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European Football Weekend Round-Up By Zach Lowy

Each Monday, I’ll be writing a weekly round-up on this season’s action at BET Central, including the managers on the hot seat and the coaches who are delivering the goods for their clubs, the young prospects who are putting themselves in the spotlight, and the players and teams who are making the headlines or flying under the radar in the 2021/22 season.

“It was just a year ago that Crystal Palace had the oldest squad in the Premier League with an average age of 29.8, but the recent captures of Eberechi Eze and Jean-Philippe Mateta have helped them rectify this issue, whilst the construction of a £20 million academy centre in Beckenham should help them shore up more young talent in South London. This summer has been a transitional period for Palace, who parted ways with 74-year-old manager Roy Hodgson after four years at the club and replaced him with Patrick Vieira, nearly three decades younger than ‘Woy.”

Crystal Palace

It’s been two months since I put Crystal Palace as one of the 10 best summer transfer windows of 2021, and while there’s still plenty of time left in the season, it certainly seems that the new arrivals — apart from Will Hughes — are breathing fresh new life into the team. Marc Guéhi and Joachim Andersen have formed a stellar partnership in the heart of defence, whilst Ódsonne Edouard has quickly become a regular in attack with 3 goals in 8 league appearances. Michael Olise has taken time to adjust after being sidelined during the start of the season with a back injury, but he has proven his class as well with two assists and a goal in 153 minutes of football. Perhaps the arrival who has impressed the most, however, is the only one who’ll be leaving at the end of the season.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher joined Chelsea’s academy as an eight-year-old and quickly ascended the Cobham ranks, playing alongside the likes of Tariq Lamptey and Billy Gilmour as the Blues lost to Porto in the 2019 UEFA Youth League Final. After being named as Chelsea’s Academy Player of the Year for the 2018–19 season, Gallagher has enjoyed loan spells at Charlton Athletic, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, and Crystal Palace and at 21 years of age, is firmly establishing himself as one of the revelations of the Premier League season.

He made his debut for the Eagles in a 0-0 draw against Brentford on August 21 and quickly made his mark a week later, scoring a second-half brace in a 2-2 draw versus West Ham, before grabbing an assist in a 3-0 drubbing of local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. However, his finest performance to date came on Saturday as Patrick Viera’s side shocked the defending champions with a 2-0 win at the Etihad Stadium. Playing on the right side of midfield, he was a combative figure off the ball with 7/10 duels won and 5 tackles, but it was his performance in attack that truly stole the show. Palace took the lead within five minutes as Gallagher robbed Aymeric Laporte of possession before setting up Wilfried Zaha with a well-timed through ball, and after weathering a number of City attacks, they were handed a lifetime after Laporte was sent off just before halftime for wrestling Zaha to the floor. They nearly doubled their margin as Guéhi connected on a Gallagher free kick and headed above the goal, and in the 87th minute, Gallagher wandered into the middle of the box and showed excellent composure to pounce on a lay-off pass from Olise and slot in the second goal.

When watching his Man of the Match performance against a midfield trio of Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri and Bernardo Silva, one could not help but envision Gallagher operating in a similar role in another London club, only this time, with two of Jorginho, Mateo Kovačić and N’Golo Kanté rather than James McArthur and Cheikhou Kouyaté. Of course, Thomas Tuchel’s preference for a 3-4-3 formation comes in sharp contrast to Gallagher’s all-action, box-to-box role, but the German has opted for other formations such as a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 during his previous spells and could be motivated to adapt his formation in order to fit Gallagher into his plans. Jorginho (29), Kanté (30) and Kovačić (27) aren’t exactly spring chickens and whilst Saúl Ñíguez has struggled to impress on loan, both Billy Gilmour and Ethan Ampadu have also struggled to make a mark in their respective loan spells at Norwich City and Venezia. Gallagher, whose family are Chelsea fans and who grew up just 10 minutes away from the Cobham training ground, may very well elect to spend another campaign at Selhurst Park to continue his development, but it seems only a matter of time before he makes his debut for his boyhood club. Chelsea have looked at Declan Rice and Aurélien Tchouaméni in an attempt to find the missing piece in their midfield — but the answer could be in South London.

Porto

For the first time all season, Porto will enter next weekend atop the Primeira Liga table after defeating Boavista 4-1 in the Derby da Invicta. After Yanis Hamache cancelled out Luis Díaz’s opener, Evanilson put the hosts back on top before the break — his first league goal since February 1 — before doubling their margin after halftime. Porto were in cruise control from that point onwards and sealed the 4-1 victory via Danny Namaso Loader, who grabbed a goal just 12 minutes after making his debut for Porto. Loader became the first Englishman to play for Porto since Norman Hall, who scored 58 goals in 71 games from 1920 to 1931. Whilst he perhaps did not earn the same headlines as Loader, Evanilson, or Díaz, arguably the finest player on the pitch was Mehdi Taremi.

Mehdi Taremi Is One To Watch

orn in Bushehr, Iran, Taremi bounced around various Iranian clubs before heading to Qatari side Al-Gharafa, where he would spend 18 months before joining Rio Ave in July 2019. Taremi grabbed a hat-trick in his first league start and finished level with Pizzi and Carlos Vinícius atop the Bola da Prata leaderboard with 18 goals, leading Carlos Carvalhal’s side to Europa League qualification and earning a €4.5 million move to Porto. And whilst Darwin Núñez and Paulinho have struggled to convince over the past year after joining Benfica and Sporting for club-record fees, Taremi has become an instant sensation with 23 goals and 18 assists in 48 appearances in his first season, including a spectacular bicycle kick against Chelsea that was later voted as the best goal of the season’s Champions League.

The 29-year-old has started the 2021/22 season on the right foot with 9 goals and 4 assists in 14 matches, blending an increasingly lethal efficiency in front of goal with a delicate playmaker’s touch. He is one of those players who, despite being a centre forward, is 50% a 9 and 50% a 10 — think Karim Benzema or a motivated Harry Kane. Porto reclaimed their lead thanks to a well-taken strike by Evanilson, but it was the awareness and precision of Taremi who timed his through ball to perfection and teed up the Brazilian in a one on one with Boavista goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. Beiranvand had played with Taremi during their time at Persepolis and regularly plays alongside him for the Iran national team, but there was no mercy as Taremi once again timed his through ball to perfection and slotted in Evanilson for his second goal. Taremi, who only played his first match in Europe at 27 years of age, is somewhat of a late bloomer, but he’s proving to be the next striker to take the Estádio do Dragão by storm after Radamel Falcao, Jackson Martínez, Lisandro López and Benni McCarthy.

Rodrigo De Paul Is Shining

Apart from Crystal Palace, Paris Saint-Germain, and the rest of the usual suspects, another team who made my top 10 transfer windows of summer 2021 was Atlético Madrid. Antoine Griezmann has bounced back from a slow start and has gradually found his previous form at Atleti, whilst Matheus Cunha picked up his first goal for the Rojiblancos on Wednesday in a 2-2 draw against Levante. Perhaps no signing has shone brighter than Rodrigo De Paul.

After leading Argentina to their first Copa América in 28 years, De Paul left Udinese and joined Atleti on a five-year contract for a fee of €35 million. He hasn’t been a constant starter, and he’s only picked up one assist in 13 appearances thus far, but his importance goes beyond the numbers. Arguably his finest performance so far came on Sunday as Atleti leapfrogged Real Betis in the table with a 3-0 win against the Verdiblancos, remaining just two points behind Real Madrid, Sevilla and Real Sociedad at the top of the La Liga charts. Playing alongside Koke in the double pivot, De Paul held his own against William Carvalho, Andrés Guardado and Sergio Canales to lead Atleti to a comfortable home victory. Whether picking out Griezmann in between the lines with incisive passing, or wrestling the ball back from opponents, De Paul’s individual heroics meant that the absences of Thomas Lemar, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Marcos Llorente were hardly felt as Diego Simeone bested Manuel Pellegrini in a top-of-the-table clash.

No player suffered more fouls (5) or completed more tackles (5) or won more duels (12) than the 27-year-old, who also registered 91% passing accuracy as well as 2 big chances created. Whilst Yannick Carrasco opened the scoring with a lovely individual finish early on, De Paul nearly set up the second goal with an inch-perfect chipped pass, only for Stefan Savić’s header to fall straight to Claudio Bravo. Germán Pezzella doubled the Rojiblancos’ lead with an inexplicable own goal, and João Félix sealed the victory with his first goal in eight months. Whether he has enough in the tank to bench Lemar or Llorente is up for debate, but it does seem like this combative, all-action midfielder perfectly meshes with El Cholo’s style of play. As Atleti attempt to win back-to-back league titles for the first time in 71 years, they’ll be counting on De Paul to play a key role — whether as a starter or an impact sub.

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Zach Lowy is the co-creator of Breaking The Lines (@BTLVid) and a freelance soccer journalist for various websites such as BET Central, Soccer Laduma and Hudl Analysis. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and is the host of the Cortalinhas podcast, a weekly podcast that discusses Portuguese football. Zach has accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge in football and has written about various subjects for BET Central ranging from Barcelona's financial difficulties to the 'lost generation' of South Africa's Amajita class of 2009.

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