Monday September 19th, 2016

It was another dramatic weekend across Europe as Manchester United lost for a third time in succession, while Atlético Madrid faces a nervous period to prepare for life after Diego Simeone. The future of Inter coach Frank de Boer dominated proceedings in Italy while in France, the form of Edinson Cavani continues to split opinion. In the Bundesliga, there is a not-so-new name near the top. Here is what caught our eye around Europe: 

The questions that have haunted the previous two managers of Manchester United emerged again for Jose Mourinho after the team lost its third match of the week, a deserved 3-1 reverse at Watford. The question of Wayne Rooney’s best position has dominated the agenda, as the England captain played in midfield, despite Mourinho saying at his opening press conference that he saw Rooney as only a striker. 

Rooney was not the only one under the spotlight. Paul Pogba was once again a peripheral figure – short of a curling shot from distance that hit the bar – and it was hard to ignore Ken Early’s excellent summary in the Irish Times: “Pogba, who is good at everything, needs to decide what he's best at before can become the best at anything.”

EPL Notes: Chelsea, Manchester United fall in standings

Mourinho, never a good loser, also blamed the referee and said some of his players are struggling to cope with the pressure of playing for Manchester United. He singled out defender Luke Shaw for his role in Watford’s second goal. Mourinho’s second spell at Chelsea spiraled out of control when he started blaming his players for defeats. It’s far too early in his United career to fear the sack, but how he attempts to turn around what is a far bigger task than many thought will be fascinating to watch. Some thought the title race would be between the Manchester teams, but on current form United faces another battle for top four. Simply blaming it on his players did not work at Stamford Bridge, and it’s unlikely to work now. Dropping Rooney could be his first move. 

Let’s not forget to mention or congratulate Watford here as well: new coach Walter Mazzarri has turned the side into a dangerous outfit and any concerns that a relegation fight could be on the cards have already dissipated. If last season’s model is anything to go by, expect this team to be mid-table by Christmas, and then start seeing some young talents that can be sold on at a profit get some game-time. Hats off to Mazzarri, whose 3-5-2 system will cause other teams problems this season. 

On the face of it, this was a great weekend for Atlético Madrid, 5-0 winner over Sporting Gijon thanks to two goals apiece from Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres. But the news, confirmed Friday, that coach Diego Simeone had reduced his contract length by two years, to 2018, overshadowed the result. 

Simeone has helped Atlético win five trophies and reach two Champions League finals in his four-and-a-half years in charge, and turned La Liga’s duopoly between Barcelona and Real Madrid into a three-way fight for dominance. He had signed a deal until 2020 but last week, El Confidencial reported that a two-year reduction was on the horizon. 

“We've spoken with the club and as we have always done since we have arrived here we have taken the decision that is best for the club and for the team,” said Simeone before the game. “And along with the directors we have made this decision and it doesn't alter [the idea of me] renewing again when this contract ends.” That seems unlikely: instead you can expect speculation that Simeone will be wanted by Arsenal, PSG and Inter Milan between now and then. 

The club seemed to have little choice in the matter: with PSG and Inter both wanting him this summer, Atlético has made the Argentine the highest-paid coach in La Liga, now paying him a reported €7m per year.

The knock-on effect of a Simeone departure could see Atlético’s best players leave, with Griezmann and Saúl Ñíguez linked to Premier League moves in the next 12 months. Simeone is expected to join Inter, where he also played. For Atlético, the succession planning has to start now. 

Frank de Boer was appointed Inter coach 12 days before the start of the season, and was reportedly on the brink of the sack four games later. Defeat in Sunday’s Derby d’Italia against Italian champion Juventus could have ended the Dutchman’s short Milanese spell – and surely alerted a few Premier League clubs to his undoubted talent. 

The pressure on De Boer had increased after a Europa League loss to Hapoel Beer’Sheva, though it was one in which Inter did not field Gabriel Barbosa, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Stevan Jovetic and Joao Mario, all of whom are ineligible to play because of Financial Fair Play regulations. 

Planet Futbol
As Champions League evolves more for the elite and rich, it loses its appeal, romance

However, Inter beat Juventus 2-1, and perhaps the biggest surprise was that it was totally deserved. Mauro Icardi was the hero of the hour, heading home an equalizer just after Stephan Lichsteiner had scored for Juve. Icardi then crossed for Ivan Perisic to score the winner. The victory should end speculation that Fabio Capello is set to return to the San Siro bench, and allow De Boer the time he needs to develop this team. 

On the other side, Juve coach Max Allegri was criticized from all sides for his decisions, the biggest of which was leaving Gonzalo Higuain on the bench. “Allegri lost this one,” said the Tuttosport headline. Napoli is the new Serie A leader – Higuain’s replacement Arkadiusz Milik scoring another two goals in the 3-1 win over Bologna – and Inter moves up to sixth. 

The match of the day in Wednesday’s round of Bundesliga action will see the top two lock horns. Bayern Munich is top, unsurprisingly, but who is second? Not Borussia Dortmund, who won 6-0 for the second time in four days, but Hertha Berlin, whose 2-0 win over Schalke kept up its 100 percent record in three games so far this season. 

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Watch: Christian Pulisic nets first Bundesliga goal of season for Dortmund

Hertha was in Champions League contention last season until the last few weeks, and under the smart management of Pal Dardai, it could be a European contender again this year. His side took advantage of two turnovers to score goals: first when Peter Pekarik dispossessed Benjamin Stambouli and crossed for Mitchell Weiser to score, and then when Nabil Bentaleb, another former Spurs midfielder at Schalke, lost out to Per Skjelbred, to start a move which culminated in Valentin Stocker doubling the lead.

These are tricky times at Schalke, whose new signings – which include Baba Rahmann and Yevhen Konoplyanka on loan, as well as Naldo and Breel Embolo – have not yet produced a goal in its first three league matches. There is still time, although maybe not too much: the only team below pointless Schalke in the table, Werder Bremen, fired coach Viktor Skripnik after losing 4-1 at Borussia Moenchengladbach.  

Is Edinson Cavani the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

That was the question they were asking in France after Cavani followed up his miss-ridden Champions League performances against Arsenal with four first-half goals in PSG’s comfortable 6-0 win at Caen. As against Arsenal, the Uruguayan’s movement, timing and ability to find space was outstanding; the difference was that this time, he could not stop scoring. This is his first season out of the shadow of Ibrahimovic, and he has been restored to the number nine position that he favored at Napoli. The suspicion lingers that he might be more similar to Ibra than you’d expect: the Swede’s biggest criticism was that he was a flat-track bully, who boosted his goal record against weaker teams.

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WATCH: PSG forward Edinson Cavani scores four goals in one half

Cavani scored 19 Ligue 1 goals last season but only two in the Champions League. France Football pointed out that his only big European goal for PSG has come against Chelsea; other than that, he has scored against Ajax, Apoel, Benfica, Malmo, Anderlecht, Olympiakos, but never against Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester City. It's a harsh criticism of a player who never hides. 

And not everyone thought he was poor against Arsenal. “He scored a goal and created four scoring opportunities almost on his own,” said former France coach Raymond Domenech in an interview in Le Parisien. “He was a key player throughout the game, and he never stops working or moving. Where were the other strikers? We must stop attacking him.”

Top three goals of the week

Eren Derdiyok (Galatasaray): A fantastic overhead kick by the Swiss striker as Galatasaray beat Rizespor at home:

Serge Gnabry (Bremen): It may only have been a consolation strike but the former Arsenal man’s volley was outstanding. No wonder he has been linked with a move to Bayern Munich next summer.

Jordan Henderson (Liverpool): The Reds skipper scored the most important goal of the Premier League weekend, as Liverpool continued its excellent start to the season by beating Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. Henderson’s dipping shot from range was unstoppable. 

Top three players of the week

Edinson Cavani (PSG): Four goals for the under-pressure Uruguayan – you can’t argue with that. 

Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao): Two goals for the evergreen 35-year-old as Athletic beat Valencia 2-1 and heaped more misery on Los Che boss Pako Ayesteran.  

Mauro Icardi (Inter): The Inter skipper played a key part in the two goals that beat Juventus and, ultimately (and quite ridiculously), saved Frank de Boer’s job. 

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