Last Weekend

weekendchessThis was quite a weekend for underdogs. The two best teams in world football dropped points, the Premier League saw the team with the 2nd lowest wage bill from last season go top, and even Serie A and Ligue 1 provided smaller upsets. Here’s a quick review in case you missed any of it.

The Big Boys

Borussia Mönchengladbach handed Bayern Munich their first loss of the season, and one deserved on the night. It was a game of two halves, an evenly balanced first and a second in which Gladbach was clearly best. Manager André Schubert deserves significant credit, deploying three center-backs that Pep Guardiola admitted caused problems for his attacking trio. It has been described as a 5-man defense, and for stretches in the first half Bayern did push Gladbach’s wing backs into deep-lying positions. But following halftime encouragement from Schubert, those wingers spurred Gladbach’s attack (see managers’ post-game comments, Bayern Central). Even before scoring an exceptional opening goal (64′), Oscar Wendt looked free and dangerous on the left flank, as Philipp Lahm was getting drawn into the center without Arturo Vidal or Xabi Alonso providing cover. At right wing back, Julian Korb put Fabian Johnson through for Gladbach’s third goal (68′). Guardiola had been late in responding to Gladbach’s renewed energy, and his first change also contributed to that third goal: Vidal, having just taken over for the removed Xabi Alonso, failed to track Johnson’s run. Javi Martínez immediately shifted into that holding role (possibly Guardiola’s intention from the outset), and the 75′ introduction of Franck Ribéry tipped things back in Bayern’s favor (including a consolation goal). But by that time, the game was over.

Barcelona, for their part, dropped points to Valencia, with incoming manager Gary Neville watching from the stands as his new side produced a late goal for a 1-1 draw against the league leaders. Though Barcelona looked the stronger side throughout, Valencia’s compact and disciplined lines stymied their opponents and allowed for effective counter-attacks. Barcelona’s bad temper was a good measure of the frustration Valencia’s play was creating.  In the first half, Javier Mascherano got a yellow for body tackling Santi Mina, and Gerard Piqué got away with pulling Enzo Pérez down in the box. Luis Suárez opened the second half with a double stamp on Aymen Abdennour (50′) and a blindside airborne hammering of goalkeeper Jaume Domènech (53′). But just as a red card seemed inevitable, Suárez combined with Lionel Messi to produce a stunning right post goal (albeit with a hint of offsides). The game seemed to have wound down when care-taker manager Salvador González made a late tactical revision, moving substitute Zakaria Bakkali to Valencia’s right flank. From there, Bakkali hit a perfectly placed long ball to Paco Alcácer, who held up before feeding Mina on the 86′ equalizer (for more analysis, see Barcelona Football Blog).

The Big League

Though lacking a clear leader this year, the Premier League remains competitive enough for an upset to actually shake things up at the top. To wit: Saturday’s early game featured Manchester City being comprehensively outplayed by Stoke City. Xherdan Shaqiri was the star, setting up both Marko Arnautović goals in a game that could easily have featured twice as many for Stoke (for more analysis, see 13steps). That loss gave Leicester City everything to play for, and while Jamie Vardy wasn’t able to match the First Division record for consecutive games scoring, a hat trick from Riyad Mahrez put the Foxes clear at the top of the table. In 2014-15, Man City’s wage bill was just over 5 ½ times Leicester’s (205 M to 36.6 M).

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Chelsea lost to Bournemouth (see Thore Haugstad, ESPNFC), Manchester United tied a West Ham United side missing it’s two best players in Dmitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini (see DeReam on youtube), and hapless Newcastle United pulled it together to beat Liverpool on Sunday (on players,see Anthony Margaretic, Outside90; on formations, see James Nalton, This is Anfield).

The Little Guys

Thanks to a slow start by Juventus, Serie A is up for grabs.  That said, top-of-the-table Napoli contributed to the weekend by losing 3-2 to Bologna in a game that was not as close as the score suggests. Paris Saint-Germain (with a larger lead over second place than Bayern Munich) won on Friday, but newly promoted Angers did beat Olympique Lyonnais 2-0 (both goals from Cheikh N’Doye) to move into 2nd place in Ligue 1.  Take that, Claudio Lotito.

 

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