The weekend in Europe: Woes for Barca and ‘Mou’ as Nkunku in limelight
As Xavi Hernandez confronts a huge job in front of him at Barcelona, Real Sociedad lead La Liga. Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho’s star seems to be dwindling further in Rome but there is a new French superstar emerging in the Bundesliga.
AFP Sport looks at some talking points from around Europe going into the latest international window:
Xavi faces big job at Barca
Xavi Hernandez is facing up to the size of the task before him at Barcelona after his appointment as the new coach of the Catalan club was confirmed early on Saturday. A few hours later Barca faced Celta Vigo in their last game under interim coach Sergi Barjuan. They raced into a 3-0 lead only to throw it away, conceding a 96th-minute equaliser to draw 3-3.
It means Xavi picks up a team lying ninth in La Liga, 11 points off top spot and six adrift of the top four, as well as struggling to qualify for the Champions League last 16. He needs to make an impact quickly at the Camp Nou.
La Real the real deal?
A third of the way through the season and Real Sociedad are top of La Liga. The Basque side maintained a one-point lead over Real Madrid and Sevilla thanks to their 2-0 win at Osasuna which left them unbeaten in 16 games in all competitions since losing 4-2 in Barcelona on the opening weekend.
La Real have the youngest average age of any team in La Liga, despite the presence of a 35-year-old David Silva, which raises the question of whether they can keep this up.
They have played a game more than the three teams directly below them, and they lack the attacking firepower of Madrid in particular. At the same stage last season they were second, before fading to finish fifth. A top-four finish and Champions League qualification is the aim this time.
Mourinho losing it already in Rome?
It is not working out for Jose Mourinho in Rome, with Sunday’s 3-2 defeat at newly-promoted Venezia a fifth loss in just 12 Serie A matches this season. Roma is sixth in the table, 13 points behind leaders Napoli, despite major summer investment in players including Tammy Abraham.
The defeat in Venice followed a 2-2 draw in the Europa Conference League at home to Norwegian champions Bodo/Glimt, who had previously hammered Roma 6-1.
“The truth is that the team finished seventh last season and the squad is not stronger now,” Mourinho insisted.
“I signed a three-year contract and this season could be a painful one for body and soul, but it is important for me to get to know things that I didn’t know about before I arrived.”
Nkunku’s star keeps rising
Christopher Nkunku was not included in the latest France squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers but if he continues his current form he will break into Didier Deschamps’ set-up soon enough.
On Saturday, he scored one goal and made another — and also hit the post — for RB Leipzig as they beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the Bundesliga. The 23-year-old ex-Paris Saint-Germain attacking midfielder-cum-forward has scored 11 goals and laid on seven more in all competitions this season, including a Champions League hat-trick against Manchester City.
He is dragging Leipzig back up the table after a slow start in Germany but they might not be able to keep hold of him for too much longer.
Neymar finds form again
For all the talk of Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi, Neymar’s slow start this season was a source of concern for Paris Saint-Germain. The world’s most expensive player had scored just three goals from open play for PSG in 2021 before facing Bordeaux on Saturday, when he produced two fine finishes to set up a 3-2 win for a side missing the injured Messi.
It came after the Brazilian set up his side’s winner against Lille a week earlier and suggested he is now gradually finding his best form again. Now he departs on international duty as Brazil face Colombia and Argentina over the next week.