Haaland back with a goal: Weekend review


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Another packed weekend of action saw Erling Haaland return to action with a goal, more evidence of the Xavi effect at Barcelona and mixed fortunes for some big clubs.

Meanwhile, the leaders in Spain and Germany served up spectacular goals and there was a long-awaited debut in Paris.

Here are Julien Laurens, Alex Kirkland and James Tyler with what you need to know from around Europe.

Go to: Talking points | Top goals | Troubled teams | Weekend MVP

Four talking points

Welcome back, Erling Haaland!

Borussia Dortmund are a team that’s seemingly always in transition, forever balancing the needs of the present with the plans of the future when their young stars invariably move on. They’re also a team that is prone to oscillating between the brilliant and the awful, as capable of coughing up the easiest goals as they are scoring the most difficult.

The funny part about the above is that they’re right in the thick of the Bundesliga title race. It doesn’t matter what comedy or tragedy befalls them; they’re contending.

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Having managed to keep pace with champions Bayern Munich through the first third of the season — they were one point behind the Bavarians heading into the weekend — and doing it without the talismanic, prolific Haaland for nearly six weeks due to injury, Saturday’s come-from-behind 3-1 win over Wolfsburg was Full Dortmund from start to finish.

Dortmund conceded after two minutes as Wout Weghorst was inexplicably free to tap-in from six yards after nobody cut out Ridle Baku‘s low cross, they muddled their way back to 1-1 before half-time with an Emre Can after Maxence Lacroix hauled down an in-flight Marco Reus, and then took the lead early in the second half thanks to Donyell Malen.

It set the scene for Haaland who, barely seven minutes after coming on for Malen and playing for the first time since Oct. 19, somehow slid in, undetected, to karate-kick Julian Brandt‘s cross beyond a confused Pavao Pervan, who was helpless to deter Haaland’s agile finish. From there, Dortmund were able to hang on (not their strongest suit) and complete an impressive win over a side that has already bested RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen this season.

Bayern’s win over Bielefeld meant Dortmund remain in second place, but they have both momentum and a fit-again Haaland on their side. There’s still a lot of season left to run, but you’d be wise to keep your eye on Marco Rose & Co. as they continue to bloom. — Tyler

Xavi’s new manager bounce continues at Barca

So much about Barcelona’s 3-1 win at Villarreal was unconvincing. Their bright start was fleeting, some serious good fortune was needed for both the referee and the VAR to miss a Gerard Pique shot-blocking handball, and Unai Emery’s side dominated the match from midway through the first half.

And yet when Philippe Coutinho scored from the penalty spot in the 94th minute to secure the three points — and Xavi was mobbed by staff and substitutes celebrating on the touchline — none of that felt like it mattered. The coach’s third game in charge had brought Barca back-to-back LaLiga wins for the first time this season, as well as a first victory on the road.

Memphis Depay‘s goal and performance were a step toward the ebullient, exhilarating player he looked earlier this season. Another scorer, Frenkie de Jong, contributed his best display for some time, liberated in a more forward-minded role than under Ronald Koeman.

Barca rode their luck, and there is much to improve, but the momentum and energy around the team since Xavi’s appointment remains intact. — Kirkland

Ronaldo benched at Chelsea

Imagine having in your squad one of the greatest players of all time, who has saved your team many times already this season, who has a superb goal-scoring record this campaign, who has a winning mentality and incredible experience. He’s someone who can lead by example, who is one of your two best players so far (the other one being David De Gea), who would transform half a chance into two goals, and yet you leave him on the bench for one of the biggest games of the season.

That’s what interim boss Michael Carrick did with Cristiano Ronaldo on Sunday for Manchester United away at Chelsea, the league leaders. The decision didn’t make much sense and, even though the Red Devils managed to secure point, it is only because of Jorginho‘s gift, not thanks to Carrick’s choices.

Man United were dominated from start to finish and Ronaldo might not have made much difference had he started anyway. It doesn’t matter. With him on the pitch, United would have had more chances to win the game. And that’s why you play for, winning. Not setting up to defend and get a draw, especially if you are Manchester United. If you are Thiago Silva or Trevoh Chalobah, you were pretty happy to see Bruno Fernandes as a false 9 instead of his Portuguese teammate.

Ronaldo storming down the tunnel and the dressing room straight away at the full time whistle just demonstrates exactly what he made of Carrick’s decision. — Laurens

Juventus continue to sink in Serie A

Remember when all roads to the Serie A title ran through Juventus? After winning nine titles in a row, the crown slipped in 2020-21, when Inter Milan dominated from pillar to post, but a further sign it has truly fallen off this season was seen when Atalanta came to town and left with a first victory in Turin for 32 years.

Juve will be lucky to finish in the top four this season and their third Serie A home defeat in seven games was full of issues, including ineffective attacking (two shots on target), a lack of balance in midfield and a creaky defense undone by a sharp counter-attack for the game’s only goal.

It was a superb strike, with Duvan Zapata speeding clear to thunder a shot beyond Wojciech Szczesny and in off the underside of the crossbar, but the truth is that Atalanta did not have to work especially hard for the lead; their aggressive press led to a string of turnovers and errant passes, with Zapata’s goal the result of a Paulo Dybala mistake, from which Berat Djimsiti found Zapata.

Juve offered little threat, and in a week filled with headaches, must contend with injuries to Weston McKennie and Federico Chiesa while their season crumbles. Bringing back Massimiliano Allegri was supposed to provide a boost, but The Old Lady is 17 points behind leaders Napoli, a month out from Christmas. — Tyler



Janusz Michallik explains how the absences of Weston McKennie and Federico Chiesa could hurt Juventus this season.

Three must-see goals

Vinicius strikes spectacular winner

Sunday night was a big game for Real Madrid, at home against Sevilla and former manager Julen Lopetegui. It was a big chance to get four points clear in the table and, for a long time, it looked like they would not take it. They were second best and were lucky to be stuck at 1-1 with 10 minutes to go.

That’s when the genie Vinicius Junior came out of his bottle. He got the ball on the left hand side, almost by the touchline, beat Lucas Ocampos with his first touch, moved inside and, after a little dummy, unleashed an amazing strike which went straight under Bono‘s crossbar. It was a fantastic goal by a player in fantastic form. It is the 21-year-old’s ninth goal in LaLiga this season.

His incredible talent has never been in doubt. The big difference this year is his consistency and how big he has been for Real Madrid in key moments. When his team has needed him this season, he has delivered. He did it again on Sunday. Basically, “Vini, Vidi, Vinci.” — Laurens

Fekir, Juanmi serve up Betis brilliance

Nabil Fekir might just be the most exciting player to watch in LaLiga and his role in Real Betis‘ third goal on Sunday — setting up Juanmi Jimenez to complete a hat trick in a 3-1 comeback win over Levante — demands repeat viewing.

Fekir’s first, delicate touch to control the long ball over the top was tasty enough, but then he toyed with defender Son and played an impudent no-look pass for Juanmi to do the rest. The result put Betis temporarily fourth as part of the club’s best start to a season in 20 years under coach Manuel Pellegrini. — Kirkland

Superb Sane saves the day for Bayern

Bayern Munich may have lacked cohesion at home to relegation candidates Arminia Bielefeld, but the mark of champions is the ability to extract results with a single moment of brilliance, and Leroy Sane duly stepped up with a piece of highly combustible art to net the game’s only goal roughly 20 minutes from time.

Receiving the ball near the left edge of the penalty area after sharp approach play by Corentin Tolisso, Jamal Musiala and Thomas Muller, Sane only needed a second to shift the ball onto his left foot — the move left off-balance defender Amos Pieper no time to recover — and thump it beyond a helpless Stefan Ortega. Almost as enjoyable as the finish was Sane’s howl of joy. — Tyler

Two teams that should be worried

New manager, new owner, same old Newcastle

One imagines that the scale of Eddie Howe’s job is finally sinking in for the former Bournemouth manager, as his first official game on the sideline (he missed the game vs. Brentford due to a positive COVID-19 test) ended in the Magpies’ seventh league defeat of the season. There were glimmers — as Howe put it, “the pleasing thing today is how we started and finished the game” — but Arsenal still managed to wrap up one of the easier wins of their own topsy-turvy campaign, running out 2-0 victors to claim a ninth win in their last 12 games (all competitions).

After a bright start, Newcastle needed a string of saves from fit-again Martin Dubravka to keep it scoreless in the first half, only for Emile Smith Rowe to tee up Bukayo Saka for the opening goal 10 minutes after the break. Arsenal’s slick interplay was too much for a static Magpies defense, which would show its ineffectiveness again 10 minutes later, as sub Gabriel Martinelli converted Takehiro Tomiyasu‘s lofted long ball with just his second touch of the game.

Newcastle felt hard-done when a penalty wasn’t given barely seconds before Arsenal’s second goal — Gabriel‘s shoulder-to-shoulder challenge on Callum Wilson was well within the laws of the game — but even that talking point couldn’t obscure a broadly toothless performance.

With games against Norwich (who’ve gained a bit of hope under new coach Dean Smith), Burnley, Leicester, Liverpool, Man City, Man United and Everton up before the New Year, where will Newcastle’s points come from? And does anyone think they’ll be an appealing location once the transfer window opens? — Tyler

Valencia caught in no-man’s land

Valencia‘s appointment of Jose Bordalas made a kind of crude, pragmatic sense. Yes, the team wouldn’t be great to watch and there would be more time wasting and tactical fouling, but Bordalas had shown at Getafe that he could take a group of castoffs and journeymen, make them more than the sum of their parts, and take them to the verge of Champions League qualification.

So far at Mestalla, that Faustian footballing bargain has not paid off and Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Rayo Vallecano made it one win in 11 games. Bordalas claims his side are hard done by and typecast: “It wasn’t a violent game,” he said after an encounter that featured 11 yellow cards.

While Rayo are a high-intensity team pushing for Europe on a miniscule budget, Valencia are in midtable no-man’s land. Only the points accrued in August are keeping them out of a relegation battle. If you’re not winning, and you’re not playing good football, what’s left? — Kirkland

Weekend MVP

Ramos makes long-awaited PSG debut

On Sunday, for the first time since early May, Sergio Ramos felt like a real footballer again. For the first time in almost seven months, he started (and played in full) a competitive game.

It has been a long wait, between doubts, frustration, misunderstanding, all of that at his new club, PSG. Finally, for this trip to Saint-Etienne, in the snow against a team not offering much going forward, it was finally Sergio’s’ time!

He didn’t disappoint. Some leadership, good quality on the ball, an good old school body check on Wahbi Khazri when he was not expecting it, a threat at set pieces — it was just the kind of performance you would expect from Ramos, even at 35 years old. He even played the whole 90 minutes!

Of course, Lionel Messi and his hat trick of assists could have been crowned MVP of the weekend, like Marquinhos and his two goals. But Ramos is a worthy winner. The former Real Madrid legend can now be a huge asset for the team, if he can stay fit. It is a big “if” of course but Ramos could be one of the keys of the season for Mauricio Pochettino and the Parisians. –– Laurens

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