With the new season already underway in France, and the Community Shield scheduled for tomorrow, reflections on the season that was 2019-20 need to happen now. So here is the first of four installments recapping the 20 best games (in my estimation) from last year’s European calendar. Here are the five best games from the opening three months of a remarkable season. Enjoy.
August 31st – Juventus 4 – Napoli 3
Serie A had a remarkable knack for producing high-scoring thrillers this season. In fact, Napoli came into the game off a 4-3 win against Fiorentina the previous weekend. 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.
September 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—even before the tournament’s post-pandemic rescheduling. But it also meant that this 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. They would finish the group behind Germany, but qualified for next summer’s rescheduled Euros. Analysis from The Coaches’ Voice, Khelnow, Piotr Foot, Total Football Analysis. EDIT (9/6): Thanks to a tournament restructuring (UEFA taking a page from the finest of South American traditions), Germany have been spared the embarrassment of the Nations League relegation they had earned.
September 15th – AS Monaco 3 – Olympique de Marseille 4
Typical challengers Monaco entered this clash 19th in the table, having given up leads to Nîmes Olympique and RC Strasbourg Alsace in their last two games; while Andre Villas-Boas’s Marseille were coming off wins against OGC Nice and AS 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′. Marseille would continue to thrive in the league finishing 2nd in the shortened season. Monaco would also return to form, earning some revenge by putting Marseille out of the Coupe de France at the end of October. Analysis from Total Football Analysis.
October 1st – Tottenham Hotspur 2 – Bayern Munich 7 (Champions League)
Coming off a 2-2 tie with Olympiacos in the opening round of Champions League game, Mauricio Pochettino’s struggling Spurs had a bright start, Son Hueng-Min scoring on his third chance in the opening 12’. Joshua Kimmich equalized almost immediately, but Spurs were probably the more threatening side in a lively first half that nonetheless ended with a Robert Lewandowski blast to put Bayern ahead. Serge Gnabry scored two early in the second half to give Bayern a commanding lead, but Spurs pulled one back with a penalty and stayed in the match. But as they continued to push, chances opened up for Bayern, allowing Gnabry to score two more and Lewandowski to complete a brace in the closing 10’. Though it was probably this loss which sealed Pochettino’s fate, Spurs would go on to lose 3-0 to Graham Potter’s Brighton and Hove Albion at the weekend. The game proved less predictive for Niko Kovač’s Bayern, who likewise fell to Hoffenheim the following weekend. They would go on to become only the 7th club to finish the group stage undefeated, but not under Kovač, whose own domestic struggles would see him replaced by Hansi Flick in early November, shortly before José Mourinho replaced Pochettino. Analysis from The Coaches’ Voice, Nouman.
October 2nd – Liverpool 4 – Red Bull Salzburg 3 (Champions League)
Click here for a more legitimate but much shorter highlight.
While Liverpool’s domestic achievement was the most notable accomplishment of 2019-20, their most exciting games undoubtedly came in the Champions League. This game, against American manager Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg, was probably the match of the season. Having already lost to Napoli in their opening game, Liverpool were eager to put things right, and first half goals by former Salzburg player Sadio Mané, Andy Robertson, and Mohamed Salah would seem to have settled matters. But the run of play in the half had been much more even than the scoreline suggested, Salzburg actually looking the better side in the latter stages of the half thanks to a tactical reshuffle that saw Takumi Minamino shift inside to play underneath the strikers. Shortly before the break, Hwang Hee-chan was played into the box off a turnover and cut inside on Virgil van Dijk to score. Salzburg continued to push in the second half, Minamino scoring off a cross in from Hwang shortly before the hour mark. Immediately, Marsch brought on young star Erling Håland, who was recovering from illness. Having scored 9 goals in Norway’s game against Honduras in the U-20 World Cup over the summer, Håland had already scored 17 goals—including 4 hat tricks—in just ten games for Salzburg. It was still in the 60th minute when Minamino put a ball across for Håland to side-foot into an empty net. Taking a page from Jürgen Klopp’s book, Marsch sprinted down the sideline to celebrate with his players. Klopp responded by bringing on James Milner and Divock Origi and shifting from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1, Salah leading the line ahead of Roberto Firmino. Liverpool pushed relentlessly, and Fabinho created a turnover in Salzberg’s end that Firmino nodded on and Salah lifted over the keeper for a 69’ game winner. Salzburg were undoubtedly the surprise package of this year’s group stage: at the end of the month, Håland would twice equalize in a 2-3 loss to Napoli, while Salzburg would hold Liverpool scoreless for nearly an hour in a final group stage game where they could have eliminated Liverpool with a win. The result of this remarkable Champions League performance? The departure of both Minamino (to Liverpool) and Håland (to Borussia Dortmund) in the winter transfer window, followed by a prompt exit from the Europa League. Analysis from Coaches’ Voice, Spielverlagerung, Total Football Analysis (also as a video), Football Scrutiny.
8/17 Villarreal 4 – Granada 4. Granada were an early-season surprise–usually with a tighter defense than in this one.
8/24 Fiorentina 3 – Napoli 4. A remarkable 2nd half following a VAR-marred first.
9/14 Norwich City 3 – Manchester City 2. This win capped off relegation-bound Norwich’s exciting start to the season and widened the gap between Liverpool and City.
9/29 Sevilla 3 – Real Sociedad 2. Sid Lowe judged this the best game of the fledgling La Liga season.
10/19 Lazio 3 – Atalanta 3. This rematch of the previous season’s Coppa Italia featured the two most exciting teams in Serie A.
10/20 Sassuolo 3 – Internazionale 4. A game with everything–including a pitch invasion by parachute.