The international break is back! Insert GIF of man jumping out of a building etc etc. The sad thing is we have to endure football which, let's face it, is nowhere near as exciting for the next few days, but many clubs will have the chance to take stock assess where their start to the season matches up with pre season expectations.
Two clubs that I want to talk about here are Paris Saint Germain and Juventus. They have won all of their domestic games, 9 for PSG and 8 for Juve. Indeed, of the two clubs, the only blip was PSG's 3-2 defeat away at Liverpool. Now we could talk for a century about how the financial disparity between these clubs and the rest of their domestic counterparts means that this should be fully expected, but teams still need to do the business on the park, which is not always a given (see much closer to home for example). When you look at the embarrassment of riches that they have in their squads, both in experience and also future stars, these two clubs look set to dominate their countries for years and years to come. Now, when you consider that all of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have made stuttering starts to their campaigns (and that's being kind in some cases) are we at a point where we can say that there has been a shift in power and now the two European powerhouses are Paris Saint Germain and Juventus? Just take a minute to imagine that match up in a Champions League final, that would be rather special.
Chris Marshall takes a deeper look at the problems surrounding the clubs that make up El Classico, plus other stories from Spain:
The Galacticos are ageing and the spirit of La Masia seems to be fading. The big two in Spain are currently in a spot of bother whilst across the league stories begin to unfold which very much have onlookers shouting Hay Liga as the La Liga table remains as tight as it is fascinating.
Let’s start with the sides that do battle in El Clasico at the end of this month - a game that is shaping up to have an ever mounting level of significance. Real Madrid seem to have forgot how to score and have now gone four consecutive games without a goal in all competitions, including games where they suffered 1-0 defeats to CSKA Moscow and Alaves. Injuries to the likes of Isco, Benzema and Bale only going to compound that situation. Barcelona haven’t won any of their last four league games, a winless run that can only be bettered by Huesca and Athletic Bilbao who both currently occupy two of the bottom four places in the La Liga table with the run punctuated by a defeat to Leganes who themselves sit third from bottom. Whilst Real Madrid are crippled by injuries and paying the price for not replacing the man they call Cristiano, Barcelona are becoming increasingly reliant on the mercurial talents of Lionel Messi to drag them to the points that their collective performances haven’t deserved. Julen Lopetegui seems out of his depth and must wonder if it was really giving up a chance at World Cup glory for his current situation whilst the steady hand provided by Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona last season could do with giving itself a shake. In my lifetime I don’t think I have ever seen the big two look as simultaneously fallible as now but this will mean nothing unless somebody can take advantage. But who?
Well obviously there is Atletico, a title favourite for the few, having started the season slowly they have now clawed back a seven point deficit and now sit level with Barcelona and a point ahead of their rivals from Madrid with both their rivals regression and the Rojiblancos return to winning games the Atleti way instrumental in their emergence. Sevilla, led by Pablo Machin who was very recently booed out the Sanchez Pizjuan after defeat to Getafe, are the side currently occupying pole position with goals a plenty coming from their forward line of Wasim Ben Yedder, Adrien Silva and the often underrated Pedro Sarabia, but have they actually got any better since the start of the season or has the fixture list been kinder than the results suggest? Then there is Valencia, the team who got closest to the big three last season. They’re start to the season has been stranger than most as despite only being defeated once they have also only won one game meaning that with six draws they are firmly in the middle of the pack playing catch up as Marcelino still tinkers with his forward line configurations.
Could Espanyol and the continually astounding Alaves maintain their early season form and make a title push that would put the efforts of Leicester City three seasons ago look completely run of the mill? Alaves are top of the 2018 Calendar Year La Liga Table and there is no doubt both these sides along with the likes of the entertaining Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad and the surprisingly pragmatic Real Betis will have eyes on the upper reaches of the table as the season progresses.
At the bottom, teeny tiny Huesca seem set fair for an immediate return to the Segunda having gone on a rotten run of form that leaves them bottle of the table and now with new man Francisco Rodriguez in charge after the sacking of Leo Franco, a manager that was only appointed at the start of the season. Their fellow promotee Rayo also seem readied a relegation battle of their own while Real Valladolid have reaped the benefit of victories over their promoted counterparts and currently sit 7th, their performances being observed under the Mufasa-like gaze of new owner Ronaldo Nazario. For Levante, Eibar, Getafe and the Cristhian Stuani led Girona a good start to the season can only help them as they look to repeat their mid-table feats of last season with Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal sitting just above the relegation zone with work to do in matching their loftier ambitions.
For some the international break is just what is needed whilst for some others I’m sure they would like the momentum to continue, either way, I can’t wait for it to be back!
Scott McKenzie takes a look at why Bayern Munich are in real danger of surrendering their utter dominance in Germany:
This time last year Carlo Ancelotti had not long been sacked after a poor result in the Champions League after being defeated by PSG at Parc des Princes & poor run of results domestically in the Bundesliga. Luckily for Bayern, Uli Hoeness, the well-known tax cheat & sausage millionaire was able to persuade their favourite caretaker Jupp Heynckes to come aboard on condition it was only till the end of the season. So he comes in & normal service resumes & after securing the league title once again,he goes back into retirement. So here comes Nico Kovac, former Bayern favourite under Öttmar Hitzfeld after doing well at Eintracht Frankfurt where the beat Bayern in last seasons DFB-POKAL final. Has a great start where they beat Borussia Dortmund in the super cup & won their opening Bundesliga games against Hoffenheim, Stuttgart, Bayer Leverkusen & Schalke. However it started to go wrong during the Englisch Woche when they drew with Augsburg which was also the beginning of Oktoberfest, that just maybe a coincidence. Since then there have been convincing defeats to Hertha Berlin & Borussia Mönchengladbach sandwiching a draw in against Ajax in the Champions League where they were lucky to get a point. In my view, Kovac got hired on his Bayern history & that’s what is keeping him in a job as if this was even Pep he would have even been fired in my view. Ultimately Bayern is paying for lack of investment in the squad as some have left & age of some but injuries is now starting to bite. So who knows if & when things will change if things continue the way they are.
Finally from me, even though it was a wee while ago now, I still can't get over how good the game against Rapid Wien was. Those where the nights I had been waiting for since 2012, and what a way to make a return to them! A good game of football between two good teams, and with the home support playing their part, Rangers scored two late goals to take them to top spot of their Europa League group after two games. I just loved writing that! We've already exceeded many people's expectations by reaching the group stage. The fact we are competing and are by no means disgracing ourselves in this stage is a wonderful feeling, and we cannot underestimate how important it is to the feel good factor around the club and the fans. I once did a show with Martyn Ramsey where we talked about Rangers v Sturm Graz from 2000, and how this was the game where my love for football really took hold. 18 years on, against another Austrian side, my passion for the game was once again renewed, along with my undying and unwavering love for Rangers.
James Forrest (@No_Not_That_1)