The final international break of 2023 is officially history as we are back in league action all across Europe with mouthwatering performances and surprise results happening amongst the major leagues.
In England, we saw Manchester City unable to extend their lead atop the Premier League in a 1-1 draw against Liverpool and we also witnessed Kai Havertz snatch the headlines with Arsenal defeating Brentford 1-0 and become the new league leaders.
In France, we saw PSG dispose of AS Monaco with ease in a 5-2 win to continue their reign top of Ligue 1. In Spain, Barcelona failed to secure all three points in a 1-1 draw against Rayo Vallecano, which didn’t allow them to close the gap to the three teams above them in LaLiga. And finally in Germany, Harry Kane continues to make history in Bayern Munich in their 1-0 win over Cologne.
Here is your look back at all the fun from this weekend so far.
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Jurgen Klopp says he won’t talk about Liverpool’s title chances until the last few months of the season but he might not be able to keep it quiet for much longer. For all the preseason talk of Arsenal being Manchester City’s main challengers, Liverpool have quietly gone through their first 13 games with just one defeat — and even that one at Tottenham involved one of the worst VAR disasters.
They deserved a point at the Etihad Stadium, even if Trent Alexander-Arnold’s second-half equaliser came out of nothing, and they might have gone away with more had Alisson had a better game.
The Brazilian goalkeeper was at fault twice for City’s goal — first when his weak kick out went straight to Nathan Aké and then when Erling Haaland’s shot smashed through his hands. He was also lucky that Chris Kavanagh decided he had been pushed by Manuel Akanji when he dropped a cross at Rúben Dias’ feet to tap into the net. VAR Stuart Attwell agreed with Kavanagh but it looked soft.
Despite Allison’s nervous afternoon, there wasn’t much between the two teams and, whether Klopp wants to admit it or not, it should give Liverpool confidence that they’re capable of matching City over the course of the season. Klopp probably doesn’t have the squad depth that Guardiola enjoys but if he can keep everyone fit, and deal with the distraction of the Europa League, there’s no reason why Liverpool shouldn’t be in the title race come April and May. Maybe then Klopp will even talk about it. — Rob Dawson
A night that began with the focus on Aaron Ramsdale returning in goal ended with another maligned Arsenal player Kai Havertz firing the Gunners to the top of the Premier League.
Mikel Arteta’s side beat Brentford 1-0 at the Gtech Community Stadium courtesy of Havertz’s 89th-minute header from a sublime Bukayo Saka cross — only his second goal since signing for £67.5 million from Chelsea last summer. The search for Havertz’s best position has extended into international football with Germany utilising the 24-year-old at left-back and left wing-back during this month’s international break.
For Arsenal, he has played as a No. 8, a false nine and out wide at times without finding much consistency in his game — an issue which led Arteta to overlook Havertz in his starting lineup against Brentford, instead favouring an experiment with Leandro Trossard operating as a No. 8 alongside returning captain Martin Ødegaard.
Trossard had a goal ruled out on VAR review for offside shortly before half-time but this was a disjointed display from the visitors, who lacked sufficient creativity to cause Brentford too many problems.
In fact, Ramsdale almost marked his comeback in calamitous style, gifting Brentford a chance to open the scoring on 13 minutes by freezing in possession inside his own box. Only Declan Rice’s brilliant goal line clearance to deny Bryan Mbeumo prevented maximum damage.
Ramsdale, recalled here by necessity given Arsenal’s new No. 1 David Raya, was ineligible as he is on loan from Brentford, also later escaped any consequence of inexplicably throwing the ball straight into the ground as he tried to distribute.
But he recovered his poise in the second half, albeit owing his clean sheet to another stunning clearance off the line, this time from Oleksandr Zinchenko, as he kept out substitute Neal Maupay’s 77th-minute header.
The last word went to Havertz, who was dragged to the away end by Arteta at full-time in an attempt to boost the confidence of a player whose expensive acquisition was supposed to move Arsenal closer to the Premier League title. After Manchester City and Liverpool drew earlier in the day, the Gunners seized their moment with a hard-fought win that resembles a small step in that aim. — James Olley
Manager Xavi Hernández says Barcelona need a mentality change after labouring to a 1-1 draw at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
Florian Lejeune’s second-half own goal cancelled out Unai López’s brilliant opener to save a point for Barça, who have now won just two of their past five games in all competitions. Meanwhile, they are winless in five against Rayo.
The result will do little to quiet the negativity around the team which Xavi said was affecting his players before the international break. Against Rayo, he bemoaned the team’s mentality in the first half, saying levels had perhaps “subconsciously dropped” since winning LaLiga last season. The Barça coach was also critical of the decision not to give a late penalty for Alfonso Espino’s challenge on Raphinha.
More criticism will follow, Xavi accepts that, but he also backs his team to turn things around. They will need to do so quickly with three key home games over the next fortnight. First, they host Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday needing a result after losing at Shakhtar Donetsk last time out. They then welcome Atlético Madrid and surprise leaders Girona in LaLiga. Any more dropped points and they could see Girona and Real Madrid, who began this weekend four and two points ahead of them respectively, start to leave them behind.
Barça wore shirts with the message “We are with you, Gavi,” on them before kickoff against Rayo after losing him to injury for the rest of the season this week. They could have done with him with them on the pitch, though, as they struggled to get going in Vallecas. Xavi said the mentality to “really go for the game and be aggressive” was missing; that’s something Gavi, characterised as the heart and soul of the team by his boss, has in bundles.
López’s clean strike from distance — which Barça felt could have been ruled out because Sergio Camello’s was standing in an offside position — caught out goalkeeper Iñaki Peña, who was standing in for the injured Marc-André ter Stegen, to give Rayo a half-time lead. Barça did improve after the break. Ferran Torres, Pedri, and Iñigo Martínez all had headed chances before Lejeune turned Alejandro Balde’s cross into his net in the 82nd minute.
That set up a frantic finale, which ended with Espino’s challenge on Raphinha. Xavi said it was a “clear penalty.” Rayo coach Francisco, whose side also drew with Real Madrid a few weeks ago, said he hadn’t seen it. Neither the referee nor the VAR agreed with Xavi, who warned his players a mentality change is necessary if they want to challenge for trophies again this season. — Samuel Marsden
There was nothing better that Ligue 1 could offer to come back from the November international break than this appealing PSG vs. AS Monaco match on Friday evening under the lights at the Parc des Princes. And it didn’t disappoint, even without the likes of Warren Zaïre-Emery and an injured Marquinhos on the Paris side and suspended Youssouf Fofana for the visitors. It was an intense, open and spectacular top-of-the-table clash between the league leaders Parisians and third-place Monégasques.
PSG won 5-2, a score probably a bit too harsh considering how good Monaco still performed, but it was great publicity for Ligue 1. PSG were outstanding with the ball at times and the best player on the night was undoubtedly Ousmane Dembélé. The French international scored his first goal for PSG with an incredibly tight finish after a wonderful first touch.
All evening long, he created chaos on his right wing with his dribbling, his pace and his partnership with Achraf Hakimi. As always, he didn’t always make the right decisions, and he had zero successful crosses, but he made such a difference, including in the buildup play. Luis Enrique has made him a key part of his plans and he is indispensable. PSG are six points ahead of Monaco, probably their toughest rivals for the league title this season, even more so than Nice.
For Adi Hutter’s team, they will rue their missed chances but they played some really good stuff at times while Folarin Balogun and Aleksandr Golovin have demonstrated so much talent. But on Friday night, they just came a bit short against the reigning champions. — Julien Laurens
In France, AS Monaco were unable to close the gap between them and league leaders PSG as they fell 5-2 at the Parc des Princes. Balogun’s fourth goal this season wasn’t enough for Monaco on Friday, but it was a return to form for the striker after failing to hit the net in either of the two matches against Trinidad and Tobago in the Concacaf Nations League last week.
Meanwhile, in Germany, we saw an All-American clash as Giovanni Reyna’s Borussia Dortmund took on Joe Scally’s Borussia Monchengladbach as the hosts looked to continue to stamp their authority in the Bundesliga race. Scally played the full 90 minutes, while Reyna came on at half-time, and it was the latter who got the last laugh as Edin Terzic’s side snatched a 4-2 comeback win after going down 2-0 inside the first 28 minutes to go to fourth in the table, 10 points behind league leaders Bayer Leverkusen.
In Italy, on a night where we saw Francesco Camarda become the youngest player to play a Serie A match, AC Milan snatched a 1-0 win over Fiorentina with both Christian Pulisic and Yunus Musah starting as Stefano Pioli’s side remain in the Serie A title race and remain third, six points behind league leaders Inter.
Finally in the Netherlands, we saw three Americans take to the pitch as PSV were able to beat FC Twente 3-0 with Ricardo Pepi, Sergiño Dest, and Malik Tillman all featuring with Tilman getting the assist for the final goal thanks to Johan Bakayoko and to remain top of the Eredivisie. — Roberto Rojas
Harry Kane continues to make history in Germany. After scoring the only goal in Bayern Munich’s 1-0 win over Cologne, Kane was able to break numerous new records as he continues to shine for the Bavarians in just his first season. Among the records that the striker has been able to get is becoming the first Bundesliga player to score 18 goals in the first 12 matchdays and breaking Jadon Sancho’s record of 17 goals to become the highest goalscoring Englishman ever in a single Bundesliga campaign.
What’s even more insane is that when Robert Lewandowski broke the single-season record for most goals in a Bundesliga season with 41, his tally after 12 matchdays was 15. Kane has already scored three more at the same time Lewandowski did when he eventually broke the record so if he keeps his form up, he might be on pace to break the Polish striker’s record as well.
The former Tottenham striker is on red-hot form as he stands atop everyone else as no one else has more goals in Europe’s top five leagues, with 22 in all competitions. That being said, even though Bayern Munich are unbeaten in the league, they are still in second place and firm in the Bundesliga race being only two points behind league leaders Bayer Leverkusen.
If Bayern are going to continue to chase an unprecedented 12th straight league title, it’ll all depend on whether Kane will be able to continue his hot form for Thomas Tuchel’s side and finally give one of the best strikers of his generation long-awaited silverware. — Rojas