European football talking points: Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool revolution, Carlo Ancelotti's Napoli evolution and more
Five matches into the season and it certainly looks like Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool are the team to beat in the Premier League this season.
Englishmen (Reiss Nelson and Jadon Sancho) impressing in the Bundesliga? A player headbutting, elbowing and spitting on an opponent in the same match? Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini combining to help Chris Smalling score a goal. When does football not fail to surprise?
Here are five talking points from a Gameweek where Cristiano Ronaldo reminding the world he hasn't forgotten how to score was somehow not even the biggest talking point of the match.
Liverpool are hunting down like a pack of Wolves
Five matches into the season and it certainly looks like Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool are the team to beat in the Premier League this season. The Reds notched up an impressive 2-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur thanks to goals from Roberto Firmino and Georginio Wijnaldum and looked a completely different side that lost 4-1 to a Harry Kane-inspired Spurs at Wembley last October. Well, that is probably because of the large squad overhaul in the recent two transfer windows. Only four of the Liverpool team last from last October — Joe Gomez, Mohamed Salah, James Milner and Roberto Firmino — started Saturday's fixture, showing how Klopp has invested money in areas of concern, to get his gegenpressing engine up and running at Anfield.
Naby Keita has certainly been an upgrade to Jordan Henderson in central midfield while the defence looks solid with the addition of centre-back Virgil Van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
With the right players at his disposal, Klopp has started the season by playing to his team's strengths than other teams' weakness. His insistence on playing a high-pressing game against a well-organised Spurs team might have looked risky but it paid off as the London team struggled to gain midfield authority or keep possession of the ball. Liverpool forwards and midfielders (especially Keita) hunted down their opposition as a team and Spurs struggled to match the tempo — the absence of stars Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris not helping their case. So far, so good for Liverpool this season. The question is, can they sustain it?
Is Hazard Europe's best?
One team that has managed to keep pace with Liverpool in the Premier League is Chelsea. The Blues are equal in points with Liverpool but London club's early-season success has largely been due to the phenomenal form of Eden Hazard, unlike Liverpool who are firing in all departments. The Belgian captain has five goals in as many matches, thanks to a hat-trick against Cardiff City at the weekend, and his club manager, Maurizio Sarri, believes Hazard is arguably the best in Europe right now.
Eden Hazard has been something of an enigma ever since he joined Chelsea. He has always been on the cusp of breaking into the “best in the world” category but has never actually risen to those levels. Jose Mourinho wanted him to do more defensive work. Antonio Conte wanted him to shoulder all the attacking work while the rest of the team just sat back. But in Sarri, Hazard finally has a manager who wants to improve him in an area where he works best — cutting in from the left flank.
"I think Hazard can improve more. I think that he can spend less energy than now at 50 or 60 metres to the opposite goal. When we have the ball in our half and he touches the ball five times or six times, so his actions it shows he spends a lot of energies, and can have more energy in the last 25 metres. I think he can score 30 or 35 goals," the Italian said to Sky Sports after the match, clearly outlaying his plan to make Hazard the star we all think he can be. Time for Hazard to match the expectations?
Costa's madness overshadows Ronaldo's night
Talking about Europe's best, remember Cristiano Ronaldo? The Portuguese superstar got off the mark at his new club Juventus and was the difference makers as the Turin-based club edged out Sassuolo 2-1 to maintain Juve's perfect run in the Serie A. The five-time player of the year scored a second-half brace for the Old Lady but the match was marred by multiple moments of madness from Juve winger Douglas Costa.
The Juventus player headbutted an opponent, tackled from behind, threw an elbow and spat on the face of his opponent in the same match (also making Joey Barton and Luis Suarez look amateurish in the process), and will certainly be handed over a huge retrospective ban for his aggression on the pitch. Dear Costa, in case you already didn't know, 'no rules' mode is strictly restricted to FIFA 19.
Big Guns struggle in La Liga
No Ronaldo, no problem? Well, not really. Real Madrid dropped their first points of the season as they struggled to break the wall set up by a well-organised Athletic Bilbao side. Isco equalised for the Los Blancos in the second half after Iker Muniain had put the home side in front, but Madrid looked toothless in attack and clearly missed Ronaldo's lethal prowess in front of goal. It's too early to gauge how big a loss Ronaldo will be, especially with the team failing to buy a replacement, but the likes of Isco and Marco Asensio will need to start banging in more goals for Julen Lopetegui to kick start his revolution.
Barcelona had it tough too, with the Catalonian side having to fight their way back from being a goal down to win 2-1 against Real Sociedad. Barca started the match with Philippe Coutinho and Sergio Busquets on the bench but manager Ernesto Valverde had to bring both the players on the field to inspire the team. With players still recovering from the effects of a gruelling summer, Valverde will be forced to find some resting time for team's top stars, but injuries to new signings Malcom and Arthur Melo haven't helped his cause.
Napoli take a new shape
Carlo Ancelotti's appointment at Napoli was a major sign of intent from last season's Serie A runners-up — that they intend to win trophies — after a period of exciting yet trophy-less period under Sarri. The former AC Milan coach hasn't had the best of starts though and went into the match against Fiorentina on the back of an embarrassing 3-0 loss against Sampdoria. Napoli edged out a 1-0 win but the team still needs to improve vastly if they are going to challenge Juventus for the title.
The problem at Napoli certainly has a lot to do with the conflicting ideologies. Ancelotti's football, which has more to do with fast counter-attacks and smart rotation of the ball is opposite to the possession-based Sarri-ball the players in Naples is used to. Even though Ancelotti has a used a similar 4-3-3 formation. Marek Hamsik has been given the Regista or the deep-lying playmaker role in the team, while Piotr Zieliński has been given the more attacking role. Hamsik as a Regista is like N'Golo Kante in a box-to-box role — both players are too talented to not find a way to fit into the role, but it does seem to stem their best abilities. Against Fiorentina, there was also a change in position between Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne, with the latter occupying a more central role, contrary to the practices under Sarri. Insigne had a good match but the breakthrough moment came after the introduction of Arkadiusz Milik, which showed Ancelotti's tendency to mimic, in terms of structure at least, what he did with Bayern Munich and Robert Lewandowski. Luckily for Napoli, all Ancelotti needs is an evolution from the current team. Not a revolution.
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