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Ligue 1

10 storylines emerging after critical World Cup tuneup matches

The preparations are nearly complete. Though some nations have scheduled warmup matches in the days just before the World Cup begins in November, many of the world’s preeminent sides completed their pre-tournament itineraries during the recent international window. With that in mind and kickoff in Qatar fast approaching, we examine the most noteworthy storylines to emerge from the past week across the globe.

Goalkeeper debate settled, but USMNT unsettled

Christian Pulisic, Antonee Robinson, Yunus Musah, and Tim Weah missed last Friday’s sobering 2-0 defeat to Japan. However, it wouldn’t be outrageous to say that Miles Robinson – the Atlanta United defender who forged a strong partnership with Walker Zimmerman until rupturing his Achilles tendon in May – remains the biggest absentee for Gregg Berhalter’s side.

Japan’s aggressive press unnerved the United States, forcing the Americans to lose possession in their own half 54 times in the opening half alone. The midfield played inexcusably poor – Weston McKennie’s performance was cringeworthy – but Zimmerman’s and Aaron Long’s passing from defense was wretched. It’s difficult to imagine Miles Robinson playing any worse against Japan’s press. He’s quicker, more agile, and, most crucially, a better passer than Zimmerman and Long.

Christof Koepsel / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Unless Miles Robinson heals fast, Berhalter faces a tough call over who starts alongside Zimmerman in Qatar. In its Group B tilt with England, the U.S. will need more composure at the back against energetic attackers like Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling. Tuesday’s 0-0 draw against Saudi Arabia underlined that the U.S. also needs to find a higher tempo in games when it has the most possession, and that can start with a defender like Miles Robinson, who can push quick passes to the midfielders’ feet. The U.S. could have the majority of the ball in its other World Cup group matches against Wales and Iran.

At least Matt Turner spared Berhalter of another hard decision. The No. 1 battle has been a drawn-out debate for U.S. fans, complicated by surprising acts of heroism from different goalkeepers in recent years. But Arsenal’s Turner should now get the nod between the sticks. He was excellent against Japan, producing six saves, including a stop on Daichi Kamada during a one-on-one. He then shut out Saudi Arabia four days later.

Is Canada ready for the jump in quality?

It’s difficult to glean too much from Canada’s 2-0 win over Qatar in the team’s first friendly of the international window. The World Cup host, frankly, isn’t talented enough to adequately test John Herdman’s group.

The 2-0 defeat to Uruguay, though, was a much more instructive and beneficial affair. Yes, Canada seemed to struggle, at least initially, with the pace of play and overall quality that Uruguay offered. That wasn’t entirely surprising; Uruguay, led by the likes of Darwin Nunez and Federico Valverde, is the best team Canada has played in quite some time. It’s one thing to prepare for that jump in quality, but it’s another thing entirely to actually live it. Canada looked a little overwhelmed defensively when Uruguay upped the intensity, something Herdman and his staff will need to rectify quickly ahead of the team’s opening World Cup test against Belgium.

But there were plenty of positives to take from the tuneup match, too. Canada didn’t abandon its identity, pressed high up the pitch, and crafted several quality chances after playing through Uruguay’s own aggressive press. With more sharpness inside the area, the Canadians would have gotten on the scoresheet. Tajon Buchanan returned to the fold after an injury layoff, rising star Ismael Kone came off the bench to show he can be a serious X-factor in Qatar, and Herdman should have Jonathan Osorio and Atiba Hutchinson, two key players that didn’t feature during this international window, at his disposal come November. All told, there were more than enough signs to suggest that Canada will be a serious thorn in the side of its Group F opponents.

Southgate’s fitted a glass ceiling at England

Apparently, it doesn’t matter how often Fikayo Tomori subdues Serie A attackers and how important he was to AC Milan winning their first Scudetto in 11 years. Gareth Southgate prioritizes loyalty over wisdom, so Harry Maguire, Eric Dier, John Stones, Kyle Walker (a right-back), Marc Guehi, and even Conor Coady are above Tomori in the center-back pecking order.

And that’s it.

“Clearly, it’s not an ideal situation,” Southgate admitted last week about Maguire starting two out of seven Premier League matches for Manchester United during a prolonged spell of poor form.

“You want your best players playing regularly so that they’re physically in a good place and mentally in a good place. But he is an important player for us. I think it’s important to back our best players.”

Marco Luzzani / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Is Maguire really one of England’s best players? His lapse and subsequent tackle that gifted Germany a penalty in Monday’s 3-3 draw suggests otherwise. And besides, Southgate seemingly disregarding how Englishmen perform for their clubs contradicts his earlier claim that he’d “never pick on reputation” and that form matters.

As it stands, Tomori, Ivan Toney, and others have little hope of breaking into the England XI. Southgate’s loyalty to Maguire & Co. could boost confidence among his starters and encourage them to fight for their manager’s cause. But it could be potentially ruinous for the morale of those on the fringes of the boss’ plans.

Germany relying on individual brilliance

Germany has long had the reputation of a team that can simply get the job done, no matter what. When the chips are down, Germany finds a way to deliver. Football is a simple game, as Gary Lineker famously said.

But, ironically, that presents a problem for Hansi Flick, who can’t quite seem to get his team playing the up-tempo, quick passing game that he desires, especially against opposition that defends deep. In international football, where one moment of brilliance is enough to swing a match and potentially a tournament, steadfast self-belief can sometimes be enough. But relying solely on inspirational individual plays isn’t a solid recipe for sustained success.

Flick knows that.

Germany’s manic 3-3 draw against England was a prime example of the issues plaguing his side. Germany has a bevy of impressive players, especially in attacking midfield and wide areas, but it lacks a focal point up front who can anchor the team. Kai Havertz scored a spectacular goal at Wembley and will likely head to Qatar as the de facto No. 9, but he too can drift through matches, almost looking a little disinterested at times.

That kind of general malaise is clouding the whole squad right now.

One-sided battle for Brazil’s No. 9 shirt

Brazil justified its status as a favorite to win the World Cup with straightforward victories over Ghana and Tunisia. Tite’s men have won their last seven outings and are unbeaten over 15 matches.

Richarlison has arguably shone more than any other Brazilian in 2022, scoring seven goals and assisting once over six Canarinho appearances. Pair his international exploits with his club form, where he’s impressed for Tottenham Hotspur after helping Everton preserve their Premier League status, and it’s easy to understand why it’ll only take an injury for him to surrender Brazil’s coveted No. 9 shirt.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It’s not like he lacks competition for the jersey. Gabriel Jesus is enjoying an explosive start to life at Arsenal but was surprisingly omitted from Tite’s squad for September’s fixtures. Roberto Firmino is experienced and has recently shown flashes of his best form with Liverpool. And Flamengo’s Pedro is proven as a lone forward. However, Atletico Madrid’s Matheus Cunha hasn’t scored a competitive goal since May and could find his place in the squad threatened.

But Richarlison offers something no other attacker does: a workmanlike grit that sees him hound down loose balls and keenly compete in 50-50 challenges. His style is almost anti-Brazilian – a nation renowned for flamboyance and beauty. However, Richarlison perfectly complements the direct, risk-taking play of his attacking colleagues like Neymar and Raphinha.

Messi’s best chance to win World Cup

Argentina’s turnaround under Lionel Scaloni has been nothing short of remarkable, especially considering the fragmented disaster of a team he inherited after Argentina’s nightmarish 2018 World Cup.

Following a pair of 3-0 friendly wins over Honduras and Jamaica, respectively, the rejuvenated South American giant is enjoying a 35-match unbeaten run that includes a Copa America title, a classy World Cup qualifying campaign, and a dominant win over European champion Italy in the “Finalissima.”

And most importantly, Scaloni’s implemented a possession-based system that gets the best out of his diminutive namesake. For the first time, perhaps ever, Lionel Messi genuinely looks happier and more comfortable playing for his country than his club; Messi scored four of Argentina’s six goals over the past week. Whatever other improvements Scaloni has made – and there have been plenty, particularly in defense – getting the best out of Messi remains his most vital accomplishment.

Argentina is a cohesive and collective unit instead of a jumbled, imbalanced assortment of players. That should make every other World Cup contender very, very nervous.

“I see Argentina above the rest and Brazil, too,” Spain boss Luis Enrique recently admitted. “Well above the rest.”

Unsettled France gives Deschamps headaches

Though Gareth Southgate may beg to differ, Didier Deschamps has more headaches right now than perhaps any other manager going into the World Cup. Being the defending world champion brings its own unique pressure that would weigh on anyone. But in addition, the French bench boss is dealing with an injury-ravaged team and a variety of off-field issues that threaten to derail France’s title defense before Les Bleus even arrive in Qatar.

France, which narrowly avoided Nations League relegation, was without Hugo Lloris, Jules Kounde, N’Golo Kante, Ousmane Dembele, Karim Benzema, and Paul Pogba through injury for its final game before the World Cup, a 2-0 defeat to Denmark. Pogba, a vital part of the 2018 World Cup-winning side, is working his way back from knee surgery and could miss the tournament. Off the pitch, he’s also mired in a bizarre extortion investigation involving his brother, Mathias.


“The important thing is to be able to recover all our strength in the next two months,” Deschamps said of his team’s rocky preparation.

Any roster built around Kylian Mbappe is capable of extraordinary things, to say nothing of all the other obscenely talented stars France has at its disposal. But right now, the vibes around the team are far more reminiscent of the mutinous 2010 squad that infamously capitulated rather than the 2018 outfit that brought home the trophy.

Frustration building for Mexico

Chaos continues to reign for Mexico.

Manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, already under enormous pressure from an increasingly frustrated fan base, isn’t inspiring confidence. Performances under his watch have been stale at best and totally wayward at worst, while injuries are piling up and forcing constant lineup changes that only further create disharmony on the pitch. Not exactly ideal preparation.

El Tri’s second-half collapse against Colombia on Tuesday, in which they turned a 2-0 halftime lead into a chastening 3-2 defeat, only served to make an already hostile situation worse. Mexico now has just two wins in its last seven matches, and those came against Suriname and Peru. The latter was only procured through a late goal from Hirving Lozano.

Martino and Mexico have two more friendlies scheduled for November ahead of the World Cup against Iraq and Sweden, respectively. The optimist will say those provide an opportunity to turn things around and head to Qatar on a high note. Right now, though, it’s not inconceivable that those two games could actually make things seem more dire before the tournament starts.

System over sense for Spain?

Luis Enrique leaves out big-name players he believes won’t suit his system. There’s a hitch, though. He doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of which Spaniards actually fit into his vision.

One notable omission from his squads is Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas, who’s long been the most productive Spanish forward on the globe. Aspas’ lack of defensive contribution is a reasonable concern. But freezing him out is baffling, especially when Enrique has yet to settle on a player in that position. Marco Asensio, Borja Iglesias, Alvaro Morata, Ferran Torres, and Raul de Tomas have all appeared at center-forward since June.

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

And there’s little consistency in Enrique’s defensive selection. Over the past two-and-a-half years – a stretch of 40 contests – the only center-back to start more than three straight matches for Spain is Aymeric Laporte, who recently underwent knee surgery. Cesar Azpilicueta is the only full-back to exceed three consecutive starts since the 2018 World Cup group stage – a 53-game run. But he’s now 33 and, like many of his international teammates, isn’t playing regularly for his club.

Enrique can’t expect to rely on either of those players at the World Cup. Nor can he expect his defense to have great organization and understanding due to his constant personnel switching.

Don’t be fooled by their spot in the Nations League finals. La Furia Roja could play like strangers in Qatar.

Same old problem for Portugal

It was painstakingly obvious a long time ago, but nothing’s changed. Fernando Santos still isn’t the right man to oversee Portugal.

There’s an abundance of attacking talent at Santos’ disposal. Rafael Leao is one of the most exciting widemen on the planet. Bernardo Silva is a mesmeric mover and almost impossible to knock off the ball. Bruno Fernandes is hitting his form at the right time. There’s also wandering full-back Joao Cancelo, forward Diogo Jota … you get the picture.

However, when the attackers deliver, it’s always in spite of Santos. Rather than set his team up to play to its strengths, it’s designed to absorb pressure and counterattack, often with the ponderous William Carvalho as its nucleus. The explosiveness is also lacking up front when 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo is trundling his way through another 90 minutes.

Portugal should be tormenting its opponents. Instead, the Selecao are blunted by Santos’ negativity.

Missing out on a place in the Nations League finals isn’t the end of the world, but Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat to Spain in Braga signals desperate times for a lot of Portugal fans. There was an opportunity to dismiss Santos following last November’s 2-1 home defeat to Serbia. Now it’s extremely unlikely the country’s football federation will pull the trigger when Portugal’s World Cup opener is under two months away.

A generation that should be delighting onlookers with daring, dominant attacking football could be wasted.

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Ligue 1

Key thoughts and analysis from Matchday 3 in the Champions League

The Champions League rumbled on this week. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Matchday 3 in Europe’s premier club competition.

AC Milan going backward – and fast

AC Milan’s last few seasons were about taking steps forward. Their project began in earnest when they reached the Champions League for the first time in eight years. It continued with their first Serie A title in 11 years and hit another level last season when they made the Champions League semifinals for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign.

Now they sit dead last in their Champions League group with two points and zero goals scored after losing 3-0 to Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday. While the Rossoneri remain in second place in Serie A, they have struggled against teams in the top half of the table, losing 5-1 to Inter Milan and 1-0 to Juventus, and have scored just once in their last four matches in all competitions. They had two players sent off in their last three matches and collected 10 yellow cards in that span. This is far from the exciting ensemble that made fans dream again. This is a cheap knock-off.

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Part of that is down to injuries. Milan are missing Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ismael Bennacer, Samuel Chukwueze, and Noah Okafor, robbing them of two midfield starters and a pair of high-impact substitutes. But that doesn’t excuse the lack of character and organization in Stefano Pioli’s side. It’s unbelievable that a team that once played with such precision and attacking fervor could become so porous in midfield, so weak on the ball, and so meek in front of goal. They’re no longer playing like a team, passing the ball with any particular rhythm, or winning duels or second balls. Milan’s attack has been reduced to a run-and-gun offense, with Rafael Leao and Christian Pulisic the only ones creating anything of note. But because they have struggled for consistency, so too have Milan.

Fans have watched this physical and tactical deterioration for months. The only reason Milan qualified for the Champions League was because of Juventus’ points deduction in 2022-23; they would’ve otherwise finished in fifth place. Pioli struggled all of last season to find the right balance with his players, and he somehow managed to keep his job despite the massive shake-up at board and management level.

It’s a great shame because things are finally looking up off the pitch. Three years removed from reporting nearly €200 million in losses, the club has turned a profit. But Milan look less and less like a contender on any front. – Anthony Lopopolo

Magpies brought back down to earth

No goals from their opening two group-stage games proved Borussia Dortmund aren’t the swashbuckling knockout-round regulars we’ve seen in previous Champions League campaigns. This is a team trying to compensate for Jude Bellingham’s departure and a poor goal return from its wealth of attacking options. To further complicate matters, Julian Brandt – Dortmund’s most dangerous player with four goals and five assists in all competitions this term – was a late scratch from Wednesday’s trip to Newcastle United due to a calf injury.

So, don’t be fooled by Newcastle’s shortage of European pedigree. Felix Nmecha’s excellent first-half finish securing a 1-0 away win for Dortmund is a huge shock that blows open this season’s most intriguing quartet.

Group F after three matches

# Team GD Points
1 PSG +2 6
2 Dortmund -1 4
3 Newcastle +2 4
4 AC Milan -3 2

Newcastle crash-landed from their historic victory over Paris Saint-Germain. Callum Wilson could’ve twice leveled when his close-range shot was saved by Gregor Kobel and a late header hit the underside of the crossbar, and Anthony Gordon’s deflected effort deep into stoppage time also hit the woodwork. But it took too long for the Magpies to click and prove they were the better team.

And when the synergy isn’t there, Newcastle don’t have an individual who can provide a key moment – a touch, a trick, a goal from nowhere. The top teams in this competition have a player like that. Newcastle are perhaps too early in the Saudi-funded project to have one; they have a group of grafters, but a player who can carry a team on his own is harder to find.

Miguel Almiron is an example of Newcastle’s lack of stardust. He doesn’t have the outrageously high level of technical ability you’d expect from a mercurial attacking midfielder, but he has more tactical sense and a higher work rate than many players of his ilk. That unique combination probably makes him popular among his teammates and Newcastle’s traditionally blue-collared support, but, in a decisive moment, you probably don’t want him there. His touch can be too heavy and his final ball can be wayward. In the last action of the match, Almiron wastefully skied a shot over the bar when the box was packed with black-and-white shirts.

The elite in this competition get the job done.

It may seem premature to say, but the home defeat could be extremely costly for Newcastle. Two away matches at Dortmund and PSG await Eddie Howe’s men, potentially setting up a high-stakes meeting with Milan on Tyneside to conclude the group on Dec. 13. – Daniel Rouse

Savvy Bayern pass test

The look of relief after the full-time whistle said it all. There were hugs and handshakes all around in celebration of Bayern Munich’s escape from Turkey with three points after one of their toughest tests so far this season.

Galatasaray, who came into the contest on a high after beating Manchester United at Old Trafford last time out, looked like they could end Bayern’s 15-game winning streak in the Champions League group stage. That incredible run appeared to be in jeopardy when Mauro Icardi equalized with a first-half penalty that triggered a loud burst of joy from the raucous Gala fans. The home side, using an aggressive approach, caused problems for Bayern and should have taken a lead into halftime. They came out of the break with a similar desire to play on the front foot.

But that opened the door for Bayern. The savvy Bavarians eventually took advantage of the tiring Turkish side, with Harry Kane scoring what proved to be the winning goal.

Lars Baron – UEFA / UEFA / Getty

Kane stole the headlines with his 11th goal (and sixth assist) in all competitions since his summer arrival, but Leroy Sane did his part to help offset Bayern’s injury woes, continuing his bounce-back season with another great performance. After a difficult 2022-23 campaign – remembered more for his squabble with former teammate Sadio Mane than his exploits on the pitch – the spotlight is, thankfully, back on his talents. Sane didn’t add to his goal tally Tuesday, but he was a menace who proved almost impossible to contain.

Jamal Musiala also continued to shine, showcasing just how good the German club still is during an injury crisis that might’ve proved devastating to most other teams. Now, it’s just a matter of time before Bayern qualify for the knockout rounds once again.

If they’re this good without a host of first-team regulars, the best is yet to come for the unbeaten Group A leaders. – Gordon Brunt

Can Bellingham keep up ridiculous form?

Advanced statistics tell us Bellingham has scored more goals than any player should have this season. But they don’t tell the whole story. The reason Bellingham has 11 goals in his first 12 games for Real Madrid is much more nuanced than any expected-goal ratio.

Take the winner he bagged Tuesday against Braga: Bellingham joined the attack late, benefitted from the space that Braga’s back-pedaling defenders left behind, and waited patiently for Vinicius Junior to find him at the edge of the area. His finish was superb. His spatial awareness was even better.

Bellingham has made a habit of scoring off of these late runs into the penalty area. He does what Lionel Messi has done so well, drifting out of sight and mind before coming sharply into focus. He doesn’t have to burst a lung to get into scoring position. He times it perfectly.

The 20-year-old is also an exceptional finisher. He doesn’t have to bludgeon the ball with venom. Just as he understands the space around him, Bellingham knows exactly where to place the ball.


His finish Tuesday looked effortless precisely because it didn’t need that much juice. He picked out the bottom corner with the same finesse he used when he lofted the ball over Athletic Bilbao ‘keeper Unai Simon in August. And Bellingham was as patient as he was when he baited Osasuna’s goalkeeper before squeezing the ball through his legs earlier this month.

Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti noticed these qualities in Bellingham early on and allowed him the freedom to roam. That’s a rarity in football these days. There are so few high-scoring midfielders in today’s game because most of them must follow certain tactical patterns. The shackles are off here.

But it would be equally foolish to say Bellingham is a throwback No. 10. He can win balls and track back and do all the things the playmakers of the 90s and 2000s hated doing. His four tackles and two interceptions in the 3-2 win over Napoli led his team, as did his two interceptions against Braga on Tuesday.

But the dirty work never comes at the cost of scoring. – Lopopolo

Quick free-kicks

Zaire-Emery mature beyond his years

Warren Zaire-Emery exudes poise on the pitch. The 17-year-old sparkled against AC Milan on Wednesday, logging two assists and looking like the most assured midfielder on the pitch despite his age. “He does everything well, defensively and in attack. He is aggressive, good technically, has good vision, can score and set up goals,” Luis Enrique said after the match in which the PSG academy product led his side with four key passes. Zaire-Emery has a feel for the game that can’t be taught, and that’s part of what makes his potential so frightening. He’s only going to get better as he matures physically, but he already boasts an uncanny ability to time passes correctly and find the right spaces to exploit in possession. After letting so many of their prodigious homegrown youngsters depart over the years in favor of high-priced names, let’s hope PSG actually hang on to this blossoming superstar and continue giving him opportunities to shine and grow. – Gianluca Nesci

Barcelona have a future after all


Despite mortgaging a good chunk of down-the-line revenue for cash-flow purposes, Barcelona still have quite the future ahead of them.

Every week, one of Barcelona’s La Masia graduates steals the spotlight. Earlier this month, it was Lamine Yamal, who became La Liga’s youngest scorer at 16 years old. Last weekend, it was Marc Guiu, who scored the winning goal mere seconds into his La Liga debut. And on Wednesday, it was 17-year-old Fermin Lopez, who struck the crossbar and winner in Barcelona’s 2-1 win over Shakhtar Donetsk. The 20-year-old made headlines during the club’s preseason tour of the U.S., scoring and assisting in a memorable victory over Real Madrid at a sold-out AT&T Stadium, and he once again showed his class against Shakhtar.

Credit must go to Xavi Hernandez, an academy graduate himself, for giving these youngsters a chance to shine and being one of the few people at the club to prioritize the future. – Lopopolo

Dream UCL debut for red-hot Gimenez

There’s hardly anyone in better form right now than Santiago Gimenez. The Mexican international has Group E leaders Feyenoord in an advantageous position to progress to the Champions League knockouts after a sparkling performance in Wednesday’s 3-1 win against Lazio.

Playing in his first-ever Champions League game after missing the Dutch team’s first two matches through suspension, the 22-year-old didn’t let the occasion get to him, punishing Lazio’s defense with two goals to add to his impressive haul this season. He nearly had a debut hat-trick, but his strike in the first half was overturned by VAR. Gimenez is the top scorer in Europe’s top seven leagues, and he now has 15 goals in 11 matches across all competitions. If he keeps this pace up, don’t be surprised if Feyenoord pull off an upset or two in the knockout rounds. – Brunt

Eriksen’s contribution key on night of redemption

Matthew Peters / Manchester United / Getty

The referee blew for the interval at Old Trafford with around 15 seconds of the 45 minutes remaining. And for that, we should be grateful. Manchester United lacked courage, chemistry, and anything close to entertainment value in the opening period against FC Copenhagen. It was an ugly spectacle. Something – anything – had to change.

Christian Eriksen replaced the unimpressive Sofyan Amrabat and instantly brought more imagination and belief to Erik ten Hag’s ranks. Harry Maguire’s match-winning header, three days after his standout performance against Sheffield United, and Andre Onana’s penalty save in the final second neatly provided a redemption tale for both players, but that shouldn’t hide the fact that Eriksen was the true architect of a crucial 1-0 victory that belatedly ignites the Red Devils’ European campaign. – Rouse

Copenhagen can’t catch a break

Jordan Larsson never looked like scoring. The son of Henrik, the Swedish icon who had a brief loan spell at Manchester United, had the ball placed on the penalty spot, but the protests and encroaching from the home side delayed his attempt. He picked up the ball again and kissed it, and all the while appeared wary of looking up at Onana’s goal. Once he took the penalty in the 97th minute, it was too close to the middle of the goal and at a convenient height for Onana to paw away. Diogo Goncalves also hit the post for the visitors in the fifth minute.

Copenhagen have one point from three Group A matches, but they could easily have seven or nine. The Danes were leading 2-0 at Galatasaray in their opening match and were under little pressure until Elias Jelert was sent off for a second yellow card. The Turkish giants salvaged a draw after goals in the 86th and 88th minutes. In Copenhagen’s second outing, they sat deep and frustrated Bayern Munich while threatening their illustrious opponents on the counter. Mathys Tel struck in the 83rd minute to glean a 2-1 win for Bayern. And now, they’ll return from a trip to Manchester United with nothing to show from a battling, disciplined performance. – Rouse

Jesus brings the chaos for Arsenal

“You don’t know what I’m going to do. I create chaos. I started at Palmeiras at 15, 16. Before that I only played in the streets. I bring the streets to the pitch. That’s my quality.” That’s how Gabriel Jesus responded last month when asked to describe his game. That ability to create mayhem and leave the opposition in disarray was on display Tuesday, as the Brazilian turned three Sevilla defenders inside out to craft an assist for Arsenal’s opening goal, then scored a gorgeous one of his own, seemingly out of nowhere, to lead the Gunners to a 2-1 win. His unpredictability is what makes him so special. Jesus can break games open at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, that unpredictability also extends to his availability; Jesus, who’s struggled with injuries during his Arsenal tenure, saw his memorable outing marred by a hamstring issue in the final minutes of the match. Arsenal have depth up front, but none of their backup options can replicate Jesus’ impact. – Nesci

Raspadori’s time to shine

With star striker Victor Osimhen expected to be sidelined for up to one month with an injury sustained during the recent international break, Giacomo Raspadori has an opportunity to step up in a time of need for Napoli. The diminutive Italian has primarily come off the bench since joining the club last year, but in two games with Osimhen sidelined, Raspadori has a goal and an assist, scoring the lone tally of the match against Union Berlin on Tuesday after a strong performance versus Hellas Verona in the league this past weekend. His understanding and connection with Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, while not nearly on the same level as that of Osimhen, continues to grow. Few players, if any, can replace the Nigerian’s scoring output, but Raspadori is going to have a prolonged chance to prove he deserves more minutes even after his prolific teammate returns. – Nesci

Stat of the week

Two more goals for Erling Haaland in Manchester City’s win against Young Boys. Not bad for a striker who’s supposedly out of form.

Tweet of the week

Who would’ve thought Maguire and Onana would be lapping up the applause after Manchester United clinched their first group-stage win of the season?

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Ligue 1

Key thoughts and analysis from Tuesday's Champions League action

The Champions League rumbles on with Matchday 2 this week. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Tuesday’s action in Europe’s premier club competition.

Ten Hag, Man Utd hit rock bottom

There was no shortage of drama at the Theatre of Dreams on Tuesday. Unfortunately for Manchester United and manager Erik ten Hag, it was a repeat of the horror show that continues to derail their 2023-24 campaign.

In addition to their well-documented domestic struggles, Manchester United’s hopes of progressing beyond the opening round of the Champions League took a hit after losing in dramatic fashion to Galatasaray at Old Trafford, a defeat that leaves Ten Hag’s men last in Group A.

There were numerous points of encouragement for the hosts Tuesday when it seemed Manchester United were destined to come away with a valuable victory. It might have helped to temporarily subdue calls for Ten Hag’s dismissal amid Manchester United’s historically bad start in the Premier League.

Instead, those grumblings have grown louder. Manchester United were their own worst enemy, blowing a pair of one-goal leads before allowing the Turkish side to get its first-ever win on English soil.

Aside from Rasmus Hojlund’s inspired two-goal performance, it was the same old story for the struggling Red Devils. Poor defending, wasted opportunities, and a lackadaisical attitude contributed to Galatasaray’s most famous win on a night that might be looked back on as rock bottom for Ten Hag’s tenure at Manchester United.

Visionhaus / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The defense was a mess again, while Andre Onana produced another worrying performance to compound his miserable start at Manchester United. Then, with the game tied late on, United pushed forward for the go-ahead goal, only to see Galatasaray go the other way and score the winner courtesy of Mauro Icardi, whose clever chip over Onana helped avenge his penalty miss just minutes before.

In a last-ditch attempt to get something from the game, Ten Hag introduced Antony, even though the Brazilian hadn’t played a minute in almost a month due to an ongoing assault investigation. Predictably, Antony didn’t look sharp.

With Manchester United tasting defeat for the sixth time in all competitions – the most losses after 10 games since 1986 – will Ten Hag even be around to oversee the club’s next Champions League match against Copenhagen?

Madrid’s midfielders run the show

There was a lot of talk about Real Madrid’s inability, or unwillingness, to spend big on a replacement for Karim Benzema this summer. Critics couldn’t understand why they’d enter the season with Joselu as their only recognizable center-forward.

But the conversation seemed to overlook the goal-scoring potential of Madrid’s gung-ho midfielders, a group that again proved its versatility in Tuesday’s swashbuckling 3-2 win over Napoli.

Jude Bellingham and Federico Valverde were each involved in eight attacking sequences, as many as Vinicius Jr. and more than any other player on the pitch, and Eduardo Camavinga, playing again at left-back, joined the attack whenever he could. Bellingham created the first goal with an interception in the final third and scored for the eighth time in nine games off an incredible solo run that made Napoli’s defenders backpedal like politicians under controversy. Valverde patrolled the right flank, taking up, as he usually does, various defensive and attacking roles, and when Madrid were probing for a winner, the Uruguayan, one of the game’s great long-distance specialists, uncorked a spectacular half-volley deserving of the two deflections it took en route to goal.

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Luka Modric contributed off the bench as well. The 38-year-old restored Madrid’s equilibrium just as Napoli threatened to knock them completely off balance. The Serie A champions had just leveled and the game was threatening to become a track meet. In just 25 minutes, Modric shut Napoli down, forcing them to shoot from distance.

That Madrid can even summon such a level-headed and experienced player off the bench is unfair. With that kind of midfield depth, expect Los Blancos to make another deep Champions League run.

Arteta pays price for Saka gamble

Arsenal’s second Champions League game couldn’t have gone much worse.

Along the way to dropping three points in an away defeat to Lens, Arsenal were dealt a blow that could have massive consequences going forward. Bukayo Saka’s removal from the contest due to an apparent leg injury proved to be a pivotal moment and one that may not have even been necessary.

Arteta elected to start the 22-year-old despite his recent injury concerns rather than play it safe just days before what’s undoubtedly Arsenal’s biggest match of the season against Premier League rivals Manchester City.

The bet looked like it might pay off after Saka set up Gabriel Jesus’ opening goal with his fifth assist in all competitions. But his evening was over 20 minutes later after going down to receive treatment for a non-contact injury. It was the third game in a row that Saka was forced off.

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Arteta revealed after the contest that Saka injured himself on a backheel pass, adding that he had “no clue” about the winger’s availability for Sunday’s game in north London. Saka’s durability provides a glimmer of hope, but that doesn’t hide the fact that Arteta’s gamble on his best player’s fitness backfired at the worst possible time.

Lens deserve a ton of credit after securing their first Champions League win in 21 years with a positive attacking display. But Arsenal were ultimately undone after failing to strike a cohesive balance in their attack after Saka’s removal.

With Saka trending toward joining the injured Gabriel Martinelli on the sidelines, Arteta will need to hash out an effective game plan and inspire his men to defy the odds against his former employers, Manchester City. Only three points Sunday can smooth over the bitterness of Tuesday’s deflating loss.

Quick free-kicks

Another harsh lesson for Union Berlin

Anticipating a huge turnout for their first foray into the Champions League, Union Berlin decided to host their group stage matches at the Olympiastadion, the home of city rivals Hertha Berlin. The party swelled to over 70,000 people on Tuesday and turned to revelry when Sheraldo Becker gave Union an early 2-0 lead over Braga. Row upon row of fans clad in their sacred red attire bounced up and down.

But the celebration turned to agony in the second half, with Braga erasing the deficit before scoring the winner in the 94th minute. The German upstarts haven’t played badly in the Champions League – they held Madrid goalless for 93 minutes in their opening match – but again learned a harsh lesson. They were powerless to stop Bruma’s outrageous curling effort earlier in the second half but naive to let a low shot skip past them deep into stoppage time.

Bayern still a work in progress

Bayern Munich needed a goal from teenage substitute Mathys Tel to extend their winning streak in the Champions League group stage to 15 matches. Before that, they toiled mightily against Copenhagen’s tight-knit defense, creating few genuine chances – despite controlling as much as 65% of possession – and going nearly the whole first half without a shot on target.

Tel’s winning goal – which closely followed Jamal Musiala’s equalizer – wasn’t even the byproduct of the smooth passing sequences fans have come to expect from the serial Bundesliga champions. Goalkeeper Sven Ulreich hoofed the ball forward, Harry Kane nodded the ball into Thomas Muller’s path, and Muller bought enough time for Tel to join the attack and fire home. It was a broken play and a rare buckle in Copenhagen’s stronghold that created the breakthrough, not a play Bayern had developed on the training pitch.

Stat of the day

Will Bayern Munich’s group stage superiority finally pay off?

Tweet of the day

Lens gave Europe another reason to take Ligue 1 seriously.

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Ligue 1

Saudi Arabia transfer roundup: Who's been signed, and who could be next?

The Saudi Pro League has upended the transfer market. Bankrolled by the endless riches of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund that manages some $700 billion in government money, Saudi Arabia has attracted some of world football’s biggest stars. The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo in December opened the floodgates, starting a trend that has evolved into arguably the biggest ongoing story of the summer window. Here’s a look at who’s already made the lucrative switch to the Middle East and who could be next in line to bolster their bank account.

Already signed ?

Any impulses to dismiss Ronaldo’s opulent signing as a one-off were extinguished when Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema followed his former Real Madrid teammate to Saudi Arabia in a deal believed to be worth €400 million over two years. The dominoes haven’t stopped falling since.

  • Karim Benzema (Al-Ittihad) – free transfer from Real Madrid
  • N’Golo Kante (Al-Ittihad) – free transfer from Chelsea
  • Ruben Neves (Al Hilal) – reported £47M transfer from Wolves
  • Kalidou Koulibaly (Al Hilal) – reported £17M transfer from Chelsea
  • Edouard Mendy (Al-Ahli) – reported £16M transfer from Chelsea
  • Marcelo Brozovic (Al Nassr) – reported €18M transfer from Inter
  • Jota (Al-Ittihad) – reported £25M transfer from Celtic
  • Roberto Firmino (Al-Ahli) – free transfer from Liverpool

The recruitment effort hasn’t been limited to just players, either. Prominent coaches have also made the switch lately.

  • Jorge Jesus – Al Hilal
  • Steven Gerrard – Al-Ettifaq
  • Luis Castro – Al Nassr
  • Robbie Fowler – Al-Qadsiah (second division)

Who could be next? ?

The PIF is keen to keep adding notable players to its ever-growing stable of stars after assuming control of Saudi Arabia’s four biggest clubs – the league’s founding members Al-Ahli, Al-Ittihad, Al Hilal, and Al Nassr.

Neymar: Eager to boost the rivalry between Riyadh-based clubs Al Nassr – Ronaldo’s team – and Al-Hilal, Saudi delegates reportedly went to Paris to gauge Neymar’s interest in joining the latter after they whiffed on Lionel Messi. Having recently tried to offload the Brazilian, PSG would welcome the deal.

Sadio Mane: After acquiring Firmino, Al-Ahli are reportedly looking to reunite the Brazilian forward with his former Liverpool teammate Mane. The Senegalese attacker endured a difficult first season at Bayern Munich, but a reunion with Firmino could help him rediscover his best form.


Bernardo Silva: Al Hilal are reportedly offering the Portuguese international a monstrous deal worth around £500,000 per week; that would more than triple his already hefty salary at Manchester City. Though Silva prefers to remain in Europe, he’s said to be tempted by the Saudi offer.

Hakim Ziyech: The Moroccan winger’s switch to Al Nassr is in limbo after a knee issue reportedly scuppered his medical – something Ziyech appeared to scoff at on social media. Clearly not part of Chelsea’s long-term plans, a move to Saudi Arabia could be revived.

Seko Fofana: One of the best midfielders in Ligue 1 last season, Fofana captained RC Lens to a second-place finish and an unlikely berth in the Champions League. However, he may not take part in that European adventure, as the French club confirmed negotiations are ongoing with Al Nassr.

Lorenzo Insigne: Despite Toronto FC’s wretched season, the pint-sized Italian has publicly said he’s content at the club. But his recent decision to change agents – Insigne’s now represented by CAA Stellar, one of the sport’s premier agencies – has coincided with reports of talks with a Saudi club.

Gianluigi Buffon: The iconic goalkeeper has yet to decide his next move; retirement remains an option for the 45-year-old. Buffon, who has one year remaining on his contract with Parma, has been offered a deal worth €30 million to play in Saudi Arabia, according to Italian outlet Corriere dello Sport.

Has anyone rejected the move? ?

Though the prospect of (even more) obscene wealth is enticing, not everyone has jumped at the chance to play in Saudi Arabia.

Lionel Messi: The biggest fish in the pond didn’t bite. Re-establishing the vaunted Ronaldo-Messi rivalry was clearly one of Saudi Arabia’s goals. It nearly came to fruition, but Messi ultimately opted to join Inter Miami in MLS. He turned down a Saudi offer thought to be worth €400 million per year.

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Luka Modric: Modric maintained that he wanted to re-sign with Real Madrid, and that’s precisely what happened despite rumblings of a healthy offer from Saudi Arabia. The revered Croatian midfielder and 2018 Ballon d’Or winner ultimately extended his stay in the Spanish capital for one more year.

Son Heung-Min: Courted by Al-Ittihad, who reportedly offered him €30 million per season, the Tottenham forward made his stance clear. Son said he still has much to accomplish in England, adding: “Money doesn’t matter to me now, and the pride of playing … in my favorite league is important.”

Jose Mourinho and Massimiliano Allegri: Al Hilal reportedly approached both high-profile Serie A managers this summer, initially offering Mourinho €30 million per year. When the Roma tactician rebuffed that, the club turned to Allegri. But he also said no, turning down €20 million annually to stay with Juventus.

Other marquee names to spurn Saudi Arabia’s advances reportedly include Thiago Alcantara, Wilfried Zaha, and Jamie Vardy.

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