With just one weekend left until the European leagues shut down for the World Cup, there was plenty of drama to discuss across the continent! From Arsenal cementing their Premier League lead with an easy win at Chelsea to Bayern Munich reclaiming top spot in the Bundesliga after beating Hertha Berlin (and after Union Berlin lost 5-0 to Bayer Leverkusen), the title races heated up. There was also a tearful goodbye for Gerard Pique after Barcelona's home win, a morale-boosting victory for Liverpool at Tottenham, and drama galore in Serie A.
With Unai Emery beating Man United in his coaching debut at Aston Villa, Man City leaving it really late to beat Fulham and Napoli showing why they're more than just "Kvaradona," the weekend really did have it all.
It's Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Arsenal 'Invincibles' comparison underscores how Premier League has changed
Arsenal dominated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, and far more than the 1-0 scoreline (and wacky goal) suggests. This was a case of both things being true: Chelsea were very poor, and Arsenal were very good. The win means Arsenal -- who have won 11 of 13 league games so far this season -- have more points than Arsene Wenger's Invincibles had back in 2003-04.
Like others, I couldn't resist playing the comparison game, wondering what a combined XI might look like. It's obviously a highly debatable thought exercise, but frankly, the only Arsenal players from 2022-23 that I would definitely put in a combined XI are Bukayo Saka (ahead of Freddie Ljungberg) and Aaron Ramsdale (ahead of Jens Lehmann). William Saliba-Kolo Toure and Martin Odegaard-Robert Pires might be a toss-up, but that's it, and while you may disagree, it's hard to argue that player-for-player, the Invincibles were better individuals than where this Arsenal team are now.
I think this speaks to two things. One is that back then, resources were more evenly spread across the league, and inequality (financial or otherwise) was not as pronounced as it is today. Lest we forget, the Invincibles were unbeaten, but they failed to win nearly a third of their games.
The other is that most of the Invincibles were in the prime of their careers or just past it. Most of this Arsenal team -- with the exception of Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka -- will continue to improve, which merely underscores the job Mikel Arteta has done. And by the way, it's not just about tactics, it's about leadership too. The Invincibles were managed by Arsene Wenger who, at that stage, had won the double twice: When he spoke, people listened. Arteta took charge less than three years ago and has a single FA Cup to his name. And still, they listen to him, too.
As for Chelsea, this was really bleak. Graham Potter now has fewer points per game than Thomas Tuchel, and he now faces Manchester City in the League Cup and Newcastle away in the Premier League before the World Cup. The screws are turning.
Potter is an exceptional coach, but like we've said umpteen times, the transition from Tuchel to Potter was never going to be seamless. Especially since, at Brighton, he had the luxury of playing once a week, whereas now he's paying twice as much. For a coach whose tactical credo is so defined, not being able to work on the training pitch makes a massive difference. And, of course, it's only magnified by Chelsea's fail of a summer transfer campaign, as well as the rash of injuries.
Against Arsenal, he tinkered -- again -- with the lineup. With Ben Chilwell and Reece James injured, we saw a back four with Cesar Azpilicueta and Marc Cucurella at full-back. The former wanted to move to Barcelona -- with hindsight, it wouldn't have been a bad thing if he'd gone -- while the latter, at that price, seems like a massively poor signing thus far. Jorginho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek teamed up in midfield: The former is a free agent in June, the latter simply isn't getting it done and seemed particularly ill-suited to countering Arsenal's press.
Raheem Sterling, another pricey signing, gets shuttled all over the pitch as formations change and is generally underwhelming wherever he plays. The less said about Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and his eight touches in 64 minutes, the better.
Potter might have lost Sunday's game anyway, but this set-up failed to get a result and also failed to show any signs of growth (or, indeed, any kind of direction). Given how much he cost to recruit (in compensation to Tuchel and Brighton), logic suggests you give him time, and plenty of it. You have to hope that the army of recruitment specialists and technical directors the new owners brought in board in the past few weeks view it the same way.
Napoli win a massive head-to-head against Atalanta
There was reason to believe Napoli could lose their first league game of the season on Saturday away to Atalanta. They were coming off a European road trip (and defeat) in Liverpool, while their opponents were fresh. Atalanta were second in the Serie A table and had lost just once all year and as of Friday night, Napoli would be without Kvicha Kvaratskhelia.
No matter. Atalanta came at them all guns blazing and took the lead, but this Napoli side are patient. They absorbed the pressure, took the blow, equalised with Victor Osimhen and grabbed the winner with Elif Elmas. The rest of the game was about management and the threat of the counter. Job done.
It summed up what has made Napoli so impressive this season. They look just as comfortable taking the game to the opposition as they are playing on the counter. And they have genuine depth, with the backups coming in and delivering: on Saturday it was Elmas, but in previous games it has been Gio Simeone, Giacomo Raspadori or even Leo Ostigaard. We're only a third of the way through the season and a six-point lead can be lost in double-quick time, but Napoli look good. Really good. And the fact that they've beaten other top sides (Lazio, Roma, Milan and now Napoli) on the road means they'll get to face them at home later in the season.
Liverpool win at Spurs in classic 'Game of Two Halves'
Gab & Juls look ahead to a mouthwatering Champions League clash between PSG and Bayern Munich.
This business with Tottenham being slow starters is getting real old. The script goes like this: They sit deep, play without intensity, concede and then storm back in the second half. Sometimes they get a result, sometimes they don't. Over the past five games, including Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Liverpool, they gained seven points, failing to score in the first half (and conceding seven) while bagging eight after the break (and conceding just one).
Sunday's visit by Liverpool followed that script. They were 2-0 down at the half with little to show for it (other than a penalty appeal) against a side that is improving, but hardly at their best (injuries aren't helping Jurgen Klopp either). After the break, they pulled one back, came close to an equalizer on several occasions and played with intensity and purpose. The mystery here is why they can't do this from the first minute, why they need to gift opponents goals (yes, Eric Dier) to get a reaction.
Antonio Conte is playing a tricky game and he knows he needs to do better. The absences of Son Heung-Min, Richarlison and Dejan Kulusevski (who came on and assisted on the goal, but is not yet 100% match-fit) are only partly mitigating circumstances.
As for Liverpool, the three points are crucial after consecutive league defeats to Nottingham Forest and Leeds United. The idea that they could be out of the race for top four by Christmas is just unfathomable. Darwin Nunez continue to improve and, at some point, Luis Diaz will be back. But even if you sort out the attack, the issues are elsewhere.
Bayern Munich stretched by Hertha Berlin, but less than would appear as 'EMCM' streak continues
Gab & Juls react to the standout Europa League playoff clash between Manchester United and Barcelona.
Sometimes games get weird. Like Bayern going 3-0 up away to relegation-threatened Hertha within 38 minutes, and then still conceding twice before the break to make for a nervy second half. It should defy logic because when you have the pace and quality Bayern have, playing with a massive lead ought to be easy.
Critics and nitpickers will flag some potential concern about Julian Nagelsmann's ability to manage leads, but I wouldn't be concerned. One of Hertha's goals was a "worldie" from Dodi Lukebakio. The other was a generous VAR-assisted penalty. More relevant, I think, is that Hertha, despite chasing the equaliser, managed zero shots on goal (let alone on target) from open play in the second half.
Meanwhile, the Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting phenomenon continues. He bagged two scrappy goals, which means he has now scored in seven straight games in all competitions. In total, he's up to 10 goals for the season, which means he needs one more to match his career best ... and it's still early November. Not bad for a 34-year-old who was penciled in as Bayern's third-choice center-forward in the summer.
Erik ten Hag angry as Man United lose to Aston Villa in Unai Emery's debut
Man United manager Erik ten Hag let his players have it following the 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa. He said his players didn't do their jobs "with 100% desire and passion," that they didn't "follow the rules in defending" (presumably the instructions he gave them) and that their crossing was subpar. It's hard to argue with any of it: United were very poor, especially off the ball. (One of the basic rules in football is that if you're going to press, which they tried to do on occasion, your back line needs to step up and not sit deep.)
There were a number of absentees -- Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho, Antony, Bruno Fernandes -- and two guys (Donny Van de Beek and Alejandro Garnacho) making their first league starts of the campaign, which didn't help, but it was still surprising to see how easily United folded and how disjointed they looked.
As for Villa, you can speak of an "Emery Effect," though after only a few days, let's not get carried away, for better or for worse. This game gets very easy when the opposition spots you a two-goal lead. Emery is a good coach, but the time to judge and evaluate is in six months or so.
Barcelona go top of LaLiga (for now), but the story is Gerard Pique
Goals from Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie De Jong steered Barcelona to a 2-0 win over Almeria on Saturday. Barcelona were always in control and could have scored more -- Robert Lewandowski missed a penalty after a bizarre run-up -- but the focus was on Gerard Pique, who announced before the game that this would be his last.
It's hard to overstate how much of a "Cule" Pique is. His grandfather (who, in a bizarre twist, was named Amador Bernabeu) was a director at the Camp Nou for many years. He got his Barca membership on the day he was born, and joined the club's academy when he was 10. He made more than 600 appearances for Barca, winning eight league titles, seven Spanish Cups, thee Champions League crowns and three Club World Cups. (He also won a Premier League crown and a Champions League with Manchester United and won more than 100 caps for Spain, with whom he won both the European Championships and the 2010 World Cup.)
It's also true that, at 35, his performances had been declining, and as his grandfather revealed, it was painful for him to sit on the bench.
In a teary on-pitch farewell, Pique said he was retiring from playing, but wasn't "going away forever." It's pretty obvious that he would like a future at the club. Don't be surprised if he gets a role upstairs; probably not with Joan Laporta at the helm, but in some future administration. Or -- and why not? -- he could run for president one day.
Youngsters power Juventus beyond Inter Milan and back into Champions League race
It probably wasn't by design -- Juve's injury list is as long as your arm -- but Max Allegri did something unthinkable until recently, starting both Nicolo' Fagioli and Fabio Miretti in a big game. And the youngsters did their part, along with Filip Kostic, who was exceptional, in helping them to a 2-0 win that sees them rise to fifth in Serie A, just two points out of the Champions League places.
Has Allegri turned a corner? Or will it be back to the same old spiel once the injured guys return? Time will tell. In the meantime, it's a big win, though Inter should take heart as well. For long periods they had the upper hand, creating the majority of chances before being undone by an Adrien Rabiot wonder goal. The worst thing Simone Inzaghi could do now is have a knee-jerk reaction to the results and lose track of the performance, which was actually reasonable.
Union Berlin crash out of Bundesliga top spot vs. Bayer Leverkusen
OK, we knew it was going to happen. Fairytales aren't real and so it stood to reason that, at some point, Union Berlin would lose their first place in the Bundesliga. What perhaps few expected was that it would happen in such dramatic fashion, with five goals conceded in a single half.
Sunday's 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen follows several late escapes for Urs Fischer's crew. The bottom was always going to fall out, and this was the game where the thin squad finally caught up with them.
As for Leverkusen and Xabi Alonso, the emphatic result offers a glimpse of what they can be like, though the relegation zone is still uncomfortably near.
Giroud grabs late Milan winner and makes a boneheaded play
The automatic booking for players who remove their jerseys to celebrate has long been one of the stupidest conventions in the game. It was introduced years ago when authorities were concerned about players displaying inappropriate messages -- whether from sponsors or whether political statements -- on their undershirts. Rather than make a judgement call on each one, they figured it was simpler to punish everybody who removes their shirt. It was silly then and it's silly now, too: Just make it a rule that you have to wear a plain shirt underneath and leave it at that. And yes, you can still book players for excessive celebration.
The above rant comes after seeing Olivier Giroud's second yellow for removing his shirt following Milan's stunning winner against Spezia. Giroud himself said he felt like a fool for forgetting that he had already been booked. What good does it do the game to punish incidents like Giroud's (or, for that matter, Erling Haaland's)?
Giroud's winner proved critical in breaking a game that became deadlocked after Daniel Maldini (yes, the younger son of you-know-who, on loan from Milan) made it 1-1. Milan have scored a ton of second-half goals, particularly late ones, this season. It's not necessarily a formula you want to rely on, but hey, they're back in second place.
Man City go down to 10 men and leave it very late to beat Fulham
Let it be a reminder that even Manchester City at home, against a newly promoted side like Fulham, will need to huff and puff when they're spotting the opposition an extra man. Which is where Pep Guardiola's crew found themselves after 26 minutes, when Joao Cancelo got caught the wrong side of Harry Wilson and barged him to the ground. Andreas Pereira converted the penalty, wiping out Julian Alvarez's goal, and City had to do it all over again.
It took until the fifth minute of injury time (and Erling Haaland coming on as a substitute) for City to get the winner. This time, it was Kevin De Bruyne drawing Antonee Robinson's penalty with a dainty pirouette in the box. Soft? Not as I see it. Haaland -- who else? -- poked it home, bringing his seasonal total to 23.
The game was also an indication of the respect Marco Silva's Fulham seemed to have for City. Penalty aside, with a man advantage for over an hour, they managed just three shots on goal, all of them from distance for a total xG of 0.10. There's no shame in playing for a point, even with an extra man -- it's a choice you make, like any other -- but it helps explain why City failed to break through until the very end.
Paris Saint-Germain are cruising to the Ligue 1 title, which is no surprise. On Sunday, they were hardly impressive away to Lorient (who, until a month ago, were supposed to be the surprise package of Le Championnat) and still took the three points without really breaking a sweat (and without Lionel Messi).
Much of that is down to Neymar, who scored and dished out an assist. Seasoned Neymar-watchers suggest he is playing the best football of his career. That's great news for Brazil fans, with the World Cup around the corner. It will be great news for PSG, too, if he maintains this form post-Qatar as well.
Moukoko magic powers Dortmund ... and he's still just 17
Youssoufa Moukoko scored twice in Borussia Dortmund's 3-0 thumping of Bochum on Saturday. The first was a vicious screamer from outside the box. The second? A 40-yard chip over the goalkeeper to cap off a counterattack. Each was special, highlighting both the thunder and the savvy of Dortmund's young center-foward. The second was also his 10th career Bundesliga goal, making him the youngest ever to reach that mark.
He's been around a while, of course. Moukoko made his first-team debut the day after he turned 16, nearly two years ago. Last year he was slowed by injuries and made only one league start; this season, he already has six and with Sebastian Haller unavailable, he's gotten more playing time and is more than pulling his weight. There's no question he's one of the most gifted teenagers in Europe ... and he becomes a free agent in June 2024.
Dortmund are working on an extension, and the parties are reportedly close to an agreement. From Moukoko's perspective, though, he may want to take a leaf from the Erling Haaland book. Sign a new deal and secure your financial future, by all means, but make sure you get the sort of release clause that gives you the leverage to move on if the right opportunity arises. Whatever happens, Dortmund will be wishing they had locked him up sooner.
Joao Felix rescues Atletico Madrid... again
Atletico Madrid risk turning into a stereotype of themselves. At home to Espanyol, they had a man advantage from the 28th minute on, and despite 67% possession and 27 shots on goal, it took Joao Felix coming off the bench to rescue a 1-1 draw 12 minutes from time.
The problem with all those shots? They were mostly speculative, low-percentage finishes against an opponent that was all too happy to sit and defend, especially after taking the lead.
Here, Atleti have no answers other than turning to the bench. Lucky for them, Joao Felix -- whether motivated by his recent benching or simply remembered that he's a 120m player -- came up with the rocket that got them the point. And he could have scored the winner two, but was denied on two occasions.
Food for thought for Diego Simeone, then: Is it time to bring him back to the starting XI? And, if so, who misses out?
Sarri out-Mourinhos Mourinho as Lazio win the Rome derby
It's very easy to caricature Maurizio Sarri and Jose Mourinho, because both have distinct playing styles and outsized personalities. On Sunday, during the Rome derby, it was almost as if they swapped personalities for a night. Sarri's Lazio, without the two main attacking threats in Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ciro Immobile, capitalized on a defensive error inside of half an hour and spent the rest of the game defending stoutly as if they were protecting the Alamo.
Mourinho's Roma, having taken the blow, had 60% possession and went on the front foot for the rest of the game, though with Paulo Dybala out and Lorenzo Pellegrini forced off injured after 53 minutes, could muster little in the way of attacking threat, other than Nicolo' Zaniolo's individual efforts.
It's a big result for Lazio in a predictably edgy and nervy game and sees Lazio rise to third place in Serie A. Maybe, with some judicious moves in January, they might even stay there come the end of the season.