Half of it was Groundhog Day, with Arsenal looking like the worst stereotypically caricatured version of themselves and Arsene Wenger saying he couldn’t go into the reasons for the defeat and the “Wenger Out” bandwagon starting up again.
And half of it was the ultimate wild ride, jumping on the back of a jet ski driven by a giddy, jumped-up Jurgen Klopp and powered by NOS distilled in hell. There was speed of thought, intensity and relentlessness. Oh, and blistering execution.
You can’t help but praise Liverpool and batter Arsenal at the same time.
Klopp’s pacy front three put on a show, and Mohamed Salah no doubt silenced a few skeptics. But the Liverpool midfield was also dominant, turning Arsenal’s possession sterile and providing both a capable shield for the back line and a platform for the attack. Further back, the much-maligned defence had a quiet afternoon, with Joe Gomez doing a decent Nathaniel Clyne impression at right-back and Alberto Moreno patrolling with ease on the opposite side.
It’s easy to poke holes in Klopp’s Liverpool when things don’t go well. Individually, the defenders aren’t great and, collectively, they’re not as good as they could be. And when the press doesn’t work right, it only takes a couple of passes to play through it. But when it works, it can be devastating and what will make it work more regularly are players more suited to it, as well as the sort of repetition that builds chemistry and synchronised movement.
As for Arsenal, yeah, we’re going over old ground. Any team risks being flat if they have three starters in the final year of their contracts who, thus far, have shown no appetite to extend. Meanwhile, benching Alexander Lacazette and Olivier Giroud was maddeningly counterintuitive.
A guy like Aaron Ramsey, who was busy looking the other way and bickering with his bench even as Liverpool scored one of their goals, is in his 10th season as an Arsenal player; that should mean something. Instead, we get the usual leadership vacuum.
Arsenal are paying for poor choices, like allowing Wenger to decide whether he was going to stay or go and letting those contracts run down, and, more generally, being more preoccupied with majority shareholder Stan Kroenke’s bottom line than adapting to the times.
At some point, it will hit Kroenke in the wallet, and he’ll bring his pressure to bear. The worrying thing, if you’re an Arsenal fan, is that we’re nowhere near that stage yet.
Liverpool finally seal Keita deal
Liverpool have been further boosted by news that they will finally sign Naby Keita from RB Leipzig. They made at least three previous bids for him this summer, but what ultimately swung the deal was the player’s desire to move to Anfield and the fact that, a year from now, a release clause kicks in allowing him to move for €50 million ($62m).
The Anfield club had reportedly bid as high as €75m ($93m) only to be rebuffed, but continuing to say “no” in those circumstances made little sense for Leipzig. Eventually their stubbornness relented, with the one proviso being they get to keep Keita until the end of next season.
Liverpool will end up paying a premium on next summer’s release price — early reports suggested the €60m range — but at least they’ve locked in a major target early and done so at a price with which they’re comfortable.
Leipzig get another year out of Keita and a big cash infusion, though one which could have been bigger than if they had simply taken their chances with his release clause. Once the player refused to renegotiate his contract, they made the best out of a situation that had spun out of their control.
Madrid, Valencia play out a classic
We’re so used to Real Madrid’s dominance — on Sunday they scored for the 70th consecutive game in all competitions — that a home draw against anyone not named Barcelona is inevitably treated like two points dropped.
Except the 2-2 draw with Valencia was anything but a one-way affair. Indeed, it was a rip-roaring game that highlighted just why Marcelino is one of the most admired coaches in Spain. And, at the very end, Valencia even had the chance for the winner, except it fell to Simone Zaza; for all his hard work, he is not exactly Gerd Muller when it comes to clinical finishing.
Zinedine Zidane could cite a whole gaggle of mitigating circumstances. Cristiano Ronaldo was absent, as were central defenders Sergio Ramos, Jesus Vallejo and Raphael Varane, which led to a Casemiro-Nacho partnership we really don’t need to see again. Meanwhile, there was Karim Benzema’s wasteful finishing and, if you break down the chances, then Madrid no doubt have the edge.
But Valencia hung in there, made a game of it and did so with intelligence. In the end, it was Marco Asensio — #PresentandFuture — who banged in two goals to deliver a share of the spoils for Madrid and avoid a distinctly uncomfortable international break.
Real Madrid will be just fine. As for Valencia, at this rate, the renaissance could come far sooner than anticipated.
Icardi inspires Inter
Sometimes, it can be pretty simple to understand why great players get paid big bucks. Inter traveled to Roma, got pummelled for more than an hour — they went a goal down and could have been several more in arrears as the hosts hit the woodwork three times — before Mauro Icardi struck twice in 10 minutes. It may be a team sport and you can game plan all you like, but there’s no antidote to a consummate goal-scorer pouncing on an opponent’s mistake or creating magic. And that’s what Icardi did on Saturday night.
Relative to last year, there’s work to be done for Inter. The squad is too big in some areas and not good enough in others. Luciano Spalletti is a very good manager, but he saw his team put to the sword for much of the game by his former club. But there is talent around which to build and that starts with Icardi, who seems happy and motivated and less loopy (for now, anyway) than in previous years.
As for Roma, despite the late collapse, this was a much better performance than on opening day when they won at Atalanta. For Eusebio Di Francesco’s system to work, he needs real full-backs. Aleksandar Kolarov is technically gifted and can do it in some games but they’ll need something different (read: quicker, i.e. Emerson Palmieri) in others.
And, on the right, things will get better when Bruno Peres or Alessandro Florenzi are at their free-flowing best. The worst scenario for Roma now is an irrational reaction to this defeat.
Spurs’ Wembley woes continue
The narrative whereby Tottenham Hotspur are somehow cursed by the fact that they have to play their home games at Wembley this season gathered steam on Sunday, after Burnley found an equalizer deep into injury time to draw a game Spurs had dominated for long stretches.
Mauricio Pochettino, though, is having none of it: “If some people are thinking about that, they need to stop. We have the responsibility to do better. And the way we conceded the goal today, I can tell you, the problem wasn’t Wembley.”
He’s right: Burnley’s goal was, first and foremost, down to bad defending as well as the courage and bloody-mindedness of the Kiwi warrior Chris Wood.
Magical Messi saves Barcelona
This may be remembered as the worst summer in recent Barcelona history, but as long as Lionel Messi is around, things can only be so bad.
We saw it again vs. Alves on Saturday. Facing a bus-parking opponent and flanked by Aleix Vidal and Gerard Deulofeu in the front three, who are not exactly Neymar and Luis Suarez, Messi scored two goals, missed a penalty and hit the woodwork. The result was a 2-0 win.
The arrival of Ousmane Dembele should help and Barca are still hoping for a last-ditch signing (Philippe Coutinho? Someone else? Who knows?). Either way, more than ever, this feels like Messi’s team.
Some strikers score a lot of goals. Some score pretty goals. Andrea Belotti does both: Witness this effort. The Torino center-forward is 23 years old and has scored 30 goals in his last 39 appearances, all but two from open play. For a guy, who also works his rear end off for 90 minutes and plays for a mid-tier side, those are tremendous numbers.
It’s not surprising that his club values him at €100m. What is perhaps more surprising is that, given the prices thrown around this summer, he’s still at Torino. Then again, Belotti isn’t the sort of player who agitates for a move. He’s young and gifted and knows his time will come.
And that is precisely why he’s so valuable.
Sterling saves Man City, then sees red
Raheem Sterling went on the ultimate emotional roller coaster on Saturday. First, he scored Manchester City’s winner at Bournemouth, deep in injury time. Then, a matter of seconds later, he was shown a second yellow card by referee Mike Dean for his goal celebration, which saw him run toward the visiting City supporters.
“If you cannot celebrate with the fans the best solution is not to invite the fans,” Pep Guardiola said after the game.
You can see his point, particularly since it’s not as if Sterling jumped into the crowd. In fact, he stopped at the edge of the pitch.
On the other hand, fans rushed toward Sterling and spilled onto the pitch, which resulted in much shoving with stewards and police alike. In those circumstances, there’s an obvious health and safety issue, which is why the referee felt he had to book him.
The fault probably lies neither with Sterling nor with Dean, but rather with the ground. The Vitality Stadium is charming but, with a capacity of less than 12,000, small and antiquated. At most venues, you would not get a rush of fans like that, spilling forward into tight areas.
One other point: Sterling cannot be blamed for not thinking straight after the emotional rush of scoring an late winner. But you can blame him for the cheap booking he picked up earlier, which ultimately led to his sending off.
No time for Muller at Bayern
Bayern left it far later than expected to dispatch Werder Bremen; it took two late goals from Robert Lewandowski to seal three points and overcome opponents who sat back and did a very good job of stifling.
The German champions can point to the absentees, who included Jerome Boateng and James Rodriguez, and to the fact that the likes of Arjen Robben aren’t at 100 percent yet. But the fact of the matter is that these are excuses: Bayern need to control games better and sooner.
Carlo Ancelotti, not for the first time, benched Thomas Muller. Between Bundesliga and Champions League games last year, he started just 30 of 44 games but the difference now is that the player has vented his frustration, saying: “Well, I really don’t know what qualities the coach wants to see. Obviously mine do not seem to be 100 percent in demand.”
Muller is not a prima donna and rarely speaks out of turn. And, because it’s Bayern, his words carry weight. How Ancelotti defuses the situation — assuming he can — will go a long way toward determining how the early part of the season goes. Muller is an unorthodox player and what’s obvious is that, last season, his manager did not get the best out of him.
Money concerns at Milan
When a club’s net spend — €160m ($190m) — is roughly equal to 80 percent of the previous year’s just over €200m ($240m) revenue, folks naturally get antsy. They get antsier still when the club borrows some €300m ($360m) at interest rates between 7.5 and 11.5 percent, money it needs to pay back in 13 months.
And the concern among those who care about finance and money reaches “red-ants-in-your-pants” levels when the club’s majority owner is a guy who, less than four years ago, was fined $90,000 for failing to disclose that he was dumping stock in his own company.
Milan chief executive Marco Fassone is less concerned, though he admits the worst-case scenario is that they can’t pay back the money and get taken over by the folks who lent them the €300m, Elliott Management, who have been described as a “vulture fund.”
(Which is a bit like saying: “Well, if I can’t pay my mortgage, that’s OK, because it’s not as if my house will be destroyed; it will simply be repossessed by the bank.”)
The good news is that, on the pitch, Milan are flying. They have two wins from two, following the 2-1 victory over Cagliari, are playing some pretty football and have youngsters who are impressing. Manager Vincenzo Montella knows what he’s doing and has a squad filled with quality.
Now it is a question of keeping fingers crossed regarding events upstairs.
Gabriele Marcotti is a Senior Writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.