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World Cup roundup: Unpacking the drama as Brazil falls, Argentina escapes

The 2022 World Cup is in full swing. At the end of every matchday, we’ll review the biggest talking points emanating from Qatar and break down all the action on the pitch. Below, we look back on Friday’s epic quarterfinal games.

Brazil, Neymar genuinely unlucky

Neymar’s defining moment was, ultimately, fleeting.

It’s moot now, but there’s an alternate universe where Neymar’s spectacular extra-time goal against Croatia – which tied Pele’s scoring record for Brazil’s men’s national team – goes down as the seminal sequence of his career. Imagine this: In scoring one of the great goals of the tournament, Neymar’s spark of inspiration helps lead Brazil to its record-extending sixth World Cup title and allows the 30-year-old to sign off from Selecao duty, garnering the admiration he desperately craves in his homeland.

Instead, his breathtaking tally is a footnote in Croatia’s improbable comeback victory. A goal of such quality – that showcased Neymar’s unique blend of quickness, agility, balance, composure, and skill – deserved better. Brazil, frankly, deserved better than a 4-2 shootout defeat.

Croatia, of course, deserves immense credit for again showcasing a stubborn unwillingness to lose. Zlatko Dalic’s team, gritty and experienced, is exceedingly difficult to beat. Brazil is the latest nation to learn that lesson in heartbreaking fashion. But, while it counts for absolutely nothing now, Brazil really should have won the tense affair at Education City Stadium.

Tite’s side peppered Dominik Livakovic’s goal, recording 11 shots on target over 120 minutes. Croatia had just one: Bruno Petkovic’s 117th-minute equalizer, a scuffed effort from the big striker that took a wicked deflection and spun into the net beyond Alisson’s outstretched arm.

Luck is often viewed in sporting parlance as a dirty word; it’s as if being lucky decreases the value of winning. But every team to ever win a title, at international or club level, needs luck at some point along the way. Brazil didn’t have it Friday.

The Selecao became the first team to lose a World Cup knockout match after taking a 1-0 lead in extra time. And it was in a game they had no business losing. And in what could have been a crowning moment of Neymar’s career. This one will be difficult to digest in Brazil for years to come.

Will Modric ever age?

Vedran Corluka and Mario Mandzukic were among those celebrating with Luka Modric when Croatia emerged victorious from the penalty shootout. Both retired from playing in 2021 after at least two years of their stiffening limbs offering diminishing on-pitch returns. Both have since appeared on Dalic’s coaching staff. And incredibly, both are several months younger than Modric.

The midfielder’s effervescence is well known. At 37, Modric is still as slippery and technically gifted as he was over a decade ago. He’s since drawn confidence and composure from a career awash with individual honors and club trophies. But his occasional omnipresence defies science. Despite his advanced years, he was everywhere against Brazil. He filled space between the lines, drew five fouls, and even chipped in with three tackles and two blocked shots.

Modric effortlessly evaded opponents throughout the 120 minutes. In the second period of extra time, he left Fred – who only came on minutes earlier – dumbfounded with a sublime dummy that won a corner. He was also involved in Petkovic’s dramatic equalizer as he rolled a physical challenge from former Real Madrid teammate Casemiro before the ball spilled to Nikola Vlasic through the middle. Two passes later, Croatia was level.

Being Croatian, Modric is used to working overtime. Eight of the national team’s last nine knockout matches needed an additional 30 minutes – the only exception being the 2018 World Cup final defeat to France. Nevertheless, a dominant question going into the semifinals will be the fitness of Modric and Croatia’s other elder statesmen after their considerable workload.

But if we’ve learned something from Croatia’s recent tournaments, it’s that it can never be written off. Judging from Modric’s inspirational display against Brazil, he’s still not ready to retire to a seat beside Dalic in the technical area.

Unforgettable day of World Cup theater

What. A. Day.

You didn’t have to be a fan of any of the four teams playing Friday to feel the unparalleled drama of the World Cup. With Brazil crashing out of Qatar at the hands of Croatia hours before its biggest rival, Argentina, narrowly avoided a similar fate against the Netherlands, Dec. 9 may end up as the best day of the 2022 World Cup.

There’d already been plenty of action in Qatar to keep fans entertained before the quarterfinals kicked off with a bang. Most of the excitement stemmed from the group stage, with Japan upsetting Spain en route to topping its group on the same day as South Korea’s surprise victory over Portugal. Morocco’s triumph over Spain in the round of 16 also ranks right up there as one of the most memorable games in Qatar.

But Friday was different.

Brazil and Argentina – two of the sport’s most successful competitors with seven World Cup titles between them – were on the ropes just hours apart in their respective quarterfinal matchups. Both seemed destined for a semifinal berth before disaster struck under eerily similar circumstances. Both battled stubborn opponents who refused to go down without a fight. But only one survived.

Matthias Hangst / Getty Images Sport / Getty

In the early contest, it was Brazil against a battle-tested Croatia side fresh off of finishing second in 2018. The five-time winner appeared to seal a place in the semis after Neymar’s historic go-ahead goal in the first half of extra time. But Croatia came roaring back to score an equalizer before Livakovic denied the Selecao early in the shootout. Marquinhos’ miss on Brazil’s fourth attempt ultimately doomed Tite’s side and ended any hope of a mouthwatering semifinal against Argentina.

But Argentina’s spot in the semis was anything but guaranteed against a resilient Netherlands outfit. La Albiceleste supporters were already buzzing after learning of Brazil’s shock elimination. The stadium was rocking after kickoff when Nahuel Molina and Lionel Messi gave Argentina a 2-0 lead. But the Dutch silenced the boisterous South American fans with a dramatic equalizer, a 101st-minute equalizer.

In the shootout, after seemingly learning from Brazil’s mistake when Neymar was picked to shoot last, Messi stepped up to take the first penalty, delivering a composed strike to set the tone. Argentina’s path to victory in the shootout wasn’t straightforward from there, but the two-time World Cup winner ultimately prevailed to play another day. A date with Croatia awaits.

Quick free-kicks

Why didn’t Neymar take a penalty?

As a shattered Neymar looked on in despair, tears flooding from his eyes, it was impossible not to question why, as Brazil’s best penalty taker, he didn’t step up to the spot in the shootout. It brought a familiar debate back to the forefront: What is the ideal way to allocate your penalties in a shootout? “The fifth (shot) is the decisive one, there is more pressure, and players more mentally prepared are ones to take this last penalty kick,” Brazil manager Tite said after the match when asked why Neymar was saved for the last penalty, which, as it turned out, he never got the chance to take. Having Neymar go first is the sensible decision. If not that, then perhaps fourth? All too often, the fifth penalty never comes to fruition. The shootout is over before it can get to that point, as was the case Friday. There’s something undeniably grand and satisfying about having your superstar convert the final, winning kick. But the risk is too great. This was just another example. The dichotomy was hammered home when, later in the day, Messi stepped up to take – and converted – Argentina’s first shootout attempt.

Livakovic, Juranovic in the shop window

Croatia’s goalkeeping choices were supposed to be an Achilles heel at this tournament, but the reputation of Dinamo Zagreb’s Livakovic has skyrocketed in Qatar. Following his three penalty shootout saves against Japan, the 27-year-old produced more heroics with 11 stops – seven of which were shot inside his own area – and an extra save in spot-kicks against Brazil. However, Livakovic might not be the most sought-after player in Dalic’s ensemble. Josip Juranovic, expected to be available for transfer after Celtic signed fellow defender Alistair Johnston last week, was arguably Croatia’s second-best player (after Modric) at Education City Stadium. The right-back halted Vinicius Junior on numerous occasions and ambitiously ran at Danilo or through the middle whenever he had the ball. Every time he surged forward, it felt like his asking price raised by a few million.

That’s more than enough, Mateu

Regular La Liga viewers all likely nodded in unison with every yellow card Mateu Lahoz handed out at Lusail Stadium. This was no surprise to them. They probably had sore necks by the end of it all. The eccentric Spanish referee, infamous for making himself a central figure in any match he oversees, showed 18 total cards in Argentina’s chaotic victory over the Netherlands. Of course, some of that wasn’t his fault. Leandro Paredes smashing the ball into the Dutch bench from point-blank range, which started a brouhaha, was out of Lahoz’s control. But the Spaniard too often brings commotion upon himself within matches with questionable decisions and a lack of consistency. Clear bookable offenses slide right on by, while less serious infractions result in Lahoz reaching for his pocket. It’s confounding. Messi and Emiliano Martinez slammed the referee’s performance after Friday’s match, with the latter calling him “useless.” With Spain out of the tournament, there’s a possibility Lahoz, who took charge of the 2021 Champions League final, could be the man in the middle for the World Cup final. That would be to the detriment of the tournament.

Launch it to the big man

Louis van Gaal and the Dutch purists have been at odds for much of his current tenure. His style of football – which ditched the nation’s beloved 4-3-3 system – was dubbed too defensive, too reactionary, and, crucially, not aesthetically pleasing. Van Gaal, never one to cower in the face of critics, refuted claims that his team was “boring” and pointed to the results as many coaches do. The Netherlands, until Friday, was winning. Against that backdrop, there would have been something delicious – and hilarious – about Wout Weghorst emerging as the hero if his unlikely late brace in normal time had culminated in a Dutch victory. The gigantic forward is the antithesis of the silky football of Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, and Arjen Robben. But he was damn effective against Argentina, scoring twice with his first 10 touches after coming off the bench, including the latest second-half goal in a World Cup knockout game in recorded history (101st minute). Launching the ball forward to a hulking center-forward is dismissed by many as antiquated, but, as Van Gaal and the Netherlands proved, it can work. That tactic very nearly saved the Netherlands.

Stat of the day

Messi’s assist for Molina, in which he created a passing lane out of thin air by nutmegging Nathan Ake, was out of this world.

Tweet of the day

“And then to penalties. Which they always win.”

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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.

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

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.

Alex Pantling / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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?

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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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