Jose Mourinho vs. Ed Woodward: Man United's odd couple need to get along. PLUS: Don't worry about Ronaldo
A Manchester United supporters group calling themselves "A Voice from the Terrace" paid for the banner that flew over Turf Moor on Sunday when United defeated Burnley 2-0. It read "Ed Woodward: Specialist in Failure" and the language was obviously not coincidental, channelling Jose Mourinho who famously called Arsene Wenger "a specialist in failure."
If you didn't know better, you'd almost think the banner was a false flag operation designed to further splinter United. Not because criticizing Woodward is bad, per se -- like many, I've argued that he made some key mistakes in his five years in charge and that the club would be better off with a recruitment specialist/director of football under him -- but because it simply reinforces the Woodward vs. Mourinho narrative.
(The Glazers would argue that taking Woodward's body of work as a whole, in a way Georg Hegel would have done, he's been pretty much the opposite of a failure, with the share price increasing by 50 percent in a year and record commercial revenues despite an underachieving team on the pitch.)
It doesn't take a genius to figure out who would win if the Glazers were suddenly faced with an "Ed vs. Mou" decision, and an anonymous banner isn't going to change that. After the game, Mourinho himself said that Woodward also won, and that's not coincidental. For better or worse, they're in this together at this point, at least for the time being. The rift/power play/blame game had its logic when the window was still open. At this stage, it's pointless, and both Mourinho and Woodward know that.
There will be time for a forensic analysis of who screwed up what and when. If you care about United, it's not now. (If you don't, or you're a member of the media, feel free on the other hand to analyze away.)
The good news is that just as they had played well in the first half against Spurs last Monday, United looked sharp against an over-matched Burnley. Paul Pogba missed a penalty and Romelu Lukaku could have had four or five goals instead of just two. The trick is building on this after the international break.
Even Marcus Rashford's red card carries a silver lining. He was obviously goaded into it by Phil Bardsley, and Bardsley could have been sent off twice, once for kicking him after the ball went out of play and once for getting back in his face after the tete-a-tete. Rashford is 21 years old, he looked bright in the few minutes he was on the pitch, and he'll remember next time that the best way to deal with folks like Bardsley is to steer clear and let them meet Marouane Fellaini or another of United's enforcers.
Barcelona, Huesca serve up a fun one
It's remarkable what enthusiasm and freshness can do. Little Huesca went into the Camp Nou, and for 45 minutes they went toe-to-toe with Barcelona. Then normal service resumed and the difference in class emerged as the visitors were swept away, 8-2.
Lionel Messi scored twice, dished out two assists and could have had a hat trick had he chosen not to let Luis Suarez take that penalty at the end. Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho also looked sharp, but I thought Jordi Alba really stood out. Maybe it was a reaction to being left out of the Spain squad by Luis Enrique.
Don't expect Allisson to change after error
Liverpool's perfect start (four wins from four games) continues, although they finally conceded in that 2-1 win at Leicester City. That goal, with Kelechi Iheanacho robbing Allisson of the ball as he tried to play out from the back with an improbable turn rather than booting it up the pitch, reignited the debate of what is expected of a keeper.
Plenty teams ask their goalkeepers to do it: Manchester City with Ederson, Chelsea with Kepa Arrizabalaga and, with somewhat less success, Arsenal with Petr Cech. The logic is simple: if you can do it, it's easier to recirculate the ball and find a way through the opposition lines, especially against pressing teams.
Equally -- and why it's not worth dwelling too much on Allisson -- there's an obvious risk-reward element. If a mistake means there's a huge likelihood of conceding a goal, you don't do it. Allisson miscalculated on this occasion: once Iheanacho was on him, he should have thought "safety first" -- although that doesn't mean "playing out from the back" is wrong.
It's pretty obvious he gets it, and Jurgen Klopp gets it. Allisson just screwed up. Let's move on.
Bayern roll to victory again
Whatever else you may think of Niko Kovac, the guy is fearless. You'd think he'd want to settle in slowly and not take too many chances for his first away game of his Bayern career, particularly against an opponent, Stuttgart, which may not be much to write home about but nevertheless treats these clashes like derbies.
But no. He put Thiago Alcantara in front of a back four in a 4-1-4-1, with Thomas Muller and Leon Goretzka ahead of him, two wide men and Robert Lewandowski up front. Bayern rolled to a 3-0 win, and Goretzka, the club's only summer acquisition, sparkled with plenty of sharp, quality runs. Muller also looked as good as he has done in the past three seasons, and Lewandowski made it five goals from four games in all competitions.
It remains to be seen whether this setup (basically, without a holding midfielder) is sustainable against better opposition. Then again, the way Bayern are going, they won't face better opposition in a meaningful game until the new year.
Lacazette thrives as lone striker for Arsenal
Arsenal's 3-2 win at Cardiff was a mixed bag -- there are still issues at the back and in midfield -- but I liked Unai Emery's decision to give Alexandre Lacazette his first start at center-forward while putting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out on the wing.
Lacazette, who had a goal and an assist, did his best work as a lone frontman at Lyon. He has an all-around presence that's different from Aubameyang's and perhaps better suited to Arsenal. Furthermore, putting Aubameyang (who played wide for a big chunk of his early career) on the wing allows him maximise his pace coming from deeper. Of course, you then need to fit the right pieces around them, but you'd imagine that Emery can find the right combination with two of Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi, Aaron Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in support.
Inter win but need work
Don't let the scoreline fool you: Inter left it late in their 3-0 win over Bologna with Radja Nainggolan giving them the lead halfway through the second half before Antonio Candreva and Ivan Perisic also converted.
Bologna sat deep and clogged every path to the goal with bodies, accumulating just 26.6 percent of the possession. Throw in the fact that Mauro Icardi was missing and Keita Balde isn't a genuine center-forward, and it became clear that only a moment of genius or a mistake was going to break the stalemate. Radja provided the genius.
Inter remain a work in progress and simply need to figure out how to do more with the ball and do it more quickly, particularly against opponents like this.
Real don't seem to miss Ronaldo (yet)
Few players have gotten as much criticism in recent years as Karim Benzema. Even as he did the grunt work for the "C" and the other "B" in the BBC, his lack of goals earned him plenty of criticism. But with the two he bagged in Real Madrid's 4-1 over Leganes, he's up to four in La Liga, which is just one fewer than he managed in all of last season.
Benzema is much more of an attacking terminus now as Ronaldo's de facto replacement, Marco Asensio, tends to work further away from the penalty area and be more of a creator than a finisher. Gareth Bale got on the score sheet too, for the seventh consecutive league game going back to last season. Maybe the void left by Ronaldo's departure isn't quite as large as some feared.
No need for Atletico to panic (yet)
Atletico Madrid were one of the five highest spenders in Europe in net terms, clocking in at around £70 million and on paper, they looked to have upgraded. Gabi and Kevin Gameiro are gone, sure, but look at who came in: Rodri, Gelson Martins, Santiago Arias, Nikola Kalinic and, above all, Thomas Lemar. Yet after three matches, they are already five points off the pace in what has been Diego Simeone's worst-ever start to a season.
In Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Celta Vigo they looked flat and failed to create much of anything. Simeone said it was a "wake-up call," and so it should be. The impression is that once they're up and awake -- and once they've fully integrated the newcomers, particularly Lemar -- they'll be back to their old selves.
Watford topple Tottenham in transition
Watford are joint top of the Premier League alongside Chelsea and Liverpool, having taken a perfect 12 of 12 points. That's a credit to Javi Gracia, who has built a compact side with quality in every department -- Christian Kabasele at the back, Abdoulaye Doucoure in midfield, Will Hughes and Roberto Pereyra out wide -- although it's also down to the fact that they've had three home games.
Tottenham's visit on Sunday was their stiffest test yet, and after weathering a patchy first half, they came from behind in the second. You don't want to take anything away from Watford, but you imagine Mauricio Pochettino would love to take a mulligan on this one.
Going with a back three backfired as it left Moussa Dembele on his own in the middle of the park, forcing Christian Eriksen and/or Dele Alli to take turns dropping back to help out. The marking on the set pieces was subpar, and you simply didn't see any kind of reaction after they went behind. Pochettino complained that after starting brightly they ended up simply hitting long balls after Fernando Llorente -- his only Plan B -- came on. That's fine, but he's the one making the substitutions and deciding how they should play.
Unlike some, I think Llorente can still be an important alternative for Spurs off the bench. But only if Pochettino figures out how to use him in a less predictable way.
Stop worrying about Ronaldo's scoreless "streak"
Blaise Matuidi broke the stalemate against Parma as Juventus went three for three -- and yes, they've already opened up a three-point gap at the top of the table -- but the talking point among some will inevitably be that Cristiano Ronaldo again failed to score.
This is silly. He's had much longer droughts in the past, and you don't judge him solely on goals. More of a concern, maybe, is that this was his worst outing of the season: then again, it's a tiny sample size and he's probably not helped by the fact that Max Allegri is still finding the right balance around him.
The good news for Juve is that even without him scoring, they have more than enough talent to outlast most of the competition in Serie A. That means Allegri (and Ronaldo) have plenty of time to find the best setup.
And since we're talking Parma, they deserve plenty of kudos for the way they tied Juve up in knots at times. A special shout-out too to Gervinho, back in Europe with a bang after a dire two and a half years in China.
PSG, Mbappe learn a lesson at Nimes
Referring to the red card he got against Nimes for reacting after getting hacked down, Kylian Mbappe said "he'd do it again." On the one hand, you love the confidence and self-assuredness; on the other, it's not what Thomas Tuchel wants to hear. And, you'd imagine, he won't actually be doing it again. Mbappe knows he's too valuable (witness his gorgeous goal) and if things get physical, there are goons aplenty knocking around.
Mbappe and Neymar, who was mocked as a "cry baby" by the home fans and responded by taunting them at the final whistle, were the main talking points. But there are some obvious takeaways for Tuchel here. One is that every opponent (especially newly promoted ones) will treat PSG's visit like a do-or-die occasion, greeting them with plenty of motivation and hostility. His players will have to react accordingly. The other is that Marquinhos as a midfielder is a work in progress and one that may be worth abandoning as soon as another option is found (or Marco Verratti returns).
Napoli are already at a crossroads
For the third straight game Napoli went behind, except this time, against Sampdoria, there was no rousing comeback. Instead of turning the 2-0 half-time deficit around, Carlo Ancelotti's crew were on the receiving end of this goal of the season contender from Fabio Quagliarella. (If you're wondering why he didn't celebrate, it's because he's got the trifecta: he's from Naples, he's a former Napoli player and he's a Napoli fan).
The game could have taken a different turn if Arkadiusz Milik's goal in the first half had been allowed to stand, but that's scant consolation for Ancelotti. On the day, he was out-coached by Marco Giampaolo, whose fierce pressing wreaked havoc with Napoli's buildup play in part because Amadou Diawara is no Jorginho. Carlo needs to figure it out.
Marseille get the points vs. Monaco
It was a cracking game between Monaco and Olympique Marseille, with l'OM taking all three points with a late, late goal from Valerie Germain and Leonardo Jardim's men having the chance to split the spoils with an even later Pietro Pellegri chance.
You wonder how Monaco will fare after losing Fabinho, Joao Moutinho, Keita Balde and Thomas Lemar over the summer and whether Jardim is losing some of his stardust. Clearly, reinventing yourself every season isn't easy. As for Marseille, Adil Rami had a stinker. As long as it's a one-off, you take it on the chin and move on, riding the feel-good factor of the huge win instead.