The last weekend of September 2020 was one a special one, containing a number of games in addition to the five here that almost made the Top 100 (including a 5-goal thriller between Brighton and Manchester United, a Leicester blow out of Man City, and a late Cristiano Ronaldo equalizer to draw a ten-man Juventus level with Roma). In the end, though, these are the ones that made my Top 100 (Click here for the first installment of the Top 100 of 20/21).
Sat., September 26th: Sampdoria 2 – Benevento 3. Benevento kicked off their second-ever season in the top flight with this away game at Claudio Ranieri’s Sampdoria. Their first appearance in Serie A came in 2017, kicked off with a streak of 14 straight losses (and 18 winless) before a pair of wins at the turn of the year—the second of them a 3-2 victory over Sampdoria. Their ambitious owner, Oreste Vigorito, was hoping for a better showing this campaign, particularly given Benevento’s dominant title run in Serie B under the management of Pipo Inzaghi. But history seemed to be repeating itself when Sampdoria went up 2-0 in the opening 20’ by Fabio Quagliarella (gifted by a poor pass out from keeper Lorenzo Montipò) and Omar Colley (a header). Benevento kept their heads up, though, and just after the half hour mark center-back Luca Caldirola scored off a lose ball from a corner kick to keep the newly-promoted side in touching distance. It was another corner kick with just over a quarter of an hour remaining that saw Caldirola head in his second goal to draw Benevento level. In the final 10’, Ranieri brought on Manolo Gabbiadini, and he nearly won the game for Sampdoria, heading a cross in from Tomasso Augello onto the post. Then, just before the end of regulation, a goal kick by Montipò created a chance for Benevento. It seemed lost when 2nd half substitute, Marco Sau, had to pass out of the box for an apparent reset. Instead, right back Gaetano Letizia hit a blistering shot from outside the box to beat Emil Audero at the near post, giving Benevento the win. A second win in their third match would see them reach 7th in the standings, and they remained mid-table for much of the season, before dropping into the relegation zone for the final month of the season. A tie against an already-relegated Crotone in their penultimate game changed Benevento’s final match against 17th-placed Torino from a potential relegation decider into a dead rubber. By contrast, Ranieri’s Sampdoria finished the season in a credible 9thplace.
26th: West Bromwich Albion 3 – Chelsea 3. Slaven Bilic’s newly-promoted West Brom had conceded 8 goals in their opening two losses, but were quick to exploit the defensive frailties of Frank Lampard’s Chelsea. In the opening half hour, Callum Robinson scored an opportunistic brace and Kyle Bartley added a tap-in off a corner kick, played onside by Thiago Silva. But even in the first half, Chelsea had plenty of chances, attacking almost entirely up the right. The halftime introduction of Callum Hudson-Odoi allowed Mason Mount to move inside, where he scored a lovely goal from an inside left position just before the hour mark. After switching from the right to the left flank, Hudson-Odoi scored a 2nd to pull Chelsea within one with 20’ remaining. But Lampard’s subsequent introduction of Olivier Giroud in order to chase the game seemed to backfire, withdrawing Reece James from his effective wing back role into a reconstituted back three and dulling Chelsea’s attack. As a result, West Brom also started to have more chances to extend their lead, though none were taken. In stoppage time, Tammy Abraham was finally able to capitalize on a spell of late pressure, tapping a rebound off a saved shot by Mount. It was a wonderful game for neutrals, but a disappointment for both managers, each of whom would be replaced by the end of January. Chelsea would replicate this scoreline in October, losing two points to an injury time goal by Southampton. Tactical Analysis from: We Ain’t Got No History (SB Nation), Nouman (YouTube).
26th: Internazionale 4 – Fiorentina 3. Given the opening matchday off to recover from their Europa League final only a month earlier, Inter’s first game of the season was a cracker. Fiorentina kicked things off with an early goal on the counter, Cristiano Biraghi crossing in for Giacomo Bonaventura to slip to ball right for an open Christian Kouamé to tap in. Continuing to play on the counter, they were the more threatening side in the first half despite Inter’s domination of possession. But it was Lautaro Martínez who scored a stunning goal from distance on a first-half injury-time counter, and then created an own goal early in the 2nd half to put Inter ahead. Fiorentina responded with a pair of counter-attacking goals by Gaetano Castrovilli and Federico Chiesa, both assisted by Franck Ribéry. The 37 year-old legend, in his second year at Fiorentina after a free transfer from Bayern Munich (which had begun, incidentally, with his debut in a 4-3 loss to Napoli in the opening game of the previous season), was also responsible for the field-switching cross that set up Fiorentina’s opening goal, and was undoubtedly their best player on the day. From there, Bartłomiej Drągowski put on a show in goal for Fiorentina, as Antonio Conte rang in a series of changes following the goal in hopes of once again turning the game. The last substitute proved most important, as Alexis Sánchez, introduced with just over 10’ remaining, would set up fellow substitute Achraf Hakimi in assisting Romelu Lukaku’s 87’ goal, then provide the assist off a short corner for Danilo D’Ambrosio’s 89’ winner. Sadly, this would end up being Chiesa’s penultimate game for Fiorentina. After the following weekend’s loss to Sampdoria, he moved to Juventus on a two-year loan (with an obligation to buy). Following a difficult opening month-and-a-half, Fiorentina would replace manager Giuseppe Iachini with Cesare Prandelli, only to return to Iachini for the final two months of the season, stumbling to a 13th place finish. Tactical Analysis from: Total Football Analysis, Football Bloody Hell.
26th: Real Betis 2 – Real Madrid 3. Having only managed a nil-nil draw in their delayed season opener at Real Sociedad, Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid were happy to get an early lead in their second outing of the young campaign, Karim Benzema feeding Fede Valverde in the box to put Los Blancos ahead in the opening 15’. But Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis had come to play, having forced a fantastic save out of Thibault Courtois even before Valverde’s opener. They were probably the better side in the first half, and in the final 10’ before the break they scored a pair of goals (an Aïssa Mandi header and a William Carvalho strike) to pull ahead. But shortly after the restart, Dani Carvajal put in a dangerous cross that ended in an Emerson Royal own goal. Not long after, Benzema put a potential go-ahead goal off the crossbar. The game had been a chippy one since the end of the first half, when Guido Rodríguez had avoided a potential sending off for what looked like a last man foul on Benzema; and not long after the hour mark, Emerson was sent off for bringing down Luka Jović from behind. Sergio Ramos missed the resulting free kick, however, and Betis settled in to defend a point. With about 10’ left, Madrid substitute Borja Mayoral got into the box, but Marc Bartra was able to get between him and the ball as he was shooting. As Mayoral knocked Bartra over, however, the defender’s arm caught the ball and knocked it away. It was judged a handball, and Ramos dispatched the penalty to give Madrid a controversial first win of the season. The following day, Barcelona opened their La Liga campaign under new manager Ronald Koeman, with a 4-0 win over Villarreal (all of the goals coming in the first half) to put further pressure on the reigning La Liga champion’s shaky start. For Real Betis, this first loss of the season would kick off a difficult run of seven losses in nine games, seeing them end November in 15thplace in the league. Tacitcal Analysis from: Total Football Analysis.
Sun., 27th: Hoffenheim 4 – Bayern Munich 1. Bayern Munich had kicked off the Bundesliga season the previous weekend with a Friday night 8-0 thrashing of Schalke, their 23rd consecutive win, followed up with a mid-week Super Cup victory over Sevilla in extra time to maintain a 32-game unbeaten for Hansi Flick’s men. While Flick rested four starters from midweek, most notably Robert Lewandowski, Bayern looked set to continue their smooth and easy progress to another league title. Sebastian Hoeneß’s Hoffenheim, however, had other plans. They were well prepared for Bayern’s press and did an excellent job both of pressing themselves and of distributing long balls wide to challenge Bayern’s high defensive line. Center-back Ermin Bičakčić headed in off a corner at the quarter-hour mark, and less than 10’ later pressure on Bayern’s high line led to a Benjamin Pavard error that put Mu’nas Dabbur in behind to chip Manuel Neuer and put Hoffenheim two goals up. In truth, they had at least two other breakaway chances in the first half; but with just under 10’ before the break, Joshua Kimmich hit a lovely shot from the top left of the box to pull one back. Even before halftime, though, Andrej Kranmarić forced another key save out of Neuer, and Hoffenheim continued to threaten at the start of the second half. Before the hour mark, Flick brought on both Lewnadowski and Leon Goretzka, in an effort to turn the tide. The real difference-maker, however, turned out to be Hoffenheim substitute Ihlas Bebou. Brought on right after Bayern’s changes, Bebou assisted Kranmarić’s insurance goal with just under a quarter hour remaining, then won a penalty against Neuer at the end of regulation that Kranmarić put home for a commanding victory. The win briefly took Hoffenheim to the top of the table—but they wouldn’t win another game until the start of December, by which point they were firmly mid-table. And so they remained, finishing the season in a disappointing 11th place. The reverse fixture at the end of January would see Bayern reversing the score line, with a 4-1 win. Tactical Analysis from: Total Football Analysis (match analysis, Hoffenheim’s tactics), Between the Posts, Bundesliga/ESPN+ (video, text).