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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.

European Football Wrap and review

Wolfsburg entered September atop the Bundesliga table after taking three victories in their first three games, bouncing back from their humiliating exit from the DFB-Pokal when, despite beating fourth-tier side SC Preußen Münster side 3-1, they were eliminated after new manager Mark van Bommel made six substitutions. They came out of the international break with a 2-0 victory over newly promoted Greuther Fürth, but succumbed to draws against Lille, Eintracht Frankfurt and Sevilla, as well as a 3-1 loss to Hoffenheim, to close out the month. Four straight losses piled up for Wolfsburg, and on Sunday, Mark van Bommel became the first managerial casualty of the 2021/22 Bundesliga season.

Van Bommel Is Gone

The announcement came on the back of a 0-2 home defeat to Freiburg, and Van Bommel, whose only head coaching role before the Wolfsburg job had been a season and a half in charge of PSV Eindhoven, found himself sacked after 13 matches with Die Wölfe sitting ninth in the league and bottom of their Champions League group. As the Nordkurve bellowed outcries of “Van Bommel out,” Christian Streich, the manager of the winning side, offered words of support. He stated he hadn’t heard the shouts, and that, “If a few people shout, you shouldn’t overestimate that. You have to leave the church in the village a little bit.”

Christian Streich

In January 2012, whilst Mark van Bommel was anchoring Massimiliano Allegri’s midfield at AC Milan, Streich coached his first-ever top-level game for Freiburg, making him the longest-serving coach in the Bundesliga by six years and six months. The 56-year-old moved to Freiburg at 18 years of age and began his playing career at Freiburger FC, spending two years there before moving to Stuttgarter Kickers, then to Freiburg, then to FC 08 Homburg, and finally back to Freiburger before a broken metatarsal forced him to retire in 1995. 

Streich returned to Freiburg after his retirement and began working as a youth coach as well as a co-trainer, overseeing the development of youth players Ömer Toprak, Dennis Aogo, and Oliver Baumann, before replacing Marcus Sorg during the winter break. After guiding Freiburg out of the relegation zone and finishing 12th in the league, Streich led Freiburg to European qualification for the first time in over a decade and took them to the DFB-Pokal semifinals in 2012/13. However, relegation soon followed, with the Breisgau-Brasilianer spending just one season in the second tier and finishing ahead of RB Leipzig in the table, before finishing 7th, 15th, 13th, 8th and 10th in their return to the top-flight.

Today, Freiburg sit third in the Bundesliga, two points behind Borussia Dortmund and three behind Bayern Munich. They have lost various crucial players in previous years, with Baptiste Santamaria departing for Rennes this past summer after just one season in the Black Forest, but have nevertheless thrived and taken four points in their past two games against two Champions League sides: RB Leipzig and Wolfsburg. There are plenty of contributors from this impressive form, including Nico Schlotterbeck who has become a revelation on the left side of Streich’s back three, but none more so than the manager himself. 

When interviewed in 2017, Streich revealed: “I have a contract, and when there comes a time that I no longer have one here, maybe I’ll do something else. But times have changed. The media presence is even greater, and therefore the pressure too on coaches. Another five years in this job will be tough. My family and friends are in Freiburg. It’s my home. Which other Bundesliga coaches can say that? Some move to one club and then to another a few months later. I get to go home to my family and friends every day – it’s a privilege.”

Mark van Bommel is no longer coaching Wolfsburg, and the man he replaced, Oliver Glasner, is skating on thin ice at Eintracht Frankfurt who sits 15th after losing to newly promoted VfL Bochum. Christian Streich, however, has eschewed the managerial merry-go-round and remained loyal, and is reaping the rewards on and off the pitch.

Saint-Ètienne & Puel Spared Another Loss

Wolfsburg have gone from first place to crisis mode in a very short period, but they’re far from the only green-and-white side who have suffered a similar fate in recent years. Saint-Ètienne found themselves atop the league table after taking three wins from their first three games, but after being forced to sell star defender Wesley Fofana to Leicester City, Les Verts spent the majority of the 2020/21 campaign fighting relegation and only finished six points above the drop. Today, Saint-Ètienne sit bottom of the Ligue 1 table after taking five points from their first 11 games and are in grave danger of being relegated for the first time since 2001.

After suffering a humiliating 5-1 defeat to Strasbourg, it seemed Claude Puel’s two-year spell at the club would come to an end; the club’s supporters had even left a daunting message at the training ground: “We’ll give you 24 hours to resign.” Friday’s match against Angers was delayed by an hour after supporters threw flares onto the pitch and held banners demanding Puel to be sacked, the latest act of fan violence in France’s top division. In contrast to his previous spells at Monaco (49.56%), Lille (39.8%), Lyon (49.72%) and Nice (40.83%), Puel’s winning percentage at Les Stéphanois sits at a measly 29.27%.

There are proven veterans in the squad, including the attacking talisman Wahdi Khazri and other weathered performers such as Romain Hamouma and Ryad Boubedouz. There are ample young talents, with the club’s financial difficulties forcing them to move on from the likes of Yann M’Vila and Mathieu Debuchy. Etienne Green, Yvann Maçon, Mahdi Camara and Lucas Gourna-Douath are just a few of the players who could be set for big-money moves in the next few years, but it is unclear if Puel is the right man to unlock their potential.

The first hour of their match against Angers saw the hosts dominate possession and enjoy the bulk of attacking chances but to little avail. Angers captain Ismaël Traoré headed in Sofiane Boufal’s free-kick to give them the lead within 28 minutes, and in the 56th minute, Angelo Fulgini engineered a quick counter-attack and put away the second goal. However, Les Verts reduced the deficit shortly after via a free-kick from Khazri, and in the 94th minute, the 22-year-old centre-back Mickaël Nadé came to the rescue and headed home his first ever goal for Saint-Ètienne to seal a point.

Diego Simeone’s Son Stars This Weekend

On April 29, 2018, Napoli travelled to the Stadio Artemio Franchi to face off against Fiorentina in a match that had dire circumstances for their title challenge. Having beaten Juventus the previous week via a late winner from Kalidou Koulibaly, Maurizio Sarri’s squad knew that nothing less than a win would suffice in their attempt to end La Vecchia Signora’s dynasty. Instead, Koulibaly went from hero to zero and was sent off within six minutes for clattering into Giovanni Simeone and preventing a goalscoring opportunity. Simeone would go on to score a hat-trick to lead Fiorentina to a 3-0 victory, effectively putting an end to Napoli’s title chances. The Partenopei drew to Torino the following matchday and eventually finished four points behind Juventus, with Sarri leaving at the end of the season to replace Antonio Conte as Chelsea manager.

The son of Diego Simeone, Giovanni was born in Madrid and joined River Plate’s academy in 2008 after Simeone was appointed as Los Millonarios’ manager. After a promising loan spell at Banfield, ‘El Cholito’ departed Argentina and joined Genoa for €3 million, where he would find the back of the net on 13 occasions before earning a move to Fiorentina at the end of the season. An impressive return of 15 goals and 4 assists tapered off the following season as La Viola narrowly avoided relegation under Vincenzo Montella, and Simeone headed to Cagliari where he finished with a respectable 12 goals and 4 assists in his first season, before once again suffering a massive drop in his production in 2020/21. And after playing just six minutes in Cagliari’s opening match of the season, Simeone realized his chances under Leonardo Semplici would be, at best, limited, and joined Hellas Verona on loan with an option to buy.

Simeone’s parent club and current club suffered similar fates on September 14 as Semplici and Eusebio di Francesco were sacked (ironically, Di Francesco had coached Simeone at Cagliari the previous season before being replaced by Semplici in February). Hellas Verona replaced Di Francesco with Croatian manager Igor Tudor, who, in his past six managerial stints, lasted a maximum of 10 months with each club. Tudor, who served as Andrea Pirlo’s assistant at Juventus last season, got off to a winning start at Verona in a 3-2 victory and subdued José Mourinho to his first defeat in charge of Roma. After a 2-2 draw against newly promoted Salernitana, Tudor elected to start Simeone in a homecoming of sorts. Rising above Andrea Cambiaso, Simeone headed home in the eighth minute and gave Hellas Verona the lead in Genoa, with the two sides battling it out in an emotional 3-3 draw.

The following match, Simeone set the tone early on and put Hellas Verona ahead in the fourth minute with a well-placed header, before grabbing an assist in a 4-0 smothering of Spezia. However, Tudor elected to start former Milan player Nikola Kalinić instead of Simeone in the next match, with the Mastini taking a two-goal lead early on only to relinquish it and lose in the second half despite Simeone’s entrance off the bench. Tudor reinstated Simeone as the team’s centre forward against Lazio, with the 26-year-old playing alongside Antonín Barák and new signing Gianluca Caprari in the attacking trident, and once again, Simeone made life a living hell for Sarri and his defence.

After a number of wasted chances early on, Hellas picked up their deserved opening goal via Simeone, who made an incisive, blind-side run in behind the ball-watching Patric and converting Caprari’s through ball past Pepe Reina. Six minutes later, Simeone doubled Hellas Verona’s lead and smashed a golazo from outside the box with an outrageous half-volley. Ciro Immobile halved the deficit within seconds of the restart, but Simeone added a third goal and completed his poker in extra time to secure a 4-1 win against the Biancocelesti. 

Whilst Simeone scored each of Hellas Verona’s four goals, Gianluca Caprari was just as responsible for the dominant victory, with the 28-year-old now on three goals and four assists in his first seven games. After struggling to make a lasting impact at Sampdoria, Caprari spent last season on loan at Benevento and joined Hellas Verona on loan with an obligation to buy, replacing attacking talisman Mattia Zaccagni who joined Lazio for a fee rising to €10 million. With Zaccagni unavailable due to a knee injury and having played just 66 minutes under Sarri due to a hamstring injury, Caprari and Simeone picked apart Lazio’s defence and end the weekend just three points behind the Biancocelesti in 11th place.

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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