Robert Lewandowski's nine-minute goal spree and Barcelona's stunning loss to Celta Vigo made for a breathtaking run of midweek action Around Europe, writes Ben Lyttleton.
A midweek round of action across Europe with four leagues and one cup competition more than made up for the domestic action absence of last month’s international break. There were some stunning results on the field, including a record-breaking performance in Germany and Barcelona’s worst result in seven years.
Here are the main headlines from the continent:
The Big Lewandowski
Is there a better No. 9 in world football at the moment than Robert Lewandowski? The Bayern Munich forward made history Tuesday with a five-goal shocker as a substitute. Not only that: the goals came in the space of nine minutes. They were all high-quality, the last of which, a scissors-kick from the edge of the area, may be a contender for the Bundesliga goal of the season. Oh, and they came against Wolfsburg, last season’s runner-up, who was 1-0 up when Lewandowski came off the bench.
Even coach Pep Guardiola, who watched Lionel Messi make the extraordinary seem ordinary at Barcelona, could not quite believe it. “I don't know what happened out there, but I’ve never seen it before as a player or coach,” he said afterward. He was not alone. Lewandowski also said when he looked at the scoreboard after his fourth goal, he couldn't believe what he was seeing. “He is the monster that makes wolves whimper,” wrote 11 Freunde. “He only exists in fairytales.”
One German writer, Tobias Escher, called it “a typical night at the Allianz Arena,” claiming that Guardiola started with the wrong team but made the right changes. Bayern began with a front three of Mario Gotze/Thomas Muller/Douglas Costa and replaced Thiago with Lewandowski at the break. Bayern has now won six out of six in the league, and the clash in 10 days with Borussia Dortmund, who dropped its first points of the season with a 1-1 draw at Hoffenheim, will be fascinating.
Captain Philipp Lahm joked that Lewandowski missed two chances and could have scored seven. “We have to talk to him about that...”
The obvious consequence of Lewandowski’s performance is that it raises his profile in world football. “He has reached the category of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo–not from a marketing perspective, but from a sporting one,” offered Die Welt. “Bayern has to know that someone like him will receive incredible offers.”
The club may need to discuss a new contract with him this season: if Manchester United offered £100 million to sign Thomas Muller, as reported, Lewandowski (two years older), wouldn't cost that much less. The Premier League clubs will have the money next season; Bayern might have to brace itself for the bids.
Barcelona beaten at its own game
Not many sides take on Barcelona at its own game, but even fewer actually win at it; Celta Vigo, then, deserves huge credit for a well-deserved 4-1 win over the reigning Spanish and European champion. The results caps an unpleasant week of reunions for Luis Enrique, who drew in Roma last week and seven days later, watched as Barcelona suffered its biggest loss since May 2008, in the days before Pep Guardiola, against the side he used to coach.
“His side looked like a baby deer lost in the middle of the motorway,” wrote Santi Gimenez in AS. “Celta were a heavy goods vehicle and Barça - Bambi purée.”
Celta was sharper in every department, starting with a high-pressing intense front three that harried Barcelona’s defense at every opportunity. The coach who replaced Luis Enrique is Eduardo Berizzo, who, like Guardiola, has been influenced by Marcelo Bielsa, currently out of work but one of the most influential coaches across the globe.
Berizzo played under Bielsa at Newell’s Old Boys and was his assistant coach during the Chile reign (2007-2010). “He taught me that things are built with hard work,” Berizzo said. “You have to plan stuff, make it perfect, and study all the time. You have to know why things happen. He was really generous with me in teaching me all these lessons.”
This result was no accident, either. Berizzo’s Celta beat Barcelona 1-0 at Camp Nou last season, too.
Celta is now top of the table–we all know it won’t stay there for too long–and while the focus will be on Barcelona’s shabby defense, which has conceded four goals to Sevilla (won 5-4) and Athletic (lost 4-0) already this season, the underdog should enjoy its moment in the sun. There was talk in the summer that Barcelona wanted to sign Celta forward Nolito, who opened the scoring. When the time comes, it may consider Berizzo as its next coach too.
Pressure mounting on McClaren and Rodgers
Last week SI.com ran its first Pressure Rankings for the Premier League, with Brendan Rodgers coming in at No. 1 and Steve McClaren at No. 5. A League Cup round of matches is seen as a banana-skin to avoid for coaches in their positions, but neither came out of Wednesday’s ties well.
Liverpool did at least win, but that was only after a penalty shootout against Carlisle United, a mid-table team in League Two, the fourth tier of English football. Still, the rumors that Liverpool has contacted Carlo Ancelotti to replace Rodgers (denied by the club) have started. (That said, Liverpool seems an odd fit for Ancelotti, who is brilliant at stabilizing Champions League clubs that compete for titles; why would he fancy trying to haul a sleeping giant from a long slumber?)
Newcastle coach McClaren may wish his team had gone that far; instead it was beaten, also at home, to a second-string Sheffield Wednesday side. Newcastle looked short of ideas and with problems all over the team: short of cover at fullback, failing to get the best out of Moussa Sissoko and Siem de Jong, and then there’s Florian Thauvin, a winger who cost £13 million last month, who was pulled at halftime after an execrable 45 minutes.
McClaren has said it is not crisis point yet, and, in typical English fashion, demanded his players show “fight” and “passion” in their next games. Unfortunately it is Chelsea and Manchester City next up for Newcastle, after which you wonder not if McClaren will still be there (it’s only eight games in, and this is not all his fault) but just how far adrift Newcastle could be at the bottom of the table.
The Nicest attack in Ligue 1 belongs to…
Claude Puel developed a reputation when he was coach of Lille and Lyon. His teams were successful but cautious, rarely free-flowing and offensive. That changed Wednesday night when his side, Nice, took apart 10-man Bordeaux, coming from behind to win 6-1.
The architect of the win was Hatem Ben Arfa, who has been outstanding this season.
He had spent six months waiting for his chance following a FIFA ban after an appearance for Newcastle Under-21s last August was deemed as an official fixture, thus preventing him playing for a third team in one season (he lost his appeal this week).
Ben Arfa scored twice as Nice’s three-man strikeforce–Valere Germain, Ben Arfa, twice, Mickaël Le Bihan–all found the target. Nice has scored 16 in seven games and is up to eighth in the table. That may be as good as it gets, but the progress of Ben Arfa, whose career looked like petering out, could be one of the stories of the season.
More dropped points for Juventus
The Scudetto race could be an open one this season as Juventus dropped points again, this time to lowly Frosinone, the Serie A first-timer who had lost its first four games. A last-minute equalizer from Leonardo Blanchard, a self-proclaimed Juventus fan who traveled to Berlin to watch the team in last season’s Champions League final, earned Frosinone its first point of the season.
With Inter Milan grinding out another 1-0 win, its fourth in five games, Juventus is still 10 points off the top. Saturday it plays at Napoli, who followed up its 5-0 demolition of Lazio with stuttering goalless draw at Carpi. Roma also lost which will suit Inter boss Roberto Mancini. Apart from his side, no one else in Italy has found its rhythm yet.
Top three players of the week
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)
Diego Simeone gave all six of his strikers a runout in the 2-0 win over Getafe (not at the same time, obviously) and while his big decision is who to pick out of Fernando Torres, Jackson Martinez, Yannick Carrasco, Oliver Torres and Angel Correa, Griezmann’s place is secure. There were concerns as to whether last season’s hot streak was a flash in the pan, but five goals in the opening six games suggests otherwise. And with fellow Frenchmen Karim Benzema, Anthony Martial, Loic Remy and even Mathieu Flamini finding the net, it was quite a week for Les Bleus.
Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo)
Two goals, both brilliant, helped Celta Vigo beat Barcelona 4-1 in an incredible game. Aspas flopped in a brief spell at Liverpool but showed just what a bit of confidence can do with two chipped strikes over Marc Andre ter Stegen that will pile more pressure on the German goalkeeper. It’s not often that Luis Suarez plays second fiddle to an opposing forward–no one would have predicted his former Anfield teammate would do it.
Top goals of the week
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich vs. Wolfsburg)
The fifth was outstanding, but here are all of them for you.
Mario Balotelli (Udinese vs. AC Milan)
Four minutes into his first Serie A start since rejoining Milan on loan from Liverpool, Balotelli fired this brilliant free kick into the top corner.
Mathieu Flamini (Arsenal vs. Tottenham)
The Frenchman was an unlikely hero of a fierce north London derby, scoring twice to give the visitor a 2-1 away win in the League Cup. If his first goal showed the poaching skills of Thierry Henry, his second was more Bergkamp-esque, a rasping volley worthy of winning any game.
Leroy Sane (Schalke vs. Eintracht Frankfurt)
Schalke is up to third after a third win on the bounce was secured with this last-minute beauty. Sane is only 19 and if he scores any more like these, the big clubs will surely come knocking.