From the streets of Copenhagen to the towers of London, football saw so many games swing in unpredictable directions this weekend. Let’s see which players showcased their qualities to the peak of their excellence this week.
10. Lionel Messi (Last week: 5)
Against SL Benfica last week in the Champions League, Lionel Messi picked up a knock to his calf, and while Messi was supposed to return to training by Sunday, this did not happen and Messi would instead sit on the sidelines as Paris Saint-Germain drew against Stade de Reims and then repeated a draw against Benfica.
Messi has become irreplaceable in PSG’s system and it has shown as PSG have struggled to do anything in the final third without the presence of the Argentine magician.
9. Son Heung-Min (New)
Son Heung-Min had a slow start to the season but has picked up the pace with a great set of performances as of late, and this week has seen him only continue that newly found great form.
Tottenham Hotspur faced Brighton & Hove Albion at the weekend, and just couldn’t seem to get the breakthrough. Son however was the most dangerous player throughout, constantly setting up his teammates with great movement and passing. He made the only goal of the game, dancing past a defender while driving in from the right wing after a fizzled corner and slamming a left footed half-shot half-cross into the mixer which Harry Kane managed to get his head on, the ball eventually landing in the back of the net.
Midweek in the Champions League, Spurs went down early after a horrendous first touch from Eric Dier which gifted Frankfurt the ball in Spurs’ own box, but replied only about five minutes later, with the usual suspects being responsible: a Harry Kane pivot and pass, a deft Heung-Min Son finish breaking past the defensive line off the back of Kane. Son would complete his brace on the day with a volley as sweet as could be, a first time effort in the box on Son’s left foot from a Pierre-Emile Højbjerg cross that simply could not be stopped on its way to the top right corner.
8. Kim Min-Jae (Last week: 7)
Kim Min-Jae had a wonderful performance for Napoli against Cremonese, holding the fort down excellently. He couldn’t have been faulted for the goal conceded, with the overload of players across the last line of defense causing Kim to be in basically no position to block all the possible options the Cremonese attack had.
Against Ajax in the Champions League, Kim had an uncharacteristically quiet match, not being as active on the ball and being a little un-perfect in defense. Ajax would capitalize with two goals, but of course Napoli’s fantastic attack came through with four goals to nullify anything Ajax created.
A captain in the making, Kim is already displaying great leadership and consistency, with this match against Ajax being the first match of the season I can remember where Kim wasn’t completely dominant over his opponents.
7. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (Last appearance: September 8th)
Napoli look like the best team in Europe right now and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has been the man grabbing the headlines week in week out for the Partenopei.
‘Kvara’ ran the game against Cremonese at the weekend, drifting across the pitch. This drifting paid dividends as he picked up the ball on the right often, once going on a mazy run between two defenders. Kvara was caught and tripped, winning a penalty that Matteo Politano slotted with grace. He got his assist late in the game, in stoppage time when Giovanni Simeone found him with a ball over the top running in behind on the counter. Kvara had the opportunity to shoot but chose instead to square it to Hirving Lozano who slotted it into an empty net. Kvara’s more free role drifting between the lines was the primary threat, with the Georgian often finding his teammates with balls over the top in behind.
Napoli begin their campaign for the Scudetto and a possibly a deep run into the Champions League if not gunning for ol’ Big Ears himself, and no player will be as important to the attack than Kvaratskhelia.
6. Leon Goretzka (New)
Bayern Munich’s Leon Goretzka is truly back. Fitting himself into Julian Nagelsmann’s 4-2-3-1 in a new much more advanced role as a fifth attacker at times, Goretzka has found otherworldly form, racking up six goal contributions in his last three games, including four this week.
In Der Klassiker, Goretzka opened the scoring when Jamal Musiala snaked beside a couple Borussia Dortmund defenders and laid it back to Goretzka about 20 yards out. Goretzka, spotting those few key seconds of time, took on the shot, and it was a beautiful shot which drove with purpose straight into the bottom left corner.
The midfielder then put in a fantastic performance against Viktoria Plzeň, both going forward and tracking back. It was Goretzka who came short at the edge of the box to play a one-two with an accelerating Sadio Mané before the Senegalese attacker slammed it in and opened the scoring.
When Thomas Müller put in a loose cross across the face of the defense less than half an hour in, Leroy Sané played a fantastic dummy which left Goretzka with the time to slip the ball pat a defender and shoot past Jindrich Stanek in goal. Goretzka doubled his goal tally for the day with a true striker’s finish, bursting past the defense with a great diagonal ball. The ball met him courtesy of a through ball from Leroy Sané that the commentator described perfectly with the word ‘delicious’, and that could be applied to the finish as well: a cool and collected chip over the keeper.
5. Sergej Milinković-Savić (Last week: 3)
Lazio is another team that I have been thoroughly impressed by, with Mattia Zaccagni and Ivan Provedel missing out on the list this week by the width of a hair once again.
Sergej Milinković-Savić had a pretty quiet game against Sturm Graz in the Europa League, not really putting his stamp on the game with sloppy passing and basically no activity in the final third. He was subbed off a little into the second half as Maurizio Sarri looked to preserve the draw with the bringing on of defensive midfielder Matías Vecino.
Not one to let a poor performance define his week, Milinković-Savić came out all guns blazing against Fiorentina in a game that felt more like a Premier League game than a Serie A game. The Serbian set up Mattia Zaccagni with a fantastic looping cross into the middle which may have gone in all by itself even if Zaccagni hadn’t gotten his head to it. Milinković-Savić nearly got his second assist of the game with a great backwards header over the defense which played Ciro Immobile clean in on goal, but the Italian striker could only crack the crossbar with his first time volley.
Not to be undone, Milinković-Savić would set up Immobile in stoppage time with a great diagonal run into the half-space where Luis Alberto would find him with a ball over the top, followed by a cheeky back-heel pass into the middle where Immobile finished wonderfully with his foot opening up into the top right corner first-time.
There is no week that goes by without a Milinković-Savić masterclass and this week has been no different. With Matías Vecino taking over defensive midfielder duties from Danilo Cataldi, the creative duo of Milinković-Savić and Luis Alberto have a platform to shine which they have not had since the days of Lucas Leiva’s presence in the Lazio starting XI.
4. Kevin De Bruyne (Last week: 3)
Kevin De Bruyne had a decent week for Manchester City.
City ran riot over Southampton, with De Bruyne setting up the second goal with a drive through the middle and lay-off to the left where Phil Foden made no mistake with his finish. However, De Bruyne failed to really hold his weight beyond that, often being invisible for large parts of the game. De Bruyne lacked his usual dynamism and quick positional changes which he has become accustomed to as of late, most prominently lacking the usual the transformation into a temporary right winger and subsequent spamming of crosses into the middle from the byline.
City went to Denmark to face FC Copenhagen in the Champions League and the team disappointed, with an early red card for Sergio Gómez causing major problems in City’s defensive structure as Manuel Akanji shifted over to the right where he started against Southampton. This isolated Riyad Mahrez out wide on the right wing with no real support, which is where De Bruyne would normally have come into play but manager Pep Guardiola strangely chose not to have the Belgian support the right flank but stay central, and City failed to score with the game ending 0-0.
Pep is going to have to re-think the way De Bruyne fits into the 4-2-3-1 as this does not seem like the right way to go, but De Bruyne made it (somewhat) work nonetheless.
3. Leroy Sané (Last week: 6)
Shitposting aside, man bun Leroy Sané has kicked it up a gear, and this engine has continued to rev closer and closer to the red-line, almost begging for yet another upshift. Sané ran the game on his side of the pitch in Der Klassiker. Sané tucked into the center a lot including in his goal against Borussia Dortmund, where he picked up the ball outside the box from a loose Musiala pass and took on the shot from a good 20 yards out. The shot was a monster, zipping and zooming into the bottom corner if it weren’t for goalkeeper Alexander Meyer getting his glove somewhat on it which caused the ball to lift and instead rocket into the top corner.
Sané once again ran the game as the primary creator in a 4-2-3-1 against Plzeň, often drifting into half-spaces to disrupt the defensive structure of the Czech outfit, even drifting fully out wide at times to create overloads and once again orchestrate, playing the wing backs and wingers in behind the defense from wide positions time and time again.
This paid dividends as it was Sané’s perfectly timed and weighted through ball to Kingsley Coman that set up the second goal as Coman got to run past the defense on the left and square it to a completely free Thomas Müller in the middle. Bayern’s #10 got his customary goal contribution, the aforementioned ‘delicious’ through ball to Goretzka which set up Bayern’s fourth goal on the night. Sané did worry me at times as his body language was very dead, sometimes he would just stop dead and spectate in frustration when he didn’t get the ball instead of trying to present himself as an option elsewhere, but it never affected his defensive work rate as he regularly tracked back, sitting deeper than even Goretzka for a large part of the game.
All has been stabilized at the top of the footballing pyramid, as my personal 2023 Ballon d’Or podium makes up the power rankings podium for this week with Sané finally breaking into the top 3.
2. Erling Haaland (Last week: 1)
Erling Haaland had a relatively quiet week, losing the crown he had gained just the week before.
Haaland played the full 90 against Southampton, and hit the post pretty early on with a fantastic effort. He would not be deterred, finally getting his goal with a great first time shot from inside the box off a João Cancelo cross. Haaland would play in his teammates on multiple occasions but failed to get an assist, overall having a pretty quiet but effective game.
The Norwegian would be benched for the game against Copenhagen and would never come off it, pissing off many a Champions League Fantasy player who had him captained (including me). Pep got his comeuppance for not giving me my fantasy points as City laboured to a 0-0 draw.
1. Robert Lewandowski (Last week: 2)
The title of ‘Europe’s Finest’ was meant to be a prestigious one which would be held by a player for an extensive amount of time, but Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland have thoroughly trashed this by playing hot potato with the title. Everytime one of them has taken the crown the other has put in a better performance the week after and it’s getting annoying now.
Lewandowski had a not-blockbuster game for FC Barcelona against Celta Vigo, with Pedri taking the limelight with a fantastic performance which included getting the sole goal of the match. Lewandowski resorted to more of a deep lying 9 role, setting up his wingers more than trying to get on the end of chances himself. His hold-up play was elite as usual, and while it is disappointing to not see him get on the score-sheet there is more to his game than goals.
Speaking of goals, he scored them later in the week against Internazionale in the Champions League. At the Nou Camp, Barcelona knew they needed to win or even draw to keep their hopes of qualification for the Champions League knockouts alive. They were down 2-1 with just nine minutes left to play.
Lewandowski received a cross from the left in the box, and headed it down into the path of Stefan de Vrij who couldn’t get it clear of the box, and as it fell back to Lewandowski the Pole took the shot on with his weaker foot, wrong-footing André Onana in goal to get a crucial goal for Barcelona. However, it was all in vain as Inter would get another goal in the form of Robin Gosens in the 89th, sealing Barcelona’s fate... or not. Lewandowski, soaring in the air, slammed home the equalizer and his second goal of the game from an Eric García cross from deep.
Lewandowski has already scored more crucial goals in a Barcelona shirt than he did in eight years at Bayern it seems. While Barcelona are in all likelihood out of the Champions League as Inter only require a win against Plzeň to punch their ticket into the knockouts, this night will be remembered as an iconic battle of two evenly matched teams, one sloppier than the other but the match being undecided due to the brilliance of the player I firmly believe to be the best in the world.
What do you think of the rankings this week? When will the Lewandowski/Haaland duopoly over first place end? Let us know in the forum below.