- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang responded to discipline with four goals, while Messi led Barcelona to a key win and Chelsea continues to thrive under Antonio Conte to lead the weekend's headlines in Europe.
The round before another break for international matches takes on renewed importance given the hiatus that is to follow, so Chelsea and Liverpool fans will be particularly gratified after huge wins in the Premier League this weekend.
Barcelona came from behind to beat Sevilla in a thriller in La Liga, while Borussia Dortmund’s coach gave a masterclass in discipline to get the best out of his star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Elsewhere, Radamel Falcao is another player enjoying a good run of form back at Monaco, while in Italy, Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini has gotten the best out of his young team.
Here is what caught our eye around Europe this weekend as clubs give way to the national teams.
There is a lot to admire about Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel, and this week he provided another example of why Real Madrid and other top clubs are keeping an eye on him. He dropped striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, ‘for internal reasons,’ for the midweek Champions League win over Sporting Lisbon. It emerged that Aubameyang had gone to Milan for a birthday celebration without the club’s permission.
“I had no choice [to drop him],” said Tuchel after restoring the 27-year-old to the starting lineup against Hamburg.
Aubameyang responded by scoring a first-half hat-trick, adding another in the second half, and was only denied a fifth by goalkeeper Rene Adler, as Dortmund won 5-2. After scoring his first goal, Aubameyang did his customary somersault celebration and than ran to Tuchel to either apologize or thank him.
“It was a nice gesture, I was happy to see it,” said Tuchel at the post-match press conference. “Four goals is an outstanding effort and exceeds our expectations.”
Tuchel and Dortmund can go into the international with talk of a crisis at the club over. It is still six points behind Bayern Munich at the top, but Tuchel dealt with this situation superbly: Aubameyang admitted his error and took his punishment.
“This was my way of apologizing, as I’m only human,” he said.
Three of the top five teams in the Premier League dropped points this weekend, which opened the door to two teams not in any European action this week: Liverpool and Chelsea. Liverpool has reached the top of the Premier League after a 6-1 win over Watford, while Chelsea blitzed Everton 5-0 and looks more like the team that won the title in 2015–with some interesting differences.
Just as before, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are playing at their best for Chelsea at the moment. Hazard scored two goals and assisted another, with his total of seven goals this season already three more than all of last season (which continues the debate as to just why he was so poor during that year).
But coach Antonio Conte has not just gotten the best out of his star players. He has done a lot more: the back-to-back losses to Liverpool (1-2) and Arsenal (0-3) in September gave him the perfect excuse to change the system to his preferred back three. He has promoted Victor Moses, overlooked and loaned out by previous Chelsea bosses, to start at right wingback and rewarded good form by keeping Pedro on the right wing even though Willian is back from his compassionate leave.
“We changed it because we conceded a lot of goals in nearly every game and conceded many chances,” Conte explained after the game. “Usually, when you lose, it’s important to have a good idea and to change to improve; to explain why you had this defeat. Together with the players, I worked very hard at finding a new way to change the situation.”
Chelsea has now won five league games in a row, scoring 16 goals without conceding any. After the international break, it faces a new test: Middlesbrough and then back-to-back games against Manchester City and Tottenham. The top five teams are ahead of the pack at the moment, and the games between each of them could be decisive. It’s too early to pick a favorite, but Chelsea is a definite contender.
There’s nothing new in Lionel Messi being the main man for Barcelona, but at a time when the club faces question marks about no longer controlling games, his role in a come-from-behind 2-1 win at Sevilla was particularly decisive.
Sevilla, which has threatened to become a challenger this season, went ahead through Vitolo early in the first half and seemed to take Barcelona by surprise with its intensity. At some stages in the first period, Messi dropped back to take the ball from his own center-halves, trying to start the moves like Xavi used to do in his heyday. But this was no Wayne Rooney-esque conversion into midfield. Messi started the move inside his own half which led to the equalizer, running onto a pass to side-foot home from the edge of the area.
He played further forward in the second period, creating (and missing) three chances himself, but it meant that Barcelona was able to play on the front foot. And so it proved, when Messi’s sensational run down the middle beat two men and he timed his pass to Luis Suarez, who beat the excellent Sergio Rico, to perfection. On this form, Messi is unstoppable. He dictated the play from all over the pitch and allowed Barcelona, which was coming off a humbling Champions League loss at Manchester City, to overcome some poor decision making from Neymar, who could have killed off the game had he chosen to pass to Suarez instead of missing on a one-on-one situation.
Barcelona is still two points off Real Madrid, which beat Leganes 3-0 thanks to another two goals from in-form Gareth Bale. The big news from the Bernabeu is that Cristiano Ronaldo has signed a new deal–confirmed Monday in Madrid–to run for another five years. It seems a long time for a player whose decline may already have begun: but an interesting sign in the hierarchical shift in the side is that Ronaldo celebrated Bale’s second goal with him. We didn't see too much of that when Bale first joined the club.
Ligue 1 leader Nice lost its first league match of the season, which allowed Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco to close the gap at the top in some style. PSG beat Rennes 4-0 while Monaco smashed Nancy 6-0, thanks to two goals from Radamel Falcao, two from Carillo and efforts from Kylian Mbappe and Fabinho.
It has been quite a week for Falcao, who scored two goals in the Champions League win over CSKA Moscow Wednesday night, was called back to the Colombia squad Friday and then scored another brace Sunday. After two years of struggle in the Premier League with Manchester United and Chelsea, he looks like a different player with the Principality side, and there is talk that he will be offered a new contract to see out his career at Monaco.
It's not just Falcao getting it done at Monaco, either. A special mention must be made for Mbappe, who we tipped in our preseason transfer special as a star of the future, and is proving his worth this season with some incredible performances. He added an assist to his score for Monaco, which is just three points off the pace.
Atalanta moved up to fifth place in Serie A after winning its sixth game in the last seven. The rise under coach Gian Piero Gasperini is even more astonishing given that it started the season so badly, losing four of its first five. At that point, president Antonio Percassi could have shown Gasperini the door; after all, that’s what happened to him at Inter Milan in 2011, when he only lasted five games. (Inter have been up to its same tricks already this season, sacking Frank de Boer last week after the grand total of 13 games).
Instead, Pecassi backed his man, and then the results turned around.
Gasperini played a young side against Napoli, and the team won 1-0. Since then, it has beaten Inter (2-1, Gasperini's fourth straight win against his former side), Pescara (1-0), Genoa (3-0) and Sunday, Sassuolo 3-0. Atalanta has a tradition of developing fantastic youth talent–including Gaetano Scirea, Roberto Donadoni, Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo–and only last week the coach said he was happy to continue using that model.
The latest generation could be worth watching.
Top three goals of the week:
Juan Munoz (Real Zaragoza): On the weekend that Nayim celebrated his 50th birthday, Zaragoza midfielder Munoz paid the perfect tribute, replicating his effort from the halfway line in the draw at Mallorca. In England, Steve Sidwell did the same for Brighton at Bristol City.
Edinson Cavani (PSG): The Uruguyan gets stick for missing chances but this fine chip was a glorious finish in the comfortable win over Rennes.
Marco Benassi (Torino): Three touches from Benassi made this goal perfect: the first to control the ball, the next to turn from his marker and the final one drilled past the goalkeeper as Torino thrashed Cagliari 5-1.
Top three players of the week:
Mohamed Salah (Roma): The Egyptian became the fourth African player to score a Serie A hat trick as Roma moved into second place after beating Bologna 3-0.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund): With four goals and an apology from Dortmund’s striker, everything is hunky-dory back at the German club.
Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao): Athletic drew 0-0 at Espanyol Sunday but Aduriz made history three days earlier, scoring all five goals in the Basque club’s 5-3 Europa League win over Genk. He played it down by saying three of his goals were penalties. What he didn't say is that he used two different techniques to score: his first was Goalkeeper-Independent, he just picked his spot and found the target. The other two were Goalkeeper-Dependent, as he waited for the keeper to move and rolled the ball the other way. Three penalties in one game is quite an achievement; successfully using different strategies makes it even greater.