For the past few years, I’ve had the idea of trying to capture the story of a European season in 100 games. So between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, I’ll be reviewing the best 50 games of the first half of the 2019-20 season. Here’s the first batch; please let me know which games I’ve missed, as I’ll be revising the list as I move toward the full 100 games in May.
The 2019-20 season got going with a series of deeply satisfying Super Cup games (only France’s Trophée des Champions failed to deliver), and followed up with unexpected losses from presumed title contenders and some remarkable goalfests in in Serie A and La Liga. Here’s my 10 best from August.
3rd – Borussia Dortmund 2 – Bayern Munich 0 (DFL-Supercup).
This glorified friendly between two of Germany’s three likely Bundesliga title contenders offered an enthralling contrast in styles. Niko Kovač’s Bayern dominated possession and territory, especially after strong opening 20′ by Lucien Favre’s Dortmund. Even in that early going, in fact, Dortmund mostly threatened on the counter, and it was just after half time that Jadon Sancho intercepted a poor pass and sprang an attack that saw him passing out of a three-man trap for Paco Alcácer to score. Bayern’s dominance only increased as Dortmund settled in even deeper. Their 68′ insurance goal, off a Sancho counter finished through the legs of Manuel Neuer, was decidedly against the run of play. The loss was a sign of things to come for Bayern, who would go on to drop points in their opening game against Hertha Berlin, and suggested the possibility of a real title race this season. Analysis from Football Made Simple, Total Football Analysis.
4th – Liverpool 1  – Manchester City 1  (FA Community Shield).
Last season’s best teams in the world faced off before the start of the Premier League season. Despite Jürgen Klopp resting Sadio Mané and Pep Guardiola resting Sergio Agüero, Fernandinho, Ederson, and–at least until an early injury to Leroy Sané–Gabriel Jesus, it felt like a serious game. Manchester City showed a predictable tactical fluidity, with new transfer Rodri Cascante looking for the time being a suitable replacement for Fernandinho. At 12′, Raheem Sterling finished a quick team attack, slipping the ball past Alisson Becker, but the game remained a two-way affair. Right before the hour mark, Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah both hit the the post, while Sterling had a breakaway the other direction that should have given City an insurance goal. With just over 10′ left in regulation, van Dijk chipped a ball across the goalmouth for Joel Matip to head in an equalizer, and Klopp immediately made a triple switch in search of a win. In injury time, Salah headed the rebound of an initial breakaway shot over Claudio Bravo, but Kyle Walker got back to clear it off the line with an athletic bicycle kick. In the shoot-out, Bravo saved a poor penalty from Georginio Wijnaldum to earn City a nominal trophy and bragging rights in the presumed Premier League title race. Analysis from The Coaches’ Voice, Nouman, Football Made Simple.
14th – Liverpool 2  – Chelsea 2  (UEFA Super Cup).
Liverpool had a second shot at a pre-season trophy, taking on new coach Frank Lampard’s new-look, youth-oriented Chelsea. American Christian Pulisic shined in an open and evenly-matched first half, assisting Olivier Giroud’s opening goal and scoring a lovely goal of his own that was (narrowly but correctly) taken away by VAR. Roberto Firmino came on at halftime and almost immediately fed Sadio Mané who got round Kepa Arrizabalaga to equalize. Liverpool dominated until about the hour mark, and while Chelsea regained their feet they remained second best. Arrizabalaga made a remarkable double save at 74′, and both sides has chances late in regulation. Mané scored his second (off another Firmino assist) early in extra time, but Adrián, making his first Liverpool start in place of injured keeper Alisson Becker, gave up a penalty on substitute Tammy Abraham, allowing Jorginho to equalize and set up a shoot-out. Ardrián got his revenge, however, saving a tentative effort from Abraham to claim the win. It was a fitting start for Europe’s runaway leaders in the first half of the season. Analysis from The Coaches’ Voice, Nouman, Total Football Analysis.
16th – Athletic Bilbao 1 – Barcelona 0.
Playing without Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets in the opening game of the La Liga season, Barcelona further lost Luis Suárez to injury at 37’. Replacement Rafinha Alcântara had a shot touched onto the post; but it was the 38 year-old 88’ Bilbao substitute Aritz Aduriz who hit a bicycle from beyond the penalty spot to claim the game at the death. Barcelona continued to struggle in the absence of its stars, dropping another two points on the final day of August in a 2-2 tie with newly promoted Osasuna. Analysis from SB Nation (Barca Blaugranes), Barca Talk, Total Football Analysis.
17th – Manchester City 2 – Tottenham Hotspur 2.
Following a 5-0 win against West Ham United to keep pace with Liverpool’s 4-1 victory over newly promoted Norwich City, Pep Guardiola’s side dominated the opening 20′ of this week 2 showdown, Raheem Sterling ghosting in at the far post to head in a Kevin De Bruyne cross. Almost immediately, though, Erik Lamela was released up the middle by new transfer Tanguy Ndombele and hit a long shot that curled away from Ederson for an equalizer out of nothing. City continued to dominate, however, De Bruyne assisting Sergio Agüero on City’s second and setting up İlkay Gündoğan to hit the post before halftime. The second half seemed like more of the same, but just before the hour mark Mauricio Pochettino brought on Lucas Moura, who promptly headed in a corner to equalize a 2nd time. Notwithstanding Spurs’ offensive substitution, City continued to dominate. They appeared to have an injury time winner when second half substitute Gabriel Jesus scored off a corner, but VAR took it back (in a correct application of a bad rule) for an incidental and unnoticed handball in the build-up. This was first of 16 points City would drop before Christmas; Spurs, though, would fare even worse. Analysis from The Coaches’ Voice, Football Made Simple, Total Football Analysis.
Villarreal 4 – Granada 4.
Newly promoted Granada absolutely dominated a first half that saw each side given and converting a penalty. The second half was both more even and more topsy-turvy. Moi Gómez put Villarreal ahead early in the 2nd, only to see Granada substitute Darwin Machís equalize 5’ later. 3’ after that, Gómez fed Gerard Moreno to give the Yellow Submarine another lead. When Samuel Chukwueze broke up the middle and scored on a counter-attack sprung by Santi Cazorla just before the quarter-hour mark, the game seemed decided—only for the much-traveled Roberto Soldado to head in a corner kick for Granada 2’ later. Another corner at 81’ allowed Soldado to head the ball back across goal to Antonio Puertas, who headed in an equalizer for a much-deserved point. Late substitute Adrian Ramos had a bullet header at 90’ which would have given Granada all three points had he not been offsides. Granada continued to be one of the surprise sides of La Liga, beating Barcelona in September and actually topping the table near the end of October before returning to Earth.
18th – Stade Rennais 2 – Paris Saint-Germain 1.
Having lost to PSG in the season-opening Trophée des Champions, last year’s Coupe de France winners faced France’s top side for the third time since April in week 2 of the Ligue 1 season. Rennes defended in a low block and managed to limit Paris Saint-Germian’s chances despite their dominating possession. Playing without Neymar (either injured or anticipating a Barcelona transfer that never came), Edinson Cavani hit the left post with an early header and then took advantage of a defensive mix-up late in the first half to give his team the lead. M’Baye Niang equalized before halftime, however, and shortly after the restart Rennes’ 16 year-old star midfielder, Eduardo Camavinga, arced a perfect ball into the box for Romain Del Castillo to head in. Camavinga’s preternatural calm in midfield made him a clear Man of the Match in Rennes 2nd win against the Parisian super-club in less than four months. Analysis from Total Football Analysis.
24th – Fiorentina 3 – Napoli 4.
VAR was the unfortunate star of the first half, which began with an extremely questionable handball in the box to put Fiorentina ahead via penalty. A stunning goal by Dries Mertens brought Napoli level before an undeserved penalty won by a diving Mertens put them up at the end of a first half in which Fiorentina had probably been the better side. That advantage was quickly righted by an early set piece header by Nikola Milenković. But Napoli responded almost immediately with a 2nd moment of real class, José Callenjón finishing a flowing attack up the left with a goal from the right to put Napoli back up. From there Napoli looked in control until the introduction of Kevin-Prince Boateng just after the hour mark. The elder statesman had an immediate impact on Fiorentina’s very young side, nearly scoring with his first touch and actually doing so in less than 5’ on the pitch. But 2’ after that, Napoli had yet another stunning counter, Mertens out left crossing to Callejón at the right post for a header back across, who put it back to the left post for Lorenzo Insigne to head in Napoli’s 4th. Franck Ribéry came on late and perhaps deserved a penalty in the 91’ for some shirt- and arm-holding as he edged into the penalty box by Napoli’s late sub, Elseid Hysaj, but it wasn’t given. Analysis from Total Football Analysis.
31st – Union Berlin 3 – Borussia Dortmund 1.
The newly-promoted former East German side, playing in their second home match ever in the top flight, were massive under-dogs. Marius Bülter opened the scoring for the home side, but things seemed back on track when Jadon Sancho fed Paco Alcácer for an equalizer. The game had to be halted in the first half for a crowd disturbance and at the start of the second for a flare display. Smoke from the display still filled the stadium when a midfield turnover by Dortmund led to a 2nd Bülter goal off the rebound of a shot by teammate Sebastian Andersson. Andersson would go on to score the third, securing Union’s first Bundesliga win. Analysis from Total Football Analysis.
Juventus 4 – Napoli 3.
Despite still recovering from pneumonia, current Juventus and former Napoli coach Mauricio Sarri made it to the stadium, though not onto the bench for this game. Juventus scored on a counter-attack and a brilliant individual goal by Gonzalo Higuaín to take a 2-0 lead from a fairly even 1st half. Carlo Ancelotti made a double substitution at halftime, including a first Napoli appearance for Hirving Lozano. But despite a strong start to the second half, Napoli conceded a third goal to Cristiano Ronaldo just after the hour mark. Two quick goals—a Kostas Manolas header off a free kick and Lozano on the cournter-attack—saw Napoli back in the game and only a goal down with 20’ left to play. At 80’, Lozano created a free kick that led to an equalizing goal by Giovanni Di Lorenzo. It was a remarkable comeback, but a mishit by Kalidou Koubaly off a Juve free kick in the 92’ spared the Old Lady’s blushes, gifting them a win with an own goal. Analysis from FUTI Football, Total Football Analysis.