Football Features

7 things you might have missed across Europe’s other leagues this weekend

By CJ Smith

Published: 17:19, 7 August 2022

The return of the Premier League dominated the headlines over the weekend, but there was plenty more action across Europe to sink your teeth into.

From the second week of the Championship season to the likes of Ligue 1 and the German Bundesliga getting started, it’s been an action-packed few days across the continent.

Read on for seven things you might have missed to help you make sense of all the big results and storylines.

1. Blackburn stay perfect and Sunderland unbeaten in Championship

It’s very early days, but Blackburn Rovers fans have been left with plenty of reasons to be optimistic after beating Swansea City 3-0 away from home on Saturday to maintain their 100% start to the new Championship season. Rovers ran riot in South Wales thanks to goals from Sammie Szmodics, Ben Brereton Diaz and Lewis Travis. However, arguably more impressive is the fact that Blackburn are yet to concede a goal, facing just 0.6 xGA across their opening two matches.

Again, early days, but are Blackburn preparing for a promotion push?

The same excitement can be felt around Sunderland, who made the long trip down to Bristol City on Saturday and left with an impressive 3-2 win. Everton loanee Ellis Simms was the star of the show, scoring a goal in each half to help move the Black Cats onto four points from two games.

We’ve seen plenty of teams sink to League One before rising all the way back into the top-flight with back-to-back promotions and Sunderland are certainly well equipped to become the latest.

2. Lewandowski-less Bayern remain dominant but BVB make statement

Let’s be clear, the likes of Sadio Mane, Matthijs de Ligt and Ryan Gravenberch represent excellent summer recruitment for Bayern Munich, but there were always going to be question marks after the sale of Robert Lewandowski. Will they still be able to find the same number of goals without such a clinical No.9 through the middle?

If their season-opener on Friday was anything to go by, such worries were completely unfounded. Ridiculous, in fact. The 10-year German champions were absolutely rampant against 2021/22 Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt, running out emphatic 6-1 winners. Bayern went straight for the throat and didn’t stop, going 3-0 up inside half an hour and taking a 5-0 lead into half-time. Even when Frankfurt pulled one back, they still had another goal in their locker.

Perhaps most promising was the way Bayern shared the goals around, with Joshua Kimmich, Benjamin Pavard, Mane (on his BL debut), Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala all getting on the scoresheet — the latter hitting a brace.

That’s enough to strike fear into the rest of the Bundesliga once again, but arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund made a statement of their own. Sure, it wasn’t the eye-catching scoreline Bayern won by, but BVB put in a defensive masterclass against a strong Bayer Leverkusen side, facing just three shots on target all match and keeping a clean sheet following Marco Reus’ opener in the 10th minute.

It’s going to be tough for anyone to cope with Bayern this season, as always, but Dortmund are showing early signs of a much stronger backbone this time around.

3. Messi shines as PSG crush Clermont to set early Ligue 1 pace

In the Champions League, Lionel Messi was his usual dominant self last season despite donning the colours of PSG instead of Barcelona. But domestically, even though PSG won Ligue 1, the Argentine icon struggled to reach his best form. scoring just six goals in 26 appearances — though he did notch 15 assists.

You get the feeling he’s out to prove a point this year, though, grabbing two goals and an assist to help PSG demolish Clermont 5-0 on Saturday evening. It took him just nine minutes to tee up former Barca teammate Neymar — who himself provided a hat-trick of assists — to make it 1-0 and while we had to wait until the final 10 minutes for Messi to get his goals, they were worth the wait. That bicycle kick will be doing the rounds on social media for some time yet.

Elsewhere in Ligue 1, Monaco won 2-1 away at Strasbourg, while Lille were dominant in a 4-1 victory at home to Auxerre, but it’s PSG who have set the pace once again.

4. Old Firm rivals continue perfect starts in Scotland

It’s the same old story in Scotland, where Old Firm rivals Rangers and Celtic are 100% after two games.

Following up from a 2-0 opening-day win over Aberdeen, Celtic took a 3-1 victory away from Ross County, though their hosts pushed them hard, equalising in the 58th minute and only collapsing to concede two goals in the final moments of the match.

Rangers, meanwhile, had it a little more comfortable, with second-half goals from Antonio-Mirko Colak and Alfredo Morelos sealing a 2-0 home win over Kilmarnock. After reaching the Europa League final last season, Rangers face an uphill task to make the Champions League group stages after losing their first leg against Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise 2-0.

The Ibrox crowd will be up for it on Tuesday, though, and these two domestic wins should help inspire some confidence.

5. Eredivise ‘Big Three’ all open with a win but Ajax don’t have it all their own way

All across Europe, the early signs are that the status quo will remain and it’s no different in the Netherlands, with Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord all kicking off with wins.

PSV and Feyenoord were particularly impressive, with the former beating FC Emmen 4-1 at home while the latter thrashed Vitesse 5-2 away.

However, Ajax didn’t have it all their own way, coming from behind to take a 3-1 lead away at Fortuna Sittard, while Turkish veteran Burak Yilmaz scored from the bench to peg the Amsterdam giants back again. A victorious start to Eredivisie life without Erik ten Hag for Ajax, but one that shows the losses of Nicolas Tagliafico, Lisandro Martinez and Andre Onana at the back may hurt a little more than first feared.

6. Zack Steffen drops clanger in Middlesbrough defeat

The United States have a real goalkeeper conundrum on their hands with the World Cup fast approaching. There are plenty of choices available for Gregg Berhalter, but all of them with obvious downsides.

Matt Turner, for example, recently joined Arsenal but looks set to play back-up to Aaron Ramsdale, playing mostly in cup competition. And Gabriel Slonina secured a big-money move to Chelsea last week, but remains very wet behind the ears at just 18 years old. Then there’s Sean Johnson, who helped NYCFC win the MLS Cup last season but isn’t exactly secure playing with the ball at his feet.

All this seems to have left the window open for Zack Steffen following his loan move from Man City to Middlesbrough this summer but, so far, he’s not really covered himself in glory. The former Columbus Crew stopper was decent enough on the opening day, making a couple of big saves in Boro’s 1-1 draw with West Brom. But, well, against QPR, he put in a disaster-class, allowing three goals including one clanger he won’t live down anytime soon:

Headaches remain for Berhalter, who surely must be evaluating Steffen’s place on the depth chart.

7. Aaron Ramsey opens his Nice account

Despite interest from MLS side Charlotte FC, Aaron Ramsey completed a move to Ligue 1 side Nice recently as he looks to stay sharp for Wales’ World Cup campaign in the winter.

And it hasn’t taken Ramsey long to open his account in France, scoring mere seconds into his debut after coming on in the 77th minute, helping Nice secure a 1-1 draw away at Toulouse. The goal was peak Arsenal Ramsey, arriving late in the box and clinically smashing the ball into the back of the net.

Not in Europe, but it’s also good to note Gareth Bale scored a brilliant solo goal for LAFC in MLS on Saturday evening, so it looks like those Welsh veterans are keeping nice and sharp.