26 Aug European soccer news: Arsenal misfire; Man Utd’s injury woes
European club football is back, with mouth-watering action and dynamite drama on seemingly every channel and in every ground across the continent. The Premier League, LaLiga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 all had matchups worth rehashing.
Action began on Friday night, when Chelsea earned their first win under Mauricio Pochettino, while Real Madrid remained perfect thanks to yet another Jude Bellingham goal. On Saturday, both Arsenal and Manchester United dug themselves early holes, against Fulham and Nottingham Forest, respectively, but only Erik ten Hag’s team was able to climb out of it to claim all three points.
So let’s get into it: With a full menu of games, here are your talking points, great goals and all the news from a wonderful weekend in the big European leagues.
The Saturday lead: Arsenal look like a work in progress
Arsenal made early moves in the transfer market to ensure they hit the ground running this season, but Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Fulham underlines they are having to problem solve far more than manager Mikel Arteta would like.
Perhaps losing Jurriën Timber to a serious knee injury is even more of a blow than it would first appear.
The £38 million signing from Ajax started preseason — and the opening Premier League game against Nottingham Forest — as a left-back coming into midfield to help Arsenal overload opponents. After Takehiro Tomiyasu struggled in that role at Crystal Palace on Monday, Jakub Kiwior was equally ineffective in the position against the Cottagers.
Olley: There will be concerns for Arteta after draw vs. Fulham
James Olley reacts to Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Fulham in the Premier League.
Thomas Partey moved into midfield from right-back but also failed to influence the game, while further forward the combination play of Leandro Trossard, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard was lacking. The end result was a lack of fluidity for the third match running, and while it was masked by beating Forest and Palace, they were made to pay the price by a spirited Fulham side who were worthy of a point.
After falling behind in the first minute as Andreas Pereira struck, two second-half goals in three minutes from Eddie Nketiah and a Saka penalty turned the game in Arsenal’s favour,. Then João Palhinha equalised despite Fulham being reduced to ten men following Calvin Bassey‘s 83rd-minute red card.
Substitutes Fabio Vieira and Oleksandr Zinchenko helped Arsenal improve significantly after the break, but rather than look the settled side ready to push Manchester City all the way, Arsenal continue to resemble a work in progress. — James Olley
Saturday talking points around the leagues
Varane’s exit compounds Man United injury woes
Manchester United eased some of the pressure with their 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford on Saturday, but the problems are mounting for Erik ten Hag. He’s already lost Luke Shaw and Mason Mount to injury, and against Forest, Raphaël Varane was the latest to be forced off.
Speaking after the game, Ten Hag played down the significance of the problem, and he can only hope it’s not serious because he needs the Frenchman in his team.
Dawson: Man United look vulnerable despite 3-2 win vs. Forest
Rob Dawson analyses Man United’s 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest in the Premier League.
Ten Hag is already dealing with a significant issue at left-back with Shaw and Tyrell Malacia both set to be sidelined until November, while third-choice Brandon Williams has been allowed to join Ipswich Town on loan. It meant Diogo Dalot, more comfortable at right-back, had to start on the left against Forest with 20-year-old Álvaro Fernández on the bench.
United are expecting a quiet end to the transfer window, but Ten Hag hinted on Friday that the club might have to dip into the market to sign another left-back. That might disappoint the fans who think the squad desperately needs another midfielder, because there is unlikely to be enough money in the budget to strengthen both positions before the deadline.
Varane getting the all clear this week would be a welcome boost. — Rob Dawson
Bellingham papering over Madrid’s injury crisis
Real Madrid have suffered plenty of setbacks at the start of the new season, including losing Vinícius Júnior to injury on Friday at Celta Vigo, but they continue to be masked over by Jude Bellingham. The England international continued his impressive start to life in Spain with the winner as Madrid beat Celta 1-0 at Balaidos to make it nine points from nine in LaLiga.
Bellingham’s ability is no surprise — that is why he had his pick of clubs in the summer and Madrid paid a €100 million transfer fee for him — but few expected him to be this decisive, this soon. After netting in the opening-day win at Athletic Club and then adding two as Madrid came from behind to beat Almeria last week, he was once again the hero in Vigo.
Ancelotti praises ‘intelligent’ Bellingham for his performance vs. Celta Vigo
Carlo Ancelotti talks about Jude Bellingham’s influential role for Real Madrid.
With time running out, and after Rodrygo had seen a penalty saved, Bellingham got in front of his marker in the 81st minute to head home his fourth goal in three games. More importantly, it gave Madrid three points on an evening when one had looked likely due to a lack of attacking flair.
An early-season reliance on Bellingham could become a problem, though, if others don’t begin to chip in and, especially, if Vinicius is out for any length of time. He will undergo tests this weekend on what is the first muscle injury he has had since joining the club. After losing both Thibaut Courtois and Éder Militão to long-term injuries, Madrid will have everything crossed for the Brazilian. — Sam Marsden
Can Sterling provide the goals Chelsea crave?
Raheem Sterling is back. The England forward had a difficult first season at Chelsea after his £47.5m move from Manchester City, but his early-season form under Mauricio Pochettino suggests he is close to rediscovering his best form.
He scored twice in the 3-0 win over Luton Town at Stamford Bridge on Friday night — the first was a wonderful solo effort after turning and twisting his way into the penalty area from the right wing — and set up a goal for Nicolas Jackson. He looked sharp in the 3-1 defeat at West Ham United, but there was more end product against Luton.
Moreno: Sterling will build confidence after big performance vs. Luton Town
Alejandro Moreno explains why Raheem Sterling will only get better after a strong performance against Luton Town.
Sterling was almost written off last season, but the truth is that no Chelsea player emerged from their disastrous campaign with any credit. He was used in a number of different positions under Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard, but he seems to benefitting from more consistency under Pochettino.
Still on the lookout for a new forward, Chelsea are desperate for goals, but maybe Sterling is the man to provide them. It wasn’t so long ago that he scored 20 Premier League goals in a single season for Manchester City, during a three-year run during which he found the net 79 times in 149 games in all competitions between 2017 and 2020. — Dawson
Leverkusen are the class of the Bundesliga
A year ago, Bayer Leverkusen began the season with high expectations and no form whatsoever. They lost to a fourth-division club in the first round of the DFB-Pokal and lost their first three Bundesliga matches by a combined scoreline of 6-1. It was dire, and manager Gerardo Seoane was fired in early October.
After parlaying the transfer of star Moussa Diaby into moves for veterans Granit Xhaka and Jonas Hofmann and young forward Victor Boniface, Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen have begun the 2023-24 season in polar opposite form. They stomped their lower-division Pokal opponent, and they moved to six points from two Bundesliga matches with a rampant 3-0 win over Seoane’s Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday.
Boniface was otherworldly, nearly matching Gladbach in terms of total shots (11 to Gladbach’s 12) and topping them in terms of xG created (1.6 to 0.9). He thumped in a header to give Leverkusen the lead in the 18th minute, Jonathan Tah scored right before half, and Boniface put the match away in the 53rd minute. Xhaka and Hofmann were nearly flawless in advancing the ball into dangerous areas, and Boniface took it from there.
Six goals and six points in two matches. It’s hard to ask for more than that. — Bill Connelly
Luis Enrique, Mbappe provide PSG statement win
Paris Saint-Germain have finally kickstarted their season with a superb 3-1 victory against Lens, last season’s Ligue 1 runners-up. After two average draws against Lorient and Toulouse to start the campaign, the Parisians went up a gear for their first big clash of the season. After dominating the first half, they were even better after the break, scoring three goals before conceding a late one.
Kylian Mbappé was at the centre of everything.
He got his name on the scoresheet twice. He has now been involved in 301 goals for PSG in all competitions (215 goals and 86 assists). And while the football world wondered what kind of reception he would get from the fans after a torrid summer, he received massive cheers and shows of support before, during and after the game.
It was as if nothing had happened.
There was also a first goal for Marco Asensio, who started as a false nine in the absence of Gonçalo Ramos, after a wonderful collective move. That’s arguably the most important element of this victory for PSG: we saw a proper team on Saturday night, with great cohesion, with balance, with grit, with togetherness as displayed by Manuel Ugarte, who was excellent again in the No. 6 position.
It had been a while since we saw a PSG team playing that way, and it is very promising for the future. — Julien Laurens
Don’t sleep on Spurs
Tottenham Hotspur might be the ultimate Narrative FC so far in the 2023-24 Premier League campaign, rallying from the anticipated chaos of losing Harry Kane to Bayern Munich and starting over under manager Ange Postecoglou to sit second in the table after the first three weekends. It’s deserved, too, and serves as vindication for the “Kane must go” crowd who saw that his absence would create ample opportunities for other players to shine.
In Saturday’s 2-0 win at Bournemouth, the spotlight hit James Maddison brightest, with the former Leicester City playmaker popping up at the right time to open the scoring after 20 minutes. His run was impeccably timed to meet Pape Sarr‘s incisive through-ball, and it spoke volumes of what this new-look Tottenham can be.
The Postecoglou Era is still in its infancy, but his elan in winning five of six domestic trophies over two seasons with Celtic shows he is more than capable of elevating a team from the sum of its parts into a winning outfit.
A sign of Tottenham’s newfound resilience could be seen in how they went in at half-time 1-0 to the good and then faced a barrage of Bournemouth possession and menace to open the second half, before putting the game away with Dejan Kulusevski‘s first goal since January. The former Juventus winger was in the perfect position to convert after Destiny Udogie (who was forced off early with injury) fought his way to the touchline before pulling the ball back into the six-yard box, where Kulusevski bundled it home.
It’s only been three games, but this Tottenham side look stronger and more adaptable in the aftermath of Kane’s transfer. Postecoglou just might be what this side has been missing since the days of Pochettino. — James Tyler
The sorry state of Sevilla
The honeymoon period is over for coach José Luis Mendilibar at Sevilla, who remain the only side in LaLiga without a point after they were beaten 2-1 at home by Girona on Saturday. Mendilibar took over earlier this year, steered Sevilla away from relegation, won the Europa League, which in turn qualified them for this season’s Champions League, and then only lost to Manchester City on penalties in the UEFA Super Cup this month.
However, their domestic form has failed them since the new campaign got underway. Losses to Valencia and Alaves were followed by a third consecutive defeat to Girona at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Next up is a trip to Atletico Madrid.
Yangel Herrera‘s opener was cancelled out by Nemanja Gudelj in first-half stoppage time, but Girona restored their lead through Aleix García after the break. Sevilla were left frustrated in their attempts to draw level again. Ivan Rakitic had a goal ruled out for offside before the referee took away a penalty from Sevilla after a pitchside review having originally given it.
A quick word for Girona, too, who are great fun to watch and have made a super start to the season, taking seven points from nine to climb to second in the table. They could have wrapped this one up earlier, too. Artem Dovbyk chipped in with a contender for miss of the season after the lively Brazilian Sávio had hit the post. — Marsden
News of the day
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag praised his team for overcoming a horror start to beat Nottingham Forest 3-2 in an Old Trafford thriller in the Premier League on Saturday. The hosts were 2-0 down and in disarray inside five minutes with Taiwo Awoniyi scoring a solo effort on the break and Willy Boly heading in a second goal for the visitors. “It’s a horror start giving them two goals and making mistakes, but I’m very pleased with the comeback,” Dutchman Ten Hag told reporters. “The leadership, how we stayed calm and composed, stick to the plan and belief and turnaround. “We played very good football, out of the plan and principles and rules we scored good goals.” Read the full story.
Mikel Arteta has backed Kai Havertz to win over Arsenal supporters after another subdued showing in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Fulham. The £67.5m summer signing from Chelsea had the fewest touches (22) of any Arsenal outfield player in the first half and was substituted on 56 minutes with his side trailing 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium. “Today it was tough in certain moments. He got in great areas and the ball didn’t arrive. In a lot of situations he should have scored a lot of goals already this season. That’s the thing that is missing there.” Read the full story.
United States international Josh Sargent injured an ankle while scoring in Norwich’s 4-0 victory over Huddersfield in England’s second-tier Championship on Saturday. “It looks like a serious ankle injury, unfortunately,” Norwich coach David Wagner said. “We will assess him tomorrow, and then we will have to wait and see how serious it actually is.” Read the full story.
And finally …
There were just 52 seconds on the clock when Saka’s loose back-pass sent Pereira in one-v-one with Aaron Ramsdale, setting up Fulham to take a 1-0 lead in the first minute at the Emirates on Saturday. Arsenal would claw their way back to claim a hard-fought 2-1 win, but it wasn’t an ideal way to start.
And yet, it’s become something of a habit.
1 – Arsenal are the first team in Premier League history to concede a first minute goal three times in a single calendar year. Oddity. https://t.co/AobeQip2kk
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 26, 2023
Saturday marked the third time in the past nine Premier League home games that the Gunners have conceded a first-minute goal, according to Opta. And the statisticians note that doing so in a single calendar year is something that’s never happened before in the competition’s history.
Fans in the red half of north London will be hoping the trend ends here.