European football talking points: Luis Suarez steps up for Messi-less Barcelona; Premier League’s three musketeers shine and more
Barcelona's Luiz Suarez sinks Real Madrid in Lionel Messi's absence, England's top three continue unbeaten run and other talking points from a weekend of exciting football action
There was no Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch – the first time in over 11 years – for the season’s first El Clasico, but there was no shortage of action, as Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 5-1 and paved way for the sacking Los Blancos manager Julen Lopetegui.
Elsewhere in the Premier League, title favourites Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea won their respective league matches to extend their unbeaten run, while an in-form Arsenal could only manage a draw against their London rivals Crystal Palace.
Here are four talking points from a weekend of exciting football action.
Luis Suarez steps up for Messi-less Barcelona
It was a night to remember for former Liverpool player Luis Suarez who once again reminded the world why he should be considered in the just-below-Messi-and-Ronaldo bracket with a hat-trick of the highest order. Suarez didn’t weave through an army of opposition defenders or stretch every muscle in the body for an overhead kick but his goals showed predatory skills that makes him one of the world’s best forwards in the world.
Left-back Jordi Alba’s positioning throughout the match for Barcelona was also key to unlocking Real Madrid. The Spanish full-back played an advanced role throughout the match, and Real Madrid, surprised by Alba’s fearless runs, had to switch Gareth Bale’s flanks to track back Alba. In the process, Barcelona managed to nullify the attacking threat of the Welshman.
Real Madrid have lost their last three league matches in a row, winning only one of their last six matches, and it was no surprise when news came out on Monday that Lopetegui had been fired. He gave up Spain and the World Cup (perhaps the greatest opportunity in his life to win it) for this.
Premier League’s three musketeers
England’s top three showed no signs of stopping their unbeaten run as Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea notched up convincing victories in their Premier League matches. City faced the biggest challenge from all three – an away trip to Tottenham. But last year’s record-setters showed no signs of stopping as summer-signing Riyad Mahrez’s early goal helped them negotiate a well-organized Spurs side. It was a closely contested match and Spurs had their chances of securing a draw at least but City defence held firm to help the side go back to the top of the table.
Maurizio Sarri, just like his predecessor Antonio Conte, must be thinking Premier League is a piece of cake. The Blues manager is unbeaten with his new side, has instilled an attractive philosophy, and even managed to get his team to score four past a tough Burnley side without their star player Eden Hazard. Chelsea looked shaken in the first 10 minutes of the match with Sean Dyche’s ultra-attacking team, but once they got their passes going, there was no stopping the Blues. Ross Barkley was the standout performer for Chelsea, scoring one and assisting two, but N’Golo Kante and Jorginho were equally effective in the midfield. Jorginho had a pass completion percentage of 92%, while Kante and Barkley better it with 94% and 95% respectively.
Liverpool were also in their goal-scoring best as they overpowered a Cardiff City side at home 4-1. Sadio Mane was the pick of the players scoring a brace, but the Reds fans would have been happier seeing Mohamed Salah banging in the opening goal.
This is the first time in the history of Premier League that three teams have gone unbeaten in their first ten matches of the season, and with Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham all looking strong, this could well pan out to be one of the most closely contested seasons in the Premier League history.
Mertens saves Napoli
Dries Mertens’ added-time goal salvaged a point for visiting side Napoli against Roma, but it was a deserved equalizer on the virtue of their performance. It was a match between sides with contrasting styles – Roma’s big tall defenders vs Napoli’s diminutive attackers.
And for most of the match, it looked like it would be the Roman defence who would come on top even though Napoli tried hard. Unluckily for Roma, their defence capitulated at the worst moment possible – end of regular time.
Meanwhile, Juventus went about doing their thing (winning all the games and making Serie A look terribly a one-sided title march) by beating Empoli 2-1. Yes, they beat the side courtesy a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick (oh how Real Madrid is missing that)!
Hertha hold Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund’s attractive football has been the main talking point of Bundesliga this season. British wonder-kid Jadon Sancho has been a pivot in this transformation and yet again it was the former U-17 World Cup-winning star that made the difference for the team in yellow. Sancho scored two for a high-flying Dortmund side but unfortunately for them, former Chelsea man Salomon Kalou decided to end his five-month goal drought for Hertha.
The 33-year-old scored a brace for the Berlin side in his ninth league appearance of the season and helped Pal Dardai’s men get a valuable point at the Signal-Iduna-Park.
Dortmund’s rivals had a mixed outing on the weekend though. Bayern Munich secured a 2-1 victory against Mainz, while Monchengladbach had a disappointing a game-week, losing 2-1 to SC Freiburg.
The trio risks being banned from the Champions League as UEFA pursues a disciplinary process against them for not disavowing the Super League and being reintegrated into the existing system.
Barcelona held on for a win that puts them level on points with Real Madrid, having a played a game less than the reigning champions.
Williams' first goal since February snatched a 1-0 win for Athletic and leaves Sevilla six points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid, with four games left to play.