Ronaldo lessons after Man United return, Juventus in trouble, Bayern dominant over Leipzig, more

Manchester United’s comeback victory over Juventus has been a great boost for the Red Devils, as they have taken back the advantage in the Champions League. But what will happen if Ronaldo leaves? Will Jose Mourinho be able to keep up with Bayern Munich and Leipzig?

Juventus have been in a bad run of form, losing 4 games in a row and they are now struggling to stay in the Champions League. Bayern Munich have also been dominant over Leipzig this season.

As usual, the European soccer weekend was full of highs and lows, ups and downs. Antoine Griezmann returned to Atletico Madrid and did not seem well. Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Manchester United and looked fantastic. Bayern Munich, the greatest team in the Bundesliga, humiliated RB Leipzig, while Juventus, Serie A’s prior power, appeared dreadfully out of form and out of balance in their loss to Napoli. Aside from that, AS Roma (and Jose Mourinho) had some fun, Borussia Dortmund had some end-to-end drama, and Arsenal earned their first victory of the season!

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In a special international break edition of his thoughts, Gab Marcotti responds to the greatest events in the world of football.

Jump to: Ronaldo’s return | Juve in trouble? | Real Madrid switch it up | Bayern’s statement | Mourinho’s rant at Roma | Dortmund’s problems | Silva’s importance for Man City | Donnarumma’s PSG debut | Spurs stutter | Inter’s draw | Saul struggles for Chelsea | Griezmann’s uneven Atletico return | Arsenal’s “Plan C”

1621948210_947_Assessing-what-Chelsea-Man-City-and-others-could-offerRonaldo’s (second) Man United debut revealed a lot of things we already knew… and maybe a few things we didn’t.

My colleague Julien Laurens and former France international Mikael Silvestre were watching Cristiano Ronaldo warm up ahead of Manchester United’s Premier League comeback against Newcastle on Saturday. Silvestre, who spent five years at Old Trafford with Ronaldo, noted how “nervous” he seemed in the warm-up. And Ronaldo himself said after the game that he was anxious in the days leading up to the game.

That was one new thing I learned: Ronaldo feels anxious, too, and maybe, at 36, he’s confident enough in himself and his accomplishments to admit that he, too, is human and suffers from stage fright. I wasn’t sure what made him anxious, wrapped up in the constant excitement that accompanies him everywhere — whether it’s the goals, the Instagram, the thronging fans, the abs, the “Siuuu!” or the grin — and having walked the big stage for the last 18 years. It’s comforting to know that he, too, suffers from the butterflies.

Before making his second appearance for Man United, Ronaldo confessed to being nervous, but it didn’t show in a two-goal performance against a Newcastle team that gave little opposition. Getty Images/Martin Rickett/PA Images

Apart from that, I’m not convinced we learnt much from the 4-1 victory against Newcastle. With Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood out wide, Bruno Fernandes in the hole, and Paul Pogba in deep midfield, Ronaldo started as center-forward. On many times, he drifted left, he was a constant aerial threat (albeit United didn’t get as many crosses into the box as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have liked), he was quick and aware in punishing a goalkeeping mistake on the first goal, and his dead ball movement was superb.

He scored twice with a little assistance from Newcastle goalkeeper Freddie Woodman, and he handled the pressure well despite his pre-match nerves. And he boosted the atmosphere at Old Trafford to heights not seen since the club hired a Scottish manager (no, not David Moyes, the other one).



When Julien Laurens and Mikael Silvestre were watching Cristiano Ronaldo warm up, they had a discussion.

We already knew all of that, as well as the fact that he’s extremely fit and, when he gets going, quite quick.

The fact that he recorded a top speed of 20.2 mph before of his second goal thrilled the English media, but it wasn’t exactly surprising to anybody who has seen him. If you’re a world-class athlete who takes care of your body, you won’t lose your speed in your mid-30s, particularly over longer distances. What you may lose is the ability to accelerate quickly over the first few meters, as well as the endurance to do a few dozen high-intensity sprints in 90 minutes.

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For most of the game, Newcastle sat so deep that Ronaldo had little motive or chance to show off his skills. In reality, due to Steve Bruce’s de facto 7-2-1 shape, this game evolved in a manner that is unlikely to be repeated in most of Ronaldo’s appearances this season. As the opposition attempted to counter, United had a lot of possession, which suited Pogba well in a two-man midfield.

You know it won’t be like that most weeks. The opponent will play a higher line and United will not have 65 percent possession. The former raises the issue of whether Pogba can fit into a two-man midfield, while the latter raises the question of whether the front line can provide enough danger in terms of rushing in behind and stretching the opposing defense. Saturday was never going to address those questions, but we’ll find out soon enough.

Chelsea-and-Lukaku-too-good-for-Arsenal-Ronaldo-drama-atSix years ago, one point in three games was no issue for Juventus, but this time is different.

The bianconeri have just one point from three games after losing 2-1 to Napoli. And if you’re superstitious (or stupid), you may think it’s not such a huge issue. After all, Juventus had a similar start six seasons ago, with the same Max Allegri on the bench, before winning 26 of their last 28 games and winning the Serie A championship.

It’s not a huge issue, but not for the reasons mentioned above, which, like the majority of historical causes, are unimportant. (I’m not sure why we believe events that occurred years ago, with different actors and circumstances, should have an effect on the present.)

Rather, it’s not a huge issue – or at least not as big a concern – because of how we arrived at these conclusions.



After a 2-1 loss against Napoli, Gab Marcotti analyzes Juventus’ dismal start in Serie A.

Things don’t simply happen by themselves. It’s not about making excuses; it’s about providing explanations. Empoli deserved to win since Juventus were terrible. Individual mistakes cost them in both the opening and this game against Napoli: Wojciech Szczesny was the villain in both, while Moise Kean played a key role in the latter. When a normally dependable player makes such egregious, craven errors, it’s easy to put it up to chance and go on.


Gabriele Marcotti, a senior writer for ESPN FC, has compiled all of the latest news and reactions.

That’s probably how Allegri sees it, but it doesn’t alter the reality that Juve didn’t play very well, particularly in midfield, which continues to be a trouble area. The many absentees (Federico Chiesa, Paulo Dybala, Alex Sandro, Danilo, etc.) are mitigating factors, as is, I suppose, the reality that adjusting to Ronaldo’s departure takes time. However, the chaos in the center of the park is very real right now, and resolving it must be the first priority.

Aside from that, now that Ronaldo has left, the path forward is quite obvious. Juve must replenish via youth and continue to improve the players they already have. That includes Chiesa, Dejan Kulusevski, Matthijs De Ligt, and Manuel Locatelli, as well as Kean, Weston McKennie, and Rodrigo Bentancur, ideally. If it means missing out on another season in Serie A, so be it.

Also, a word about Napoli. They had some notable absences as well, but the difference is that this squad is deep and tough, as shown by the way they were unfazed by Kostas Manolas’ mistake, which led to Alvaro Morata’s first goal. They can contend for the Serie A championship if they can harness Victor Osimhen’s enormous potential, avoid letting Lorenzo Insigne’s contract become a distraction, and channel what Luciano Spalletti would refer to as their “inner Koulibalys.” Maybe even more.

1621948212_131_Assessing-what-Chelsea-Man-City-and-others-could-offerReal Madrid change things up and come away with a huge victory.



After another goal in a 5-2 victory against Celta Vigo, Alejandro Moreno analyzes Vinicius Jr.’s ascent at Real Madrid.

Apart from the fact that the craven defensive errors haven’t gone away, the most intriguing aspect of Real Madrid’s 5-2 win against Celta Vigo was the manner manager Carlo Ancelotti set them up, perhaps in an effort to bring the most out of Eden Hazard.

In many respects, it resembled a 4-4-2 formation, with Vinicius on the left, Hazard up forward with Karim Benzema, and Fede Valverde on the right. Valverde wasn’t exactly a wide midfielder, and Vinicius played further up the pitch.

Hazard, on the other hand, is a fascinating element. He didn’t spend much of the game on the right wing, instead buzzing about Benzema and, on occasion, joining Vinicius (and left-back Miguel) out on the left side. It’s an asymmetrical set-up that may entice Hazard to put up more regular performances. Many Real Madrid supporters think he’ll be a failure, but he has a big contract and the club is obligated to keep him for another three years, so you may as well make it work.

Apart from that, Vinicius — who has been chastised for his terrible finishing — was as calm as the other side of the pillow in sliding his goal home and continues to improve, while Eduardo Camavinga made his debut and scored: there is much more to come from the youngster. Oh, and Benzema scored a hat trick and added an assist, proving once again that he is the greatest nine and ten on the squad. (However, the last part isn’t really breaking news…)

1628860868_739_Can-anyone-stop-Bayern-How-all-18-teams-look-aheadBayern’s victory against Leipzig sends another message…

…and the implication is that they don’t have to be at their best to beat up on the club who finished second to them last season. Bayern’s 4-1 win against Leipzig was well-deserved, and it was maybe even more so for Julian Nagelsmann, who was coaching Leipzig last season.

The early goal — a Robert Lewandowski penalty — got them going, but what was most impressive was how they kept their calm and waited for the counter, even while they were being pressed in midfield by Jesse Marsch. They did enough to restrict Leipzig’s attacking options — Konrad Laimer’s lone goal came out of nowhere — and then made them pay in transition.

After coming in at half-time, Jamal Musiala was almost unplayable at times. He scored one goal and assisted on the other two, all while playing with the composure of a seasoned pro. On the other side, he even got a five-star performance from Leroy Sane (who has been on and off recently). The transition game and the back line more than made up for a day when Bayern’s midfield combination of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka was muted by their own standards. And this is encouraging for the future.

1629781752_366_Chelsea-and-Lukaku-too-good-for-Arsenal-Ronaldo-drama-atMourinho’s Roma win a crazy one, and he reverts to his 2004 season.

Say this about Jose Mourinho: he can’t always read the room, but when he does, it’s spot-on. The Stadio Olimpico exploded as Stephan El Shaarawy’s magnificent injury-time finish made it 2-1 to Roma over Sassuolo. El Shaarawy, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Tammy Abraham, and others ran beneath the “curva” to celebrate with fans, as did Mourinho, who performed the same lung-bursting wide-eyed, open-armed run that most of us witnessed for the first time in 2004 when his Porto side beat Manchester United.

It was moving, brave, and well-received by Roma supporters. The win also masked a less-than-stellar performance against a Sassuolo team that might have scored five goals if but for goalkeeper Rui Patricio and VAR (the latter ruling out Gianluca Scamacca’s even more spectacular 2-2).

It doesn’t matter. Mourinho leads Serie A with three victories in three games (five in five if you include the Europa Conference League, which it’s fair to assume he does), and he seems to have complete buy-in from both fans and local media.

1628860870_559_Can-anyone-stop-Bayern-How-all-18-teams-look-aheadDortmund’s roller-coaster victory may be entertaining for spectators, but it’s not so much for Marco Rose.

In a frantic, breathless encounter, Borussia Dortmund rallied from behind three times to win 4-3 at Bayer Leverkusen. It was the type of match that non-football fans would appreciate, as well as marketing professionals and social media gurus.

Next-big-thing teen phenomenon Florian Wirtz had a goal and assisted on another. Erling Haaland netted a goal with a rare header. Julian Brandt scored a goal against his old team. Moussa Diaby totally missed a shot and, as a result, made room for a long-range finish that will be immortalized on YouTube. Raphael Guerreiro scored one of the year’s most impressive free kicks. Two major VAR decisions were made, one ruling out a goal and the other allowing Haaland the opportunity to score the game-winning goal from the penalty spot in injury time.


Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop, and others to discuss the most recent news and debate the most important stories. ESPN+ has a live stream available (U.S. only).

So yes, this had it everything in terms of events and spectacle. However, it served as a reminder that Marco Rose still hasn’t gotten a grip on this Borussia Dortmund squad.

You can’t use wingers in a diamond midfield, which is great provided your midfield is disciplined and has a good sense of position off the ball. Dortmund’s did not, exposing an already suspect center defense much more than you’d want. While you don’t have to play a possession game to be entertaining or successful, it helps if you change things up and attempt to dominate play on occasion. We didn’t see much of it.

This was entertaining, but it didn’t do much to instill confidence in you moving ahead, apart from reminding you that Dortmund is skilled and tenacious (which we already knew). Either Rose hasn’t persuaded them to believe in his idea, or his plan isn’t very good.



Manchester City’s 1-0 win against Leicester City is discussed by Sebastian Salazar and Janusz Michallik.

If Manchester City had depth charts, Bernardo Silva would probably be second or third choice out wide or in offensive midfield. He didn’t have the greatest season last year, and he was widely connected with a summer exit. Most would rank him below Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, and the recently acquired Jack Grealish.

You may either sulk or make oneself helpful under such situations. He selected the latter, combining effectively with Grealish, claiming the offensive center midfield position (usually held by De Bruyne or Foden) and scoring the game-winning goal against Leicester City in a tense encounter. Pep Guardiola’s team had plenty of chances, but Leicester held strong and had a goal disallowed for the kind of narrow offside that can go either way on a poor day.

Silva lacks speed, but he makes up for it with intellect, work ethic, and inventiveness, which is why his future might be somewhere in the center. In summary, whether as a starter or a reserve, he’s the kind of player you want on your team. If you use him properly, he will not let you down.

1621948212_925_Assessing-what-Chelsea-Man-City-and-others-could-offerPSG’s ‘depleted’ squad has no issues as Donnarumma makes his debut.

Neymar, Angel Di Mario, Leandro Paredes, Keylor Navas, and, of course, Lionel Messi were all absent from Paris Saint-match Germain’s against Clermont. It didn’t matter since Ander Herrera, of all people, scored two goals in the first half en way to a 4-0 thrashing.

The game’s novelty was Gianluigi Donnarumma’s first appearance since his huge free agency move, and he had nothing to do with it. Despite only playing in Navas’ absence, Donnarumma, who was awarded player of the tournament at Euro 2020, has been all smiles and said all the right things. Navas, too, has thrown out the typical clichés about how wonderful competition is, and so on.

You have to wonder how long this will continue without any kind of rotation (which would be strange, given how different the two keepers’ styles are), and if one of the two No. 1s will move out on loan, if not in January, then next summer, with the World Cup coming.

1627915807_451_What-do-Man-City-Man-United-Liverpool-Co-needSpurs’ injury-riddled season comes to an end as Kane departs.



Crystal Palace took advantage of Tottenham’s defensive blunders, according to Janusz Michallik.

With the likes of Japhet Tanganga, Eric Dier, Oliver Skipp, and Davinson Sanchez in the roster, I puzzled how Spurs had won three of three games without allowing a single goal. With Sanchez, Heung-Min Son, Steven Bergwijn, Cristian Romero, and Giovani Lo Celso all out, Dier going off injured after 12 minutes, and Tanganga being sent off at the hour mark, Tottenham managed to hold on until 15 minutes from time against Palace before losing 3-0.

What strikes you more than the defensive problems is the Harry Kane statistic. He managed to get not just zero shots, but also zero touches in the opposing zone. It’s clear that it’s not entirely on him; either someone gets the ball to him (which wasn’t happening since Spurs’ midfield was awful), or he needs to return to midfield to collect it (in which case he won’t be in the area).

It’s better to wait until the starters are back on the field before passing judgment. You don’t want to believe this Tottenham is even close to the real deal.

1629781750_677_Chelsea-and-Lukaku-too-good-for-Arsenal-Ronaldo-drama-atInter is held to a stalemate as Inzaghi makes five substitutions in 15 minutes and ends with ten men.

I appreciate that most leagues allow managers to make five replacements, partially because we have a busy schedule and partly because it may affect the outcome of games. Inter’s Simone Inzaghi pushed it to the limit in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Sampdoria. Inter generated opportunities and had the upper hand in the first half against a team that sat back and waited for the opportunity to strike. After Samp drew level early in the second half, Inzaghi went to his substitutes, deploying all five between minutes 54 and 69.

It wasn’t the reason Inter didn’t win — they weren’t fantastic, but they did generate chances — but it did make for a tense end, particularly when Inter’s replacement Stefano Sensi was forced off due to injury, leaving them with ten men.

Assessing-what-Chelsea-Man-City-and-others-could-offerChelsea’s performance in Saul’s debut was overshadowed by the result.



Shaka Hislop analyzes Chelsea’s 3-0 victory against Aston Villa, which included two goals from Romelu Lukaku.

Chelsea’s 3-0 victory against Aston Villa was a low-key, professional affair in which Aston Villa outplayed Chelsea for extended periods and pushed Edouard Mendy to make several crucial saves. The post-international break blues (what was formerly known as the FIFA virus) no doubt played a part, since a number of regulars were absent (besides it was a fantastic Villa performance), but that’s the thing about Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel: they don’t need to generate a lot of opportunities to win.

In the other hand, deadline-day acquisition Saul struggled to get going in the center of the field, and Chelsea did seem better when Jorginho came on at half-time.

Perhaps that was to be expected. It will take time to adapt to a new nation and league (and a manager, Tuchel, who is quite different from Diego Simeone) after seven years at Atletico Madrid. The good news for Chelsea is that they can take their time with Saul and use him as a fourth central midfielder option until he is ready.

1626610090_791_PSG-Man-United-Leipzig-having-the-best-transfer-windows-soGriezmann has a poor start, but Atletico’s late, late, late strike gives them the win.



Atletico Madrid’s Alejandro Moreno reacts after the club’s 2-1 victory against Espanyol in La Liga.

Antoine Griezmann made his (second) Atletico Madrid debut against Espanyol, lining up alongside Luis Suarez and Angel Correa, but failed to make an impression. Evidently, he will need more time to adjust to what is a different set-up at his old club, but Atletico’s tenacity and depth showed out (not for the first time).

At 1-0 down at halftime, Simeone made three halftime changes, replacing Kieran Trippier, Mario Hermoso, and Correa with Thomas Lemar, Geoffrey Kondogbia, and Renan Lodi. Business stepped up, they started to generate more, they equalized, and then Lemar (who was fantastic) scored the game-winner in the 10th minute of injury time. Espanyol were clearly unhappy with the referee’s decision to grant so much extra time, but considering the numerous interruptions and the lengthy VAR decision, it wasn’t unreasonable. (Of course, we wouldn’t have these problems if we got rid of the running clock and played two 30-minute halves, but that’s a topic for another time.)

In terms of player interchangeability, Atletico Madrid may be the deepest squad in LaLiga. However, knowing when and how to make the adjustments requires a keen tactical mind.

What-do-Man-City-Man-United-Liverpool-Co-needArsenal finally breaks the ice and wins their first game of the season.



Janusz Michallik analyzes Arsenal’s first Premier League victory of the season, a 1-0 victory against Norwich.

Mikel Arteta believes that Arsenal’s 1-0 victory against Norwich was much more one-sided than the result indicates. He didn’t just need a victory after three consecutive losses; he needed a performance, and he got it. Arsenal generated a lot of chances and surrendered very few, which isn’t surprising considering the difference in quality between Takehiro Tomoyasu, Ben White, and Gabriel and the defenders that came before them.

Aside from center midfield, where you’d expect a fully healthy Thomas Partey to reclaim his spot, as well as Granit Xhaka, this side looked a lot like Arteta’s first-choice XI (OK, maybe you can shoehorn Emile Smith Rowe in there somewhere). Norwich didn’t put up much of a fight, but there were certain patterns of play and even confidence on the field, both of which had been missing in prior games.

Arteta isn’t out of the woods yet; he’ll need a strong performance against Burnley and then a positive result in the North London Derby to escape another international hiatus. This, though, was promising.

James-harsh-handball-at-Liverpool-Chelsea-Messis-PSG-debut-Man-UnitedLazio’s ‘Plan C’ is too excellent for Milan.

If Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Plan A (which he wouldn’t have it any other way) and Olivier Giroud is Plan B (which he’s done admirably so far), then Plan C is what we witnessed on Sunday in the 2-0 victory against Lazio: Ante Rebic down the center with Rafael Leao cutting inside. Milan dominated and generated many opportunities as a result of this strategy.

Milan has made it a point this year to get the most out of Leao, who is still just 22 years old, and he has already shown what he can do when given the chance and the proper set-up. There was, of course, room for Ibrahimovic. He returned from injury to make his first appearance of the season, playing the last half-hour and scoring a tap-in, almost as if to convince his teammates that he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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