Ansu Fati’s return, Atleti’s offensive struggles continue, and Real Madrid held at home
Ansu Fati’s return metaphorically marked the first instance of the sun shining over the Camp Nou in what seemed like forever. The fervor and anxiousness surrounding his return could be felt in the crowd as they welcomed their savior. It hadn’t taken 10 minutes and it was impossible not to be carried along by it all. “You dream but I didn’t really imagine it like this,” Fati admitted. The emotional baggage of 4 surgeries, countless trips across 3 countries, and the wait of embrace from those who could only adore from afar came to a head in the 90th minute as a long-range strike from Fati found the back of the net to seal a 3-0 win for Barcelona. To put it all in perspective, Levante are absolutely terrible, but the point about fate still stands. His return isn’t a guarantee that things will be better now, but an assurance that they will be better sometime in the future.
Villarreal are one of the hardest teams to break-down in Europe at present, so them holding an inconsistent Real Madrid attack at bay wasn’t that big of a surprise. However, where the Los Blancos’ can take some encouragement from is the performance of Eduardo Camavinga. He’s taken to life in Spain quickly and seems to provide the right blend of physicality and running-power in a Real Madrid midfield which severely lacks both. The draw isn’t the worst result for Los Blancos in the larger scheme of things as it extends their unbeaten streak to 7, on the same weekend when cross-town rivals and title rivals Atletico Madrid lost to Alaves.
Atleti’s loss against Alaves was also the 3rd time in 4 games that they have failed to score with a team filled with attacking talent. Luis Suarez is notorious for starting the season slowly, however, it’s the return of Antoine Griezmann that has seemed to rock the ship a bit. Griezmann’s arrival was opportunistic on Atletico’s part, but has led to some key contributor’s from last season like Ángel Correa losing game time to the Frenchman. Atletico also haven’t looked as solid at the back as they have in previous years, and after some close calls against Villarreal and Espanyol, their chickens came home to roost against Alaves in a 0-1 loss.
The Mal-dynasty continues in Milan, Napoli dominant again, and Lazio win the derby over Roma
AC Milan’s 2-1 win over Spezia marked a very special occasion, with Daniel Maldini son of Paolo Maldini and grandson of Cesare Maldini grabbing the opener. Daniel’s goal came 13 years, 179 days after the last league goal netted by his father Paolo — against Atalanta in 2008 — and 60 years, 22 days after his grandfather Cesare scored against Catania in 1961. The win moved Milan temporarily top of the table, a point ahead of Napoli.
Speaking of Napoli, Luciano Spaletti’s men maintained their 100% record with a comfortable 2-0 win over Cagliari. This is also the second time in Napoli’s history that they have started the season with six wins in a row after the 2017-18 campaign, when they finished as runners-up behind Juventus. Victor Osimhen continued his scintillating form in the league as he opened the scoring with a close-range effort, and later won the penalty for Insigne’s goal. Napoli sit atop Serie A with a 2 point lead over AC Milan, and in pole position to their first league title in more than 30 years.
There was also the small matter of the Derby Della Capitale which saw Lazio seize the moment for derby delight over Jose Mourinho’s Roma side. Where Roma hit the ground running under their new manager – winning six consecutive matches between Serie A and the Europa Conference League – Lazio had seemed less sure of their footing during the first part of this campaign. They thrashed Spezia 6-1 in Sarri’s second game but then barely showed up during back-to-back defeats against Milan and Galatasaray. The game didn’t come without controversy, as Mourinho felt aggrieved about missed foul in the lead up to Pedro’s opener. On the other hand, Lazio could also plead their case regarding the softness of the foul on Zaniolo that lead to Roma’s equaliser from the spot. The decisions were split for both sides however, as the familiar saying goes in Rome: “You don’t play a derby, you win it.” This was Lazio’s night and more over a big result for Sarri.
Injury troubles for Dortmund, Leipzig win big, and Freiburg bid farewell to the Schwarzwald-Stadion
The reception Marco Rose got upon his return to Borussia-Park was far from a hero’s welcome. In fact, the 25,000 Gladbach fans hadn’t forgotten the lack-lustre end to last season after Rose’s departure was announced in February. However, Rose had other pressing issues as he was without the duo of Erling Haaland and Marco Reus for this game. Denis Zakaria’s winner for Gladbach – “a shitty goal” in the eyes of BVB’s CEO, Hans-Joachim Watzke – was neatly finished with a pool of yellow shirts lying around him. This compounded with Dahoud’s red card made it a bridge too-far to overcome for BVB. Start to life under Adi Hütter hasn’t been the smoothest, but a petty win over Rose will surely give the Gladbach faithful some respite.
Jesse Marsch and Leipzig were also one of the big winners over the weekend. They ran rampant against Hertha as they hit them for 6 without reply. Christopher Nkunku has been on the verge of breaking out as a star for quite a while, but this season finally seems to be his time. Given a wider berth under Jesse Marsch, Nkunku was one of the shining lights in Leipzing’s 6-3 thrashing at the hands of City with the frenchman bagging a hattrick. He followed up that performance with a brace and an assist against Hertha. Leipzig had flattered to deceive under Marsch up until the weekend, but with an extra spring in their step after a big win and Champions League action to follow, this might be the time where Marsch finally gets Leipzig going.
The Bundesliga weekend closed off on an emotional note as Freiburg bid farewell to the Dreisamstadion, their home of 67 years with a 3-0 win over Ausburg. Freiburg manager, Christian Streich was particularly overcome with emotion after the final-whistle as he joined supporters in the stands to lead the chants as his players watched on. Former Freiburg coach Volker Finke, who led the club to its first Bundesliga promotion in 1994, and former German soccer federation president Fritz Keller were among those present.
Lens flying high, intra-team tensions at PSG, and Galtier’s Nice extend unbeaten run
Lens continued their bid to achieve European football with a stunning win against Marseille at the Vélodrome. Lens manager Franck Haise made some surprising changes for the trip to Marseille. When he dropped several key players, including last season’s top-scorer Gaël Kakuta, their superb wing-back Jonathan Clauss, and Ignatius Ganago. Although these changes were perceived as an admission of defeat pre-game, they were anything but. Frankowski and Da Costa came into the starting 11 with Haise deferring from his usual 3-4-1-2 to a more traditional 3-4-3 with Da Costa on the left. These gambles paid off as Lens overcame a harsh equalising penalty, aided by a few brilliant saves by Leca to win 3-2 and leapfrog Marseille to second place in the table.
Christoph Galtier’s side also returned to winning ways away at Galtier’s former stomping ground at Saint-Étienne. It was a comfortable win in the end for Galtier’s men with goals from Delort, Stengs, and Gouiri, the 3 points taking them back up into the European Spots with a game in hand.
There were also signs of some intra-team troubles at PSG as Mbappe was seen complaining from the bench about Draxler’s goal, or more accurately the assist to the goal. Mbappe mouthed certain profanities followed by ‘he doesn’t pass to me like that’ in Neymar’s direction after the Brazilian assisted Draxler for PSG’s 2nd of the night. PSG sit comfortably atop Ligue 1 with a 9 point cushion, but seemingly with no convincing style of play.