What a weekend! Barcelona appear to found a nice balance in attack — and perhaps their new talisman in Memphis Depay — while Premier League sides Man City and Tottenham impress despite the ongoing Harry Kane saga. There’s trouble for Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal (are we surprised?), and Romelu Lukaku really put on a show in his second debut for Chelsea.
Here’s the big stuff you need to know about the weekend before Monday morning.
Four talking points
Depay is adjusting nicely to being Barcelona’s main man
Replace Lionel Messi as Barcelona’s chief creator and goal threat? No problem, says Memphis Depay. Yes, it has been only two LaLiga games, but the summer signing from Lyon has been a joyous, electric addition so far and saved Barca a point with a late equaliser (more on this below) in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao.
👉🦁👈 𝙁𝙄𝙍𝙎𝙏 𝘽𝘼𝙍𝘾̧𝘼 𝙂𝙊𝘼𝙇 !
💜 First of many @Memphis pic.twitter.com/TFXipRntyV
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) August 21, 2021
“Memphis to the rescue” was the headline in not one, but two of the Catalan newspapers on Sunday morning. He’s already being cited as a leader in a team that has plenty, at least in theory, with veterans Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba still in the squad. Following Messi would cow most players, but Depay seems to be enjoying every minute. He gets the ball and you sit up and pay attention as there’s always a sense that something is going to happen.
Credit to coach Ronald Koeman, too, for identifying Depay as the forward he wanted to bring in this summer — not everyone at the club was necessarily convinced. Koeman is playing Depay as a false nine, with the freedom to drop deep and wide, and with Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite either side. No clear weakness is evident yet: He looks quick, strong and technically assured, operating as a team player and a gifted individual. Let’s see if he can keep it up. — Alex Kirkland
Are we sure Man City even need a striker?
If Manchester City were looking to end any doubts about their title chances, putting five goals past Norwich City is a decent start. It’s true that Norwich always seem determined to concede as many as possible at the Etihad Stadium, but Pep Guardiola’s team won with that attacking swagger that has won trophy after trophy during his time in England.
There simply was no let-up for Norwich. When Jack Grealish and Ferran Torres went off, on came Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez, while Kevin De Bruyne didn’t feature at all because of injury. Guardiola’s attacking options are unrivalled, and that’s without Harry Kane, who might still arrive before the transfer deadline.
Only Manchester United have been able to win the title after losing their first game of the season, but City are more than capable of repeating the feat. They will be better if Kane arrives, but victory over Norwich was a timely reminder that they won’t struggle without him. The challenge this season will be greater because Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United all have stronger squads than before, but ask any Premier League manager and most will tell you the next champions will be the team that manages to finish above Guardiola and City. — Rob Dawson
Atletico Madrid finally celebrate with their fans
“The fans weren’t there, but the soul always was,” Diego Simeone had said on Saturday, describing Atletico Madrid winning LaLiga behind closed doors last season. This weekend, the fans were finally back at the Wanda Metropolitano. There were only 24,926 of them — coronavirus restrictions in Spain mean attendances are still limited — and the game itself, a scrappy 1-0 win over Elche, was nothing special. But the occasion was really quite moving.
Before kickoff, captain Koke was finally able to present the LaLiga trophy to the home crowd, 92 days after clinching it on a dramatic final day. Alongside him was 90-year-old Pedro Palmero, Atletico’s socio No. 1 (in Spain, club members are numbered based on longevity). Tribute was also paid to the 379 members who have passed away during the pandemic while the club’s anthem was played on the violin.
Atletico Madrid might be one of Spain’s biggest clubs, but they’re also a family. As coach Simeone had said a day earlier: “Getting up on a Sunday with your mum and dad and going to the stadium is something beautiful. It’s been a year and a half that we haven’t been able to do that. The fans need football as much as we need them.” — Kirkland
Kane returns for Spurs… but will it last?
Harry Kane is back in a Tottenham shirt… for the time being. The 28-year-old continues to seek a move to Manchester City in what has become the long-running transfer saga of the summer, but he finally made his seasonal reappearance as a substitute in Spurs’ 1-0 win at Wolves. Fans chanted “Are you watching Harry Kane?” as their captain sat out last weekend’s victory over City, but the Spurs supporters at Molineux gave him a warm reception when introduced for the final 20 minutes on Sunday. Kane acknowledged those fans at full-time and coach Nuno Espirito Santo praised the show of togetherness in difficult circumstances.
The battle lines have been drawn for some time: City want Kane but won’t pay £150m, while Spurs don’t want to sell him at all given his importance to the cause. A huge bid could shift the dial before next Tuesday’s transfer deadline but as time ticks down, Kane looks more likely to stay and if so, this was a step forward in his reintegration to a central role. — James Olley
Honorable Mention: Chaos for three big clubs
It’s not all smooth sailing for Europe’s elite clubs as three teams expecting to contend in their respective leagues aren’t off to the best of starts. Real Madrid needed two goals in the final 17 minutes from Vinicius Jr. to salvage a 3-3 draw at Levante. It was a spicy affair overall, with Levante falling behind 1-0 only to take a 2-1 and 3-2 lead over Carlo Ancelotti’s side; there was also the added fun of Ancelotti picking a front three of Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, only for the young Brazilian to come off the bench and save the day. (Bale did score the opening goal after just five minutes, slotting home Benzema’s low cross, but did little else from there.)
In Germany, Dortmund somehow lost 2-1 at Freiburg despite one of the more dominant displays you’ll see this season: 76% possession, 18 shots (though just four on target) and absolute frustration. They didn’t even “score” their one goal: Freiburg led 2-0 through Vincenzo Grifo and Roland Sallai before a Yannik Keitel own goal gave Erling Haaland & Co. a faint chance of getting on level terms. The defeat isn’t catastrophic — it’s only week two, after all — but it’s a troubling stumble with the transfer window still open and clubs very much interested in Haaland, to name just one Dortmund star.
Finally, Juventus have a full-on saga developing with Cristiano Ronaldo maybe-going-maybe-staying — read Gab Marcotti’s piece to get the backstory here — and him reportedly asking not to start their opener, an away trip to Udinese. Initially, it seemed fine, with Juve racing to a 2-0 lead via Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado in the opening 23 minutes. Then, Udinese came back: a generous penalty (converted by Roberto Pereyra) and a Gerard Deulofeu strike, caused by Wojciech Szczesny‘s horrendous error, had the scores level. It set the scene for Ronaldo to be the hero off the bench, and he thought he’d scored the winner in injury time only for VAR to rain on the parade in a 2-2 draw.
These are not significant stumbles yet, but when title races get tight down the stretch, these dropped points often make a difference. — James Tyler
Three must-see goals
Ings brings the heat for Villa
It’s a new era for Aston Villa after selling their talisman and captain, Jack Grealish, over the summer, but Danny Ings is doing a good job of filling the void. Two goals in two games is a good start for a striker, and scoring an acrobatic opener on your home debut in front of a capacity crowd is instant hero territory. What a way to announce yourself to the Villa fans! — Dawson
This was 𝗦𝗣𝗘𝗖𝗜𝗔𝗟. 😍 @IngsDanny pic.twitter.com/evw8HuOiQV
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) August 21, 2021
Liverpool go from coast to coast
Liverpool’s ambition to reclaim the Premier League title centres as much on rediscovering their freeflowing best in attack as their resilience in defence. Virgil Van Dijk has a role to play on both fronts, displaying his range of passing to kickstart a move which saw Harvey Elliott and Trent Alexander-Arnold to tee up Sadio Mane for a crisp first-time finish.
– Liverpool ratings: Henderson, Alexander-Arnold stand out
It was the sort of move that epitomises Jurgen Klopp’s side at their strongest and a packed Anfield got to see it for the first time in more than a year. — Olley
Virgil ➡️ Harvey ➡️ Trent ➡️ Sadio
What a move this was to seal all 3️⃣ points in #LIVBUR 🤩 pic.twitter.com/jON1hOfefE
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 21, 2021
Gerrit Holtmann goes it alone
Let’s say you’re a winger for a German team that’s back in the Bundesliga for the first time in over a decade. Let’s also say that you’re waiting to score your first goal of the season after a 1-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in your season opener.
Gerrit Holtmann with an incredible solo goal for VfL Bochum 🔥 pic.twitter.com/DgCeN4NHNF
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 21, 2021
Well okay then, Vfl Bochum star, Gerrit Holtmann. This is a goal that was clearly worth the wait for player and club! — Tyler
Honorable Mention: Depay lets rip
This rocket for Barcelona in Bilbao has to make the list. The stage was set: Barca had their backs to the wall, 1-0 down to a rampant Athletic with 15 minutes left and the home crowd at San Mames roaring. Depay silenced them with a strike that was beautifully simple: he needed just three touches to bring Sergi Roberto‘s looped ball over the top under control, and a fourth to fire an unstoppable left-footer past goalkeeper Julen Agirrezabala at his near post. He did it all with an easy nonchalance that suggested it was no big deal. — Kirkland
DEPAY'S FIRST GOAL FOR BARCA!
WHAT A RIP 🔥 pic.twitter.com/q0MrIgaDec
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 21, 2021
Two teams that should be worried
You can never write off Burnley under Sean Dyche, but losing their opening two games is not the way to start in a competitive league. Most worrying for Burnley fans will be a lack of evolution of the squad. This group of players have done remarkably well to retain their place in the Premier League but every team — no matter how well drilled — needs fresh blood to keep the club moving forward. Standing still in the Premier League is as good as going backwards — Dawson
Arsenal have spent big in the transfer window but optimism is already in short supply at Emirates Stadium after two consecutive defeats. If their opening weekend loss to newly-promoted Brentford was a surprise, their 2-0 reverse to Chelsea felt almost inevitable.
Mikel Arteta is without a number of first-team players — including his £50m centre-back Ben White — but there need to be more signs he can shape this group into a team greater than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, their next League game is at the home of champions Manchester City. Things could get worse before they get better. — Olley
MVP of the weekend: Romelu Lukaku
Chelsea spent nearly 100 million pounds to welcome Romelu Lukaku back to the team, but built into the price was a near guarantee of what Chelsea were getting and the Belgian delivered everything expected of him on debut in Sunday’s 2-0 win at Arsenal.
His goal encapsulated what the Blues were missing last term. Holding off Arsenal defender Pablo Mari with his back to goal, Lukaku linked up a neat Chelsea attack before sprinting into the box to meet Reece James‘ right-wing cross. Lukaku did not score in 15 games during his first spell at Stamford Bridge between 2011 and 2014, but he took 15 minutes to get off the mark this time. Tougher assignments await given the porous nature of Arsenal’s defence these days, but this was a hugely promising start for a player signed to provide the goals to fire Chelsea to a Premier League title.
The sense of making up for lost time was palpable: Lukaku is a man on a mission, ready to make a success of himself at the club he loves and silence any doubters from his previous time in England at West Brom, Everton and Manchester United. On this evidence, the rest of the League are going to have a tough time stopping him. — Olley
Credit: Source link