Weekend Review: Are Napoli Europe’s most in-form team?
Another weekend of headlines, golazos and unpredictable finishes across Europe’s biggest 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.
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Jump to: Talking points | Best goals | Teams in trouble | MVP of the Weekend
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 also kept things interesting at the top of LaLiga. 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 have lost just once, that reverse to Madrid last weekend. — 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.
It was during his time with the FA that Danks travelled to San Francisco to study the methods of seven-time NBA champions Golden State, shadowing 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 the winning goal against AS Roma at the Olimpico on Sunday night, proving once more that this Napoli side is the real deal, both in Italy where they are top of the table, and in Europe where they have been the best team in the Champions League so far.
The game in Rome felt like a real test for Luciano Spaletti and his players. They passed it and even if they didn’t have their usual attacking mojo, they were still solid 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 showed that they can do it in different ways: with flair and scoring goals or with grit and defensive cohesion. — 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 a treat, made more thrilling that the gaps between rich clubs and the remainder getting ever-wider. Union Berlin’s style of football can be tough on the eyes and is reliant upon forcing mistakes from opponents, which works most of the time; however, being reactive is never going to work for a team that wants to contend. Great teams bend others to their will rather than waiting 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. Depth was always going to be a concern in a title race that always felt like a brief novelty, especially as the likes of Bayern were able to rotate a little and still pick up three points.
A stubborn Bochum served as inhospitable hosts, forcing mistakes and profiting 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. By full-time, 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. The win also helps BVB feel like they’re in the title race, creeping up to fifth place, just four points behind league leaders 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 elegant and emotional in equal measure; even non-USMNT fans will have welled up a little at the sight of him celebrating, face down, in the corner while his teammates sprinted to give him a hug of encouragement and a pat on the head. More please, Gio. — 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. The Uruguayan’s latest rocket hit the back of the net before Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou had a chance to blink on Saturday and sealed an impressive 3-1 win for Real Madrid, who remain unbeaten at the top of LaLiga.
It was Valverde’s third goal in a 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. That is seven goals in all competitions for the all-action midfielder. He only scored six in his first 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 says he already believes Liverpool are out of the title race but if they were to go on another poor run, their place in next season’s Champions League would also be under threat. — 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. In Paris, PSG were better but Marseille played well but couldn’t take 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. From a strong second in the table, there are now fifth and on a real negative spiral. –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 €20 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 €40m for him. Freed from the uncertainty that generated surrounding his future, he has led Atletico’s charge to third in the table.
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. Three of his five league goals and one of his two assists have come in his last three games.
But Griezmann 2.0 at Atletico is about more than goals. He is Diego Simeone’s No.2 on the pitch. He is his team’s playmaker. He is, at the moment, the difference between Atletico and the rest of the chasing pack, as Betis, who were level on points with Atletico heading into the weekend, found on Sunday at the Benito Villamarin. — Marsden