Fast starts Around Europe: Bayern Munich, Raheem Sterling...and Las Palmas
- Bayern Munich needed no time to get going under new manager Carlo Ancelotti, while an underdog story worth following is brewing in La Liga.
With the German Bundesliga kicking off this weekend with Bayern Munich beating Werder Bremen 6-0, now all of Europe’s top five leagues are in action again. Manchester City can’t stop scoring in the Premier League but might need a Plan B soon, while La Liga has a surprise name hovering at the top of the table. New Inter Milan manager Frank de Boer needs time to develop his ideas, while another new boss, Unai Emery at PSG, suffered a surprise defeat in Ligue 1.
Here is the best of what happened Around Europe this weekend:
Bayern is off and running
“Has Bayern killed the title race already on the opening day?” asked German paper Suddeutsche Zeitung. “Where is our longing for spine-tingling drama?” While PSG's Unai Emery and Inter's Frank De Boer endured some early bumps while getting used to their new surroundings (more on that below), no one can accuse Carlo Ancelotti of a slow start. Bayern had won its first two games of the season 2-0 (German Super Cup) and 5-0 (German Cup) and Friday it kicked off its latest Bundesliga title defense with a 6-0 win over (an admittedly woeful) Werder Bremen. Robert Lewandowski has scored hat tricks in his last two games, and already the question is whether Ancelotti can go further than Pep Guardiola and reach a Champions League final.
But this could be jumping the gun: yes, Bayern had it easy Friday and might not find an opponent as compliant after the international break when facing Schalke.
There is also the fact that Borussia Dortmund has bought in some new and exciting talent, including Ousmane Dembele, who is a star on the rise. Dembele excelled on his Bundesliga debut as Dortmund beat Mainz 2-1. Just 12 months ago he had not even played for the Rennes first team, and now he is competing for the title in Germany. Sunday, received his first call-up to the France national side.
PODCAST: Carlo Ancelotti on taking over at Bayern
Sterling on the rise
Is this the Pep effect in action? Three games into Guardiola's first season in England, and Raheem Sterling has two assists and two goals in Manchester City’s new-look front line. He scored twice in the 3-1 win against West Ham–a win that showed City is dangerous going forward but still has flaws at the back–and could have a bigger role to play if, as expected, Sergio Aguero is banned for three games for elbowing Winston Reid.
Guardiola backed Sterling with words of support after he was made the scapegoat for England’s demise at Euro 2016. The young English winger has begun the season playing with verve that he lacked last season, and he has clearly been working on his end product. Fabian Delph said that he had learned more in the first three weeks of working under Guardiola than he had in his career, and Sterling–and the England team–could be the latest beneficiary.
It will be interesting to see how Guardiola will replace Aguero if the Argentine was to miss out. He could pick 19-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho, or move Sterling–or even Kevin De Bruyne, who was excellent against the Hammers–into the center forward spot. One of the jobs for City this week though is to clear some of the deadwood in the squad: the likes of Eliaquim Mangala, Samir Nasri and Wilfried Bony could head for the exits before Wednesday's transfer deadline.
This international break comes just as the season begins to find some momentum. For some, it will be a week of moving clubs and finding new challenges. For Sterling, it’s an opportunity to continue his fantastic start to the new campaign.
Surprise name atop Spain
It could be a busy week for Barcelona and Real Madrid with comings and goings: Barcelona, which edged past Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Sunday, is slated to sign Paco Alcacer from Valencia for €30 million to boost its striking options, while there is still a chance that Madrid might sell Isco or James Rodriguez in the next few days. Both are tied atop La Liga alongside a third team, which is not Atletico Madrid, whose slow start continued with a second straight draw, this time 0-0 at Leganes.
No, the joint leader in La Liga is Las Palmas, which looked down and out two-thirds of the way through last season. After 25 games, it was in the drop zone and three points adrift of safety. Then it "did a Leciester," and under coach Quique Setien, won six of the next seven games (losing narrowly only to Real Madrid) to secure safety.
That form has continued into this season, with the Canary Islands-based side beating Valencia 4-2 away on the opening day, and beating Granada 5-1 this weekend. Setien has his side playing a 4-2-3-1, with new signing Kevin-Prince Boateng among the attacking three with Jonathan Viera and Nabil El-Zhar. Viera is an excellent Spain Under-21 international but could be in line for a senior call if his current form continues.
As for Setien, who spent six years at Segunda side Lugo, his team plays attacking and attractive football. Of course Las Palmas won’t win the title, but it can challenge for Europe this season. That in itself would be quite an achievement in a league where competitive balance is an issue. If you are looking for an exciting underdog to follow this season–and a great trip for a weekend fixture–Las Palmas could be the one to watch.
PODCAST: Best and worst business of the transfer window
Slow start for De Boer at Inter
Last season’s title rivals Juventus and Napoli came through tricky fixtures in the second week of Serie A, as the champion beat Lazio 1-0 thanks to Sami Khedira while Napoli beat nine-man AC Milan 4-2, with Arkadiusz Milik scoring his first two goals for his new club. The home debut for new Inter Milan coach Frank de Boer did not go the way he wanted, with a 1-1 draw vs. Palermo greeted with jeers in the San Siro and the local press not too happy either:
"Frank di Burro" (Frank the Bore) was the Corriere dello Sport headline, and it claimed that Inter played “without a football style, or ideas.” It’s tough to expect more when De Boer one week before the season started but the talented Dutch coach should turn things around. Inter has bought smartly this summer, with Euro 2016 winner Joao Mario joining Antonio Candreva, who set up Mauro Icardi’s equalizer, and Ever Banega among the new arrivals.
De Boer saw an improvement from the week before, a 2-0 loss at Chievo, and felt Inter was unlucky not to win. “We could’ve won 4-1 considering the way we played in the second half,” he told Mediaset. “We are not 100% happy, but it’s early days. We changed some little details, and I am confident we can get three points in the next games.”
There could be more signings to come this week–Brazil gold medalist Gabigol is reportedly next up–and if De Boer is given time, he should be able to improve Inter’s fortunes.
Does Ligue 1 have a title race at last?
Last season it took until Week 28. The season before that, it was Week 18, and before that Week 16. This season there was even talk that French champion Paris Saint-Germain might go through the whole season unbeaten. And yet perhaps the biggest surprise is that Monaco’s 3-1 win over PSG Sunday night was not such a surprise. Monaco won the same fixture last season (only one of two losses by the capital club) and this time around was fully deserving of its victory.
“Monaco began the game with motivation than us and now I have to learn from this defeat,” said Emery, who ended speculation that a new striker would join before the close of the transfer window. Edinson Cavani is the first–choice No. 9, having waited three years to see off Zlatan Ibrahimovic, even if in recent weeks he has looked bereft of confidence and form. Cavani pulled a goal back for PSG when it was 2-0 down (his ninth effort of the season)–after David Luiz, rated 2/10 from L’Equipe, hauled down Jemerson to concede a penalty–and PSG was pushing for an equalizer when Serge Aurier's own goal sealed the Monaco win.
Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim out-thought Emery: his side gave Marco Verratti no time in midfield and buccaneering fullback Layvin Kurzawa, once of Monaco, had no space. For PSG, it is not only Cavani’s form that has caused concern: Angel di Maria lost possession 25 times, while criticism over Lucas Moura continues. Next up for Emery: a home match vs. Saint-Etienne to regain form before facing Arsenal in the Champions League.
Top three goals of the week
Xabi Alonso (Bayern Munich): An arrowed volley into the top corner just minutes into the new Bundesliga season. The Spanish midfielder does not score many, but when he does they tend to wind up on the highlight reel.
Suso (AC Milan): A quality finish from the former Liverpool winger, but it was not enough to prevent a defeat at Napoli.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea): This was more like the Hazard of 2014-15, running at the heart of the Burnley defense before picking his spot and curling the ball into the far corner.
Top three players of the week
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich): Two games, six goals. Not a bad start to life under Ancelotti for the Polish forward.
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United): Barely used under Jose Mourinho so far, the teenager came off the bench to score a late winner for United at Hull. He became the first teenager to score in the Premier League under Mourinho.
Djibril Sidibe (Monaco): Another player "almost signed" by Arsenal, the ex-Lille forward was the star in Monaco’s win over PSG. He set up the opening goal and forced the error for Aurier’s own goal for Monaco’s third. The talented 23-year-old could end up in the Premier League within a year.