Connect with us

Premier League

20 overreactions to the Premier League's opening weekend

The dust has settled on the opening weekend of the 2022-23 Premier League season. So, naturally, it’s time to overreact about the state of each team. Below, theScore tips some for glory and others for ruin.

Arsenal

Saliba is already the league’s best defender

William Saliba waited three long years to make his Premier League debut. No one at Arsenal will forget it. The 21-year-old, who played on loan at Saint-Etienne, Nice, and Marseille before rejoining the Gunners this summer, put in a man-of-the-match performance during Friday’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. He dominated the area with a team-high seven clearances and committed no fouls while boxing out his opponents. A physical center-back with in-game intelligence, Saliba has what it takes to become one of the Premier League’s top defenders.

Aston Villa

Neville Williams / Aston Villa FC / Getty

Gerrard will be the first manager sacked

Despite signing Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne, and Calum Chambers in January, Steven Gerrard went 10-5-12 at Villa last season after replacing Dean Smith in November. Villa have to improve on their 14th-place finish, but that remains a tall order. Promising midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka and left-back Matt Targett left the club this summer, and newly promoted Bournemouth issued Villa a sobering reminder of their deficiencies Saturday.

Bournemouth

Relegation is far from a certainty

Many understandably consider Bournemouth to be a lock for relegation. The Cherries haven’t spent much since returning to the Premier League, and manager Scott Parker has enjoyed little success outside of the Championship. But there’s enough in this team to survive the season. Dominic Solanke kick-started his career with 29 goals in Bournemouth’s promotion campaign, giving the club confidence he can lead the line in the top flight. 6-foot-4 midfielder Philip Billing and 6-foot-3 center-back Chris Mepham form a solid foundation. Summer signing Marcus Tavernier adds style. Incoming defender Marcos Senesi brings confidence on the ball. With all of that, Bournemouth have the tools to stay up.

Brentford

PA Wire – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Damsgaard is a worthy heir to Eriksen

Mikkel Damsgaard is the perfect choice for Brentford. Counting Christian Eriksen as one of his idols, Damsgaard has molded his game around the visionary Danish playmaker. So, naturally, he’s a worthy heir. The 22-year-old is just as accurate as Eriksen from set-pieces and even shiftier on the ball than his predecessor. Brentford are excellent at identifying successors, transitioning from the likes of Ollie Watkins to Ivan Toney without a hitch. Damsgaard could even be considered a long-term upgrade on Eriksen. And, at a reported £16 million, he fits the budget.

Brighton & Hove Albion

Who needs Cucurella?

Brighton had no reason to sell Marc Cucurella. That’s why they wouldn’t accept anything less than £50 million. But he wasn’t indispensable, either. When Chelsea agreed to stump up the cash, Brighton accepted. They knew they could live without him. The Seagulls proved as much Sunday at Old Trafford, outfoxing Manchester United in every category. Tactically, Brighton were at their fluid best, rotating between multiple formations while targeting open space on the counterattack. Even if manager Graham Potter needed Leandro Trossard and Solly March to do the job of one on the left flank, where Cucurella shined last season, it worked. Potter’s team has always been a collection of moving parts. Losing one won’t make a difference.

Chelsea

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Chelsea are going backward

Chelsea aren’t any better than they were last season. Despite Kalidou Koulibaly’s arrival from Napoli, the Blues still lack quality defensive options. An even bigger concern lies up front. With Romelu Lukaku out on loan, Timo Werner on his way back to RB Leipzig, and Armando Broja still learning his trade, manager Thomas Tuchel is missing a reliable goalscorer. Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Everton exposed more problems than solutions, with Kai Havertz looking lost and Raheem Sterling struggling to connect with his teammates. If the west London side doesn’t make at least one more splash in the summer window, it’ll finish outside of the top four for the first time since 2018.

Crystal Palace

Doucoure is going to run out of steam

Cheick Doucoure should feel daunted by the task that lies ahead after Friday’s rather forgettable debut against visiting Arsenal. Those remaining in Crystal Palace’s stable of deep-lying midfielders are poor. Wideman Jeffrey Schlupp was uncomfortable alongside Doucoure in a central role, and the Eagles’ other deputies for that position – Luka Milivojevic, Will Hughes, and James McArthur – are uninspiring. Doucoure, a £20-million recruit, could be one of England’s most overworked players this season.

Everton

Tony McArdle – Everton FC / Everton FC / Getty

Everton on the path to relegation

Frank Lampard has a big problem on his hands. Everton are already in the throes of a full-blown injury crisis a week into the new season. Richarlison is long gone, oft-injured striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin remains vulnerable to setbacks, and center-backs Ben Godfrey and Yerry Mina are out long term. Even with the addition of Conor Coady, there are too many holes to plug. The club barely recovered from last season’s sluggish start, and it hasn’t made enough signings to ensure that doesn’t happen again.

Fulham

Mitrovic can win the Golden Boot

Ahead of kickoff Saturday, Aleksandar Mitrovic’s ability lay somewhere between the Championship and Premier League. His second-tier record stands at 85 goals in 126 outings, while his top-flight return was 24 goals across 104 appearances. Then, Liverpool visited and Mitrovic was a constant nuisance. Aside from his two goals, the Serb won 11 aerial duels, ranked third for touches by a Fulham player, drew four fouls, and completed three clearances. With form like this, Mitrovic can easily lead the Cottagers to safety, and maybe even collect some individual hardware.

Leeds United

David Rogers / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Aaronson and Adams > Raphinha and Phillips

The American revolution at Leeds United is underway, and the early returns are extremely promising. Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams stood out for all the right reasons in Leeds’ win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. The USMNT pair fit into compatriot Jesse Marsch’s system like a glove, excelling when they’re tasked with putting pressure on the opposition and forcing turnovers that can then be turned into scoring opportunities. Aaronson, in particular, looks set to have a breakthrough campaign. Replacing Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips is a gargantuan task, but Aaronson and Adams are up for it.

Leicester City

Sell Maddison, give Dewsbury-Hall the keys

There’s been much consternation this summer over Leicester City’s lack of activity in the transfer market. While others have splashed serious cash, the Foxes are yet to sign a new senior player to their squad. Against that backdrop, allowing James Maddison to depart for Newcastle United seems ill-advised. But if Maddison’s potential sale – which could fetch over £50 million – allows Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall to become the conductor of Leicester’s midfield, Brendan Rodgers’ team might actually be better for it. The 23-year-old ran the show in a season-opening draw with Brentford, and his slick goal was the exclamation point on a distinguished performance.

Liverpool

Andrew Powell / Liverpool FC / Getty

TAA needs to play further forward

Trent Alexander-Arnold is a superlative attacking right-back. He’s inarguably one of the elite players at his position, if not the best. However, his defensive shortcomings were again on display in Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Fulham. There’s no shame in losing a contested header to Mitrovic, especially when the hulking Serbian has forward momentum coming in at the back post to meet a cross. But Alexander-Arnold, not for the first time, put himself in a suboptimal defensive position that handed the opponent the upper hand. Obviously, the good (far) exceeds the bad with the English international, but with such tight margins expected in the title race, these little moments are enough to make a huge difference come season’s end.

Manchester City

Haaland will score 40 goals this season

Haaland is going to terrorize the Premier League for years to come. No other center-forward in the game possesses the same combination of pace, technique, and strength as the monstrous Norwegian international. Now, imagine pairing a player who can time runs to perfection with a team of licensed assassins who can pick passes like locks. Manchester City have some of the best playmakers in the league, and if the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, and Phil Foden can release Haaland into open space, watch out. Haaland’s going to break the Premier League’s single-season scoring record with ease.

Manchester United

STIAN LYSBERG SOLUM / AFP / Getty

The Ten Hag era will be fleeting

Deep inside, if just a little, Erik ten Hag may have some regrets right about now. The Dutch tactician left Ajax, a club that plays beautiful, cohesive football and develops talent like few others can, for a dysfunctional Manchester United outfit that’s deep in the doldrums. If he didn’t know the full extent of the issues at Old Trafford, he got an immediate dose of reality in Sunday’s home defeat to Brighton. The Red Devils have deep-rooted personnel problems that’ll take multiple transfer windows to fix, and his preferred style of play could take even longer to properly implement. Will he be around long enough to see it through?

Newcastle United

Champions League, here we come

Maybe we were all too modest with our preseason prognostications for Newcastle United. Most pundits expected the Magpies to build on their strong finish to last season and take a moderate leap forward in ’22-23, pushing for a European place in Eddie Howe’s first full campaign behind the bench. But Saturday’s 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest suggested there may be even more room for optimism on Tyneside. Yes, this all comes with the caveat that a home opener against a newly promoted team isn’t exactly a litmus test for European credentials, but Newcastle were absolutely dominant, outshooting Forest 23-10 and not conceding a single effort on target. Matches against Manchester City and Liverpool later this month will be a better indicator of just how high this team should be aiming this season.

Nottingham Forest

Stu Forster / Getty Images Sport / Getty

We need even more signings to compete

Six of Nottingham Forest’s 12 (!) summer signings started in the loss to Newcastle, with two more new recruits being introduced as substitutes. At times, it looked as though the players, many of whom have just met, weren’t on the same page. Not surprising, considering the wholesale changes made during the transfer window. That type of upheaval can have a destabilizing impact. Forest, who are expected to bring in at least a couple of more new faces before deadline day, would be wise to instead try and forge connections and understanding amongst the players already brought in.

Southampton

The transfer strategy has already backfired

After Southampton’s heavy defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, Ralph Hasenhuttl said it was “frustrating” to see the gap in quality between the two teams. He may have to get used to it. Encouraging showings from Romeo Lavia and Joe Aribo aside, there were very few positives to emerge for the Saints, and plenty to be nervous about. Southampton couldn’t cope, eventually getting overrun. “It felt like the opponent switched in the next gear after the first 20 minutes, and we could not follow,” Hasenhuttl added. Relying on so many young players to all deliver at once can be exciting, but this is the other side of the coin. An inexperienced group is being thrown right into the deep end. It’s sink or swim.

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur FC / Tottenham Hotspur FC / Getty

Conte has already built a title-winning team

Antonio Conte loved what he saw during Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of Southampton. His players pressed high, won possession in dangerous areas, and scored for fun. Tottenham fired in a whopping 24 crosses, and not of the speculative kind. Emerson Royal and Ryan Sessegnon stretched Southampton’s back five, and Dejan Kulusevski’s quick footwork made mince meat of what was left of it. Conte’s teams are at their best when they’re swarming the pitch. In almost a year at the helm, he’s now achieving his vision at Tottenham. Forget a place in the top four: Tottenham have what it takes to challenge City and Liverpool for the title.

West Ham United

Antonio and Scamacca can’t co-exist

West Ham United had the unfortunate honor of providing the opposition on Haaland’s Premier League debut. Spoiler: It didn’t go well. But they’ll get over that. What’s of more lasting concern is their own striker situation. Much is expected of angular Italian Gianluca Scamacca, who made his own debut when he replaced Michail Antonio in the second half. Therein lies the problem. Antonio has been a revelation at center-forward for the Hammers, but he’ll be displaced, in some way, to accommodate Scamacca, who arrived in London with a hefty price tag. Getting the best out of his two physical forwards could prove challenging for David Moyes, who’ll need to make concessions elsewhere on the pitch if he plans to play them together.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Isaac Parkin – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Regression coming for Jose Sa

Much of Wolverhampton’s success last season can be attributed to the excellence of Jose Sa between the sticks. Underlying metrics suggested the Portuguese netminder wasn’t merely good in 2021-22, he was the best pure shot-stopper in England’s top flight. His outstanding track record was the main reason why it was so surprising to see him concede from a bad angle against Leeds; Rodrigo’s low shot had some fizz on it, but the goalkeeper’s dismayed reaction to the goal told the story. He knew he should’ve kept it out. If Sa isn’t at his absolute best, it’s going to be a very long year for goal-shy Wolves and Bruno Lage.

Copyright © 2022 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Premier League

3 thoughts from Saturday's Premier League action

theScore examines the most important developments and discusses the biggest talking points from Saturday’s reduced schedule in England’s top flight.

Stones is a legitimate right-back option

Maybe this is meant to be a brief thing. While Kyle Walker deals with fitness issues and new left-back Sergio Gomez settles in at the club, John Stones has appeared at right-back in some Manchester City games.

Center-backs filling in at full-back often enact a classic portrayal of the role – Ben White has overlapped Arsenal’s right-sided attacker with some success in the season’s opening weeks. Stones’ interpretation, however, seems more studied. He slides neatly into midfield alongside Rodri when City are in possession, providing protection from counter-attacks and ensuring his side dominates the ball in this area of the pitch. Stones’ extra defensive cover on the right also frees up Joao Cancelo for more attacking work down the left.

The ease with which Stones has slotted in as an inverted full-back is impressive. It also indicates that this might be the result of hard hours on the training ground as Pep Guardiola tries to formulate more tactical options for his versatile team.

Stones shrugs off Boubacar Traore Nick Potts – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

There must be a caveat from Saturday’s 3-0 win: it was Wolverhampton Wanderers. This might be the most toothless version of Wolves to play in the Premier League (even less potent than the side that scored a paltry 32 goals, yet still survived, in the 2009-10 season), and their day was made more difficult when Nathan Collins was sent off for a wild challenge on Jack Grealish.

While Stones wasn’t overworked at Molineux, he exuded confidence with the ball, linking up the backline and midfield with short passes, and dealt admirably with attacking left-back Rayan Ait-Nouri. He’d already passed a sterner test three days earlier, too. He calmly addressed Borussia Dortmund’s threat, which mostly came down his flank, before stepping upfield to unleash a vicious strike that turned the tide of the Champions League group-stage fixture.

And Stones isn’t only a viable choice at right-back. He took sole ownership of No. 6 duties when Rodri was substituted in the 81st minute, skipping through challenges and dictating City’s tempo with his passing. Given Kalvin Phillips’ injury issues, Stones could be asked to deputize for Rodri a few times in the coming weeks.

Newcastle’s steep learning curve

Bournemouth were largely negative in their approach at St. James’ Park, relying on last-ditch blocks, Neto’s goalkeeping, and the woodwork to keep Newcastle United at bay. In the final 10 minutes of the first half alone, the Cherries headed or smashed away seven clearances.

This is what the “big six” deal with most weeks. The Magpies will need to get used to it. They’ve quickly become one of the division’s strongest teams following their Saudi-backed takeover, so opponents have adapted accordingly. The most pragmatic way for bottom-half sides to approach Newcastle matches is to pack bodies in front of their creative players and then try to inflict damage on the break.

Miguel Almiron is most dangerous in counter-attacks LINDSEY PARNABY / AFP / Getty

Newcastle’s frustrations were beginning to show when Bournemouth took the lead through Philip Billing in the 62nd minute, and they could only respond via Alexander Isak’s successful penalty. Eddie Howe’s side lacked invention throughout and can’t expect a huge uptick in performance when the entertaining yet inconsistent Allan Saint-Maximin returns from injury. The majority of Howe’s players appear to lack the guile to unpick low blocks, and the men he called off the bench – Jacob Murphy, Sean Longstaff, and Chris Wood – seemed to be a concession of that weakness. Rather than patiently adhering to their game plan, Newcastle started to play a more direct, cross-heavy game as their desperation grew.

The next stage in Newcastle’s transformation has to be signing better playmakers. Miguel Almiron and Ryan Fraser simply don’t thrive when their team has the most possession – they’re most dangerous in counter-attacks, not against deep-lying defenses – and back-to-back home draws against Crystal Palace and Bournemouth isn’t the kind of form that earns top-four finishes.

At long last, the Son is out

“I like that he’s a bit angry,” Antonio Conte said about Son Heung-Min’s goal drought before Leicester City’s visit, adding, “he wants to try to change it.”

Son was last season’s true top scorer. Granted, he did share the Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah, but the Liverpool forward boosted his 23-goal haul with five penalties. Son didn’t attempt any throughout Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League campaign, leaving that responsibility to Harry Kane, so reaching his overall tally was an undeniably more impressive feat than Salah’s.

The South Korean scored 12 of his goals over his final 10 league appearances of last term, helping Spurs clinch the fourth Champions League place at Arsenal’s expense. He was irresistible, marking a stark contrast to his return of no goals from the opening eight matches of this season (in all competitions). Son’s alarming dip in productivity threatened to harm his side’s ambitions for the campaign.

What an emphatic way to vanquish those concerns.

Just like that, Son is back on form ISABEL INFANTES / AFP / Getty

It took around 27 minutes for Son to bag a hat-trick after his introduction on Saturday, making him the first Tottenham substitute to record a Premier League treble. A fine Hugo Lloris save helped Spurs cling on to their one-goal advantage moments before Son was brought on, but the benched forward soon helped his side to a 6-2 victory.

Son’s opening goal wasn’t the fortuitous, scruffy close-range finish that people tend to associate with a player overcoming a bad run. It was a quintessential Son strike: a powerful run followed by an unstoppable right-footed smash into the top corner from 25 yards. His second was another effort plucked from the archives as he shifted the ball onto his left foot before bending it into the far corner from a near-identical spot as his first goal.

Son rounded off his treble following an exceptionally timed run. His return to form should strike fear into Tottenham’s rivals: One of the top flight’s deadliest strikers is “angry” and firing, and the proud Korean is also desperate to hit prime condition in time for his country’s tough group-stage matches at this winter’s World Cup.

Copyright © 2022 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Continue Reading

Premier League

2022 World Cup kits: Bright orange for Netherlands, vibrant look for Brazil

Nike released its line of World Cup jerseys for 12 of its 13 teams Thursday, bringing out vivid colors and an array of designs that characterize the countries they represent.

Nike is the latest manufacturer to reveal outfits for the 2022 World Cup, which begins Nov. 20 in Qatar. Adidas, which supplies seven countries, and Puma, which services six, unveiled their lineups in August.

Fans have criticized the manufacturers for using cookie-cutter designs. Puma came under intense criticism after releasing a lineup of jerseys with the same template, and a number of people have already signed a petition online to protest Nike’s USMNT jersey.

England, the only World Cup team in Nike’s stable that’s yet to officially unveil its uniforms, will reveal its collection on Sept. 21, after the country completes a period of mourning over the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Here’s a closer look at the jerseys Nike revealed Thursday.

Australia

(Courtesy: Nike)

Australia’s home shirt takes inspiration from the sandy beaches of the Outback, using a noisy design to convey the coastal vibes that make the country such a hot destination for surfers and oceanographers.

Brazil

(Courtesy: Nike)

Brazil’s home shirt is as yellow as ever. Complete with bright green details and a classic collar, it’s a stunning representation of the vibrant side of Brazilian life. The jersey also contains hidden symbols, including the nation’s flag.

Canada

(Courtesy: Nike)

Canada will wear the same shirts that gave it luck during its historic World Cup qualifying campaign.

Croatia

(Courtesy: Nike)

Croatia’s home shirt is unmistakable. But Luka Modric and Co. will wear a variation of the usual chequered pattern we’ve all come to expect from the Balkan outfit.

France

(Courtesy: Nike)

France dazzles with one of the best collections of the bunch. The away kit features national imagery, while a golden cockerel stands out against the home shirt’s deep blue tone.

Korea Republic

(Courtesy: Nike)

South Korea summons the inner tiger in this year’s home shirt. The fiery red design, replete with tiger-stripe graphics, gives off a powerful vibe.

The Netherlands

(Courtesy: Nike)

Talk about Orange fever. With perhaps its boldest design in decades, the Netherlands will hit the pitch with a near-gold ensemble that catches the eye. The home shirt also contains a number of subtle symbols and a reference to the country’s Total Football tactics.

Poland

(Courtesy: Nike)

Poland’s home kit features a feathery design on each sleeve, paying homage to the white eagle that’s come to symbolize strength and solidarity in the eastern European nation.

Portugal

(Courtesy: Nike)

Portugal’s collection isn’t exactly a smash hit. The home shirt includes a diagonal separation of its national colors and aims to mimic the flag as it would sit against the body. The away edition features an off-white tone that offers some separation from the rest of the World Cup’s white uniforms.

Qatar

(Courtesy: Nike)

Qatar’s logo sits prominently on both of its kits. Classic maroon shading defines the home edition, and the away’s sandy design aims to capture the coastal contours of the Gulf nation.

Saudi Arabia

(Courtesy: Nike)

Saudi Arabia truly embraces its national colors. The away shirt comes with a dark green design that packs punch.

United States

(Courtesy: Nike)

Fans and players aren’t pleased with Nike’s creative input on the United States’ World Cup collection. “We just as angry as y’all!!!” forward Tim Weah wrote last month. “Tried to tell them,” midfielder Weston McKennie added.

Copyright © 2022 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Continue Reading

Premier League

5 thoughts 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.

Son becoming a big problem for Conte

Son Heung-Min has now gone eight games without a goal, and if his performance in Tottenham Hotspur’s surprising 2-0 defeat to Sporting CP on Tuesday is any indication, the drought will continue for some time.

Many expected Son to take his game to the next level, and rightfully so. The South Korean forward finished the 2021-22 Premier League season with 12 goals in his final 10 appearances, enough to earn him a share of the Golden Boot award. But his form in front of goal since the start of August has dropped dramatically. Son’s failed to convert any of his 18 attempts on goal, and only half of those have been on target.

Son didn’t register a single shot Tuesday against Sporting ‘keeper Antonio Adan, and one of his only two touches in the penalty area came from an offside position. He just couldn’t connect with the rest of his teammates. Clearly frustrated, Spurs boss Antonio Conte replaced him after 72 minutes – and Son’s lucky he even lasted that long.

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The 30-year-old’s substitute Dejan Kulusevski showed much more attacking impetus in the final quarter of an hour, appearing on the left and right to create chances. With Richarlison also comfortable playing on the left wing, Son’s place in Conte’s starting lineup could, and probably should, come under scrutiny.

Richarlison has played extremely well in his limited time on the pitch, showing greater compatibility with Harry Kane and the will to get into scoring positions. Initially signed to provide depth, the Brazilian forward could now earn a significant run in the team, with Kane up front and Kulusevski returning to his usual place on the right. That spells trouble for Son, whose native South Korea is banking on him to lead the way in the World Cup. But Conte can’t afford to wait for anyone – not even one of the Premier League’s best players.

That’s more like it, Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp got the response he demanded.

In a game Liverpool desperately needed to win after opening their Champions League campaign with an embarrassing defeat, Klopp’s men delivered a strong defensive performance on their way to beating Ajax 2-1 and picking up their first three points of the tournament.

The result offered a huge boost for a Liverpool side that was left reeling after last week’s abysmal performance in Italy.

In the aftermath of the 4-1 loss to Napoli, there was plenty of uncertainty about the Reds’ ability to rebound from what Klopp described as the team’s “worst” performance since his arrival. Klopp delivered “four or five days of absolute truth” to his struggling squad.

Although Liverpool’s route to victory was anything but direct, the rallying cry seemingly worked. After Mohamed Salah’s first-half goal, poor play from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk was largely responsible for Ajax’s equalizer before halftime. The Reds’ attack went sterile after the break until unlikely hero Joel Matip’s 89th-minute winner sent Anfield into a frenzy.

Although Liverpool have a ways to go before they’re comparable to the outfit that dazzled last season, Tuesday’s victory was undoubtedly a relief for a club that’s underachieved for much of the season so far.

When heavyweights collide

That was fun.

Bayern Munich and Barcelona, familiar foes in recent seasons, delivered a rousing spectacle in Bavaria on Tuesday. It was only a group-stage affair, but the almost unhinged intensity and elite skill on display were befitting of a final. Both teams pressed fiercely, trying to play on the front foot and not allow their illustrious opposition any time to breathe. Tackles were flying, and bodies were often strewn across the pitch as the two sides went blow-for-blow, racing up and down the field and exchanging rapid attacks peppered with quick, clever passing sequences and exquisite dribbling.

Alphonso Davies and the rejuvenated Ousmane Dembele – and fellow winger Raphinha – engaged in a series of explosive tussles that were as entertaining as the actual match itself. A game within the game. Teenage midfielders Pedri and Gavi were two standout players in the first half as Barcelona, looking to regain their status as Europe’s elite footballing institution, played with the incisiveness, inventiveness, and swagger of their peak years. The club’s financial future may be tenuous, but things look bright on the pitch.

But Bayern, despite still looking vulnerable defensively when put under pressure, didn’t crack. Julian Nagelsmann’s decision to introduce Leon Goretzka to begin the second half was vital, and the German juggernaut helped turn the tide in his side’s eventual 2-0 victory.

“In the first half we had a lot of chances to score, and when you forgive so much against a team like this, you end up paying for it,” Pedri, wise beyond his years, said following the defeat.

Those ebbs and flows are the hallmarks of memorable Champions League nights.

The group stage of Europe’s premier club competition has been increasingly neutered as the gulf between football’s wealthy elite and everyone else has continued to grow over the years, making it more difficult for Cinderella stories to develop. But Tuesday’s clash at the Allianz Arena was a reminder of everything that’s still good about the tournament. When heavyweights collide, it’s still the most riveting show around.

Lewandowski’s rare off night

Captivating as Tuesday’s match in Bavaria was, it didn’t quite go according to plan for Robert Lewandowski.

The prolific Pole, who scored 344 goals in 375 Bayern appearances before departing for Barcelona this past summer, was given a predominantly warm reception upon his return. But a smattering of boos emanated from a fan base that isn’t totally at peace with the acrimonious nature of Lewandowski’s departure. Not quite hostile, but there was tension in the air.

“I think for Lewy, it was really an emotional game to come back,” said Bayern captain Manuel Neuer after the match. It’s impossible to know if that harmed the forward – even the most accomplished veterans can get butterflies – but whatever the reason, Lewandowski was just slightly off at the Allianz Arena. A rare sight over the years.

The 34-year-old spurned two glorious opportunities in the first half, whistling a volley just over the crossbar from inside the box before sending a close-range header at the back post right into Neuer’s chest. Another good chance went begging when Noussair Mazraoui made a last-ditch block late in the first half. From there, Bayern’s defenders corralled him, and whenever Barca did scamper forward menacingly, Lewandowski couldn’t find the right timing and connect with his teammates.

Lewandowski had nine goals in his first six games with Barcelona going into Tuesday’s encounter, but his dream start to the season ended with a thud in the one match he was surely more excited about than any other.

What’s happening in Group B!?

This comes with the caveat that it’s still very early – we’re only two games into this campaign’s Champions League, after all. But Group B, against all odds, is already shaping up to be a wild ride.

Club Brugge sit atop the quartet with a perfect record after waltzing into the Estadio do Dragao, a typically intimidating venue, and crushing FC Porto on Tuesday. Despite losing Charles De Ketelaere over the summer, the Belgian club certainly wasn’t lacking an attacking spark in its 4-0 rout.

MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP / Getty

The surprises didn’t stop there, though, as Bayer Leverkusen put their woeful early-season form behind them to claim a 2-0 win against overwhelming group favorites Atletico Madrid. Leverkusen went into the match having lost six of their eight games in all competitions to begin the new campaign, so naturally, they shut down Diego Simeone’s side. Throw all reason out the window.

Group B, viewed after the draw as lacking much intrigue or excitement, is flipping the script.

Copyright © 2022 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Continue Reading

Trending