With the Bundesliga set to kick off this Saturday, now seems as good a time as any to restart my series of posts on the best games of the discontinued / interrupted season (you can also check out the first installment, 10 Games in August). September opened with the first International break of the season, followed by the opening round of what would prove to be a deeply satisfying Champions League group stage. Honestly, September was such a fantastic month of European football that I couldn’t fit in a seven-goal Serie A match, an eight-goal Euro qualifier involving debutant nation Kosovo, or Liverpool’s first loss of the season. The honorable mentions are definitely worth checking out this time around.
6th – Germany 2 -Netherlands 4 (Euro Qualifier).
The unexpected success of last season’s Nations League has underlined the general lack of parity and interest in this season’s Euro qualification campaign. But it also meant that this rare heavyweight match-up was the fourth meeting of these traditional rivals in a year. Although the Dutch had played a key role in relegating Germany from the top level of the Nations League, Germany had beaten them in the opening round of qualification, and the Dutch sat in third place in the group, outside of automatic qualification. Germany scored early, wing back Lukas Klostermann setting up central striker Serge Gnabry, and were the better side for the opening hour, sitting back and playing on the counter. But the Dutch looked more threatening in the second half of this tactically interesting encounter, with Frankie de Jong equalizing just before the hour mark. Not long after that, Memphis Depay got a second shot off an excellent Manuel Neuer save of a Virgil van Dijk header. It redirected off Jonathan Tah to put the Netherlands up. A very questionable handball (VAR was unavailable) allowed Germany to equalize, but debutant substitute Donyell Malen hit a lovely winner 10′ from time. Georginio Wijnaldum assisted that goal and scored the insurance goal at the start of injury time to secure all three points for the Dutch. Analysis from The Coaches’ Voice, Khelnow, Piotr Foot, Total Football Analysis.
14th – Norwich City 3 – Manchester City 2.
Despite the bright start from Finnish striker Teemu Pukki, who scored in losses to Liverpool and Chelsea, newly promoted Norwich City remained in the relegation zone with the worst defensive record in the Premier League and entered this game with multiple injuries in their back line. But a Kevin McLean header off a corner kick and a breakaway counterattack with Pukki assisting Todd Cantwell saw the home side two goals up on last year’s champions in the opening half hour. Sergio Agüero pulled one back with a header shortly before halftime to put the game back on track for a dominant Man City. But at the start of the second half, Pukki had a chance in behind off a poor pass from Nicolás Otamendi, and then the center back allowed Emiliano Buendía to strip him on the edge of the box, assisting Pukki to put Norwich back ahead by two. Pep Guardiola brought on Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus at the hour mark and his side laid siege to Norwich’s box. The latter assisted Rodri Cascante on a long shot that pulled Man City back within one right before the end of regulation. Both Agüero and Raheem Sterling had chances in injury time, but Norwich held on. Although they would pummel Watford 8-0 the following weekend, Manchester City remained five points behind Liverpool. Analysis from The Coaches’ Voice (video), Goal, Total Football Analysis.
15th – AS Monaco 3 – Olympique de Marseille 4.
Typical challengers Monaco entered this clash 19th in the table, having given up leads to Nîmes and Strasbourg in their last two games; while Andre Villas-Boas’s Marseille were coming off wins against Nice and Saint-Étienne. Sevilla transfer Wissam Ben Yedder scored a brace in the opening half hour off a penalty and a counter-attack, but late goals from Dário Benedetto and former Monaco striker Valère Germain would even things up before halftime. Just after the hour mark, Dmitri Payet put Marseille ahead with a long shot, and Benedetto added an insurance goal not long after. It would prove critical, as substitute Keita Balde pulled one back for Monaco, setting up an exciting final 15′. Though Marseille would continue to thrive in the league, Monaco would return to form and end up putting them out of the Coupe de France at the end of October. Analysis from Total Football Analysis.
18th – Atlético Madrid 2 – Juventus 2 (Champions League).
This opening match between group front-runners was one of several exciting games that kicked off the first round of the group stage. Atlético Madrid had a lively start, as Juventus played a conservative, counter-attacking game. But it was Juan Cuadrado who finally opened the scoring for Juventus arriving late on a counterattack early in the second half. Then another breakaway shortly after the hour mark allowed Blaise Matuidi to head in a cross from Alex Sandro to put Mauricio Sarri’s men two goals up, at least somewhat against the run of play. But Atlético stuck to hard-working form, and were rewarded with a set piece header by Stefan Savić to pull them back within one. Jan Oblak and Kieran Trippier then managed a save/block double play against a counterattacking Gonzalo Higuaín and Matuidi to keep Atlético in the game, and with 15′ left Diego Simeone brought in Héctor Herrera and Vitolo for a final push. Wojciech Szczęsny had to push a Vitolo shot over the bar to keep Juventus’s lead, but a corner in the final minute of regulation allowed Herrera an imperious equalizing header. In injury time, Cristiano Ronaldo created his own chance to potentially win it for Juventus, but his shot was wide right and Madrid came away with a point. For the time-being, at least, all was well for Simeone’s side. Analysis from The Coaches’ Voice, SB Nation (Into the Calderon), Total Football Analysis.
Paris Saint-Germain 3 – Real Madrid 0 (Champions League).
In an exciting opening round of group play in the Champions League that included not only the game above but also Liverpool’s first loss of the season (away to Napoli), PSG’s commanding win against Real Madrid was the most talked about game. Playing without any of his starting strikers (Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, and Edinson Cavani), PSG coach Thomas Tuchel set his team up to play on the counter from a deep defensive block, redeploying center-back Marquinhos as a defensive midfielder and freeing Idrissa “Gana” Gueye to play a more influential role higher up the pitch. Along with Gueye, Ángel DiMaria shined on the day, scoring just before the quarter-hour mark with a sharp near-post finish following a nice interchange by Juan Bernat and Mauro Icardi to move the ball down the left flank. DiMaria’s second was even better, a snapshot from outside the box to beat Thibault Courtois at the right post just after the half-hour mark. Madrid came to life following the 2nd goal and looked the more likely for the remainder of the first half, particularly Gareth Bale, who had an unbelievably brilliant chip of the keeper from the edge of the box called back for a handball. But Tuchel reversed course at the start of the second half, abandoning PSG’s increasingly perilous deep-lying defense for a high-press that discomfited Madrid and secured the win. Thomas Meunier’s injury-time third goal was created by DiMaria’s lovely penetrating pass from midfield. It was a statement win for a team frequently dismissed as too soft for Champions League success. Analysis from The Coaches’ Voice, Nouman, Total Football Analysis.
21st – Leicester City 2 – Tottenham Hotspur 1.
Leicester were probably the better side in an evenly matched first half, James Maddison looking particularly bright and rewarding Brendan Rodgers’s decision to play him more centrally. Just before the half hour mark, however, Harry Kane scored on a counterattack despite having been shoved to the ground by Çağlar Söyüncü as he entered the box, a truly brilliant finish. When Serge Aurier lashed home a loose ball just after the hour mark, the game seemed settled. But in a ruling that underlines the questionable current application of VAR in offsides decisions, the goal was taken back for an offside in an earlier stage of the attack that was far too close for a definitive video assessment. 5′ later, Jamie Vardy set up Ricardo Perreira for an equalizer; and 5′ from time, Maddison hit a blistering winner from 27 yards out. Leicester moved to 3rd in the table, Spurs swapping places with them at 5th. Analysis from TalkSPORT, Total Football Analysis.
25th – Valencia 3 – Getafe 3.
Since their promotion two seasons ago, José Bordelás’s Getafe have consistently over-performed, and after a shaky start to the season they came into this game off a 4-2 win against Mallorca. Valencia, by contrast, were still coming to terms with the unexpected replacement of their popular Copa del Rey-winning manager Marcelino by Albert Celades two weeks earlier. Getafe’s Jaime Mata scored off a corner kick in the opening minute, and an early injury to Kevin Gameiro was further bad news for Valencia. But Gameiro’s replacement, Maxi Lopez scored a first half brace, with a bicycle kick at the half-hour mark and a header 4′ later. When Lee Kang-in scored a third before halftime, the game seemed done and dusted. With just under an hour played, Bordelás made two changes, bringing on first striker Ángel Rodríguez and then left wing Kenedy. Not long after, Kenedy crossed to assist right wing Jason Remiro on a back-heeled near-post goal. 3′ later, Rodríguez would volley in a cross from the right to pull Getafe back level. Near the end of regulation, Marc Cucurella was lucky to escape a handball call on a corner kept out at the near post that would have given Valencia penalty shout. Getafe would briefly reach fourth place in the table in December, a spot they would return to by the end of January.
28th – RB Leipzig 1 – Schalke 3.
A re-energized Schalke, under former Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner, came in with a chance to catch Julian Nagelsmann’s league-leading Leipzig. It took a remarkable double-save by Alexander Nübel in the opening 15′ to keep the visitors level, but Schalke looked comfortable and threatening despite giving Leipzig most of the possession. Salif Sané headed in off a corner at the half hour mark, and Amine Harit earned and scored a penalty before halftime to put Schalke two up. Schalke defense controlled the middle of the field, while their long ball counter-attacking created opportunities. It was a breakaway, though, that allowed Harit to feed Rabbi Matondo to score Schalke’s third. Emil forsberg pulled one back late, but it was a complete victory for Schalke. They pulled even with Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund, and Borussia Mönchengladbach, all one point behind temporary league leaders Bayern Munich. Analysis from Total Football Analysis.
29th – Sevilla 3 – Real Sociedad 2.
An exciting Real Sociedad side came to Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla undefeated in September, while the home side was coming off losses to Real Madrid and a 2nd half capitulation to Eibar. After an early goal by Mikel Oyarzabal off a brilliant cross field assist from Adnan Januzaj, Sevilla dominated the first half, in terms of both possession and chances. Nolito equalized quickly with a beautiful half-volley off a crossfield delivery by Ever Banega, but it wasn’t until Lucas Ocampos capitalized on a quick free kick that Sevilla went ahead. That led to a series of offensive changes from la Real that further opened up the game. With 10′ left, Franco Vázquez came on and immediately scored a poacher’s goal to give Sevilla some breathing room. They would need it, as substitute Cristian Portu would pull one back for la Real off a clever pass from Martin Ødegaard to add some final tension. At the time, Sid Lowe judged this the best game of the La Liga season thus far. Analysis from Football Bloody Hell.
30th – Parma 3 – Torino 2.
The game opened with newly promoted Parma’s Antonino Barillà hitting Gervinho on a counterattack, and he put it into the middle for 19 year-old phenom Dejan Kulusevski to bundle in. But Walter Mazzarri’s Torino struck back quickly, Simone Verdi crossing in for Cristian Ansaldi for a headed equalizer. When Bremer received a second yellow for blocking a Kulusevski shot with his elbow, Parma looked set to go ahead–only to have Salvatore Sirigu save Gervinho’s penalty. Then Vincent Laurini fouled Andrea Belotti in the box, and his penalty put 10-man Torino up at the end of the half–only to have Kulusevski pick out a brilliant penetrating pass from midfield in the dying moments of injury time, finding Andreas Cornelius for a roofed equalizer. Torino defended stoutly in the second half, however, and looked like getting away with a point, even getting a golden chance off a free kick. But at the death Gervinho got a cross in that wasn’t fully dealt with, and late substitute Roberto Inglese punched home the winner. Parma would enter the Winter Break in 7th place.
Honorable Mention: 1st Arsenal 2 – Tottenham Hotspur 2, Atlético Madrid 3 – Eibar 2, Villareal 2 – Real Madrid 2, 10th England 5 – Kosovo 3 (Euro Qualifier), 14th RB Leipzig 1 – Bayern Munich 1, 15th Brescia 3 – Bologna 4, 17th Napoli 2 – Liverpool 0 (Champions League), 28th Sheffield United 0 – Liverpool 1.