Sometimes a single incident overshadows a game. I’m not sure that it should: when Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool take on Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, you’d imagine there would be enough other stuff to talk about. But Sadio Mane’s red card seemingly took on a life of its own and became the story.
Opinions seem to be viscerally divided on this one. Personally, I feel sorry for Mane but equally, he had to go. I feel sorry for Mane because anybody who has played the game at any level knows that there situations when you are chasing the ball at full throttle and all you’re thinking of is getting there first. Sure, he has a duty of care towards his fellow professionals and I think it’s entirely plausible that in his peripheral vision, he saw Ederson advancing towards him. But equally, it’s highly plausible that he knew the City goalkeeper was outside his area. And that meant the only way Ederson was going to get the ball first is if he launched into some improbable (and likely uncoordinated) karate kick of his own, in which case Mane would get fouled and Ederson sent off.
I genuinely don’t think it occurred to Mane that Ederson would put his face down in the way of his boot and head the ball away. That’s extreme bravery bordering on recklessness (for your own health). All of this, though, is me guessing what Mane is thinking, and assuming that his brain could have processed all of this in a matter of milliseconds. I’m not a neuroscientist; I have no idea. But it’s what makes me feel sorry for Mane. Yet just because I have sympathy for him doesn’t mean he should not have been sent off. The basic rule: when your boot is above waist height, you’d better be sure nobody is nearby.
Until the red card, Liverpool had hung in there. After it, they simply collapsed, and while it’s obviously not easy playing a team like City a man down, you still didn’t expect that level of capitulation.
At the risk of being repetitive, when you go into a game like this with Trent Alexander-Arnold (who is 18 and was making his fourth-ever league start) and Ragnar Klavan in your back four, you’re simply undermanned. It’s also rather interesting to note that over on the left, Alberto Moreno has played more first-team minutes this season than he did in the previous eight months. Given how Moreno started all of two league matches last year, the way he’s come back in vogue suggests Klopp is seeing him a little differently.
As for City, so much of Guardiola’s 3-1-4-2 (or whatever you want to call it) seems counter-intuitive, like using Kyle Walker the way he did (so far up the pitch) or opting for a front two. But then he’s built a whole career on thinking outside the box — and been proven right more often that not — so fair enough.
Will Zidane regret a draw vs. Levante?
You have to go back to 1995 — before Marco Asensio was even born or, for those with a different frame of reference, when Zinedine Zidane was still at Bordeaux — to find the last time Real Madrid failed to win either of its first two home games. But that’s what happened with the 1-1 draw against Levante on Saturday.
Last season, many praised Zidane’s rotation (especially late in the season) for keeping the starters fresh during the stretch run. But that’s the trouble with rotation: get it right and you’re a genius. Get it wrong and you’re a dope.
Zidane’s obviously not the latter though Saturday’s team selection (and approach on the pitch) did him no favors. It’s not so much that he found space in the lineup for Theo Hernandez at left-back and Marcos Llorente in midfield: heck, at some point you have to go give those guys minutes. Rather, it’s the way he thought he could wheel out a 4-2-3-1 system with Marcelo on the wing and still have his way with Levante.
Maybe it would have worked with a real center-forward but Karim Benzema got hurt before the half-hour mark and with Borja Mayoral not in the squad, Bale was asked to lead the line. He had his chances and probably should have buried them but more than that, his movement simply wasn’t that of a central striker (and understandably so). Meanwhile, some atrocious defending from Dani Carvajal gifted Levante a goal and while Madrid equalised through Lucas Vazquez, this game was the epitome of two needlessly dropped points.
It will be interesting to see who replaces Benzema in his absence. Cristiano Ronaldo (who was suspended on Saturday) is the obvious choice but in the past, he hasn’t exactly expressed glee at playing up front, let alone on his own. Mayoral is promising, but he’s also just 20 years old and it may not be wise to throw him in at the deep end.
If you go with Bale or Asensio, you’re effectively committing to the “false nine.” It would be fine in the short-term but it doesn’t give your side much of an opportunity to grow for when Benzema, who will be out for a month, returns.
No big deal that Man United dropped points
Jose Mourinho reverted to a 4-3-3 with Ander Herrera in midfield and Juan Mata on the bench for the trip to Stoke. It was perfectly understandable, though part of me would have liked to see more of the Mata-Henrikh Mkhitaryan-Paul Pogba creative axis.
I suspect Mourinho will regard Saturday’s 2-2 draw as two points dropped, thinking United did enough to win but were let down by defensive errors: both Phil Jones and Eric Bailly were poor. Maybe that’s why he was so grumpy post-match and the non-handshake with Mark Hughes got blown so far out of proportion. That said, Stoke away was United’s sternest test yet and on the balance of play, they passed. It’s early, they’re top of the table and that’s what ought to matter.
Juventus still a work in progress
It’s getting to be an annual event. Juventus’ continual desire to evolve means Max Allegri is left with new personnel and a search for a new scheme at the start of every season. And inevitably, it takes a while to get going.
He loves the idea of playing with genuine wingers and the club spent big on Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa for that very reason: coupled with the return from injury of Marko Pjaca, it was meant to offer up the option of a traditional 4-3-3. Saturday’s home game against Chievo was the perfect opportunity to test it out, not least because Paulo Dybala was on the bench following the international break and ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Barcelona.
But things didn’t go to plan. Juve were predictable in the first half, with Mario Mandzukic isolated wide and Costa looking like a foreign object. Business picked up when Dybala came on, sending Juve on their way to a 3-0 win. Allegri will want to, no doubt, revisit the 4-3-3 so you can expect further experimentation, a bit like last year.
Despite turmoil, Barca top the table — for now
Barcelona took on cross-town rivals Espanyol against the backdrop of one of the roughest summers in club history. Outside the Camp Nou, fans were signing petitions against president Josep Maria Bartomeu; inside it, they were calling for his head. And on Tuesday, Juventus roll into town for the start of the Champions League group stage.
Fortunately, at least on the pitch (off it, the contract remains unsigned and the photo op with Bartomeu non-existent) Lionel Messi was happy to carry the side. He scored a hat-trick to send Barca on their way to a 5-0 win that was probably a bit harsh on Espanyol. It’s true that his first goal was offside but the fancy footwork will likely lead most neutrals to give him a pass.
The upshot is that Barca are top of the table, level on points with Real Sociedad but four clear of both Atletico and Real Madrid, they have yet to concede and Messi has scored five of their nine goals. For now, it’s the best you can hope for. The real battle is coming up.
Time to worry about Bayern
These are rough times for Bayern Munich. Carlo Ancelotti’s crew fell 2-0 at Hoffenheim , marking the first time this calendar year that they are not top of the Bundesliga. There’s no sense freaking out over the result. Bayern created the bulk of the chances and Hoffenheim’s opener came as a result of the oldest trick in the book, when the quick thinking of a ball boy and quick throw-in from Andrej Kramaric caught Mats Hummels napping.
However, there are reasons to be concerned. After expressing his frustration last week, Thomas Muller was restored to the starting lineup and was poor. Without wishing to knock Javi Martinez or Hummels, you feel a lot more comfortable when Jerome Boateng is back there. Meanwhile, Robert Lewandowski’s interview, in which he pointed out that Bayern were spending $50 million on players while their competition was shelling out twice as much, probably didn’t go down too well.
Some of these issues are things Ancelotti needs to fix: that’s why he gets paid the big bucks. But some of them are beyond his pay grade. That’s why Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge hit back at Lewandowski’s words — which implicitly said “My teammates are fine but they could be even better, why is my employer so cheap?” — calling them regretful and implying that his agent, once again, was getting a little too busy and prompting his client into talking a little too much.
Arsenal shouldn’t get carried away
The worst thing than can happen at Arsenal right now is for the players to read too much into the Bournemouth result. Yes, they won 3-0, Alexandre Lacazette looked like the real deal, the back three did what they were supposed to do and both Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil contributed.
But this was Bournemouth, a side that has lost every league game this season and who frankly doesn’t appear to have noticed that the campaign has begun. A false sense of security is the last thing Arsenal need. Discovering that they can pass circles around an open team like Bournemouth, with Jermain Defoe up front and no service from midfield, is not a great revelation.
Too often we forget that despite the marketing brochures, there’s a huge gap in talent between the top six or seven sides and the rest of the league. And when a less gifted team goes into the Emirates and plays Arsenal straight up, they’re bound to get spanked.
It’s a positive for Arsene Wenger, sure, but the real tests will come down the road.
Nice put on a show vs. Monaco
Such is the faith placed in Leonardo Jardim and Monaco’s ability to reload every year that their bright start in Ligue 1 (four straight wins) had you wondering whether they could pull of yet another miracle. Maybe they still can this season but Saturday’s local derby against Nice suggested otherwise.
Lucien Favre pulled out another one of his tactical master classes, Mario Balotelli showed up to play and the result was a 4-0 thumping. Let it serve as a reminder that you’re not going to lose Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Benjamin Mendy, Valerie Germain and Kylian Mbappe in one go without breaking stride.
As for Nice, at least for a while, you’re tempted to wonder whether the “odd couple” of Favre and Super Mario can keep this up all year. And then you come crashing back to reality.
Nice won’t but on the occasions that they do, it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Steinhaus’ successful, groundbreaking debut
Bibiana Steinhaus made history on Sunday when she became the first woman to officiate a Bundesliga match. Steinhaus — whose day job, appropriately, is with the police — came through the game between Werder Bremen and Hertha Berlin without incident and said afterwards that she was “relieved.”
There’s no real reason why we shouldn’t expect many more female referees in the future. The qualities that make a good referee — knowledge of the game and its laws and interpretations, great eyesight and judgement and the ability to talk to people — are most definitely not sex-specific. Like other trailblazers before her, expect her job to get a whole heck of a lot easier as more and more women come into the officiating ranks.
When you’re not representing an entire section of society, things are a lot more straightforward and you’re judged on your merits alone.
Milan have options after Lazio rout
Milan’s stated ambition this season is a top-four finish. Actually, it’s more than that — it’s a key element in determining whether they’ll be able refinance the $350m mega-loan from Elliott Management when it becomes a due in a years’ time or whether they’ll end up with new owners. So the 4-1 hammering at the hands of Lazio on Sunday won’t do much for morale.
The rossoneri were poor, pretty much across the board, and Vincenzo Montella was comprehensively out-coached by Simone Inzaghi. Riccardo Montolivo and Lucas Biglia are competent midfielders but it’s tough to line them up together. Mateo Musacchio and Leonard Bonucci looked as if they had just met before kick-off (and, to be fair, it hasn’t been that much longer). In attack Suso and Patrick Cutrone, who looked so sharp before, regressed to the mean.
The good news for Montella is that he has options. He can turn to Alessio Romagnoli and Andrea Conti at the back, Manuel Locatelli, Giacomo Bonaventura and Hakan Calhanoglou in midfield, Nikola Kalinic and Andre Silva up front. That’s what being among the top spenders in Europe gets you: alternatives and talented ones at that. With a smaller squad — and, perhaps, one with more fixed hierarchies — he couldn’t do that. But with this group, other than Bonucci and Gigio Donnarumma, nobody seems untouchable.
Bas Dost scored a penalty winner deep in injury time to help Sporting Lisbon win 3-2 at Feirense. He now has four goals in five league games, which means he’s on pace to score 27 league goals this year. Overall, he has five in seven games in all competitions.
This concludes this week’s edition of #BasDostWatch.
Gabriele Marcotti is a Senior Writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.