The weekend in soccer: Recapping rivalry games in England, Spain, and Italy’s capitals
After a couple weeks off for international duty, domestic leagues across Europe were back up and running this weekend.
International soccer pretty much sucks anyways (especially now that USA, Italy, Chile, and Holland will all miss out on World Cup 2018) so it was great to see the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, the Bundesliga, et al. return for full action.
With rivalry games across Europe, the weekend did not disappoint. Let’s jump into the results.
Atletico, Real Madrid draw, Barcelona stretches big lead
All the hype going into this weekend in Spain’s La Liga centered around the rivalry in the capital, with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid squaring off for the first time since Atletico opened their new Wanda Metropalitano stadium.
The game was a complete bore. Neither team did much of anything for 90 minutes, both seemingly waiting for the other to make a move, and the match ended in a yawn of a 0-0 draw (I would post the highlights here but there’s nothing to watch).
Elsewhere, Barcelona romped to an easy 3-0 win over mid-table side Leganes and are now 10 points up on both Real Madrid and Atletico.
It’s not overly surprising that Barcelona are playing well, although the fact that they’ve moved on so quickly from a tumultuous summer and a coaching change without missing a step has been truly impressive.
The story of the La Liga season thus far has been Valencia. After a series of weird coaching appointments and bad transfers, Valencia are rolling under new manager Marcelino. Valencia finished 12th last season and are currently 2nd, only 4 points off Barcelona and 6 above Real and Atletico.
There’s a long way to go, but Barcelona have a very healthy lead over their main rivals. Can Valencia keep the pressure on?
Arsenal win North London Derby, Man City continue to be unstoppable, Pogba returns for Man U
It’s been a turbulent beginning to the season for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. After getting run off the park rather easily against Manchester City before the international break, Arsenal fans were bracing themselves for Saturday’s showdown against their biggest rival Tottenham Hotspur.
Leading up to the game, much of the talk in the press centered around Tottenham manager Mauricio Pocchetino and the ‘revolution’ he’s led in North London. Columns were written about the perceived power shift in London, that Spurs had moved past Arsenal in terms of quality and stature, and even that no Arsenal players would get in the Spurs team.
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) November 18, 2017
Then they played the game.
Arsenal’s front 3 of Alexis Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette, and Mesut Ozil worked brilliantly together and stretched Spurs’ backline all game as Ozil pulled the strings.
It seems rather obvious that playing this trio of world class players together would work really well and yet Wenger has done it only three times this season (three wins). Unfortunately, contractual issues with Alexis and Ozil mean that time is probably running out on this triumvirate.
League leaders Manchester City easily tossed Leicester City (remember when they won the Premier League??) aside and stayed 8 points up on Manchester United.
As for Man U, they celebrated the return of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from injury in a 4-1 victory over Newcastle.
Everyone is looking up at Manchester City.
Roma, Napoli win. Juventus falls to Sampdoria
After losing to Sweden in a World Cup playoff, Italy are missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958. This has led to some serious introspection in Italy, where it seemed the country had made recent strides to return to their previous glory.
While it’s hard to envision the World Cup without the Azzurri (and their rendition of the Italian national anthem), Serie A is still entertaining as ever. Perhaps the national team’s failings will only force Italian clubs to further reevaluate their systems and tactics.
One Italian player that seemingly embodies the issues at the national level is Lorenzo Insigne. The Napoli winger has been one of the most electric players in Serie A for a couple years now, but couldn’t get on the field against Sweden as Italy needed a goal.
Fresh off his disappointment with the national squad, Insigne was back in action with Napoli this weekend, taking on a rebuilding AC Milan squad that hasn’t quite figured things out after a summer of big spending.
Insigne tallied the first goal and set up what should have been the second as Napoli maintained their lead at the top of Serie A in a 2-1 win over Milan.
In Italy’s capital, fourth-placed Roma defeated their crosstown rivals Lazio 2-1 in their first Derby della Capitale without Francesco Totti in 25 years.
Juventus, who have won Serie A for 6 straight seasons, lost to Sampdoria in a 3-2 thriller. Gigi Buffon, the legendary Italian goalkeeper, didn’t play as he was still mentally recovering from Italy’s World Cup failure.
Italy will have to go through a period of serious reevaluation after failing to qualify for the World Cup, the fact that Serie A is competitive again after years of Juventus domination is a good first sign.