The first week with all five leagues in action had a bunch of good games–most of which I didn’t see. I also watched a half of Freiburg – Dortmund and half an hour of the excellent Osasuna – Sevilla game on Friday, but no notes on games I didn’t finish. Here’s what I did catch.
Southampton 2 – Leeds United 2. Leeds were in charge for the opening hour of this match, despite losing Patrick Bamford shortly before the half hour mark. Daniel James came in as a straight replacement up top, and he worked well with Rodrigo Moreno, whose second half brace looked to have sealed three points for Leeds. Ralph Hasenhüttl had already been toying with Saints’ formation in the first half, as Stuart Armstrong had moved out of the midfield to take up a position on the right of a front three. But after the second goal he brought on Adam Armstrong and Joe Aribo (replacing the other Armstrong) to play on either side of Che Adams up top.
This second change had an immediate impact, as Southampton’s wing backs now had a number of targets for their crosses in. Following the second hydration break, Hasenhüttl further replaced one of his three center backs with an additional central striker, Sékou Mara, as Saints shifted from a 3-4-4 to a 4-2-2-2. Almost immediately, Aribo received a ball in from Adam Armstrong and found space to pull one back. Jesse Marsch had already responded to Hasenhüttl’s first change by moving James out right and bringing Brenden Aaronson up top. After the goal, Leeds shifted to a 3-4-3, with Jack Harrison moving to wing back with a reorganized front three of James – Rodrigo – Aaronson.
That new formation, however, ultimately contributed to Southampton’s second goal. Tiring and in a relatively unfamiliar wing back role, Harrison failed to track Kyle Walker-Peter’s run in behind and, fed by a truly lovely inside-out pass from Mara, scored the equalizer. Marsch would bring on replacements and eventually shift to a 4-2-3-1; but while Leeds held onto a point, it certainly felt like Hasenhüttl had won the late game tactical duel in coming away with a point.
Barcelona 0 – Rayo Vallencano 0. This was a lively game, but Barcelona’s inability to come away with a win is a cause for worry, especially with Sergio Busquets getting a red that will see him miss next weekend’s away game at Real Sociedad. Ousmane Dembélé was particularly disappointing. Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha were better, but one suspects that Barcelona is skating on thin ice, and if things don’t improve rapidly the whole house of cards might come tumbling down.
Nottingham Forest 1 – West Ham United 0. This was a lively and interesting game that had much more excitement than the scoreline would suggest. It was Forest’s first home game back in the top flight, and they are still playing in a clean jersey while renegotiating their kit sponsorship. They absolutely dominated the opening fifteen minutes of the game, and even after West Ham got a foothold, their attacks were mostly coming up the right through Vladimir Coufal, which largely proved ineffectual. Their best chances, later in the half, came through Saïd Benrahma down the right. But at the very end of the half, Taiwo Awoniyi was in the right place to shin home a blocked shot and put Forest ahead.
The second half opened with a chance that would sum up West Ham’s afternoon. Fed by Benrahma, Pablo Fornals hit a lovely shot onto the underside of the crossbar that came straight down without crossing the line. Tomáš Souček was there to head in the rebound, but Dean Henderson was able to make a remarkable recovery save to keep that effort out too. Benrahma would also hit the underside of the crossbar just after the hour mark, Declan Rice would miss a penalty, and in the latter stages of the game Nico Williams would clear a Kurt Zouma header off the line. West Ham were clearly the better side, but they came away with no points after two games. As a point of tactical interest, they played most of the game in a 4-3-3 than their usual 4-2-3-1, Rice working as a sole holder with Souček positioned higher up rather than shuttling forward from the double pivot.
Biographical sidenote: I visited Nottingham in 2015–though not for football. The University has the surviving copies of several letters to and from Mary Wroth, the most important female author of the early 16th Century, and I went to look at them for my research. The Brian Clough documentary I Believe in Miracles was in the theaters, but I decided that if I tried to watch it after I got out of the library, I was likely to miss my train back to London. As I moved around the city wearing my claret and blue scarf, someone stopped me and asked if I was a Villa fan. “I’m not David Cameron,” I replied (OK, I made that last bit up).
Chelsea 2 – Tottenham Hotspur 2. This was the big match of the weekend, and it definitely delivered. Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea initially came out in a 3-4-3, but Mason Mount was always tucking in from the left, and after the opening ten minutes 3-4-1-2 seemed a better description. At times they even looked like a 3-5-2, as N’Golo Kanté was frequently pushing up alongside Mount, I think as a part of Chelsea’s pressing scheme. Though their opening goal came from a set piece, it was well-deserved given their domination of the game.
That dominance lasted through the first hour, at which point Antonio Conte brought on Richarlison in place of wing back Ryan Sessegnon, and Chelsea shifted to a 4-2-2-2. The impact of the change was immediate, but Pierre-Emile Højbjerg’s equalizer (a lovely long shot) followed shortly after an uncalled foul by Rodrigo Bentancur on Kai Havertz that became the game’s first flashpoint. Conte and Tuchel had to be separated on the touchline, as a hydration break allowed referee Anthony Taylor to try and sort things out.
Tuchel took the opportunity to bring in Cesar Azpilicueta and move Ruben Loftus-Cheek into the midfield, freeing Reece James to take over as wing back. It was from that advanced role that he scored Chelsea’s second, sending Tuchel down the touchline in a Mourinho-esque celebration. Conte brought on new signings Ivan Perišić and Yves Bissouma as Tottenham returned to a 3-4-3, but the bigger impact appeared to be from Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher, who replaced an injured Kanté late in regulation.
Late in extra time, Cristian Romero got away with yanking Marc Cucurella down by his hair on a corner kick, an outrageous oversight that would have led to a free kick in place of Tottenham’s second corner kick from which Harry Kane equalized. Tuchel and Conte had a second fight when “shaking hands” at the end of the game, for which Conte received a red card; but Tuchel will likely face further repercussions for his (understandable) post-match comments on Taylor’s officiating. While Chelsea were the better side in this match, it was also clear that both they and Tottenham are the teams who will likely be fighting to pip a second place finish should Liverpool’s current struggles continue.
Watch Countdown: In each of the past two seasons, I’ve managed to watch at least one full game from each team in the top five European leagues. Wisely or otherwise, I’m aiming to make it three in a row. Here’s where I’m at so far.
In addition to the games discussed in this and last week’s posts, I found time mid-week to catch up with Manchester United – Brighton & Hove Albion, and I saw Bayern Munich at Lambeau Field. If I had a goal to catch every Premier League team twice, I’d be at 4 of 20 (in addition to West Ham and Leeds, I watched City and Liverpool in the Community Shield).