool and Juventus. As for Manchester City, they saw the best of Wilfried Zaha in Saturday’s shock defeat.
Here are Mark Ogden, Sam Marsden and James Tyler to discuss what you need to know from around Europe.
Four talking points
Cavani the key as Man United embarrass Spurs
There is always a huge focus on Cristiano Ronaldo regardless of which team he plays for, but while the Manchester United forward played a crucial role in Saturday’s 3-0 win at Tottenham, it was Edinson Cavani who showed why he’s arguably the most important player in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad right now.
The former Paris Saint-Germain striker made only his second Premier League start of the season as Solskjaer reacted to last week’s 5-0 hammering at home to Liverpool by switching to a 3-5-2 formation, with Cavani selected to play alongside Ronaldo in a front two. The switch reaped huge dividends for the under-fire United manager, as Ronaldo and Cavani scored the first two goals against Nuno Espirito Santo’s team.
Why is Cavani so important to this United side? Well, the Uruguay international does two things that set him apart not just from the rest of Solskjaer’s strikers, but from the rest of the squad.
Janusz Michallik credits Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for his tactical change in Man United’s win over Spurs.
Firstly, his work rate and tenacity sets the tone for the rest of the team. Whenever the opposition has the ball in their half of the pitch, Cavani’s aggression forces opponents to move the ball more quickly, which often pressures them into mistakes. No other United forward comes close to matching Cavani’s determination to chase the ball. That work helps United keep the other team in their own half; it also encourages his teammates to step it up and match his effort and desire.
The second key aspect of Cavani’s game is his ability to link up with Ronaldo and allow the Portugal forward the space that punish opponents. His experience makes him the perfect foil for Ronaldo, who clearly enjoys playing with the 34-year-old. Where Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford lack game awareness at times, to the extent that it infuriates Ronaldo, Cavani has it in abundance, and he and Ronaldo tormented Spurs all day long on Saturday.
The only problem for United is that Cavani and Ronaldo have a combined age of 70, meaning they can’t play together as often as they probably need to. But Cavani is a master of his trade, an unselfish team player and incredible finisher — expect him to figure more often in the weeks ahead. — Mark Ogden
The ESPN FC crew discuss Nuno Espirito Santo’s tactics after Tottenham lost 3-0 at home to Manchester United.
PSG, Messi still not clicking
Paris Saint-Germain won again this weekend, beating reigning champions Lille 2-1, but despite winning 10 of their first 12 games in Ligue 1, uncertainty still surrounds Mauricio Pochettino’s superstar project.
It took two late goals for a PSG side missing Kylian Mbappe through injury to get the better of Lille, with Angel Di Maria’s winner arriving in the 88th minute. It was the fourth time this season they’ve come from a goal down to win 2-1, with three of those four winning goals arriving later than the 87th minute. There was also a 90th-minute winner against Metz earlier in the campaign in another 2-1 win, albeit in a game in which PSG had scored first.
Throw in last weekend’s goalless draw against Marseille — and the recent 2-0 loss to Rennes — and it’s clear the Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi front line has not yet clicked into gear. Messi, in particular, is coming under scrutiny in France following his summer move from Barcelona. He’s yet to score in five appearances in Ligue 1 and was taken off at half-time against Lille with a knock. His poor domestic form contrasts with his performances in the Champions League, where he’s scored three times in three games. — SM
See? Bayern Munich are just fine
Normal service resumed for Julian Nagelsmann & Co. as they shrugged off the shocking 5-0 midweek cup defeat at Borussia Monchengladbach to score five of their own in a comfortable 5-2 win at Union Berlin on Saturday. Any negative vibes from their DFB-Pokal calamities were well and truly erased in a clinical display of attacking football, with Robert Lewandowski scoring twice in the opening 23 minutes, Leroy Sane adding a third before half-time and Kingsley Coman and Thomas Muller adding late efforts of their own.
Berlin weren’t bad, but Bayern were simply better, though it could have been more nerve-wracking had Manuel Neuer not made a string of saves after Union had made it 1-3 early in the second half. (One day, Nagelsmann might lose patience with the high-risk/high-reward strategy of keeping his defensive line in midfield, but that remains to be seen.)
In the end, Coman’s thundering, top-corner finish for Bayern’s fourth was the decisive strike, opening a gap Union couldn’t close (though Taiwo Awoniyi and Sheraldo Becker will lament not making the most of some clear-cut chances). The victory helps Bayern remain narrowly out front atop the table, though Borussia Dortmund‘s 2-0 win over Koln (again, without the injured Erling Haaland) will give Nagelsmann plenty to think about. After all, the first Der Klassiker of the season between the two sides is looming on Dec. 4. — James Tyler
Janusz Michallik says Brighton were more than worth their draw from two goals down against Liverpool.
Potter’s magic at Brighton should put him on the map for bigger clubs
Tottenham Hotspur considered Graham Potter as a successor to Jose Mourinho this summer before deciding instead to appoint Nuno Espirito Santo, rather than attempt to prise Potter from his job at Brighton. Sources have told ESPN that the view within the Spurs hierarchy was that the former Ostersund and Swansea coach was not a big enough name to excite the club’s supporters or players, despite Potter’s strong track record of developing teams who play with flair and tenacity.
Brighton’s impressive start to this season and the club’s smart recruitment under Potter — he has revitalised Adam Lallana‘s career at the Amex Stadium and invested wisely in Zambia midfielder Enock Mwepu, the latter scoring a sublime goal at Anfield on Saturday — suggest that the 46-year-old will not be rejected quite so summarily the next time a top job comes available in the months ahead.
ESPN has been told that Manchester United will consider a British coach if they are forced to part company with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should results continue to be inconsistent and although Potter is unlikely to make the leap to Old Trafford just yet, the post-match comments of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp following Brighton’s last two games, against Manchester City and Liverpool, show just how highly he is regarded by the leading names in his field.
Brighton’s performance at Anfield on Saturday, when they fought back to earn a 2-2 draw after being 2-0 down, was an example of the qualities they have developed under Potter. They are an energetic team, are bold in possession and have a good mix of experience and emerging talent. The comeback draw moved the Seagulls to within one point of the top four and maintained their impressive start to the season and emphasised once again why Potter’s reputation is growing stronger by the week. — Ogden
Three must-see goals
Depay back in the goals with style
It was a long time in the making, but Memphis Depay‘s first goal from open play for Barcelona since August was at least spectacular. There appeared to be little danger when the Dutchman picked the ball up on the edge of the box. He feigned to go outside before coming inside and unleashing a shot that curled into the top corner of the Alaves goal.
Memphis now has five goals to his name since joining Barca from Lyon in the summer, but this was his first from open play in 10 matches. His previous two goals were both penalties, and he even missed from the spot in the midweek defeat to Rayo Vallecano, a result that ultimately cost coach Ronald Koeman his job.
With Koeman gone, Barca — managed by interim coach Sergi Barjuan — failed to take advantage of Memphis’ 49th-minute screamer. Within three minutes, Alaves were level through Luis Rioja. Barca could not find a winner, with Memphis missing two good chances, and the point leaves them languishing in ninth in the table following three league games without victory.
There is apathy at Camp Nou. Fewer than 40,000 supporters attended the game against Alaves on Saturday and whoever replaces Koeman — sources confirmed to ESPN that negotiations are ongoing with Al Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez — will be under no illusions about the scale of the task awaiting them — Marsden
STOP THAT MEMPHIS 😯 pic.twitter.com/1DpyOsKvib
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 30, 2021
A special save by Ramsdale
OK: this is something of a change from the old routine here. We all celebrate great goals for their eye-catching qualities as well as importance to the overall result, but an outstanding contribution by a goalkeeper always gets overlooked, even if it proves to be just as important as a goal.
With that in mind, Aaron Ramsdale‘s save to keep out James Maddison‘s free-kick during Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Leicester on Saturday was as crucial as any goal — so impressive that it prompted former Manchester United and Denmark great Peter Schmeichel to tweet that it was the “best save I’ve seen for years…”
Maddison is a free-kick specialist and, 20 yards out, was in perfect range to reduce Leicester’s deficit to 2-1 just before half-time. His set-piece was on target and hit with pace, but Ramsdale was able to throw himself across goal to somehow palm the ball away with his left hand. That was impressive enough on its own, but the summer signing from Sheffield United then reacted quickly to block the follow-up effort from Jonny Evans.
The 23-year-old has conceded just four goals, and kept four clean sheets, in seven Premier League games for the Gunners and Mikel Arteta’s team haven’t lost in the league since Ramsdale replaced Bernd Leno in goal in mid-September. His presence has given Arsenal’s defenders new-found confidence, and that will grow even more on the back of saves like the one he produced at Leicester. — Ogden
✋ All the stops
🎯 All the distributions
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) October 31, 2021
A goal from 70 yards out? Yes please…
Sunderland fans might always wonder “what if” when it comes to attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri; his bright start for the club after arriving from Bordeaux in 2016 quickly descended into acrimony, as he failed to help the Black Cats avoid back-to-back relegations before ending up back in Ligue 1 with Saint-Etienne. He’s been ticking along with a goal every 2-3 games for Les Verts and perhaps uncorked his best yet in Saturday’s 1-1 draw a FC Metz. The game was an early relegation battle (Metz are 18th, Saint-Etienne 20th) and after falling behind early, Khazri let one fly from his own half in the 16th minute, floating a shot beyond the despairing flails of Alexandre Oukidja for the equalizer.
The goal didn’t lift Saint-Etienne out of last place in Ligue 1, but it was still as sweet an effort as you’ll see this season. — JT
Wahbi Khazri casually scoring from 70 yards for Saint-Etienne against Metz yesterdaypic.twitter.com/PYXaNkMQzz
— Robin Bairner (@RBairner) October 31, 2021
Two teams that should be worried
Is the “Yellow Submarine” sinking?
Questions are beginning to be asked about Unai Emery in Spain after his Villarreal side were beaten 2-0 by local rivals Valencia on Saturday. Villarreal are now without a win in four league games and have won just two of their opening 11 fixtures domestically, leaving them four points above the drop zone.
In other circumstances, Emery might be out of a job by now. However, winning the Europa League last season has bought the former Arsenal coach a bit of time to turn things around for now. The next seven games are likely to have a big say in just how much time he gets, though. Villarreal host Young Boys in the Champions League this week, where they’re well-placed in second position behind Manchester United, and then play bottom-of-the-table Getafe in LaLiga at the weekend.
After the November international break, the fixtures get tougher for Emery. After a trip to Celta Vigo in the league, Villarreal face Manchester United, Barcelona, Sevilla and Atalanta in a gruelling 15-day period. — Marsden
Just when you think Juventus are back on track…
There’s still two-thirds of the Serie A season to go, and the usual caveats about “it’s still early” very much apply, but at what point do we start to consider Juventus as playing for a top-four finish rather than the title? A fourth defeat in 11 league games suggests that “now” might well be the time.
Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Verona was a microcosm of their season to date: Juve fell into a two-goal hole inside the opening 15 minutes and despite several good chances for Paolo Dybala (who really needs to rediscover his shooting boots), they couldn’t really climb back into the match until it was too late.
Their antagonist this weekend was Giovanni Simeone who, fresh off a four-goal effort vs. Lazio last Sunday, scored both to sink the Bianconeri. The first was a bit of good luck, as a deflected shot by Antonin Barak fell kindly to him some six yards out, leading to a simple tap-in. The second, though, was a belter: after getting the ball left of goal, he drifted infield a bit and benefited from no defensive pressure to curl a brilliant strike over and beyond Wojciech Szczesny. Weston McKennie pulled one back with 10 minutes remaining, but there was little chance of an equalizer from there.
It’s clear that Juve aren’t themselves (whatever they’re supposed to be in this post-Ronaldo world), but with patience, they’ll settle into a successful rhythm. After all, they’ve got too much talent up and down the squad to be this bad. That said, fans should be more realistic about what this side can accomplish. The last time Juve won the league, in 2019-20, they didn’t lose their fourth league game until Matchday 31. It will be some time until they’re that solid again. — Tyler
Weekend MVP: Wilfried Zaha
Palace star instrumental in shock of the season
Wilfried Zaha can be unstoppable when he hits his best form and Manchester City discovered that to their cost when the winger produced a talismanic performance for Crystal Palace in their shock 2-0 win at the Etihad. The former Manchester United player scored one goal, made the other and also drew the foul which led to City’s Aymeric Laporte being sent off for denying a goal scoring opportunity during the first half.
Zaha opened the scoring for Palace in the first half with a mis-hit shot that evaded goalkeeper Ederson, and he then instigated the move that led to Conor Gallagher scoring the decisive goal for Patrick Vieira’s team late in the game.
Ultimately, it was Zaha’s ability to get under the skin of the City players that made him such a big factor in Palace’s win. Not only did Zaha get Laporte sent off after being wrestled to the ground by the defender, but he also caused other City players to lose their head by fouling him constantly. Bernardo Silva, in particular, was fortunate to get away with one crude first-half foul on the 28-year-old.
Zaha is one of those players who can wind up the opposition to the point of distraction and he did it brilliantly against City. He can be infuriating for his own team at times, which is perhaps why he has never had a second chance at a top club since returning to Palace from United in 2015, but when he is on form, Zaha can destroy the best of opponents. — Ogden