Though Liverpool scored nine on Saturday and Montpellier seven on Sunday, last weekend saw a batch of close games for me. I finally got some Serie A under my belt, and also took in two of the three teams outside of the Premier League with a legitimate claim to being the best team in the world at the moment–both of whom, as it happened, struggled.
Lazio 3 – Internazionale 1. This was clearly the top attraction on Friday night, and for me the stand-out performer was Lazio’s Sergej Milinković-Savić. He was excellent both in defense and attack, and his connection with Felipe Anderson led to the opening goal (as it nearly had three minutes earlier, when he fed Anderson down the left for a cut back to Ciro Immobile, whose shot was well saved by Samir Handanović).
This was the first time Inter had trailed this season, and they didn’t trail for long. Denzel Dumfries headed in a free kick that Lazio couldn’t clear, and then nearly scored a go-ahead goal off a long left cross in from Federico Dimarco (who had also delivered the free kick). All in all, it was a very close and exciting game through the opening hour.
Though the game remained exciting, Lazio’s Maurizio Sarri ended up winning the battle of the substitutes. That’s no mean feat when you consider the players that Simone Inzaghi was able to bring on for Inter: Edin Džeko, Matteo Darmian, Robin Gosens, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, and Joaquin Correa look like starters for most sides. Of course, Sarri’s subs were no slouches either. He brought on Luis Alberto and Pedro Rodríguez just before the hour mark, adding right back Elseid Hysaj just over ten minutes later.
Almost immediately, an attack up the right started by Hysaj led to a Milinković-Savić cross that Pedro cut back for a wonder goal by Luis Alberto, prompting the introduction of Çalhanoğlu and Correa. Ten minutes later, pressing by Luis Alberto on Marcelo Brozović led to a turnover that ultimately resulted in a goal by Pedro. It was a deserved win for Lazio, but a much closer game than the scoreline indicated.
Bayern Munich 1 – Borussia Mönchengladbach 1. Bayern came into this game having scored seventeen and conceded only one goal in three wins (22-4 in four if you count the Supercup), and with some commentators understandably judging them the best team in the world at the moment. But Gladbach have proven a bogey team to Bayern in the past and did so again with a smash-and-grab breakaway goal by Marcus Thuram, taking advantage of an error by Dayot Upamecano at the midline near the end of the first half.
From there, Gladbach just hoped to hold on. Yann Sommer made a Bundesliga-record 19 saves (you can see them all here),
and credit also goes to midfielder Kouadio Koné and newly signed defender Ko Itakura. By the end, Bayern had outshot Gladbach 35(20) – 5(3), with an expected goals of 3.27 – 0.77. While it didn’t feel quite that one-sided, there was no question as to which was the better team.
As an added entertainment, four fossil fuel protesters attempted a pitch invasion at the quarter hour mark, though they weren’t particularly successful (phone video from a fan). Thomas Müller yelled at them, while fans doused some of them in beer.
Juventus 1 – Roma 1. Juventus were coming off a disappointing draw against Sampdoria in which their midfield seemed largely absent. They switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, Federico Miretti coming in for American Weston McKennie to take on the #10 role. Juventus was much better in this game, dominating the first half, though their goal came off a Dusan Vlahović free kick won by Juan Cuadrado off Nemanja Matić in the second minute. When Manuel Locatelli scored a lovely long shot off a turnover created by Juve’s press midway through the half, the game seemed settled. But VAR ruled it out for a handball by Vlahović in the build-up, and Max Allegri’s side weren’t able to capitalize further on their clear domination.
That came back to bite them when Paulo Dybala, returning for the first time since his summer transfer to Roma, fed a half-cleared corner back into the box for Tammy Abraham to head in. It was an entertaining match and Juventus were clearly the better side, but one suspects that José Mourinho will not be much bothered (though he did claim to be ashamed by his side’s first half performance).
Aston Villa 0 – West Ham United 1. Sunday morning featured a must-win for both Steven Gerrard and David Moyes, the former with only one win and the latter without even a goal this season, rooted to the bottom of the table. Departing from a long-standing 4-2-3-1, Moyes opted for a 3-5-2 giving a first start to transfer Emerson Palmieri at wing back and Gianluca Scamacca up top with Jarrod Bowen.
This may have been designed to counter Villa’s 3-4-1-2, but the result was a dominant half for Villa: 60% possession, a 4(2) to 1(0) lead in shots (on goal), and an admittedly underwhelming but clearly favorable 0.12 – 0.01 lead in expected goals. In fairness, losing Ben Johnson to a hamstring tweak midway through the half probably didn’t help matters.
West Ham returned to their tried-and-true 4-2-3-1 for the second half, Saïd Benrahma replacing Emerson and playing as a #10, with Pablo Fornals shifting from the left of midfield to left wing. While they were much better in the second, the truth is that they were still only a little better than Villa, and Fornals’s goal might not have gone in without an unfortunate deflection off of Ezri Konsa. With an xG of 0.33 to Villa’s 0.30 at full time, West Ham should consider themselves lucky to have all three points. At least they are no longer the only team in all four tiers of the English pyramid not to have scored this season.
Paris Saint-Germain 1 – AS Monaco 1. Not unlike Bayern, Christoph Gaultier’s PSG had gone 17-3 in three wins to open the season (and 21-4 in four including the Trophée des Champions). Monaco, by comparison, were coming off two losses (one of them a Champions League elimination by PSV Eindhoven) and a tie. This was a chippy game from the start. Neymar got a yellow for shoving Kevin Volland over in an act of retaliation, and was lucky not to receive a second for a hard obstruction of Mohamed Camara shortly after Monaco’s goal. Camara was no angel himself, and would earn a yellow of his own early in the second half and eventually be removed in a cautionary substitution around the seventy-fifth minute.
Gaultier has consistently employed a 3-4-3 with Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, and Lionel Messi up top, though in this game Renato Sanches replaced Vitinha (the new signing from Porto) as Marco Verratti’s midfield partner. Philippe Clement responded by switching to a back three to mirror that formation, Aleksandr Golovin featuring as a false nine with the more conventional strike options of Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland to either side. Not unlike Roberto Firmino at Liverpool, Golovin would lead the press but in attack often dropped into the midfield.
Volland scored midway through an even first half, injuring himself in the process and making way for youngster Maghnes Akliouche. Monaco carried that lead into halftime despite both Messi and Mbappé hitting alternate posts in a dangerous attack shortly before the break. Things held steady until just after the hour mark, when Neymar drew a penalty off Guillermo Maripán. The contact was slight enough that it took VAR some time (while play continued the other way) to make the call, but once they did Neymar equalized from the spot.
Though PSG were better in the second half, they weren’t able to find a winner, and dropped their first points of the season. While this was a very good point for Monaco, they would go to lose 4-2 to Estac de Troyes after receiving a red card before halftime in their midweek fixture, while PSG would cruise to a 3-0 win at Toulouse. For both teams, this result appears to be just a blip.
This was a busy midweek for me, so I only saw West Ham – Tottenham. That was a fairly good game in which West Ham deployed a 3-4-1-2 that was much more effective than the similar formation they had used in the first half against Villa (this time around, Fornals served as the left wing back instead of Emerson, though the latter did come into that role as a second half sub). I considered taking in Leicester – Man United (the former is one of the three Premier League teams I haven’t seen yet), but opted for sleep instead. So no reports on the midweek, but I’ll be back next week to talk about the games I’m able to catch this weekend. Cheers!