In football, sometimes just by chance, there are certain days filled with marquee matches across all of Europe’s top leagues. This weekend was a good example. Sometimes, these big games may not live up to the hype, but fortunately for us, this weekend, they definitely did, and then some. So let’s take a look at each of Europe’s top five leagues (England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France) in order to recap all the drama that occurred.
The Premier League (England)
Out of all the leagues this weekend, the Premier League was arguably the most action-packed. Not only was there a selection of high-profile matchups between big teams, but games that did not initially seem that exciting in comparison turned out to be particularly eye-catching. Reigning champions Liverpool faced off against a rejuvenated Arsenal team that look very exciting and finally seem to have a plan going forward. However, despite scoring first, Liverpool were simply too strong for Arsenal to handle, proving why they are champions.
Moving on to last year’s league runner’s up, Jamie Vardy scored 3 as Leicester City beat Manchester City 5-2, in what is no doubt the biggest shock in England this weekend. While Man City did take the lead, a defensive capitulation, a sight which is becoming alarmingly common these days, saw Leicester put 5 past the Citizens, with Brendan Rodgers’ men becoming the first side in history to score 5 against a team managed by Pep Guardiola in a single match. As a result, Pep has spent big again, buying Ruben Dias from Benfica on Sept. 29.
There definitely was not a shortage of goals in football this weekend either. Away from home at West Brom, Chelsea fell apart in the first half, finding themselves 0-3 down after 45 minutes, with Thiago Silva having an absolute nightmare of a Premier League debut. However, Lampard threw the dice and Chelsea were able to mount a spirited three-goal comeback, drawing 3-3.
Elsewhere, Wolves, a team who many predict will be a challenger for a European spot, or maybe even crack the top four, were thoroughly torn to shreds by West Ham, losing 0-4. Aston Villa, on the other hand, a team who just barely avoided relegation last season, played great and beat Fulham 3-0, as Fulham continue their horrid run of form ever since being promoted from the Championship at the end of last season.
The Premier League was not without penalty drama either as Brighton fought tooth and nail to hold Manchester United to a 2-2 draw, but 10 minutes into overtime, Bruno Fernandes slotted home the winning goal from the penalty spot shattered the hearts of Brighton fans. However, the referee controversially awarded the penalty after the final whistle had been blown, ending the match. And let’s not forget how both Everton beat Crystal Palace 2-1 and Newcastle earned a 1-1 draw with Tottenham after dubious handball decisions. But we will get to that later.
La Liga (Spain)
In Spain, this weekend was especially notable as Barcelona, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Elche all played their first match of the season after being given extended vacations due to how late last season ended for them.
Elche, who were newly promoted, did not have the greatest of top-flight returns as they were plastered 3-0 by Real Sociedad. The league champions of last season, Real Madrid, partly made up for their own disappointing result against Real Sociedad last week with a 3-2 win over Real Betis on Saturday, but they did so in typical Real Madrid fashion, receiving help from questionable VAR decisions. Real Betis played well and ended the half with a 2-1 lead, but in the second half, Los Blancos fought hard and equalized. A Betis red card and 30 minutes later saw Real Madrid awarded a penalty for yet another unsavory handball call, to which Sergio Ramos stepped up and scored.
While Real Madrid had to claw back from behind to get all three points, their rivals, Barcelona played much better, crushing Villarreal 4-0 with a tremendous team performance in the first half, headlined by a brace from 17-year old, Ansu Fati. While Barcelona definitely had a horrendous end to last season and an equally tumultuous summer, but if Ronald Koeman’s first match in charge is anything to go by, Barcelona looks to have put some of those problems behind them.
On to the last of Spain’s big three, Atletico Madrid gave probably the most impressive performance of any of Europe’s top teams this weekend, mercilessly smashing Granada 6-1. Granada has shocked many over the past two seasons, transforming themselves into one of the better teams in Spain. But it was the Andalusian team who found themselves shocked last Sunday after Atletico were able to dump goals in the net, in what feels like ages since the usually-defensive Diego Simeone side has scored more than two goals in a single match. Also notable, was Luis Suarez’s first-ever match in an Atletico Madrid shirt, as he came off the bench later in the match, only to score twice and provide an assist.
Serie A (Italy)
Much like the Premier League, but arguably more surprisingly, it was raining goals in Italy this weekend, a league which is stereotyped for being slow and defensively focused. The champions, Juventus, faced off against the perennially-strong Roma in what was Andrea Pirlo’s second-ever match in his managerial career. While I have no doubts that Pirlo can turn out to be the best manager in the world in a few years, his inexperience really showed here as Juve were clearly outplayed by this resolute Roma side, requiring two goals from Ronaldo to salvage a 2-2 draw.
Inter Milan, the other league title contender, had to survive a scare of their own as they had to come from behind, twice, to beat Fiorentina 4-3, in what was probably the most exciting match this weekend. Franck Ribery rolled back the years and caused Inter’s defense major problems. But ultimately it wasn’t enough as two late goals from Romelu Lukaku and Danilo D’Ambrosio, coupled with a great performance from Lautaro Martinez earlier on in the match, stole the game from Fiorentina.
Down in Southern Italy, Napoli pulled off a wonderful team performance, trashing Genoa 6-0 with Mexico’s own, Chucky Lozano even scoring twice. The goals continued to rain as the lovable Atalanta beat Torino 4-2. Meanwhile, AC Milan continue to prove that they are a robust team, beating Crotone 2-0, even without Zlatan given that he contracted Covid-19 last week.
German Football this weekend was characterized by underdogs upsetting the big boys, and we need not look farther than at the top of the pile. In what was no doubt the most shocking result in world football this weekend, Bayern Munich — the current German League Champions, German Cup Champions, Champions League Champions, Super Cup Champions, and undisputed best team in the world — were completely destroyed and humiliated by an energetic and quick Hoffenheim side lead by Andrej Kramaric. The result was so unbelievable, it seemed as if the Bayern and Hoffenheim players switched shirts before the match.
It was top to bottom domination from Hoffenheim. The fourth goal was a picture-perfect summary of how this match went. With a cheeky elastico spin, Kramaric took two Bayern defenders out of the game before the ball found the feet of Ihlas Bebou, who charged towards the Bayern goal leaving defenders slipping and sliding on the grass in his wake. Bebou was taken down by Neuer in the box, only for Kramaric to step up and bury the penalty into the upper 90 with a missile of a shot.
Of course, we cannot be too harsh on Bayern, they just came off an amazing season and are no doubt a bit fatigued. Not to mention that they just won the Super Cup a few days before and rested a few starters for this match. Bayern had an obscene undefeated streak stretching back to December of 2019, it was inevitable that Bayern would lose a game sooner or later. Still, the manner in which they lost is no less shocking.
On to the other results in Germany, Borussia Dortmund, a team who’s supporters would argue is the second-best team in Germany, did their best Bayern impression by losing 2-0 to Augsburg. While it was definitely surprising to see Augsburg beat Dortmund given that Augsburg finished only one spot above the relegation playoffs last season, it really isn’t surprising to see Dortmund lose games like this when you take into account that their team is filled with talented, but largely inexperienced young players, and as the past seasons have shown, the team as a whole lacks a strong enough winning mentality to remain consistent. As for the other team who challenge Dortmund’s spot as the second-best team in Germany, RB Leipzig found themselves dropping points as well, albeit against much stronger opposition, drawing 1-1 with Bayer Leverkusen.
As for Schalke, who used to be one of the elite clubs in Germany, they were thoroughly rinsed by Werder Bremen 3-1 as Schalke’s awful winless streak is extended to 18 matches. However, things may hopefully be on the upward for Schalke fans as manager David Wagner was sacked after this recent defeat and the club looks to hit the restart button.
Ligue 1 (France)
Compared to the rest of the leagues in Europe, Ligue 1 had a relatively quiet weekend compared to the craziness that occurred across the continent. But that’s not a slight against the French League as the standards that England, Spain, Italy and Germany set were very high these past few days. However, there were still some memorable results. Most notably, current-league leaders, Rennes, lined up against Saint-Etienne, who they were tied with at the top of the table prior to this match. However, by the end of the match, Rennes proved that they are not only the most exciting team in France right now but also the overall best team in the division stomping Saint-Etienne’s lights out, 3-0 with three beautiful goals. Last week I made the audacious prediction that Rennes will win Ligue 1 and so far they are proving me right (until next week, of course, when Rennes lose 4-0 to Reims or something and expose my terrible prediction skills).
Elsewhere in France, despite having a player sent off, Monaco were able to outscore Strasbourg and win 3-2 while Lille continued their great run of form by beating Nantes 2-0.
The New Handball Rules
Among all the matches this weekend, one constant issue that appeared across the continent was the issue with controversial handballs that led to penalties. Following a slew of new changes to the game that started with the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee), the International Football Association or IFAB, modified the laws surrounding handballs with the new law taking effect this season. The modification was implemented in order to avoid unnecessary controversy that accompanies the inherently contentious issue of handballs. The new law now states that for a handball to be given, it no longer matters whether or not the player intentionally handled the ball, but virtually any touch of the ball with the hand or arm is foul unless the player’s arm is in a natural position. However, what constitutes a “natural position” for the arm is equally controversial as IFAB ruled unnatural position of the arm means the arm raised above the head.
While the rule was meant to clear up confusion surrounding the ever-existing issue of handballs, it only did the opposite and this weekend was a prime example. In at least three matches, three high profile penalties were given due to very questionable handballs to the fury of players, managers, fans, journalists and commentators alike.
As Tottenham led Newcastle with a close 1-0 lead into injury time on Sunday, both Eric Dier and Andy Carroll leapt for 50-50 ball. Carroll won the ball and headed it downwards, hitting Dier’s arm in the process. While Dier’s arm was above his head, he was leaping into the air. How are you supposed to jump without moving your arms? In fact, Dier was around 6 inches away from Carroll, how could he possibly move his arms out of the way in time? Not to mention that his back was turned to Carroll; he didn’t even know the ball was flying towards his arm. Nonetheless, Newcastle was awarded the penalty
Only the day before, another similar instance occurred when Crystal Palace hosted Everton. At around the 30-minute mark, the scores were tied 1-1 as Richarlison collected the ball in Crystal Palace’s penalty box. Palace defender, Joel Ward, was covering him, but as Richarlison turned with the ball, he attempted a cross that hit Ward’s arm. Again, the ball clearly touched Ward’s hand, but he was so close to Richarlison, how would he possibly move his arm out of the way in time? If you look closely, Ward even tried to move his arm yet the ball was moving so fast and he was so close to Richarlison that it smacked off his arm anyway. Despite the commentators agreeing it was a harsh call, the penalty was awarded to Everton regardless.
This issue isn’t unique to England either as another incidence happened in Spain when Real Betis faced off against Real Madrid. With the scores tied at 2-2, Real Betis were down a man due to a red card but were still holding on. That was until the 79th minute when Borja Mayoral received the ball and raced into the Betis penalty box. Betis defender, Marc Bartra, was able to get between Mayoral and the ball, but when Mayoral attempted to shoot, Bartra was pushed over and as he tumbled to the ground the ball bounced off his arm. First off, this should have been called back for a foul as Mayoral had pushed Bartra, but beyond that, how exactly was Bartra supposed to move his hand out of the way as he was falling towards the ball when it was literally 2 inches away from his body? Despite protests from the Betis players, a penalty was still given to Real Madrid.
In each of these three instances, the ensuing penalty from the handball had a massive impact on the match. Both Real Madrid and Everton scored the eventual match-winning goal with the penalty and Newcastle was gifted a goal that denied Tottenham a win. So the effects are visibly large. In my opinion, we should revert back to the old handball rules from around 2015 and prior. These rules stated that for a penalty to be awarded on the basis of handball, the player had to have either deliberately handled the ball, or his arm was in an obscenely unnatural position. Distance also plays a factor too as when the ball strikes a player’s arm in close proximity, it won’t be awarded. Overall, handball will always be an inevitable part of football that you cannot avoid, it is just a shame that all the fuss around poorly written laws took away much of the media attention from a wonderful weekend of football.