European football talking points: Real Madrid's performance of concern, Chelsea's weakness and more
In La Liga, it was a day to forget for European Champions Real Madrid as they produced their most hapless performance of the season to lose 3-0 against Eibar while German giants Bayern didn’t have it much better in the Bundesliga, only managing a 3-3 draw against Fortuna
It was business, as usual, this weekend as Europe’s best football leagues woke up from the international break-induced slumber. But unfortunately for Europe’s last unbeaten side – Chelsea – it was a Gameweek to forget as they suffered a humiliating defeat against their London-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Arsenal, Liverpool and Premier League juggernauts Manchester City capitalised on Chelsea’s failure, with all teams securing valuable three points, albeit in different styles. In La Liga, it was a day to forget for European Champions Real Madrid as they produced their most hapless performance of the season to lose 3-0 against Eibar while German giants Bayern didn’t have it much better in the Bundesliga, only managing a 3-3 draw against Fortuna, to further slip away from runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Here are four talking points for a Gameweek of exhilarating action
There is no hiding for Real Madrid
Real Madrid had a torrid game against Eibar. Yes, they lost a football match. But that’s only part of the story. The star-studded side was second best to pretty much everything that happened on the pitch against Eibar. The comprehensive defeat brought back memories of the problems that led to Julen Lopetegui's sacking just four months into his job. The players seemed confused about their duties and lacked a captain figure to motivate them.
Gareth Bale is certainly walking on a tightrope at Madrid, with Welshman's performances certainly not warranting a first-team status. But the problem goes beyond Bale for Madrid. Their defence has been uncharacteristically poor for their high standards, with Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos making mistakes frequently.
New recruit from Chelsea, Thibaut Courtois, hasn't taken to life at Madrid easily as well, conceding goals in plenty and not showing the form that helped him win the Golden Glove award in the recently concluded World Cup. Casemiro's absence from the lineup hasn't helped new manager Santiago Solari as well with very little depth in the position. Against Eibar, he played young Dani Cabellos as the midfield anchorman but the decision backfired with Eibar attackers running past Cabellos with ease. The coach clearly doesn't rate Marcos Llorente or Fede Valverde, both specialists in the position, which means Real will have to splash the cash in the January transfer window to salvage the season.
Reality-check for Chelsea
In some ways, the defeat was long overdue for Chelsea. On Saturday, Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs showed the world how to expose Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea – pressurise their midfield lynchpin Jorginho. The Italian midfielder was starved for space and constantly harried by Spurs' midfielders and attackers which gave them a direct shot at Chelsea’s defence, manned by David Luiz, who once again showed his ability to be a liability for the team. Spurs scored full marks for their approach but they were helped by a set of Chelsea players who showed no motivation to play. Alvaro Morata was back to his frustrating best, falling prey to off-side traps and struggling to keep hold of the ball. Eden Hazard was bullied off the game by Serge Aurier, who probably had his best game for Tottenham after moving from PSG.
For most parts of the match, this team was reminiscent of the Chelsea side under Antonio Conte last season – predictable, one dimensional and lacking desire. Sarri will have to put his thinking cap on, tweak the midfield a little by pulling N’Golo Kante back as extra protection for the defence and quickly sort out his striking problems if he is to sustain Chelsea’s positive momentum.
La Liga wide open
With Real Madrid certainly looking out of contention for the La Liga title, many are expecting the season to be a two-horse race between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. So, naturally, there was a lot of attention on both the teams as they faced each other in the weekend.
And it was Atletico who dominated the match, taking the lead in the 77th minute with Diego Costa outjumping Rafinha and directing his header past Marc-Andre ter Stegen. That said, Barcelona put in a much-improved defensive display against Atletico, with Samuel Umtiti back in the lineup after an injury as Sergi Roberto shifted into the midfield.
Ernesto Valverde opted to pack his midfield for the match with Sergio Busquets, Arthur, Roberto, and Arturo Vidal, with the idea of protecting the Barca defence. Unfortunately, even a move that is uncharacteristic of Barcelona, didn't pay off with Barcelona still conceding, making it 11 matches in a row without a shut-out. The Catalunya side have conceded 19 goals in 13 games, more than twice as many as Atletico.
All this means the La Liga is wide open with all the top teams showing they are beatable.
One has to feel sorry for Valverde though. He lost both his right-backs to injuries in the match against Atletico, with Rafinha apparently tearing his ACL. Their replacement in the match and the eventual goal-scorer, Ousmane Dembele, wants away from Barcelona this winter, which means it will not just be Real Madrid with their cheques out in January.
Dortmund’s title for the taking
With Bayern Munich slipping further behind after a 3-3 draw against Fortuna, Bundesliga is starting to look like a one-horse race. Borussia Dortmund kept setting the pace in the German league, winning 2-1 in the weekend against Mainz, through goals from in-form Paco Alcacer and Lukasz Piszczek. Dortmund have a five-point lead over second placed Borussia Monchengladbach while the men in yellow are nine points clear of Bayern. It is still early in the season, and Dortmund have occasionally shown they aren’t flawless, but a nine-point lead is nevertheless a comfortable place to be in. Their biggest challenge will be adding different dimensions to their attack because sooner or later teams are bound to figure out a way to beat Lucien Favre’s attacking 4-2-4 formation
Dembélé walked off the field in the 25th minute and watched the rest of the match, which included his replacement Pedri scoring the winner.
Spurs have lost three of their past four Premier League games to slip six points off the top four and another loss at Fulham on Monday would send them down to sixth in the table.
The draw continues a mixed start to 2023 for Real Madrid, slipping further behind Barcelona in the league and losing against them in the Spanish Super Cup final