The final day of July brought a strange sensation with competitive European club football overlapping pre-season preparations.
Amidst the countless club friendlies happening around the continent, July 31 also saw the start of the 2021/22 Scottish Premiership campaign and the return of the EFL Cup (while the 2. Bundesliga also continued).
But with so much going on it can be hard to keep track of everything. So we’ve picked out the biggest stories of the day in European football, both competitive and pre-season friendlies.
1. Rangers start title defence in perfect fashion
One of the leagues to get underway on Saturday was the Scottish Premiership with defending champions Rangers involved in the division’s first game of the 2021/22 campaign. Steven Gerrard’s side cruised to their 55th league title last season, winning 32 of their 38 matches, finishing the campaign unbeaten with the best attack and defensive record (scoring 92 goals and conceding just 13).
They were given an interesting tie for their season opener this year, up against Livingston who had finished sixth, but Rangers had no problems in brushing them aside. It took Rangers just eight minutes to score the first goal of the 2021/22 Scottish Premiership season and Ianis Hagi was the one to get it, brilliantly controlling James Tavernier’s free-kick, taking two defenders out of the equation with a fake shot before rifling through the crowd.
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) July 31, 2021
Scott Wright added another good goal for Rangers in the second half, scored with the outside of his foot from close range before Kemar Roofe capped off the scoring. Three goals, three points and the perfect start to their quest for title number 56.
2. Bournemouth get the EFL Cup underway
South of the border, competitive football also got underway in England with the start of the 2021/22 Carabao Cup campaign as all 92 English league teams look to end Manchester City’s four-year hold on the cup.
The first game of the competition took place on the south coast with Bournemouth hosting MK Dons at the Vitality Stadium, the official opening match of the Scott Parker era. And it couldn’t have been a better start.
Bournemouth romped to a 5-0 win over MK Dons on Saturday with David Brooks scoring twice alongside goals from Dominic Solanke, Philip Billing and Christian Saydee. But there is now a long wait for Bournemouth to find out their second-round opponents, with the majority of the fixtures not being played until 10 and 11 August.
3. Nabil Fekir proves friendlies aren’t always friendly
Friendlies. They’re normally games with very little on the line that teams use to get their match fitness up, not worrying too much about the result and steering clear of anything that could cause major problems. But no one told Nabil Fekir that.
Real Betis travelled to England to face Leeds United at Loughborough University on Saturday as part of a three-game tour of England which had previously seen them face Wolverhampton Wanderers and Derby County. As a game, it was exciting enough with Betis recovering from an early Patrick Bamford goal to eventually win 3-2. But as the game neared its close, Fekir and Patrick Struijk battled for a ball in midfield and things were getting feisty. Struijk won the ball but Fekir wasn’t happy, proceeding to kick the Leeds midfielder which resulted in him having to go off.
But, this is preseason, so Fekir did not get sent off (though he did receive a yellow card).
— Leeds United (@LUFC) July 31, 2021
4. Patson Daka gives fans a glimpse
Pre-season is also the time for players to make an early mark on their new teams, getting used to systems and trying to endear themselves to fans early on. Patson Daka did exactly that for Leicester on Saturday, scoring his first unofficial goal for the club in their 3-3 draw against Queens Park Rangers.
Preparations for the new campaign hasn’t been good for Leicester, as they failed to score in defeats against both Burton Albion and Wycombe Wanderers, the former coming on penalties. Their poor pre-season continued as QPR took a two-goal lead before Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall pulled one back and Daka equalised. They went behind again but Kelechi Iheanacho equalised from a penalty Daka had won, showing more promise of a budding partnership between the pair.
5. The Kingsley Coman curse strikes again
Not every player has been enjoying pre-season, and one of those who definitely isn’t has to be Kingsley Coman. The Frenchman started in Bayern Munich’s friendly against Napoli on Saturday, which ended in a 3-0 defeat (though all goals after wholesale changes), but his match lasted just nine minutes.
In the early stages of the game, Coman was pulled down by Kostas Manolas and dumped into Kalidou Koulibaly, being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Unfortunately, the incident was enough to end Coman’s game, with Julian Nagelsmann reporting he “appears to have sustained bruised ribs”. This isn’t Coman’s first rodeo with injury, and we can only hope it’s a short layoff that doesn’t impact his season.
6. Memphis Depay blesses first start
After coming off the bench against Girona last weekend, Memphis Depay made his unofficial first Barcelona start in their friendly against Stuttgart, and wasted little time in continuing his good pre-season with the club.
Having scored a penalty against Girona, Depay was on the scoresheet again, opening the scoring in the first half with a beautiful effort. The Dutchman got onto the end of compatriot Frenkie de Jong’s long ball, took control with an excellent first touch, lifted it over the defender with his second before firing past the goalkeeper with his third. As simple as that.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 31, 2021
7. Celtic’s early woes continue
Returning to competitive football, having watched Rangers open their league season with ease, pressure was on Celtic to match their rivals and keep level with their bitter rivals even at this early stage.
Things have already been bad for Celtic this season as they were knocked out of the Champions League in the second-qualifying round, losing 3-2 to Danish side FC Midtjylland across two legs following a 2-1 defeat in midweek.
And their Scottish Premiership opener did not get off to the best start. Taking on newly-promoted Hearts at Tynecastle on Saturday night, Celtic went behind within eight minutes as former Bhoys player Gary Mackay-Steven opened the scoring. A former Celtic player scoring may have been bad but it was the nature of the goal that highlighted their problems, as their defence looked lost so early into their first game. It’s going to be an interesting season for Celtic.
GOAL | Hearts 1-0 Celtic@JamTarts mark their return to the Premiership with a bang as Gary Mackay-Steven opens the scoring against his former club at Tynecastle!
?Watch it live now on Sky Sports Football pic.twitter.com/SroS4w913Y
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) July 31, 2021