With Spain’s LaLiga and Italy’s Serie A kicking off this weekend, all of Europe’s major football leagues are back in action. And even though the seasons are barely underway in leagues such as England’s Premier League and the Germany’s Bundesliga, there already has been plenty of drama and storylines.
ESPN correspondents Rob Dawson, Alex Kirkland, Julien Laurens, Sam Marsden and James Olley all break down the big stuff you need to know about the weekend.
Martinez’s woes on Ten Hag?
There are plenty of issues for Erik ten Hag to wade through following Manchester United‘s 4-0 humiliation at Brentford on Saturday, and Lisandro Martinez is one of them. There has been debate about whether the Argentina man can handle the physicality of the Premier League since his move from Ajax Amsterdam, and it was noticeable that he was targeted by Brentford with long balls up to Ivan Toney.
Ten Hag replaced Martinez at half-time and brought on Raphael Varane in his place, and while it’s still very early, there will be concern that Ten Hag has got one of his key summer signings wrong. You only have to look at the players brought in and the other names linked with moves to see that Ten Hag has been central to United’s recruitment this summer, and Martinez’s performance at Brentford does not reflect well on the new manager. — Dawson
Conte and Tuchel ignite new rivalry
Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte previously only had nice things to say about each other, but Sunday’s tempestuous 2-2 draw between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur featured clashes that will surely ignite a fresh managerial rivalry.
On an unusually hot London afternoon, the temperatures were at their highest on the touchline as first Conte and then Tuchel took turns to celebrate with increasing antagonism as the teams traded blows in a pulsating 90-minute encounter. Twice, they had to be separated by players and staff from both clubs, the second time after a handshake during which Tuchel took umbrage at Conte’s lack of eye contact.
Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte admit they enjoyed their heated exchanges following Chelsea’s draw with Spurs.
Referee Anthony Taylor sent both managers off at the final whistle as Spurs celebrated salvaging a point from an underwhelming display through Harry Kane‘s 96th-minute header. Tuchel launched a furious attack on Taylor afterward, claiming he should not be allowed to officiate Chelsa games in future — a suggestion that is almost certain to land him in more hot water with the Football Association — but it was his fracas with Conte that drew the most attention.
Chelsea and Tottenham have a long-standing and bitter rivalry. But here was a new chapter, and with Spurs harboring aims under Conte to close the gap on the Premier League’s finest sides, it might be set to run and run. — Olley
Bench rescues Madrid in opening win
There was something familiar about Real Madrid‘s LaLiga opener at Almeria on Sunday: a dramatic 2-1 comeback win, with the champions fighting back from a goal down to claim all three points. In fact, by Madrid standards, this was a rather tame turnaround, with the goals from Lucas Vazquez and then David Alaba — providing one of the moments of the weekend with a sublime free kick, curled into the top corner seconds after taking the field as a substitute — coming in the 61st and 75th minutes, rather than added time.
ALABA FREE KICK GOLAZO WITH HIS FIRST TOUCH OF THE MATCH 🤯 pic.twitter.com/Bto4ZoMMsb
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 14, 2022
Madrid had been troubled by a well-organized Almeria team, with coach Carlo Ancelotti’s five changes leaving the side lacking some fluency, especially in midfield, where Casemiro and Luka Modric were missed. The game went on, though the visitors’ superiority began to tell, and by the time Vazquez made it 1-1, only one outcome seemed possible.
The fact that Ancelotti could call on Modric, Eden Hazard, Alaba, Casemiro and Dani Ceballos as substitutes showed the remarkable depth of Madrid’s bench. Even when things don’t go to plan from the off, they have ample resources in reserve to turn things around. — Kirkland
Barcelona’s new stars still need to mesh
Barcelona have spent over €150 million in new signings this summer, but they were held to a goalless draw on the opening day of the campaign at Camp Nou by Rayo Vallecano, who have not spent a penny in the offseason.
Barca handed debuts in attack to Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha, who arrived at a combined cost of €100 million, but neither of them could mark his debut with a goal. It could have been even worse for Barca too, with Sergio Busquets sent off late on and Rayo striker Radamel Falcao having a goal ruled out for offside moments later.
Barca had, as expected, dominated large parts of the match against a side they lost against twice last term, registering over 20 shots on goal, but it looks like it may take time for their new arrivals to click. There is work for Xavi Hernandez to do on the training ground ahead of a tricky trip to Real Sociedad next weekend — even if he used the draw to say Barca “still need to strengthen” before the transfer window closes this month. — Marsden
Luis Garcia discusses Barcelona’s struggles and whether they should be worried moving forward.
Lukaku’s dream start
It took Romelu Lukaku 81 seconds to score on his return to Internazionale. The goal in itself was nothing special. The Belgian player was just at the right place at the right time after Federico Dimarco’s cross and Matto Darmian’s header across goal. It was a typical Lukaku finish with his eye for goal and his anticipation in the box.
It is the dream start for second stint with Inter Milan and in Serie A. There are high expectations around Lukaku. He is back to regain the title after rivals AC Milan beat the Nerazzurri to it last season, when Lukaku was at Chelsea.
Lukaku didn’t have much more than his goal to show for (only one other shot in the whole game, 32 touches, 15 passes made), but he led the line well, and that’s the most important thing. Of course, scoring on his debut doesn’t mean much for him. Remember that last season, he netted only 15 minutes into his Chelsea debut, away at Arsenal. We know what happened in the rest of the campaign. Let’s not get too carried away, then, although this really feels differently. Lukaku is back home. — Laurens
The Yellow Submarine on due course
Alex Baena had already scored his first ever LaLiga goal, putting Villarreal 2-0 up at Real Valladolid, by the time he picked up the ball on the left in the 90th minute. What happened next surprised everyone — even himself — as the 21-year-old academy product cut inside before unleashing an unstoppable, viciously dipping shot past goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo, flying off the crossbar and into the net to make it 3-0.
HIGHLIGHTS: #RealValladolidVillarreal 0-3
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) August 13, 2022
Villarreal’s players ran off to celebrate, laughing deliriously, seemingly stunned by what they’d just seen. Beginning the season with an away win is a radical turnaround from early last year, when the team went from August to December without a victory on the road, and it’s just the start that a team with Champions League ambitions require.
Kubo’s touch a sign of stability?
Takefusa Kubo has great pedigree, having come through Barcelona’s academy before joining Real Madrid via FC Tokyo, but his career has not quite taken off yet. The 21-year-old showed glimpses of his potential on loan at Mallorca, but moves to Villarreal and Getafe didn’t work out so well.
A permanent switch to Real Sociedad followed this summer and, if Sunday’s goal is anything to go by, he might benefit from finally having a stable home. Mikel Merino‘s pass was sublime, and Kubo’s brilliant touch and finish on his debut gave La Real a hard-fought 1-0 win away at Cadiz to open the season with three points. — Marsden
Teams in trouble
Not going to get easier at Man Utd
It’s almost impressive that Manchester United consistently seem to find ways to sink to new depths. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, they manage to concede four goals in 35 minutes at Brentford and drop to the bottom of the Premier League table. Stretching back to last season, United have lost nine of their past 14 competitive games and six of their past eight. That’s relegation form by anyone’s standards.
No one is suggesting that could possibly happen, but they look like a team who don’t know where their next goal is coming from, let alone their next win. United’s next two home games are against Liverpool and Arsenal, with trips to Southampton and Leicester sandwiched in between. The start to the season is already a disaster, but it could get even more messy very quickly — Dawson
Leverkusen’s struggles are real
Bayer Leverkusen were so entertaining last season, scoring for fun, with Patrik Schick and Moussa Diaby taking the Bundesliga by storm, and Gerardo Seoane got a lot of things right for his first season at the club. How different already is this campaign. Bayer have just been beaten twice for their first two league matches, at Dortmund (1-1) and this weekend against Augsburg (2-1), when they had only lost two in their first nine last season.
Having also been knocked out of the German Cup in the first round by third-division team Elversberg (4-3), Bayer are unrecognizable. They created lots of chances at the weekend with an expected goal of 2.57 and 24 shots, 10 on target, but could not finish. They ended the game with five forwards, but the efficiency, once again, was not there. The pressure is already big on Seoane, and they need a reaction at home again next weekend against TSG Hoffenheim. — Laurens
Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal)
Gabriel Jesus marked his home debut against Leicester City following a £45 million move from Manchester City with precisely the sort of all-action display he was signed for. The 25-year-old curled home his first Premier League goal for Arsenal with a clever 23rd-minute finish before a back-post header doubled his contribution 12 minutes later. Jesus also registered two assists — for Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Martinelli — as the Gunners maintained their 100% record at the start of the season with a 4-2 win at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Steve Nicol reacts to Gabriel Jesus’ performance in Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Leicester.
Jesus was always expected to set the Arsenal press with his energetic running, but the great unknown was whether he could prove prolific in front of goal away from the relentless chance-creating machine that is Manchester City. Tougher challenges await, but this was a hugely encouraging way to start. — Olley