From Lionel Messi‘s long-awaited PSG debut to drama in Dortmund, impressive wins for Real Madrid and Barcelona in LaLiga and a vintage performance between the posts for Man United’s often-criticized No. 1, it was another great weekend of action across Europe.
Here’s the big stuff you need to know.
Four talking points
Messi outshone by Mbappe on his PSG debut
The hottest ticket in European football this weekend was in Reims, 90 minutes to the north and east of Paris, where Lionel Messi made his Paris Saint-Germain debut after joining from Barcelona on a free transfer. For the first time since Messi signed on Aug. 10, PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino was able to name the Argentine in a matchday squad along with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. However, while Mbappe and Neymar started, Messi was made to wait.
As he warmed up at the start of the second half, some of the excited Stade de Reims fans even joined PSG supporters in calling for Messi’s introduction, but by the time he replaced old Barca teammate Neymar just after the hour mark, PSG had already wrapped up the three points.
Two goals from Mbappe, the subject of a €180 million bid from Real Madrid this week, did the damage and made it four wins from four for PSG in Ligue 1, but there was a tinge of disappointment that Messi wasn’t able to mark his debut with a trademark moment of magic. PSG look good, though, and if they can keep Mbappe, Messi and Neymar together, they will be hopeful of at least matching Reims by making a second European final.
Reims are twice-beaten European Cup finalists, losing to Madrid in 1956 and 1959, while PSG lost to Bayern Munich in the 2020 Champions League final. With Messi, they’re desperate to go one step better. — Sam Marsden
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_inside) August 29, 2021
VAR chaos dominates Liverpool vs. Chelsea
So far this season, VAR has added clarity rather than confusion and been the positive addition that it was intended to be, following a couple of turbulent seasons since being introduced, but the Laws of the Game still throw up anomalies and Chelsea‘s Reece James was the victim of the handball rule during Saturday’s fiery 1-1 draw at Liverpool.
The ball had bounced up off James’s leg and onto his arm. He had no case to argue the decision — the rules gave Taylor no option but to send him off. But it seems incredibly harsh that an accidental, involuntary move of the arm leads to a penalty and a red card. The sanction far exceeds the transgression and seems ridiculously petty and overzealous. Punish players for wrongdoing, by all means, but James and Chelsea were treated extremely harshly by the rules this weekend. — Mark Ogden
New-look Real Madrid look good so far
They haven’t gotten up to full speed yet, but seven points from three LaLiga games — all of which came on the road, with the Santiago Bernabeu not yet ready to host the team as renovations continue — is a solid start for Carlo Ancelotti’s new-look Real Madrid. There have been plenty of encouraging signs so far, from Vinicius Junior‘s long-awaited addition of end product to his raw talent to David Alaba‘s seamless adaptation to his new home.
Saturday’s 1-0 win at Real Betis was less convincing than the opening weekend’s 4-1 victory at struggling Alaves, and less dramatic than last week’s 3-3 roller coaster at Levante, but it was the kind of hard-fought, dig-deep win that could end up being very important indeed come the end of the season. A stodgy first half was followed by an impressive raising of the tempo after the break, with back-from-injury Dani Carvajal‘s strike securing the three points.
🔥 𝐓 𝐄 𝐀 𝐌 pic.twitter.com/Msdb77mAhz
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) August 28, 2021
The spine of this team — Thibaut Courtois in goal, Alaba (whom Ancelotti has made clear he prefers at centre-back) in defence, Casemiro in midfield and Benzema up front — is a match for any team in Europe. If Madrid can finally wrap up the signing of Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain before the transfer window closes on Tuesday, they could be a force to be reckoned with this season. — Alex Kirkland
Haaland the hero for Dortmund
It’s going to take a lot for Borussia Dortmund to mount a serious title challenge given how every game has the potential for chaos, of both the positive and negative variety. Saturday’s 3-2 win over a pesky, confident Hoffenheim side showcased the good and the bad of the Black and Yellows: after taking the lead via Giovanni Reyna, they allowed Hoffenheim to level just eight minutes later and, after Jude Bellingham‘s emphatic finish to make it 2-1, they didn’t really close out the game.
You can guess what happened — Hoffenheim sub Munas Dabbur levelled in stoppage time — but there was juuuuust enough time for Erling Haaland to pop up with a decisive goal after some truly madcap scrambling around the penalty area.
The win vaulted Marco Rose’s side to the top of the Bundesliga, but one wonders how long they can keep it up. In order to win the title, they’ll need to show they can control both the pace and the outcome of games, but for now, just pass the popcorn. — James Tyler
ERLING HAALAND WITH AN INJURY TIME WINNER FOR DORTMUND! 💛 pic.twitter.com/S1t2GZNRTv
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 27, 2021
Three must-see goals
Memphis rescues Barca again
Hours before Messi made his PSG debut, Barcelona’s new hero was rescuing them for the second week running.
Memphis Depay salvaged a draw against Athletic Bilbao last weekend, and he scored the winner against Getafe on Sunday as Ronald Koeman’s side maintained their unbeaten start to the LaLiga season. It wasn’t an effort that will earn goal of the season nominations, but it did provide another glimpse of what the Dutch forward can offer Barca in the post-Messi years. His dancing feet confused the Getafe back line and his early shot, with technique not dissimilar to Cristiano Ronaldo‘s, fizzed under the unexpecting David Soria.
“Memphis,” chanted the Camp Nou crowd, creatively. — Marsden
Memphis Depay gets Barca back ahead! 🦁 pic.twitter.com/JB20ZtBDzG
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 29, 2021
Superb Soler stars for Valencia
New Valencia coach Jose Bordalas is known for an aggressive brand of pragmatic, results-at-all-costs football, but the team’s second goal in a 3-0 win over Alaves on Friday night was a work of art. Goncalo Guedes‘ first-time cross from the right was headed behind Carlos Soler … until the midfielder instinctively reached backward to backheel flick the ball into the roof of the net.
Soler was already Valencia’s most creative player, rightly handed the No. 10 shirt this season; now, with three goals in as many games, he’s providing cutting edge too. — Kirkland
(0:39 for @Carlos10Soler‘s 🦂 finish)
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) August 27, 2021
Greenwood shows he still has a lot to contribute
Mason Greenwood might be the man who misses out most following Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United, but the teenage forward showed against Wolves that he has the scoring instinct to be a top-quality backup to the 36-year-old.
United were heading for a draw at Molineux until Greenwood broke into the penalty area and lashed a right-foot shot past goalkeeper Jose Sa and into the far corner in the 79th minute. He now has 32 goals in 108 appearances for United and he is still just 19 years old. Even Ronaldo hadn’t scored that many for the club during his teenage years. — Ogden
Two teams that should be worried
Yep, it’s Arsenal again
It is beginning to feel like this could become a recurring theme because Arsenal aren’t just bad — they’re really bad.
After successive defeats against Brentford and Chelsea in their opening two games of the season, a trip to champions Manchester City was clearly the nightmare scenario for Mikel Arteta’s team, but if you’re facing an inevitable defeat, at least turn up and show that you want to stop the rot. Instead, Arsenal were awful and performed like a bunch of players who had no confidence in themselves, their teammates and, perhaps least of all, their coach.
In their 128-year history, Arsenal had never before suffered three losses without scoring in their first three games of the season, so we are now talking about all-time lows. Arteta is under huge pressure to quickly show he’s capable of arresting the slide, but he already looks like he is on borrowed time.
Next up, after the international break, is Norwich at home — bottom against second bottom in the first relegation clash of the season. If Arsenal fail to win that one, it could be the end for Arteta. — Ogden
Wolves need some goals
The heroics of Man United’s goalkeeper (more on him in a minute) should have Wolves fans feeling not as downtrodden as they might do after Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat, but there’s a troubling trend emerging for new manager Bruno Lage: a harmful lack of goals.
Wolves have failed to score in their first three Premier League games of the 2021-22 season, losing every time by a score of 1-0, and goals are the thing that make the difference between a good and a horrific season. (After all, nobody likes to defend for 90 minutes. Right, Arsenal?) There’s some solace in having a tough run of games to open the campaign — at Leicester, home to Tottenham and Man United — but the ship must be righted, and quickly. — Tyler
David de Gea might just be rediscovering the form for Manchester United that made him the best goalkeeper in the world in the eyes of many at one stage during his career at Old Trafford.
The Spain keeper’s performance at Wolves was as crucial to United’s 1-0 victory as Greenwood’s late winning goal because, without De Gea’s heroics between the sticks, the home side would have won comfortably. He made a string of important saves, with none better than the double block from Romain Saiss in the second half.
In recent seasons, and arguably since a poor tournament for Spain at the 2018 World Cup, De Gea has looked like a keeper short on confidence, with his best days behind him. Had his rival for the United No. 1 spot, Dean Henderson, not been laid low by the after-effects of COVID-19 during preseason, De Gea might well have started this season on the bench for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team. Instead, he has started all three Premier League games and looked strong and commanding in each of them.
Often criticised for failing to spot danger in the build-up, De Gea showed a new-found determination to play further up the pitch by racing out of his penalty area to nip Wolves attacks in the bud at Molineux.
Perhaps the sight of new signing Raphael Varane alongside Harry Maguire at the heart of United’s defence added to De Gea’s confidence against Wolves, with the experienced duo adding solidity to the back four. But ultimately, De Gea’s form is down to him and the 30-year-old showed at Wolves that, if he continues his resurgence, he has plenty of years at the top still ahead of him. — Ogden