The South American notion of an apertura (or an opening half of the season, to be followed by a clausura) has never seemed more appropriate to the European season than this year. Forgotten what happened in that first three-and-a-half months of the season? I’ve got you covered, with a list of the twenty-five best games of the 2022 European Apertura. This, the first in a series of six posts, covers the last weekend of July, when the season-opening Super Cups took place, and August, when things really got going.
Saturday, July 30th RB Leipzig 3 – Bayern Munich 5 (DFL Supercup). Slipped in between the FA Community Shield Cup and the final of the Copa América Femenina, on the night before England’s home win against Germany in the Women’s Euros marked the end of the summer football season, this was easily the best of the three super cup games played on this transitional weekend.
Bayern’s new “strikerless” attack, following the departure of Golden Boot winner Robert Lewandowski to Barcelona, seemed threatening enough in the first half; but it was youngster Jamal Musiala rather than new arrival Sadio Mané who proved the real star. He scored the opening goal just before the quarter hour mark, taking an opportunistic finish from a corner that Leipzig was unable to clear. At the half hour mark, he provided the key pass putting Serge Gnabry into the box for a squared assist to Mané. He finished off the half with an assist of his own, cutting the ball back for Benjamin Pavard off another corner kick.
At halftime, Domenico Tedesco brought on André Silva and Dani Olmo, shifting Leipzig from a 3-4-3 to a 4-3-1-2 that facilitated a higher press and made for a much more even contest. Just before the hour mark, Marcel Halstenberg headed inb a Christopher Nkunku corner to pull one back for Leipzig. Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann responded by bringing Kingsley Coman on for Musiala, and he played Gnabry in with a deft pass on the counter that would restore Bayern’s three-goal lead.
But Leipzig continued to have the better of the game, and with just over a quarter of an hour left, Lucas Hernández gave up a penalty that Nkunku dispatched to again pull Leipzig within two. Nagelsmann made more changes in defense as well as bringing on Leroy Sané in the attack, but Leipzig remained threatening. Near the end of regulation, Dani Olmo scored on a counter-attack to pull the East German side within one. That made for an exciting 8’ injury time, but as Leipzig pushed for a late equalizer, Sané got a solo counter-attacking opportunity and secured the win for Bayern.
The first half would prove the more telling predictor, at least of the early season, as Bayern opened the season with a 6-1 drubbing of Europa League champions, Eintracht Frankfurt, and 15 goals in their first three matches. Leipzig, on the other hand, would win only one of their first six games, leading to the firing of Tedesco in early September. Tactical Analysis: Total Football Analysis, MAFootball Analysis (YouTube).
Saturday, August 20th Borussia Dortmund 2 – Werder Bremen 3. After a season in the 2nd division, newly-promoted Bremen were off to a free-wheeling start with a pair of 2-2 draws in their opening two games back in the German top flight. 2nd-place Dortmund looked to be a sterner test for the newly promoted side, but Bremen arguably had the better of the first half, not least a Marvin Ducksch free kick shortly before halftime that forced a brilliant save out of Gregor Kobel.
In injury time, however, Julian Brandt snuck a near post shot in from the top of the box to give Dortmund the lead at the break. Dortmund continued to struggle in the 2nd half, but when Raphaël Guerreiro scored an insurance goal off a corner kick with less than a quarter of an hour remaining, the game seemed settled. Bremen manager Ole Werner had other ideas, though, bringing on Oliver Burke, who had equalized in stoppage time against Stuttgart the previous weekend.
It was another second half substitute, left back Lee Buchanan, who drew first blood for Bremen with an elegant strike off a loose ball near the top of the box just before the end of regulation. Then Niklas Schmid, also a second half sub, put in a long header off a deep cross from Amos Pieper 3’ into stoppage time to give Bremen their third 2-2 draw of the season. But Bremen were not finished; for the second time in two games, Burke scored on a 95’ counter, earning his new club all three points.
Werner’s men would follow this game with a 3-4 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt the next weekend, making it 10 goals scored and 10 conceded in their opening four matches, a remarkable first month back in the Bundesliga. Tactical Analysis: Total Football Analysis.
Sunday, 21st Newcastle United 3 – Manchester City 3. With the arrival of Erling Haaland, defending Premier League Champions Manchester City were expected to sweep away all in their path, and even a loss in the Community Shield to Liverpool had done little dampen those expectations. They sat atop the early season table, undefeated and leading 2nd place Arsenal on goal difference. It was a tough test for Newcastle, in their first full season under Eddie Howe, coming off a tie at Graham Potter’s Brighton the previous weekend.
Newcastle came out of the gates pressing and attacking, but within five minutes had gone a goal down, Bernardo Silva feeding İlkay Gündoğan just above the six-yard box for an early opener. Given that Eddie Howe’s Newcastle had lost their last two games against Pep Guardiola’s City 9-0, it was easy to expect more of the same.
There was more of the same—from Newcastle’s relentless pressing and left-sided attack through Allan Saint Maximin, who had one of the games of his career. Allowed to lurk high on the left as a perpetual threat on the counter-attack, Saint Maximin provided the assists for both of Newcastle’s first half goals and won the second half free kick that Kieran Trippier converted to give his side a 3-1 lead.
Howe deserves credit as well for anticipating and ruthlessly exploiting Pep Guardiola’s strategy of having Kyle Walker drift inside to support Rodri Cascante in the midfield, leaving Saint Maximin free to roam on the left. But even more impressive than Saint Maximin was Newcastle’s collective pressing, a system which held Man City at bay for the majority of the game and made this a lively and entertaining, two-way encounter.
For all of Newcastle’s impressive performance, however, City were never out of the game. While unable to pen Newcastle into a defensive shell, they threatened throughout the first half and the opening of the second. Shortly after Trippier’s fifty-fourth minute free kick, Erling Haaland scored off a corner kick to pull City back within one. Then it was the Kevin De Bruyne show, as he fed in Haaland on a break just minutes later (Nick Pope saving); and then minutes after that slipped a ball through for Bernardo Silva to score an equalizer with twenty-six minutes remaining.
In the late-going, City were finally able to pen Newcastle in despite a series of changes to provide fresh legs for the home side. Trippier was given a VAR reprieve on a red card that was surely harsh, though less surely a clear and obvious error. In the end, a tie was probably a fair outcome for this magnificent game. Certainly, Newcastle warranted a point for such an impressive performance.
The tie allowed Arsenal to pull ahead of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table. Newcastle would struggle through the remainder of August, falling to mid-table, but would finish the first half of the season with three undefeated months to head into the World Cup break in third place. Tactical Analysis: Ova D Ba.
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