Football Features

Misfiring Messi and Brilliant Benzema – Ten things you might have missed in Europe’s top five leagues

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:40, 19 September 2021

In a dynamic weekend of football across Europe’s top five leagues we saw an incredible amount of action.

Here’s what you might have missed from the games away from the Premier League.

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1. Messi, discordant

When Leo Messi agreed to join PSG in the summer, everyone around the world began salivating at the prospect of watching him link up with Kylian Mbappé and Neymar without ever considering the realities of PSG as a team.

This is a side that has a miserable midfield relying on the presence of the injury and suspension prone Marco Verratti to function. And their coach is a man who thrived working with lesser known players that he moulded into superstars at Spurs, rather than harmonising a group of superstars to play well together as a group.

As a result the Messi we’ve seen so far for PSG is the same one we saw for years in an Argentina shirt. In a side stacked with attacking talent but such a shallow midfield that attacks were inconsistent and not at all conducive to the associative style of play Messi plays.

On his home debut, Messi had an inconsistent night against Lyon. There were moments of thrilling genius, the woodwork was struck, he completed 3/3 dribbles too and was denied a debut goal by a desperate bit of defending. But it was all in bits, discordant. We are yet to see a true Messi symphony in Paris and what’s worrying is that right now there’s no indication that PSG will ever learn any of his tunes.

The Parisians did pull out a mostly undeserved win at the very last, with Mauro Icardi heading in a stoppage time winner after Neymar had “won” and scored an equalising penalty to cancel out Lucas Paqueta’s brilliant opener.

2. Juve deny Milan top spot

Milan had won their opening three games of the Serie A season and knew that a win over Juventus would have sent them to the top of the table. They won 0-3 at the Juventus Stadium last season, so why not again?

Well, Juventus came flying out the blocks and played with more focus and intensity than they did that day. They dominated the opening period, taking a very early lead through a stunning Alvaro Morata breakaway.

Milan fought back after the break, however, equalising through Ante Rebic and almost taking the lead late on, only for Pierre Kalulu’s shot to be dramatically tipped over by Wojciech Szczesny. That save meant that Milan could only draw level with Inter atop the summit, albeit they are behind on goal difference.

3. Valencia give Madrid an inch…

For 80-odd minutes, it looked like Valencia were going to get a famous win over Real Madrid. Of course, if you really thought that then you obviously don’t watch much Valencia or Real Madrid. Because as much as Los Che are consistently self-destructive, Real Madrid simply will not quit. And if you give them an inch, they will take a mile and run you right over.

Well, Valencia gave them an inch. Instead of continuing to push up and play the way they had been all game, they dropped deep and parked their defence in front of goal trying to see out the win. Big mistake.

With the defence so deep, Vini Jr.’s potshot deflected in off Dimitri Foulquier and the misdirection from that meant it flew by Giorgi Mamardashvili into the near-post. And by then, Valencia were rattled and Madrid emboldened. Vini sent in a screaming cross two minutes later, Mamardashvili came to collect but misjudged the flight of the ball and Karim Benzema headed a big winner.

4. Los Blancos’ new dynamic duo

Last season Karim Benzema was caught on camera telling a team-mate not to pass the ball to Vinicius Jr. because the Brazilian was playing so poorly Benzema likened it to him basically being an opponent. This season he and Vini are Real Madrid’s new dynamic duo.

So of course it was Benzema who teed up Vinicius for his deflected equaliser, and of course it was Vinicius who arced the ball in for Benzema’s winner. They are the only two players in La Liga that have scored more than five goals so far this season. That was Vinicius’ first assist of the season and it was Benzema’s fifth. That’s right, the man who has six goals also has five assists.

Forget Bale, forget Hazard, it’s Benzema and Vinicius leading the way for Los Blancos as they look to win La Liga.

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5. Atleti slip up

Real Madrid’s win sent them top of the table on 13 points, where they should have been level with defending champions Atlético Madrid. Instead, they’re two points clear because Atleti could only draw 0-0 at home against Athletic Club.

This makes it two goalless draws in a row at home, following their struggle against Porto in the Champions League. These are games Atleti need to be winning if they are serious about retaining La Liga. Now we look to Barcelona on Monday night. If they win they will keep pace with Madrid and, should they win their game in-hand they, too, will go above Atleti.

6. Sevilla concede another penalty

After somehow conceding three penalties in one game against Salzburg midweek, Sevilla conceded yet another spot-kick against Real Sociedad! It was 24 minutes into the game when Diego Carlos headed the ball onto his left arm and gave La Real a huge chance to take the lead against Sevilla but his penalty was weak and low and central and so Bono managed to kick it away and preserve a third straight draw for Sevilla. La Liga has a midweek round so let’s see if Sevilla can concede more than four penalties in the space of seven days!

7. Bayern crush another opponent

After drawing their first game of the season, Bayern Munich have won their next seven straight. More than that their last five has seen them score 31 goals and concede just once. Seriously. After smashing Barcelona 0-3 in midweek they followed up by eviscerating Bochum 7-0 at the Allianz Arena with you know who scoring for his 19th consecutive game.

Next up? The Bundesliga’s bottom club Greuther Furth.


8. Haaland makes good on his promise

After midweek Erling Haaland decided that his goalscoring record for Norway (12 goals in 15 games) wasn’t good enough and dropped a quote that he should have scored more goals than played games. Many took that quote and applied it humourously to his Borussia Dortmund record where he had scored as many goals as he had played games.

Well, maybe Haaland did the same too because he smashed in a brace in Dortmund’s 4-2 win over Union Berlin and has now scored 68 goals in just 67 games for BVB. There is seemingly nothing that can stop Haaland from scoring goals.

9. Inter back on the wagon

After yet another embarrassing Champions League defeat, Inter rebounded in great form with a stonking great big win against Bologna. Inter cooked their visitors alive, scoring three times in each half to push to the top of Serie A (pending Napoli’s game on Monday) and make light of their European woes. This is a lean, mean, match-winning machine.

10. Mourinho stunned in fair Verona

José Mourinho’s Roma have started the season in supreme form with goals and wins galore. But today despite fighting back to equalise agaist Verona, they were stunned by a phenomenal winner from Davide Faraoni. A scorching effort from the edge of the box that ricocheted in off the bar and left Rui Patricio with no chance and left Mourinho’s unblemished start in tatters.