Weekend Review: Are Napoli Europe’s most in-form team?
Another weekend of headlines, golazos, and unexpected finishes in Europe’s largest league is in the bag. From Napoli‘s gritty 1-0 over AS Roma in Serie A, to Liverpool‘s shock loss to Nottingham Forest, there was no shortage of drama.
ESPN correspondents Rob Dawson, Julien Laurens, Sam Marsden, James Tyler and Mark Ogden break down the big stuff you need to know about the weekend.
– Stream on ESPN : LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, more (U.S.)
Dembele turns it on for Barca
Ousmane Dembele delivered a dazzling display to help Barcelona beat Athletic Club 4-0 on Sunday. Dembele opened the scoring with a header, his first for the club, and then claimed a hat trick of assists, setting up goals for Robert Lewandowski, who took his tally for the season to 17, Sergi Roberto and Ferran Torres.
Dembele, 25, has been consistently backed by coach Xavi Hernandez, who was the key to him signing a contract renewal in the summer, and is now repaying that faith on the pitch. What he now needs to do, after receiving some criticism for his performance in last weekend’s loss to Real Madrid, is be more consistent and, above all, make the difference in the biggest games.
– Watch replay: Barcelona 4-0 Athletic Club (ESPN , U.S. only)
– Marsden: Dembele guides Barca to emphatic win over Athletic
Barca’s win against Athletic concluded a good few days for Xavi’s side after they beat Villarreal 3-0 on Thursday. There was an element of disappointment lurking around the club after Champions League and Clasico setbacks, but two big home wins — Sunday’s was played in front of over 84,000 fans at Camp Nou — has helped lift the mood around the club. It has kept things interesting at LaLiga’s top. Barca remain just three points back from leaders Madrid after 11 games. Madrid are still unbeaten after they beat Sevilla 3-1 on Saturday. Barca has lost only once to Madrid. — Marsden
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 23, 2022
Danks a part of the new wave
Steph Curry probably didn’t keep a close eye on events between Aston Villa and Brentford on Sunday, with the Golden State Warriors player more likely to have been preparing for his own encounter with the Sacramento Kings later the same day, but whether he knows it or not, the NBA superstar helped pave the way for Villa caretaker-manager Aaron Danks to win his first game in charge.
Danks is perhaps the biggest unknown ever to take charge of a Premier League team, with even the most ardent Villa supporter unlikely to know too much about the 37-year-old who has been installed as interim boss following the sacking of Steven Gerrard last week.
Having never played the game as a professional, Danks has risen through the coaching ranks in England, initially as academy coach at West Bromwich Albion before becoming head of specialist coaching with the English FA and a stint working with England under-20s when they won the 2017 U20 World Cup. Danks traveled to San Francisco to learn from the seven-time NBA champions Golden State. He also shadowed Curry and his individual development coach, while working on his three point shooting.
Danks has since worked alongside Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht before moving to Villa as assistant to Dean Smith and Gerrard, but with Gerrard fired after a disastrous start to the season, he now has the chance to become the latest coach to prove that a big reputation as a player is not required to become a top coach.
Villa are almost certain to turn to a proven coach as the permanent successor to Gerrard, but clubs are now hiring managers who have worked their way up as coaches and Danks is the polar opposite of Gerrard, who was one of the best players of his generation.
The new wave of coaches spend years honing their skills and studying the best in all sports, just as Danks has done with Curry and the Golden State Warriors. — Ogden
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens discuss the possibility of Mauricio Pochettino taking the manager’s job at Aston Villa.
Napoli are the real deal
Maybe Gab Marcotti’s slogan for Victor Osimhen, “The best is yet to come,” should be the same for Napoli. The Nigerian striker scored against AS Roma on Sunday night to prove that this Napoli side is the real deal.
The game in Rome felt like a real test for Luciano Spaletti and his players. They did well and, even though they didn’t have the attacking mojo they used, they were still strong and efficient. They are still unbeaten this season after having beaten Lazio and AC Milan on the way too.
Napoli’s upcoming fixtures (Sassuolo, Atalanta, Empoli and Udinese) mean that they can definitely stay at the top of Serie A until the World Cup. Sunday night’s performance showed that they can do it in a variety of ways. With flair and scoring goals, or with grit. — Laurens
Time to say goodbye to Union’s title hopes?
Sunday’s dour 2-1 defeat at Bochum should precipitate the eventual return of the Bundesliga’s status quo at the top end of the table, especially with so little time until the expanded World Cup winter break and with everyone else steadily closing the gap. It’s a shame too. Cinderella stories are always thrilling, and the gap between rich clubs is getting wider. Union Berlin’s football style can be hard on the eyes. It relies on forcing mistakes from the opposition, which works most times. However, being reactive is not going to work for a team who wants to compete. Great teams are more willing to bend to others than wait for gifts.
Heading into the game knowing that the five teams immediately below them — Bayern Munich, Freiburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, Mainz and Borussia Dortmund — all won this weekend, Sunday saw Union muster just three shots on goal and only found the net in the 93rd minute, with the game well beyond them at that point. In a title race that felt like a novelty, depth was always going to be a problem. Especially since the likes Bayern were able rotate a bit and still pick up three points. A stubborn Bochum was a host, making mistakes and making money from individual brain-farts. Philipp Hofmann scored two very different goals — the first a header off a corner in which Union barely prevented him glancing it beyond Frederik Ronnow, and the second a sliding finish after a slick counter-attack caught Union flat-footed. Only when two goals down did Union really show spark, and they’ll wish Milos Pantovic had a second chance at a penalty after a super save by Manuel Riemann, but this should force a refocus and restatement of season goals by Union that helps them remain in the top 7-8. With two Europa League games and league dates with Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen in the next 14 days, there’s little time to dwell. — Tyler
Watch the Game Highlights from VfL Bochum vs. FC Union Berlin, 10/23/2022
Another Haaland masterclass
The pass from Ederson is absurd, but so is the turn of pace from Erling Haaland to nick the ball away from Robert Sanchez and also the strength of the Norwegian to flatten Adam Webster before rolling the ball into an empty net. After being kept out by Liverpool last weekend, it was Haaland’s 16th Premier League goal of the season. He already had No. 17 — the same number as Harry Kane managed in total last season. — Dawson
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) October 22, 2022
Reyna notches his first headline of the season
It’s been another difficult season for United States star Giovanni Reyna at Dortmund; not because of his form (he’s always good), but because of his fitness. As usual, minor injuries have kept him from getting up a head of steam before the World Cup — he’s played just 19% of the available minutes at the club level this season — but he was superb throughout during Dortmund’s 5-0 rout of hapless Stuttgart on Saturday, even scoring his first goal in 421 days. BVB feels like they are in the title race. They are now fifth, four points behind Union Berlin.
Reyna’s goal was the cherry on top of his excellent performance in midfield, dazzling alongside the equally effervescent Jude Bellingham. With BVB 2-0 up on the cusp of half-time, Reyna got his chance following some neat approach play by Julian Brandt and Youssoufa Moukoko. The ball was slid into Reyna’s path on the left side of the box and after a couple of touches, he curled it beautifully beyond a helpless Florian Muller and inside the far post. It was both elegant and emotional. Even non-USMNT fans were moved by the sight of him standing in the corner, with his teammates sprinting to give him a pat on his head. Gio, please give me more. — Tyler
Gio Reyna fires one in with his right foot before halftime, giving Borussia Dortmund the 3-0 lead.
Valverde’s hot streak continues for Madrid
At this stage, teams should probably stop letting Federico Valverde shoot from distance, although that is presumably easier said than done. Real Madrid won 3-1 with the Uruguayan’s latest rocket, which was scored before Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bonou could blink. It was Valverde’s third goal in a single week. His strike and performance in last weekend’s Clasico victory over Barcelona led teammate Toni Kroos to brand him one of the top three players in the world right now. That praise did not go to his head and he followed up that display with crackers against first Elche and then Sevilla. The all-action midfielder scored seven goals in all competitions. He scored just six goals in his four seasons with Madrid. — Marsden
Federico Valverde goal 81st minute Real Madrid 3-1 Sevilla FC
Teams in trouble
Liverpool stumble again
The worry for Liverpool is that they were supposed to be back. Back-to-back league wins over Manchester City and West Ham should have signalled a turning point in their season but they suffered another set-back at bottom side Nottingham Forest.
Liverpool will perhaps feel that they should have earned at least a point, particularly after Forest needed an unbelievable late save from Dean Henderson to keep out Virgil van Dijk‘s header, but they certainly didn’t do enough to win the game. Jurgen Klopp said that Liverpool are out of title race, but that if they continue to lose, they could be in danger of losing the Champions League. — Dawson
Liverpool have yet to win an away match in the Premier League this season pic.twitter.com/tKWlVfeayv
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 22, 2022
Three down for Marseille
Between Aug. 7 and Sept. 30 — so seven weeks — Marseille didn’t lose a single Ligue 1 match. They were riding high, just behind Paris Saint-Germain in the table, playing well and being solid, giving their fans high ambitions and hopes. Between Oct. 8 and Oct. 22 — two weeks — they have now been beaten three times in a row, two of them at home at the Stade Velodrome.
All the good things that we saw at the start of the season are gone. In the defeat against Ajaccio, the first one of the bad run, the Marseillais defended badly. PSG were stronger in Paris, but Marseille played well, but couldn’t take advantage of their chances. And against Lens at home, it was both. Igor Tudor and his players have a huge game in the Champions League (where things have been better) next week but right now, the camp is down and full of doubts. There are now five players in the table. This is a significant drop from second place. –Laurens
Atleti’s ‘new signing’ Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann has been like a new signing for Atletico Madrid in their last three league matches, perhaps because technically he is. On Oct. 10, Atletico confirmed that Griezmann’s two-year loan from Barcelona had been made permanent for an initial fee of EUR20 million. Prior to that, he had been reduced to 30-minute cameo roles in the second half of games due to a clause in the loan agreement with Barca which could have forced Atletico to pay EUR40m for him. Atletico has moved up to third place in the table after he was freed from uncertainty.
His latest exploits came on Sunday at Real Betis, where he scored twice in a 2-1 win as Atletico established themselves as Real Madrid and Barcelona’s biggest challengers once again. His first goal was direct from a corner and his second was squeezed between goalkeeper Rui Silva‘s legs. His last three games have seen him score three of his five league goals, and one of his two assists.
But Griezmann 2.0 at Atletico is about more than goals. He is Diego Simeone’s No.2 pitchman. He is the playmaker for his team. Atletico and the rest are separated by him at the moment. Betis, who were tied on points with Atletico going into Sunday, found him at the Benito Villamarin. — Marsden
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.