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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 Talking Points

We’ve barely had a chance to catch our breath after a jam-packed summer that saw Argentina defeat Brazil at the Maracanã and put an end to their big-game nightmares via a goal from Ángel di María, whilst the United States also conquered revenge on their longtime foes by defeating Mexico in the CONCACAF Nations League and CONCACAF Gold Cup Final. Less than four years after missing out on World Cup qualification, Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri bested England on their home soil in the European Championship Final, whilst Germany and Brazil took home the gold during this summer’s U-21 Euros and Olympics Finals.

And yet, next Saturday will mark the return of each of Europe’s top five leagues as Serie A kicks off its season with the reigning Scudetto winners Inter Milan hosting Genoa at the San Siro.

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.

The Bees Sting The Gunners

Friday the 13th marked the return of the most-watched sports league in the world, as Brentford hosted Arsenal in their year-old Brentford Community Stadium, coming out victorious via goals from Sergi Canós and Christian Nørgaard in their first ever match in the English Premier League. Even the most aggrieved Gunner or cynical neutral would find it hard to not be touched by the result — after years of a tried and trusted Moneyball approach, the Bees played their first top-division match in 64 years and came out on top against a team whose summer signing — Ben White (£50 million) — cost nearly as much as their entire starting line-up (£53 million).

It is a just reward for the club’s 47-year-old Danish manager Thomas Flank, who, less than three years ago, found himself in danger of an early dismissal. The ex Brøndby manager replaced Dean Smith after his departure to Aston Villa in October 2018 and got off to a cumbersome start with one win and one draw in his first 10 matches, before switching to a 3-4-3 formation and stabilising their form en route to an 11th-placed finish. After missing out on promotion in the Final against Fulham in his first full season in charge, Frank guided Brentford to victory in the play-off final against Swansea City, cementing his legendary status in the annals of Brentford’s history.

Arteta’s Position Already In Question

Mikel Arteta will be in need of a similar turnaround in fortunes in order to keep himself off the hot seat heading into September’s international break. Arsenal host the Champions League winners on Sunday as Chelsea prepare to build momentum after a week that saw them edge Villarreal in the UEFA SuperCup Final on penalties in Belfast and complete a club-record £97.5 million deal for Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku, and take a decisive 3-0 victory against Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge. Despite an unflattering record of 47 wins, 16 draws and 24 losses as Arsenal manager, Arteta boasts a respectable track record against the Blues, featuring one loss, one draw, and three wins — including a victory in the 2020 FA Cup Final.

He’ll be looking to count on Bukayo Saka from the start, who was brought on for an ineffective Nicolas Pépé midway through the second half, although it appears unlikely that either Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette will be available for the clash at Emirates Stadium, followed by an EFL Cup tie against West Brom and a visit to Manchester City to close out the month. Arteta will need to conjure up some magic on Sunday if he wants to avoid becoming the second former Arsenal midfielder to have his team steamrolled by Thomas Tuchel’s ferocious Blues.

Perfect Day At The Theatre Of Dreams

Brentford’s historic day was followed up by Saturday’s clash between Manchester United and Leeds United, which saw the hosts take a 5-1 victory against Marcelo Bielsa’s side via a hat-trick of goals from Bruno Fernandes and an astonishing total of four assists from Paul Pogba. Whilst the cheerful atmosphere in Manchester was marked by Pogba and Fernandes’ individual heroics in addition to Jadon Sancho’s debut and Raphaël Varane’s announcement as a United player, one player who drastically improved his chances of solidifying a starting spot was Mason Greenwood.

Greenwood Thrives As Centre Forward

With Edinson Cavani yet to return to action following his participation in this summer’s Copa América for Uruguay, Greenwood was given the start at centre forward ahead of Anthony Martial and thrived in his natural position. The 19-year-old has often been shuttled out to the wing throughout his early United career, but with Marcus Rashford and Cavani out, he led the line with authority, knitting together the attacks amongst Leeds’ intense pressure, quickly weaving his way past a sea of white shirts on multiple counterattacks and grabbing United’s second goal. Latching onto a divine through ball from Pogba, Greenwood blitzed past Pascal Struijk and tucked the goal past Illan Meslier, a testament to his incisive movement and ability to score goals with either foot. This goal opened up the floodgates as United scored three goals in the following 16 minutes, putting a damper on the exuberant sensations at Elland Road following Bielsa’s contract renewal and proving why Greenwood is one of the most dangerous teenagers in Europe.

Creative Juices Flowed, Sosa Is Someone To Watch

Saturday saw an astonishing four players complete a hat-trick (or more) of assists: Erling Haaland against Eintracht Frankfurt, Paul Pogba against Leeds United, Andrej Kramarić against Augsburg, and Borna Sosa against SpVgg Greuther Fürth. The youngest of the bunch, Sosa has established himself as one of the hottest wing-backs in the Bundesliga since joining Stuttgart in 2018. The 23-year-old was born in the Prečko neighbourhood of Zagreb to Herzegovinian Croat parents and spent the entirety of his youth development at Dinamo Zagreb before heading to Germany, where he has both witnessed promotion and relegation and captained his side for the first time in a DFB-Pokal match against Dynamo Berlin on August 7.

However, despite amassing a total of 56 appearances for Croatia’s youth teams, Sosa has not yet made an appearance for the senior team yet. On May 7, it was reported that Sosa was given German citizenship through his mother Vesna who was born and raised in Berlin, with Sosa and Germany manager Joachim Löw both expecting him to play a role in the upcoming European Championship, but just four days later, DFB technical director Oliver Bierhoff confirmed that he was ineligible to play for Die Mannschaft according to FIFA rules.

Sosa issued an apology to the Croatian public, stating, “I made the wrong decision and turned out to be naive. The decision I made was wrong and I have to take responsibility for it myself. If the Croatian Football Association and the selectors believe that in spite of everything they can contribute to the success of our national teams, I will respond to their invitation and make it available. Finally, I sincerely apologize to the Croatian (sports) public, the fans of the Croatian national football team and the Croatian Football Association, whom I thank for the patience, understanding and correctness they showed me in this situation.”

Zlatko Dalić elected to play Joško Gvardiol out of position at left-back during Croatia’s Euros campaign, which saw the 2018 World Cup runners-up crash out to Spain in the Round of 16, but with Domagoj Vida (32) and Dejan Lovren (32) entering the twilight of their careers, Dalić may be inclined to move Gvardiol to the centre of defence and play Sosa on the left side of defence. With 10 assists last season, he is a far more attack-minded solution than Lille defender Domagoj Bradarić and is five years younger than Rangers defender Borna Barišić — a little forgiveness could see Croatia seal the left-back of their short-term and long-term future and help solve a problem position in defence.

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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