In terms of rebuilds, Tottenham look further along than Man United


Tottenham look well ahead of Man United in terms of where they want to be

Tottenham’s 2-0 victory over Manchester United may appear convincing, but a closer look reveals that the visitors had numerous opportunities in the first half that could have altered the game’s outcome. They outperformed Tottenham in terms of shots on goal, matched them in shots on target, and even won the expected goals (xG) battle. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Spurs’ second goal was the result of an unusual own goal.

However, this match is not just about the final score; it’s about the performance and the associated expectations. Spurs’ willingness to concede chances can be attributed to their newfound attacking prowess under the leadership of Ange Postecoglou. They are comfortable deploying attacking full-backs on both flanks, a tactic that often leaves Mickey van de Ven and Cristian Romero to fend for themselves during counterattacks. This approach is rooted in the belief that the best defense is a proactive one, even in the opponent’s half. The team’s commitment to this style of play is already evident and shaping their identity on the field.

While this transformation is a work in progress, it is underpinned by a clear trajectory. Van de Ven’s occasional awkward moments, Richarlison’s need to regain his form, and the refinement required in the forward movement are all part of the transitional process. Nevertheless, amidst these challenges, the team’s dedication to an attacking style of play remains unwavering. As Tottenham continues on this transformative journey, their proactive defending and offensive flair are poised to carve out a distinctive identity in the world of football.

Postecoglou and Tottenham looked like a functional
Postecoglou and Tottenham looked like a functional, well-organised side in Saturday’s win over Man United, which speaks volumes of the work they’ve done in a short period of time. The same can’t be said of United. John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

The path ahead appears considerably less defined for Manchester United. If this match remained competitive for an extended duration, it wasn’t due to a standout performance from the team, but rather because, in terms of individual talent, they often boast superior players compared to Spurs.

Mason Mount’s role seems to mirror what Christian Eriksen accomplished last season. However, questions arise about whether transforming him into a player capable of dropping deep alongside Casemiro is a worthwhile endeavor, or if he possesses the passing range necessary to replicate Eriksen’s role as the press-breaker. The experiment of deploying Marcus Rashford as a center-forward doesn’t seem to be a sustainable long-term solution. Antony’s performances on the right remain inconsistent, and Lisandro Martínez has experienced two underwhelming outings in a United shirt in recent games.

In contrast, Tottenham is under the guidance of Ange Postecoglou, who has just arrived and is in the process of integrating four new starters while implementing an entirely different style of play. On the other hand, Ten Hag is working with mostly the same squad as last year, plus the addition of Mount, and he’s in his second season with the team. It’s a concerning sign for United that, on Saturday, Spurs appeared to be further along in their transition than United, despite their recent changes.

This assessment underscores the challenges that lie ahead for Manchester United as they strive to find their footing and achieve the desired cohesion and performance on the pitch.

Pedri delivers three tough points to Barcelona on Montjuic debut

Sunday’s fixture against Cadiz was perhaps not the ideal scenario Xavi had envisioned for Barcelona’s home debut at the Montjuic Olympic Stadium, their temporary residence during the renovation of Camp Nou. This encounter meant facing a well-organized opponent, well-versed in compact defending and counterattacking.

To compound matters, Xavi found himself suspended, along with Rafinha, who is often his most potent weapon for breaking down stubborn defensive setups. Furthermore, Ronald Araújo was unavailable, and two of the defensive reinforcements brought in over the summer, namely Marcos Alonso and Iñigo Martínez, were still unable to feature due to the financial constraints that have plagued the club in recent times. Factor in the unfamiliarity and smaller capacity of the Montjuic Olympic Stadium, which accommodates less than half the crowd of Camp Nou, and the stage was set for potential dropped points.


Gab Marcotti’s reaction to Sergiño Dest’s loan move from Barcelona to PSV after his challenging season with Milan raises questions about whether this transfer is a wise choice for the US Men’s National Team player.

The late arrival of Barcelona’s winning goal, with Ferran Torres adding a second in injury time to secure a 2-0 victory, underscores the awkward nature of this game for the Spanish champions. Cadiz managed a couple of significant chances during the match, including an exceptional save by Marc-André ter Stegen, adding to the tension.

On the positive side, Barcelona’s victory was deserved. Despite areas that require improvement, such as Robert Lewandowski not appearing to be at his best, the debut of Lamine Yamal, who is barely a month past his 16th birthday, lends weight to the argument that talent knows no age boundaries, reinforcing the “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” mantra.

Gab Marcotti’s reaction prompts speculation about the impact of Dest’s move to PSV and whether it will prove beneficial for his career and development.

Observing Lamine Yamal, you’re met with a striking duality. Up close, his youthful visage unmistakably portrays a teenager, but take a step back, and you witness a man, not just in physique but also in intellect. While occasionally you come across young talents who exhibit exceptional technical skills, and on rarer occasions, possess the physicality and athleticism to match, what sets Yamal apart is his extraordinary game intelligence and decision-making ability, a quality seldom seen in someone of his age.

Initially, I had my doubts when Xavi introduced Yamal to the first team last season. However, judging by his performances in the first two matches of this season, there is no valid reason why he should not be a regular presence on the field.

While many Barcelona fans may have anticipated that it would be Ansu Fati to make them forget about Ousmane Dembélé, it seems increasingly likely that Lamine Yamal could be the one to steal the spotlight and prompt fans to ask, “Ousmane who?”

Jekyll and Hyde Chelsea at West Ham in Caicedo’s bumpy debut

At this point in the season, especially when dealing with clubs that have new managers and a significant player turnover, we only get a glimpse of what a team is attempting to achieve. In Chelsea’s case, seven of their starting eleven against West Ham were not part of the squad at this time last year. Even among those who were, like Carney Chukwuemeka, their playing time was extremely limited, totaling just 354 minutes last season.

Moreover, of Chelsea’s top three most expensive signings in this summer’s transfer window, two have yet to make an appearance in matches (Christopher Nkunku due to injury, Romeo Lavia as he has recently joined the team). The third, Moisés Caicedo, had a challenging debut, with just half an hour on the field as a substitute. It’s crucial to take any conclusions drawn from these early matches with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, it was quite striking to witness the notable difference in Chelsea’s performance before and after halftime in their 3-1 defeat.


Is Romelu Lukaku Considering a Move to the Saudi Pro League?

Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens discuss the potential options for Romelu Lukaku’s future, especially after Mauricio Pochettino excluded him from his plans at Chelsea.

During the initial half, the Blues displayed precision, creating scoring opportunities and maintaining a composed appearance. They would have secured a halftime lead if not for Enzo Fernández’s penalty miss. However, their performance took a nosedive in the second half, marked by disarray and chaos. This decline can’t be solely attributed to West Ham’s strength or to Mykhailo Mudryk stepping in for the injured Chukwuemeka.

Mauricio Pochettino is confronted with an array of issues to address. Encouraging factors include Raheem Sterling’s evident fitness and sharpness, Nico Jackson’s promising progress, and the understanding that Moisés Caicedo won’t likely perform at this level throughout the season. For now, it’s all about incremental improvement. Instead of dwelling excessively on the defeat, it’s wiser to build upon the positive aspects observed in the first half. The road to recovery is expected to be lengthy.

Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen look like they could be the anti-Bayern

It’s important not to get carried away, especially considering that RB Leipzig, who convincingly defeated Bayern in the Super Cup, had the chance to secure a draw (and even won the expected goals battle). However, Bayer Leverkusen’s performance in their 3-2 victory over Leipzig was undeniably thrilling, and, equally significant, they appear to have room for improvement.

Certainly, there are still defensive vulnerabilities, but the addition of Granit Xhaka is expected to bring a touch of finesse to the midfield. Alex Grimaldo perfectly fits the mold of the attacking fullback that Xabi Alonso desires, and Josip Stanisic (joining on loan from Bayern) can offer similar qualities on the opposite flank. Victor Boniface is emerging as a handful for opposition defenses, and perhaps most notably, despite being just 20 years old, Florian Wirtz seems prepared to fulfill his potential after being hampered by injuries last season.

In the Bundesliga, it’s typical for clubs like Leverkusen, Leipzig (featuring Nkunku, Josko Gvardiol, Konrad Laimer, Dominik Szoboszlai), and Borussia Dortmund (with talents like Jude Bellingham, Raphaël Guerreiro, Mahmoud Dahoud) to lose key players like Moussa Diaby during the summer transfer window. However, Leverkusen has managed to reload effectively, and if Xabi Alonso continues to make progress in his first full season as coach, they might just emerge as the most significant threat to Bayern’s dominance.


Why Burley was disappointed with Newcastle’s performance against Man City

Craig Burley explains why he was let down with Newcastle United’s performance vs. Manchester City.

When does Pep Guardiola actually do his work?

Indeed, it’s a point of frustration that’s been bothering me for some time. Nowadays, football clubs invest substantial sums in coaches who do more than just select the starting lineup; they craft entire philosophies and tactical systems. According to them, the process of translating these strategies into reality primarily takes place on the training pitch and requires time.

On Sunday, Pep Guardiola received the unfortunate news that Kevin De Bruyne would be sidelined for four months. The following day, he discovered that Bernardo Silva would also be unavailable for the European Super Cup clash against Sevilla in Athens. Despite returning to Manchester at 4 a.m. on Thursday after the trip, Guardiola managed to devise a tactical plan on Saturday night. This plan involved placing Julián Álvarez in an advanced midfield role and even had Manuel Akanji (!) operating in midfield, taking on what is now referred to as the “John Stones role.” While Akanji did spend some time in that position during the second half against Sevilla, it was a spontaneous decision. In contrast, the plan for this match appeared to be carefully studied and executed.

It worked a treat against Newcastle. Not necessarily because the opposition were poor — they weren’t — but rather because City were without three of (arguably) their top five performers from last season (and with a fourth, Erling Haaland, who didn’t quite have his shooting boots on) didn’t miss a beat. It’s not just about “next man up” mentality; it’s about versatility and the ability to adapt on the fly.

How and when did Pep teach this? Beats me or, rather, I know the old football-speak cliches, about how great players find ways of playing together and how you teach concepts, not schemes, so it’s easier to adapt. Fine: it’s still impressive, and if it were that simple, more managers would do it successfully.

City are still short as I see it, hence their interest in Lucas Paquetá and the imminent arrival of Jérémy Doku (hugely talented and not an obvious fit for a Pep team, but with that guy at the helm, you never know). But, for now, they look well on their way to retaining their trophy (make that trophies — most of them, anyway).

As for Newcastle, Eddie Howe may well turn this into a confidence-building exercise (at least the second half) while reminding his players just how long the road ahead continues to be. What’s evident is that the players have bought into what he’s selling and that can only be a good omen.

The Bellingham Show continues for Real Madrid in win over Almeria

Talk about hitting the ground running. After last week’s masterclass, Jude Bellingham served up two more goals and an assist for Vinicius in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win over Almeria, and it was a victory that was much more hard-fought than the scoreline suggests after they went down a goal early. But you want your stars — especially those who cost north of 100 million — to take charge, and that’s what Bellingham did.

Rodrygo can cope in that role; the question is how well Vinicius can adapt to receiving the ball in traffic, rather than having spaces in which to run. There’s always the old Plan B — a 4-3-3 with Fede Valverde wide right — but Ancelotti is right to try this. If it works, it could be devastating.

Not the Juventus you expect … and that’s a good thing!

Forget the scoreline, though sure, it was hugely impressive that Juventus were able to race out to a 3-0 half-time lead away from home against Udinese. More important — and more impressive — than that is that for the first time (at least the first time I can remember) in two years, we saw Max Allegri’s team do something that doesn’t come natural to him: take the game to the opposition, play in the final third and create chances.

The Debbie Downers out there will point out that the first goal was a deflected long-range strike and the second a penalty for a debatable handball. They’ll also note that Juve’s intensity and drive dropped in the second half. Whatever. Juve fans needed a lift and a performance like this one is encouraging, as was seeing Federico Chiesa in full flight again and Dusan Vlahovic stomping his way around the pitch.

Allegri learned last year that yes, his youngsters can be trusted. Maybe this is the year in which he learns that there’s a reason virtually every top side in Europe tries to play attacking football most of the time.

Cavalry comes on after the break, but PSG again drop points

Luis Enrique decided to keep his big guns on the bench until five minutes into the second half, when he sent on the newly available Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé.

It may have been prearranged, or it may have been a nod to his starting XI. Whatever the case, PSG’s horrendous first half against Toulouse showed the obvious: for now at least, this team is pretty toothless without those two. Goncalo Ramos needs service (and he got none), Lee Kang-In is a work in progress and Vitinha isn’t a winger.

Mbappe came on, won a penalty and converted it to give PSG the lead. Dembele gave you the sense that anything can happen when he got the ball. That’s good, though it still feels like you have two uber-soloists in what is supposed to be an ensemble cast (especially in Luis Enrique’s vision of the game). Less good was Achraf Hakimi needlessly giving away a late penalty that Zakaria Aboukhlal slotted away as the game finished 1-1.

Two games, two points, no goals from open play. If you’re PSG, the only way is up.

Osimhen picks up where he left off as Napoli start season with a win

The thing about Victor Osimhen is that he does not appear to be rattled by off-the-pitch issues, like the interminable negotiations over his new contract, which should end up with a hefty raise and a release clause (or, more likely, two release clauses, one valid for European clubs, and one aimed at Saudi Arabia). He scored two goals in Napoli’s 3-1 win at Frosinone and could have had more.

Can Napoli weather the departures of Luciano Spalletti on the bench and Min-Jae Kim at the back and repeat as champions? Conventional wisdom would say no, but with Osimhen on this form, Piotr Zielinski apparently sticking around, Gabri Veiga possibly on his way in and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (who missed the opener) presumably only getting better, you’re tempted to say “Why not?”


Why Stevie Nicol is concerned about Liverpool’s defense

Stevie Nicol was not impressed with Liverpool’s back four and Alisson in their win over Bournemouth.

Liverpool showing old strengths — and old weaknesses — as rebuild continues

A 3-1 win against a Bournemouth side that looked really good for stretches under Andoni Iraola is not to be sniffed at. Especially when your front three all find the back of the net and, perhaps most importantly, Luis Díaz looks ready for a breakout season after last year’s injury-slowed campaign. And especially when you do it with Alexis Mac Allister forced by necessity into the holding midfield role. The Argentine got sent off — perhaps harshly — and by the time he returns, Wataru Endo will be in his place so he’ll be free to do what he does best.

Endo won’t solve Liverpool’s midfield issues on his own, and there’s no escaping the fact that he was their third-choice target, but he’ll bring some balance. That midfield will take time to fix, but at least the pieces are there.

More of a concern are the wobbles at the back, which could have seen Bournemouth score a couple more goals. The midfield has an alibi: it’s brand-new and there are square pegs in round holes. The back four does not. They’ve been together long enough that you’re entitled to demand some chemistry.

Lautaro delivers as Inter down Monza… but what’s this Pavard business?

The good news for Inter is that their summer wheeling and dealing — out go André Onana, Edin Dzeko, Romelu Lukaku, Milan Skriniar and Marcelo Brozovic, among others, while in come Yann Sommer, Carlos Augusto, Marcus Thuram and Davide Frattesi, among others — has left them not much worse off on paper and with a €30 million surplus available to further strengthen. The bad news is that they seem intent to spend it on Benjamin Pavard.

He’s a World Cup winner, sure, and has plenty of experience, fine, but that is a lot to pay for a 27-year-old who is one season away from free agency. It was a lot for Manchester United — which is why they didn’t make the move — and it’s even more for Inter, who are nowhere near as financially solid.

On the flip side, Lautaro Martínez look sharp and ready to go, notching both goals in the 2-0 win over Monza on opening day. It’s critical that he finds the back of the net, too, because Inter’s other attacking options (Thuram and Marko Arnautovic) appear to be a downgrade, at least in the short term (Thuram obviously has an upside) over the guys they replaced.

It took a late Donyell Malen strike for Borussia Dortmund to get the three points against a feisty Cologne in a game that showed what we already knew: there’s a Jude Bellingham-shaped hole in that midfield. Manager Edin Terzic evidently needs to find some balance — Marcel Sabitzer can do only a fraction of what Bellingham did — in the middle of the park and it’s taking a while to do so.

Unusually (given that this is Dortmund we’re talking about) the back line held up fairly well, including newcomer Ramy Bensebaini at left-back. Up front, we didn’t see much until the end, but that may have had more to do with Julian Brandt getting sucked inside and that midfield too often being overrun.

It’s way early, but you get the sense that it will be difficult to emulate what they accomplished last season.

Betis and Atletico combine for one shot on target … playing in an oven

I was excited to end the weekend with Atletico Madrid’s visit to face Betis. Antoine Griezmann vs. Isco, last season’s MVP vs. the Comeback Kid. Both had their moments, but the game petered out in high heat to a 0-0 draw with a single shot on target.

That’s what happens when you play the game — even at half past nine in the evening — in Seville in August. Some were more affected than others (you hope that Memphis Depay and Marcos Llorente’s listlessness was down to the heat), but what should have been a highlight of the weekend turned into a dud. Still, if you’re Diego Simeone, it’s not a bad away point.

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