Last Weekend: Major Leeds Soccer shocks Chelsea, Barcelona click and Kvaratskhelia stars in Serie A
FotMob - last year
With the 2022/23 season well underway now, we are starting to see storylines develop across Europe in the early stages of the league campaigns. We will keep you up to speed with all of those through our Last Weekend columns, and this time around, Leeds, Barcelona and Napoli are among the sides at the top of our agenda.
By Neel Shelat.
🏴 England: Leeds United 3-0 Chelsea
Jesse Marsch’s Leeds United tenure has had its ups and downs so far. He helped the Yorkshire-based club narrowly avoid relegation last season, but fans were not entirely convinced about his style of play.
Public opinion will certainly have been massively swayed after their most recent result, as they completely outmatched Chelsea this weekend. The Blues may have kept more possession, but Leeds’ intense press unsettled them from the very start. They were rewarded for their endeavours in the 33rd minute when Brendan Aaronson profited from a mistake by Édouard Mendy and scored in to an empty net. Four minutes later, they doubled their lead through Rodrigo’s header from a set-piece situation.
Chelsea switched to a back-four system in the second half, but Leeds continued to cause problems with their pressing. Jack Harrison’s goal in the 69th minute put the result beyond any doubt, and Elland Road celebrated a thoroughly deserved victory over Chelsea for the first time since 2002.
Marsch’s high-octane style of play, epitomised by American internationals Aaronson and Tyler Adams who were brought in this summer, is being dubbed ‘Major Leeds Soccer’, and clearly, Chelsea were not ready for it.
🇪🇸 Spain: Real Sociedad 1-4 Barcelona
Barcelona have been busy pulling levers this summer as they have continued to spend big even in times of apparent financial difficulty, and now they seem to be reaping rewards on the pitch.
After a disappointing draw against Rayo Vallecano in their season-opener, the Catalans faced a tough trip to the Reale Arena to face Real Sociedad. Things got off to the perfect start when Robert Lewandowski scored his first La Liga goal less than a minute into the match, assisted by young left-back Álex Balde. La Real responded within five minutes through Alexander Isak’s chipped finish, but then there were no more goals until half-time in spite of a good number of chances at both ends.
The match remained very open in the second period, so Xavi turned to his bench in search of goals. Ansu Fati was sent on alongside Raphinha in the 64th minute, and the teenage winger stole the show thereafter. In his first four minutes on the pitch, Fati set up a goal each for Ousmane Dembélé and Lewandowksi, and he went on to score one for himself in the 79th minute.
The 19-year-old winger clearly came on and turned the game in his side’s favour, reminding Barcelona fans of his quality. Even though they have made a number of attacking reinforcements in recent months, Fati looks set to be a key figure in Barcelona’s future.
🇮🇹 Italy: Napoli 4-0 Monza
When Khvicha Kvaratskhelia joined Napoli from Dinamo Batumi this summer, he was a relatively unknown figure to most. It is easy to see why – prior to this move, he had only played in the Georgian and Russian leagues and was yet to make an appearance in a continental club competition.
Those who had been following the 21-year-old’s career knew that Napoli were signing a real gem, but perhaps even they did not expect Kvaratskhelia to acclimatise to Serie A so quickly. The Georgian winger has already shown what he is all about just two matches into the season, returning with three goals and an assist from those games. He opened Napoli’s account for the season against Hellas Verona last weekend and went on to assist their third goal, before bagging a brace this Sunday against Monza.
The first goal was a thing of beauty, as Kvaratskhelia picked up the ball outside the box, created a bit of space for himself and picked out the far corner with a curling finish.
He showcased his dribbling ability for his second, beating his man at the edge of the box before slotting a left-footed finish past the keeper. Remember the name (even though it might be a bit tough).
🇩🇪 Germany: Bayer Leverkusen 0-3 Hoffenheim
The Bundesliga coverage in this column has only focused on the top-two so far this season, but we’ve probably heard the last of them. Dortmund created history when they became the first-ever team to concede three goals in a match after the 89th minute as they threw away a two-goal lead against Werder Bremen, and after Bayern smashed Bochum for seven, we might as well consider the title race done and dusted.
But of course, there is more to any league than just the champions, and the Bundesliga is never short of storylines outside the title challengers. Bayer Leverkusen appear to be providing one of them early on this season. Die Werkself have consistently been one of the better sides in the league of late. In fact, they have finished lower than sixth on just one occasion since 2009/10 and qualified for the Champions League on eight occasions in that period of time.
Following a lofty third-place finish last season, things have not started well for them this time around. After three rounds, they sit at the bottom of the table with no points to their name after narrow losses to Dortmund and Augsburg, and a heavier defeat to Hoffenheim this weekend. Add to that their DFB Pokal first round defeat against 3. Liga side Elversberg, and you get Leverkusen’s worst-ever start to a season since promotion to the top flight in 1978. It is not as if they have lost any star players in the transfer window or shaken up the squad massively – things are pretty much as they were in 2021/22, but results are firmly going the other way.
Leverkusen’s next fixtures include a tough trip to Mainz and a home match against high-flying Freiburg, but they will need to start picking up positive results from those games if they are to get their season back on track.
🇫🇷 France: Clermont Foot 1-0 Nice
Paris Saint-Germain matched Bayern München in scoring seven this weekend when they defeated Lille, so we might as well focus on other storylines in France too. One of those is from Nice, who are not having a nice start to the season.
After Christophe Galtier left for PSG in the summer, Nice brought in Lucien Favre to coach the squad. The Swiss tactician had taken the South France-based club to a third-placed finish in his previous spell at the club, and that was probably set as his target for this season too.
Things have not started well at all for the 64-year-old manager, as Nice are winless four games into the season. They started their league campaign with draws against Toulouse and Strasbourg and followed that with a loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Europa Conference League play-offs.
The match against Clermont Foot presented a good chance for Nice to turn their fortunes around, but just six minutes in, they found themselves trailing. They were still behind at the half-time break after struggling to pose a serious goal threat, but things started to get better as the second half wore and substitutes were sent on. But just when they started to build some serious momentum, everything fell apart after Mario Lemina was sent off, and Jean-Clair Todibo followed him down the tunnel two minutes later.
Nice are just one spot above the relegation zone in the early table, so they need to get their act together quickly.
🇵🇹 Portugal: FC Porto 3-0 Sporting
There was a big clash in Portugal very early on in the season, as two of their big-three clubs squared off this weekend when defending champions Porto hosted rivals Sporting at the Estádio do Dragão.
Sérgio Conceição had switched to setting his side up in a 4-1-3-2 formation for the initial matches of the season, but he reverted to his trusted 4-4-2 for this big game. Sporting, meanwhile, sprung no surprises in their 3-4-3 system and started the match well as they kept a considerable majority of possession, but chances were hard to come by. The deadlock was eventually broken in the 42nd minute after Antonio Adán misjudged a cross, leaving an open goal for Evanilson to score.
The result was effectively sealed in the 75th minute after Pedro Porro saw red for a handball offence on the goalline to prevent the home side from doubling their lead, but his efforts were in vain because Mateus Uribe did so from the spot anyway. Porto were awarded another penalty late on when Adán brought Wenderson Galeno down in the box, and the Brazilian striker made no mistakes from twelve yards out.
This was a classic counterattacking performance from Porto as they defended resolutely and posed a serious goal threat despite not keeping a lot of the ball. The match statistics show just that.
With three wins from three games, Porto’s title defence is off to a flyer, so it is once again up to the rest of the league to catch them if they can.
Cover Image from IMAGO