The European football weekend was filled with big games -- Barcelona vs. Real Madrid in El Clasico, the derby between Man United and Man City, Napoli vs. Milan -- and they delivered no shortage of talking points as Real's Jude Bellingham rose to the occasion in a 2-1 win, Pep Guardiola's side smashed United 3-0 at Old Trafford and two of the Serie A's biggest clubs battled to a thrilling 2-2 draw.
Elsewhere, there was lots to discuss for Arsenal (Eddie Nketiah's hat trick), Liverpool (a big win in honor of Luis Díaz and his family), Bayern Munich (who won 8-0 thanks to Harry Kane) and another home defeat for Chelsea.
It's Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Jude Bellingham is rewriting history at Real Madrid. Thirteen goals in his first 13 games for Real Madrid puts him in the company of two guys named Alfredo Di Stefano and Cristiano Ronaldo. (In case you're unfamiliar with them, they went on to score a combined 758 goals for the club.) Ten goals in 10 league games -- including the two, one of them an instant permanent highlight reel item, that enabled Real Madrid to come back and beat Barcelona 2-1 -- is something guys like Romario, the original Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski (all of them strikers, none of them 20, like the Englishman) managed before him.
Bellingham's goals also papered over a number of cracks for Madrid at the Montjuic, because this was a game that Barcelona could well have won. They took the lead early through Ilkay Gündogan, hit the woodwork with Iñigo Martínez, could have had a penalty (Aurélien Tchouaméni on Ronald Araújo) and put together an xG, through the 90th minute, of 1.34 to 0.38. All this with Frenkie de Jong and Pedri in the stands and Jules Koundé, Raphinha and Lewandowski fit enough only for the bench.
In other words, against an opponent missing nearly half their best XI, Real Madrid were thoroughly outplayed. (Yes, I know Éder Militão and Thibaut Courtois are out for Madrid too, but they'll be out for so long you imagine the team have metabolized their absence.) Football-wise, Rodrygo and Vinícius were toothless upfront, Toni Kroos was getting overrun in midfield and Ferland Mendy was reminding everyone of why Eduardo Camavinga and even Fran García are better options at left-back. Meanwhile, Gavi, pressed into an unfamiliar position in front of the back four, was running the show, while Fermín López looked as if he'd been a Barca regular for four years, not four games.
Barcelona weren't perfect -- João Félix and Ferran Torres were struggling to have an impact, while João Cancelo, for all his attacking skills, was still finding himself as a winger -- but they firmly had the upper hand.
Ancelotti sent on Luka Modric, Camavinga and Joselu and while business did pick up a little bit for the visitors, it's not as if they had much to do with Bellingham's long-range equalizer. Modric's scuffed touch did fall to Bellingham for the winner, but that wasn't by design. What you're left with is a Madrid team that still need to find themselves and the right formula, but they have the luxury of doing so from the top of the table.
As for Barca, the way Xavi has dealt with successive injury crises while still putting out sides that are tactically coherent -- like he did on Saturday -- is admirable. It leaves us no closer to understanding what he plans to do once they're at full strength, assuming they ever get there. It's not his fault: he has basically been fighting fires from the moment he was appointed.
And just like that, they're dropped in it again. Not because they lost 3-0 at home to Manchester City: Pep Guardiola's crew turned in one of their best performances of the campaign (an xG of 3.38 on the road tells its own story) and, on days like this, it would have been tough for anyone. But rather, it's down to the manner of the defeat.
Ten Hag can't be blamed for his unavailable players -- Casemiro and, basically, the entire first choice back four -- but he is responsible for the choices made before and during the game. And when he opts to go direct to Rasmus Hojlund time and again, when Scott McTominay keeps getting shoehorned into the lineup (at the expense of pushing Bruno Fernandes wider), when you send out a midfield duo of Christian Eriksen and Mason Mount for the second half, well ... that's on him.
Let's review: United have lost three of their past six games. Of the three they didn't lose, one featured two injury-time goals from McTominay (Brentford at home), one saw André Onana make a last-minute penalty save and one was against Sheffield United, who have taken one of a possible 30 points in their past 10 games. It sometimes feels as if the main thing keeping Ten Hag in a job (other than the murky ownership situation) is the fact that he appears to continue to get buy-in from the players ... but for how much longer?
As for City, Guardiola was effusive in his praise. At full strength (and, until Kevin De Bruyne returns, this is probably his best XI) they are close to unplayable on days like these, especially against this version of United. Still, they maintained focus and execution, and the "mini-wobble" with the back-to-back defeats against Wolves and Arsenal feels like it's in the distant past right now.
Psychology is a funny thing. A 2-2 draw leaves both Napoli and Milan with a point, but when you're the team that comes back from 0-2 to equalize -- especially when, like Napoli did with Matteo Politano and Jack Raspadori, you score two beauties -- you feel galvanized and good about yourself. And when you're the side that lets the two-goal lead slip? Well, you feel like something that rhymes with spit.
It wasn't just Olivier Giroud's two goals that made Milan feel good about themselves at half-time -- they were firmly in control at the time, and could have had three or even four. Napoli's switch to the 4-2-4 formation (with Gio Simeone joining Raspadori upfront) and, more importantly, the verve and intensity with which they came out for the second half left them stunned. They still could have won the game -- so could Napoli, there were chances for both in a riveting finale -- but they had lost control, that thing Stefano Pioli craves.
This Milan side right now isn't good enough as a unit that it can do without their big guns: Mike Maignan, Rafael Leão and Theo Hernández. On the night, "Magic" Mike was a little less magical than usual, Leao was quiet and Theo was subpar. Away from home against a good side like Napoli, you need all three to perform.
As for Napoli, Rudi Garcia bought himself more time. At the half, it looked like this might be his last game in charge. Instead, they get a big point and a renewed confidence boost: they can get it done, at least for a while, without Victor Osimhen. Get it right and he might just stick around for a long while.
Jurgen Klopp described the buildup to this game as "the most difficult" of his career after Luis Diaz's parents were kidnapped in his native Colombia on Saturday. His mother was released a few hours later, but his father remains unaccounted for as police and military continue their search in northern Colombia.
These are professional footballers, of course, but a football team isn't like an office environment. It's based on camaraderie and teamwork and bonding to a degree that, frankly, you're unlikely to find in a law firm or trading floor. Klopp -- whose job is, in part, to strengthen those very bonds even further -- described Diaz as "our brother" and looked visibly shaken when talking postgame: "the boys fought for their brother."
Diogo Jota paid tribute by holding up Diaz's number 7 shirt after scoring the opener, and Liverpool went on to a straightforward 3-0 win over a Forest side that sat deep and looked to hit on breaks that never came. Darwin Núñez and Mohamed Salah chipped in too, but I thought the standout performer was Dominik Szoboszlai, who is increasingly looking like one of the best Premier League signings of the summer.
Liverpool are fourth, three points off the top, with a new midfield and have won every game at home this season in all competitions. If they continue to refine their chemistry -- and avoid injury, especially at the back -- they are very much in this title hunt.
This weekend's clash between Bayern Munich and Darmstadt had it all.
The good is Manuel Neuer's return because, rusty as he may be after several months out, he's several orders of magnitude more reliable and reassuring than the guys who have replaced him (Sven Ulreich obviously, but Yann Sommer last year, too). Indeed, it's probably not coincidental that when he got injured last year, Bayern were four points clear at the top of the Bundesliga. They won the title only on goal difference and now they're two points back.
The bad is Joshua Kimmich getting sent off inside of four minutes. Yes, it wasn't a great pass to him and, yes, the foul may have been outside the box and, yes, maybe a yellow would have sufficed. But somebody who is supposed to be a leader on this team can't take a chance on leaving his side a man down for 86 minutes. And, of course, the sending-off means he'll miss the trip to Borussia Dortmund for Saturday's Der Klassiker, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the park -- and one that, with Leon Goretzka still injured, will likely necessarily be filled by Konrad Laimer.
That it didn't impact the game has to do with the "weird."
Darmstadt's penchant for getting guys sent off for "DOGSO" (denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity) situations -- three in one game is downright bizarre, let alone two by Darmstadt in the first half alone -- and their general futility on the road (one point all season) meant Bayern were always going to turn it around. Still, scoring eight goals in one half is simply "Twilight Zone" stuff. It's as if Bayern wanted to vent their frustration for the earlier red on Darmstadt.
Harry Kane grabbed a hat trick and another place in YouTube history with a sensational goal from inside his own half. What did we learn? Very little, because football isn't meant to be played with nine vs. 10. Still, it's three points that keeps the pressure on Bayer Leverkusen.
Mikel Arteta played the percentages for the visit of Sheffield United this weekend. Facing an opponent with just one point in nine games and an injury list as long as your arm, he reshuffled the side, giving starts to Jakub Kiwior, Kai Havertz and Emile Smith Rowe plus Eddie Nketiah, in for the injured Gabriel Jesus.
What we got was a beatdown, a 5-0 drubbing that saw the visitors accumulate just 0.04 xG and take no shots after the 21st minute. Nketiah got a hat trick and might have had four if he'd been more selfish. (Instead, he allowed Fabio Vieira to take a late penalty with the score already 3-0.)
I'm not sure Nketiah has the caliber to be an Arsenal center-forward, let alone one who's likely to play often because the guy he backs up, Gabriel Jesus, isn't necessarily a natural central striker. But the fact of the matter is that Nketiah scored nine goals in all competitions last year and has five already this year. For a reserve, that's pretty good and as long as he keeps proving people like me wrong, neither he nor Arteta will care.
Juve haters love to be cynical whenever the bianconeri -- especially Max Allegri's version -- get a late, late, late goal (as in, six minutes after minute 90) to get all three points. But make no mistake about it: the victory over Verona was anything but a smash-and-grab. Juve took a whopping 30 shots on goal and put together an xG of 2.99 (to 0.38), while Moise Kean had two goals disallowed -- one for a very marginal offside, the other for a bit of a phantom elbow.
Verona parked the bus, but Juve willed their way to victory, although that came only in the most fortuitous fashion, with Arkadiusz Milik's finish hitting the post and pinballing around the 6-yard box before Andrea Cambiaso poked the ball home. It wasn't pretty from Juve -- it rarely is of late under Allegri -- but it was effective and determined and, most of all, attacking. Federico Chiesa looked good in his half-hour cameo, Dusan Vlahovic (while far from his best) showed signs of life and most of all, Kean looks revitalized.
Now, if Coach Max could actually keep his guys healthy and put together some decent patterns of play ... who knows where this team might finish?
One league win at Stamford Bridge since March 4 or one win in 13 home games: that's terrible for any side, let alone Chelsea, with all their spending and Todd Boehly bluster. The streak continued on Saturday with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Brentford.
The danger with this sort of thing is that it starts to play on players' minds. I don't think that will happen as long as the fans stay onboard and, with some exceptions, they've been supportive. To be honest, based on Saturday's result, you'd want to be pretty specific about where you vent your anger.
Chelsea created the bulk of the chances and, with better finishing, would have been several goals up. Instead, they conceded another poor goal at the far post (a bit like the Arsenal game), wasted more good chances (including one with 18-year-old Deivid Washington, making his debut off the bench) and then gave up a comical goal in garbage time as goalkeeper Robert Sánchez, who was higher up the pitch for the free kick, attempted to chase down Neal Maupay.
How to make sense of this?
Yes, there were a bunch of unavailable stars (the usual crew, plus Enzo Fernández), but that's nothing new. Chelsea didn't play poorly either, but when the finishing is left to Jackson, who is 22, has one top flight season under his belt and is visibly raw on the pitch, and the teenager Deivid, you have to wonder about squad construction. (It's true that Chelsea have another forward, Armando Broja, but he was coming off a very serious injury in the summer.)
I'm all for giving talented youngsters a chance, but sometimes it feels as if Chelsea's approach is to simply treat them as assets on a balance sheet rather than players who need to fit together to build a coherent team.
We've seen this before -- last season, in fact. Paris Saint-Germain race out to a lead -- this time with a wonder-strike from Warren Zaire Emery and a deflected Kylian Mbappe shot -- figure the game is over and then let their opponents back in. It's what happened away against a battling Brest side away, who fought back to 2-2 and, having equalized, created some of the better chances.
It would have been a shock victory for the home side (one of the surprise packages of the season), but not an undeserved one. In the dying minutes, Randal Kolo Muani won a penalty, which Mbappe took. His first attempt was saved and then he poked home the rebound.
Fortuitous? On the run of play, maybe. More worrying is the fact that in the second half, PSG managed just 0.22 xG on six shots. Luis Enrique will want to remind them that they're not 10 points clear at the top of the table, and they can't take games like these for granted.
Álvaro Morata scored one and set up another in Atletico Madrid's 2-1 win over Alaves. Don't let the scoreline fool you, though: Alaves' goal came deep in injury time and the result was never really in doubt.
Diego Simeone's crew is clicking together nicely and seem more comfortable with the ball than they have in a long, long time. And no, even with a relatively quiet (by his standards) Antoine Griezmann, they were firmly in control.
The win makes it six straight in LaLiga. They're three points off the top, with a game in hand, and they're ready to challenge for the title, boasting the depth and versatility to do so. At least as long as Morata keeps producing like he has been.
They're still top, still undefeated, and, across all competitions, have won 12 of 13 games. You expect Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen to slow down at some point and maybe that point is now. Freiburg made life tricky for them at the BayArena on Sunday, even as Florian Wirtz scored a gorgeous individual goal and they took a 2-0 lead.
A bit like the week before against Wolfsburg away, it wasn't quite the beatdown to which Xabi Alonso's crew had us accustomed. But it was still a deserved win and if you can weather your blip while still winning games, you're sitting pretty.
The buildup was overshadowed by the return of Romelu Lukaku to San Siro -- with the home fans whistling every time he came near the ball, which wasn't very often -- but Inter vs. Roma stood out for how one-sided it was. The home side dominated, especially in the first half, racking up an xG of 2.30, hitting the woodwork with Hakan Calhanoglu and coming close on a number of occasions. It may have taken until nine minutes from time for Marcus Thuram to put them ahead, but this was a grown-up, confident performance against a side that focused mainly on not conceding.
Jose Mourinho was suspended, but his game plan was pretty evident, possibly because of his long injury list: Paulo Dybala, Chris Smalling, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Renato Sanches, Leonardo Spinazzola, etc. He can tell himself that it worked until late in the second half -- and that the referee didn't favour Roma -- but the reality is you're highly unlikely to get a result in the modern game when you take only three shots on goal and put together an xG of 0.14.
As for Lukaku, leaving him up there on his own with zero service means that, other than defensive set pieces, he's unlikely to contribute anything.
In recent weeks, Edin Terzic had earned praise for making his Dortmund side more solid and less fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants (which was exciting for the neutral, less so in terms of building something meaningful). Sunday's 3-3 draw away to Eintracht was the former.
Dortmund were a bit unlucky to go two goals down -- the penalty was harsh, Eintracht's second goal was deflected and messy -- though Gregor Kobel had to make some big saves too. They did well to come back -- twice, as it happens -- though had a stroke of good fortune on Youssoufa Moukoko's goal, with a Dortmund player standing in front of the keeper.
Emre Can's absence weighed heavy defensively, as did Julian Brandt's on the attacking end, at least until he came on (Gio Reyna didn't have a great game and Marco Reus struggled to find space). Terzic will hope that this isn't a sign they're going back to last year's version. That said, with Bayern Munich at home up next, they've got a tremendous chance to not only show their growth, but grow in confidence too.
Regular readers will have noticed that whenever Bas Dost scores, I include a little item. I've been doing it for years, going back to his time at Sporting.
Why? Because he was a bit of a cult hero -- a big, strong, throwback of a center-forward who scored tons of goals. He's not a superstar, but a guy who maximises his physical traits. Oh, and he has a name that, to me, sounds funny.
On Sunday, late in the game away to AZ Alkmaar, Dost collapsed. His NEC teammates gathered around him, the match was suspended and he was taken to the hospital. It looks like he's OK but let it be a reminder about the fragility of football (and life). I hope I get to write many more #BasDostWatch updates, focusing solely on his scoring.