2022 Apertura Top 25: Early October

October turned out to be a month full of incredible games. Here’s the first four of them (taking us up to the halfway mark in this Top 25 of the European Apertura), including the game of the season thus far, between Arsenal and Liverpool. (You can also check out the July-August and September games, as well as an overview of the entire top 25).

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Sunday, October 2nd. Girona 3 – Real Sociedad 5. In the first weekend following the September international break, Real Sociedad arrived at Girona uncomfortably mid-table, having been essentially swapping positions back and forth in the table with their newly-promoted hosts for the past three matchdays. Though still getting used to playing without striker Aleksander Isak, who left for Newcastle United at the end of August, Alexander Sørloth gave La Real an early lead off a Takefusa Kubo cross in the 8’.

But hopes of a routine victory were snuffed by wonder strike from Atlético Madrid loanee, Rodrigo “Roro” Riquelme midway through the first half, and just 4’ later, Arnau Martínez put in a header from 11 yards out to put Girona ahead. Sørloth would provide another professional finish to draw La Real level before the end of the first half, but at the start of the second, Valentín “Taty” Castellanos, replied with a magnificent counter-attacking goal, bouncing in front of Álex Remiro to put the keeper off.

Girona managed to hold their lead through the hour mark, but shortly after that Brais Méndez equalized directly from a free kick. Martín Zubimendi then touched home a ball directed goalward by Mikel Merino to give La Real a lead with just under 20’ left. Girona’s Míchel made a triple change following the goal, and his side weren’t out of the game until Kubo scored an insurance goal 5’ before the end of regulation.

This was the second of five straight wins for Sociedad, who despite a wobble at the end of the month would head into the World Cup break 3rd in the table. Girona followed this game with a strong showing in a 2-1 loss to Atlético Madrid, and would go on to tie Real Madrid at the end of the month, entering the break in 13th.

Saturday, 8th. Borussia Dortmund 2 – Bayern Munich 2. After three games undefeated with a +10 goal differential, Bayern suddenly shifted into a crisis, as three ties and a loss dropped them to 5th in the table. Though a 4-0 romp against a (surprisingly) relegation-threatened Bayer Leverkusen calmed the nerves heading into Der Klassiker, it remained to be seen if a turnaround was underway. For Dortmund, two losses in the past three games saw them entering this game one spot ahead of Bayern in the table, but with just as much to prove.

Dortmund were the better side in a fierce first half that saw three yellows in the opening quarter of an hour. But shortly after the half hour mark, Leon Goretzka hit a blast from the top of the box that beat an unsighted Alexander Meyer, putting Bayern ahead—against the run of play—with their first shot on target. Even so, Julian Nagelsmann made a triple substitution at halftime in hopes of revitalizing his side, most importantly bringing on Joshua Kimmich, still recovering from a case of Covid. He immediately took control of the midfield, with key passes to create a chance for Sadio Mané (headed back for him by Goretzka) at 49’ and Bayern’s second goal for Leroy Sané (assisted by Jamal Musiala) at 53’.

Now on the front foot, Bayern had several chances to extend their lead before Edin Terzić brought on Anthony Modeste for the final 20’. Modeste had struggled since his arrival from Köln as a replacement for the cancer-stricken Sebastian Haller, with only one goal in eleven games. But less than 5’ after his introduction, he combined with fellow striker, Youssoufa Mokoko, getting into the box on a breakaway pass from the youngster and cutting back an assist for him, making Mokoko the youngest-ever scorer in Der Klassiker. Then at 83’, 2nd half substitute Karim Adeyemi broke down the right and put in a perfect cross for Modeste—which he mishit with an empty net gaping, allowing Manuel Neuer to save.

Adeyemi continued to push, though, drawing a second yellow on Kingsley Coman at the end of regulation and then trading yellows with Sané, who switched over to Adeyemi’s flank following Coman’s ejection. In the final minute of stoppage time, Adeyemi drove inside and lobbed a ball into the box from that Nico Schlotterbeck just managed to keep from running out. He crossed it to the far post, where Modeste headed in a game-ending equalizer to atone for his earlier miss.

This ended up being the last points dropped by Bayern prior to the World Cup break, reclaiming their expected 1st-place spot at the beginning of November. Mixed results would see Dortmund enter the break in 6th. Tactical Analysis: Between the Posts.

Sunday, 9th. Udinese 2 – Atalanta 2. Though Atalanta had built a reputation as a hipsters’ darling over recent seasons, Gian Piero Gasperini’s side had traded in their high-flying attack for the best defensive record in Serie A, reaching 2nd place with only three goals conceded in eight games. But hosts Udinese had had an even more surprising start to the season under new manager, Andrea Sottil. They had gone undefeated following a loss to reigning champions AC Milan, and entered this game third in the table and trailing the visitors by only a point.

10’ before the end of a lively first half, Luis Muriel was released down the left and crossed in for Ademola Lookman to put home an opener. Atalanta then had a strong start to the second half, and when Muriel won and then scored a penalty 10’ into the second half, the outcome seemed settled. Shortly after the hour mark, both goal scorers were removed—only to see Gerard Deulofeu score a brilliant free kick to put Udinese back in the hunt. They began to dominate the game, and at 78’ a corner kick routine set Roberto Pereyra up to feed Nehuén Pérez for a headed equalizer.

That set up the possibility of Udinese’s fourth consecutive come-from-behind victory, and at the end of regulation Deulofeu had another free kick from virtually the same spot—which he narrowly missed. Atalanta set and Udinese tied club records for points earned in an opening nine games, but this would end up the highpoint of the apertura for both. Atalanta would manage only two more wins before the World Cup break, dropping to 6th place; while Udinese would not win another game, four ties in six seeing them drop to 8th (along with a Coppa Italia elimination by Monza).

9th. Arsenal 3 – Liverpool 2. Arsenal came into this match off an impressive 3-1 win over Tottenham, but needing another win to stay ahead of Manchester City, who had moved two points ahead of the league leaders by beating Southampton the previous day. Though Liverpool had had a disastrous start to the season by their standards, with four ties and a loss in their opening seven games, they remained Arsenal’s sternest test of the season thus far.

It didn’t take long for Mikel Arteta’s men to lay down their marker. In the first minute, William Saliba broke up Liverpool’s first attack and found Thomas Partey, who sprang a flowing counterattack, Bukayo Saka breaking up the right and passing inside to Martin Ødegaard. He fed Gabriele Martinelli in on the right for an immediate opener. Liverpool quickly regained their composure, however, and shortly after the half hour mark, Luis Díaz took advantage of a miscalculation by Gabriel Magalhães to get down the right flank and cross in for Darwin Núñez to equalize.

It seemed a fair scoreline for an even first half; but in the final minute of stoppage time, a three-on-three counter saw Martinelli getting down the left to feed Saka at the far post to give Arsenal a halftime lead. Arsenal probably had the better start to the second half, but at 53’, Roberto Firmino, who had replaced an injured Díaz late in the first half, was played into the box by Diogo Jota and hit it sharply back across goal to pull Liverpool level.

Arsenal continued to play on the front foot, however, with things coming to a head with just under 20’ remaining in regulation. At the end of a strong attacking period with Arsenal having penned Liverpool in, Thiago Alcântara caught the back of Gabriel Jesus’s foot as he received a cross in from Granit Xhaka. It was a soft foul, but a penalty was awarded, and Saka beat a correctly-guessing Alisson Becker to give Arsenal their third lead of the game. Liverpool pushed, and by the end of regulation were pinning Arsenal into their own box; but they weren’t able to find a third equalizer.

Arsenal would drop only two more points before the World Cup break, maintaining their hold on first place in the Premier League. Liverpool had the unenviable task of facing Manchester City the following weekend. Tactical Analysis: The Coaches’ VoiceFootball Made Simple (YouTube)The InnerViews (YouTube)Holding Midfield.

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