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Man United need to make this work

Marcotti's Musings
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Liverpool pass biggest test yet; Ronaldo gets off the mark in Italy

Another test passed for Liverpool, this time away to Tottenham Hotspur, but you can see where Jurgen Klopp is coming from when he complained that the 2-1 victory did not match the performance, which was top-notch. Indeed, when you dominate as comprehensively as Liverpool did, conceding a goal in injury time and suffering through the final few seconds is not where you want to be.

That said, it shouldn't be doom and gloom, either. Three points is three points, and when they are accompanied by the sort of display we saw at Wembley, that's what matters. When you create as many chances as they had, scoring just twice is a freak occurrence. Needless to say, had Liverpool been three or four goals up when Erik Lamela pulled one back, Klopp's postmatch demeanour might have been entirely different.

Relative to last season, this group is clearly more solid defensively, with Joe Gomez back to full fitness and the two full-backs with another year's experience under their belts. There's more depth in midfield, too, and ideally that will offset whatever regression to the mean might hit the front three (especially Mohamed Salah).

Liverpool showed their strength in depth with another three points, this time winning well at Tottenham.

Gary Neville said last week that, given the nature of Klopp's energy-sapping football, they probably ought to focus on either the league or the Champions League, which begins Tuesday with the visit of Paris Saint-Germain. I wouldn't quite go that far, but some extra rotation to limit the minutes of the three forwards would certainly help. (That said, Daniel Sturridge, Xherdan Shaqiri and Dominic Solanke are very different from the starters in terms of skill set and Adam Lallana continues to have fitness issues, so it's far from straightforward.)

However, this idea is particularly valid when you look at what's coming up: PSG, Southampton, Chelsea in the League Cup, Chelsea in the Premier League, Napoli away and then Manchester City.

As for Tottenham, the Harry Kane conundrum rumbles on. It's pretty obvious (goal-scoring numbers aside) that he's not the same player he was before his injury this past March. Equally though, it can't be just about him. Mauricio Pochettino applied conventional wisdom against Liverpool -- returning to a back four and getting Mousa Dembele some help in midfield -- but again, Spurs were poor, just as they have been for most of the season (and, by the way, Jose Mourinho was right about their 3-0 win at Old Trafford: United dominated the first half and should have put the game to bed then.)

To Pochettino's credit, he's trying different combinations -- bringing back Harry Winks makes sense even though he was anonymous at Wembley -- and with Son Heung-Min also now in the fold (and Lamela back on the scoresheet), we might yet see more tweaks.

Still, the key will be figuring out what Kane's current kryptonite is and whether it's a slump he should play through or whether he needs a break.

Ronaldo gets off the mark, but what was Costa doing?

Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus in July.
Ronaldo is off the mark in Serie A, and given how often he shoots on goal, expect many more to come.

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged his first two goals for Juventus in a 2-1 win over Sassuolo, and he was honest after the game in talking about just how much his failure to score in his first three matches had bothered him. In fact, he could have had twice as many (if not more). His finishing overall hasn't been great, but, throughout his brief Juve career to date, he has shown an ability to do the difficult part -- getting himself into goal-scoring situations -- and that bodes well. At some point, you'd imagine the goals will start to come.

In some ways, though, Juve's win was overshadowed by what happened at the end when Douglas Costa lost his temper with Sassuolo's Federico Di Francesco. First an elbow, then a head-butt and then a gob of spit right into his opponent's face, duly recorded by VAR and resulting in a red card.

Costa apologized to his teammates afterward and said such "ugliness" wasn't part of who he was. He'll likely get a ban (possibly five games), and hopefully that will be deterrent enough. What you struggle with is this: in an emotionally charged game, you can understand how someone might lose it and start swinging. You can comprehend those reactions (without condoning them, of course). What's hard to understand is how, minutes after, someone might be compelled to spit in an opponent's face like that, especially in an age of VAR.

Barca snuff out the Anoeta 'curse'

We've known and heard about the "curse of the Anoeta," and how Barcelona had won just once there since 2007, for some time. I believe in curses about as much as I believe in the Easter bunny, but the thing about streaks is that they can get in your head and become self-fulfilling prophecies.

With that in mind, while last season's 4-2 win (after a comeback from 0-2 down) should have been enough to settle nerves, you never quite know. As it happened, Barcelona went a goal down on Saturday and came back to win 2-1. Echoes of last season, but it took a couple of outstanding Marc-Andre ter Stegen saves to keep them in the game before Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele took home the three points.

Ernesto Valverde will be pleased with the points, less so with what he saw in the first half with that experimental midfield of Sergi Roberto, Ivan Rakitic and Rafinha.

De Gea returns to his spectacular best vs. Watford

David De Gea has had a very rough few months, but he saved Manchester United's bacon on Saturday in their big 2-1 win at Watford. His late saves illustrated perfectly just why he has a collection of "Club Player of the Year" awards at home but in some ways, they were also a reminder of how unlike Mourinho's past teams this current United side are.

United were 2-0 up and cruising at half-time; that's when you expect a Mourinho side to hunker down, make the pitch big and hit on the break. Instead, Watford pulled one back and we witnessed that nervy ending. United need more of what we saw in the first half, plain and simple. And the post-break jitters only underscore just how confidence still plays a big part here.

One more point on Mourinho. As I see it, he was 100 percent correct in his Marcus Rashford soliloquy on Friday. Rashford has had a lot of minutes, more so in fact than most guys his age -- lest we forget, he doesn't turn 21 until Halloween -- at a club of United's size. Sure, you can bring up guys like Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen who were perhaps playing more at the same age. But those guys are outliers. Rashford is a very talented young striker ... but are we sure it benefits him to be put in the same bracket with those three?

You just can't stop Bayern

Bayer Leverkusen's recipe to counter Bayern away was a "batten-down-the-hatches" 5-4-1, and they couldn't have hoped for a better start, taking the lead within a few minutes. But it's Bayern we're talking about here, and, by the 20th minute, they were in the lead on their way to a 3-1 win.

I'm not sure what the best way to stop Bayern is, even this low-key version with Rafinha and Serge Gnabry in the starting XI, but surely it's not what we saw on Saturday. Give Thiago Alcantara time to play point guard and eventually you'll get undone.

Real's midfield stumbles in Bilbao

Real Madrid were held 1-1 away to Athletic Bilbao thanks largely to a stellar performance from a kid named Unai Simon, the Basque's third keeper. Julen Lopetegui's crew created plenty of chances, particularly in the second half against a tough and physical opponent, and Gareth Bale produced a picture-perfect cross for Isco's equalising header.

That's the good news. Less positive, perhaps, was the midfield. With Casemiro initially on the bench after the international break, Dani Ceballos and Luka Modric both struggled, though business picked up when they were replaced by Isco and the Brazil international after the break. Having four high-quality options (five, if you count Ceballos, whom Lopetegui evidently rates far more than Zinedine Zidane did) for your three midfield spots is a luxury. It also means that if you get it wrong initially, the cavalry is ready to come on.

Just how good is Hazard? And just how good are Chelsea?

Chelsea kept pace with Liverpool at the top of the table, spanking Cardiff 4-1 as Eden Hazard grabbed a hat trick. Afterward, Maurizio Sarri waxed lyrical, saying that the Belgian could score 40 goals in a season and that he was "maybe the best player in Europe." He probably was getting a bit carried away (Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to name but two, are still around) but there is little question that Hazard is thriving under his tutelage.

Just how good are Chelsea? Right now, they've beaten the sides they are supposed to beat. We'll get a better idea after their visit to West Ham next week and, especially, after Liverpool come to Stamford Bridge at the end of the month.

Insigne finally shows up for Napoli

Lorenzo Insigne has had a rough start to the season, with Napoli and with the Italian national team. More than most, he seems to miss Maurizio Sarri, as Carlo Ancelotti has struggled to get the best out of him.

On Saturday against Fiorentina, we saw him operating centrally, just behind Dries Mertens, in a de facto 4-2-3-1. It didn't pay dividends until late in the game, at which point a more traditional target man like Arkadiusz Milik was up front. Insigne scored a gorgeous winner, set up by Milik, with his trademark movement.

Might this be the way to go for Napoli and Insigne moving forward? Stay tuned.

Atletico's awful start to the season continues

Don't look now, but Atletico Madrid are already seven points off the top of the table. It would be even more if not for a teenage debutant, Borja Garces, bagging an equaliser against Eibar deep into injury time.

The pieces aren't fitting together for Diego Simeone right now. For all his talent, Thomas Lemar looks like a foreign object. If they don't sort it out quickly, all their eggs will be in the Champions League basket real soon.

And finally... Zlatan

By this point, unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably seen this. Not much to add other than that a black belt in taekwondo continues to pay dividends for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Just enjoy the fact that he's still playing.

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