Another weekend of football has flown by, and like every other weekend, this one has left its mark and opened areas of interest:
1.Fellaini proving relevance to united
Much was made of Kevin de Bruyne’s match-winning performance for Manchester City at Chelsea, and rightly so, but perhaps this was a week that belonged to De Bruyne’s Belgian counterpart Marouane Fellaini. Two goals for Manchester United in their victory against Crystal Palace, taking his tally for the season to four, double that of De Bruyne, the much-maligned big-haired midfielder is showing why Jose Mourinho still expresses faith in him. Not the best in terms of technical ability, but his hard work and tendency to unsettle the opposition is a valuable tool in United’s armoury. Not that many would admit it.
2. Inconsistent Saints need some constant
For a team that had been known for its ability to attack, Southampton still haven’t shaken off last season’s insipid forward displays, it seems, and at Stoke on Saturday, Mauricio Pellegrino’s team anything but stable in their display. A first-half showing, which ended with them a goal down, produced very little in terms of attacking threat, the lack of support Shane Long received was more than telling. They made significant improvements in the second half, but failed to avoid defeat, and their goal from Maya Yoshida was only their third from open play all season. Deploying Long up front hasn’t paid dividends so far, although starting with Manolo Gabbiadini leaves the Italian isolated, something Long can perhaps cope with. The likes of Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond need to offer more in the final third; for a manager who promised front foot football, Pellegrino needs to find a system that works… and fast.
3. VAR leave room for questioning
The Video Assistant Referee system is being deployed in the German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A, with a few hiccups being pointed out, particularly in the case of timing, and this weekend was barely any different. When Dortmund travelled to Augsburg, midway through the second half, it took over a minute for the referee to be called back to the incident of a foul in the Augsburg penalty area, disrupting the flow. It was a similar case in the Atalanta v Juventus game 24 hours after, when Mario Mandzukic’s header was disallowed for a Stephane Lichtsteiner foul long after the Bianconeri had gone off celebrating. VAR can make its case by stating those calls were not incorrect, a valid point, but that brings us to case two. In the Augsburg v Dortmund game, the hosts had claims of a penalty for an incident not dissimilar to the Dortmund spot-kick, claims which were overlooked. And in Juventus’ game, they were awarded a penalty for handball, after a long VAR consultation, yet replays showed the ball may have come off a shoulder rather than arm; and with Atalanta already breaking forward before the referee pointed to the spot, you can’t help but wonder what would have been the case if the ref had overturned the decision. All in all, VAR is a work in progress, but there’s room for a lot more work.
4. Sport mixing with politics doesn’t help either party
Arguably the talk of the weekend, Barcelona’s home game against Las Palmas was overshadowed by the (illegal) Catalan Referendum, as Catalonia still seek secession from Spain. The issue boiled over and resulted in a significant number of injuries, while Barcelona had to play behind closed doors. Described by Blaugrana defender Gerard Pique as the worst moment in his career, it was an event that neither made a good case for the game, or politics.
5. Real need to shake off complacency
It was a first win at home for Real Madrid in La Liga on Sunday, as an Isco double was enough for a 2-0 win against Espanyol. In hindsight, though, the scoreline was flattering to the Los Blancos. Espanyol began with a game plan of sitting back and hitting on the break, and despite that paying little dividends, only the base of the post denied them an equaliser in the first half. Quique Sanchez Flores switched to an attacking mode in the second period, making two halftime changes, and their new-found attacking verve, coupled with Real’s laxity, resulted in chances that should have been taken. It seemed like the win papered over cracks for Zinedine Zidane and his team; a more enterprising side would surely have made it a bit more uncomfortable at the Bernabeu.