The final international break of 2023 is officially history as we are back in league action all across Europe with mouthwatering performances and surprise results happening amongst the major leagues.
On Saturday in England, we saw Manchester City unable to extend their lead atop the Premier League in a 1-1 draw against Liverpool and we also witnessed Kai Havertz snatch the headlines with Arsenal defeating Brentford 1-0 and become the new league leaders.
Meanwhile in France, PSG disposed of AS Monaco with ease in a 5-2 win to continue their reign top of Ligue 1. In Spain, Barcelona failed to secure all three points in a 1-1 draw against Rayo Vallecano, which didn't allow them to close the gap to the three teams above them in LaLiga. And finally in Germany, Harry Kane continues to make history in Bayern Munich in their 1-0 win over Cologne.
On Sunday, Aston Villa came back from behind to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 and move up to the fourth spot in the league table. In LaLiga, Jude Bellingham scored yet another goal as Real Madrid secured an emphatic 3-0 win away to Cadiz and are now league leaders.
Here is your look back at yet another topsy-turvy weekend in European football.
The Sunday lead: Rodrygo steps in to state his goalscoring credentials
Rodrygo wasn't supposed to be playing for Real Madrid at Cadiz on Sunday. But for their sake, it's just as well that he was. A late inclusion in the starting XI after Brahim Díaz's "intestinal problems," the club said, the Brazil forward scored twice and provided an assist for Jude Bellingham to give Madrid a 3-0 away win which puts them, for now, top of LaLiga. His goals -- both similar in execution, cutting inside in the 14th and 64th minutes to shoot high into the top corner -- were the game's two moments of outstanding quality.
Rodrygo's slow start to the 2023-24 season saw his goal-scoring bona fides questioned. Squeezed into a new-look front two alongside another converted winger, Vinícius Júnior -- now ruled out until February with a hamstring injury -- Rodrygo scored one goal in his first 12 club games this campaign. That included a goal drought of over two months. Now, it's all changed. With his brace at Cadiz, Rodrygo has scored five goals in his last three club games, finding the net in three consecutive matches -- against Braga, Valencia and Cadiz -- for the first time in his Madrid career.
Rodrygo has SEVEN goal contributions in his last two LALIGA games 👀— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 26, 2023
⚽️⚽️🅰️ vs. Cadiz
⚽️⚽️🅰️🅰️ vs. Valencia
On a tear ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/6m93KSbANA
There was no sign of the post-international break tiredness which led coach Carlo Ancelotti to initially opt to leave him on the bench. Sources told ESPN that Rodrygo returned from Brazil duty fatigued, with accumulated discomfort from having played so many games lately. Watching the 78 minutes he played against Cadiz, you wouldn't know. Almost everything good that Madrid did involved Rodrygo in one way or another.
In the second half he could have made it 2-0, 10 minutes before he eventually did so. Only a breakdown in communication with strike partner Joselu prevented the pair from converting Bellingham's through ball. When the second goal did come, it was even better than his first, the finish even more composed, dancing through a static Cadiz defence. And there was still time to help Bellingham continue his own scoring run, carrying the ball forward, beating a man and touching it into the Englishman's path for a low finish across goal.
There's an elegance and grace to Rodrygo on the ball, an ability to dribble past defenders with what looks like minimal effort, which few players can match. His problem so far this season had been a lack of clinical finishing. If that's changing -- and on this evidence, it already has -- then he might just be able to provide the goals which Madrid will desperately need in Vinícius' absence. -- Alex Kirkland
Sunday talking points around the leagues
Another loss, another injury: Tottenham's bad day
For all the momentum, great performances and results Tottenham have had in the first 10 league games of the season (eight wins and two draws), they are now experiencing the total opposite. Their home defeat against Aston Villa (2-1) on Sunday was the third in a row in the Premier League and after having led the table brilliantly for the first 10 weeks of it, they now find themselves outside of the the top four, in fifth place, four points behind Arsenal.
They moved the ball well at times, created chances (their xG was 2.32 off 18 shots and eight on target) and their movement was excellent again. But they lacked efficiency in both boxes. Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou is obviously struggling with all the injuries and suspensions (Cristian Romero, James Maddison, Micky van de Ven, Yves Bissouma, Pape Matar Sarr, Richarlison, Manor Solomon) and his starting lineup was ambitious on Sunday with a lot of attacking powers and no real defensive midfielders.
Shaka Hislop lauds the impact of Unai Emery after his Aston Villa side won 2-1 away at Tottenham Hotspur.
Spurs were unbalanced defensively and ultimately paid for it. But the Australian manager will rue the injury of Rodrigo Bentancur. The Uruguayan came back from almost a year out and he sadly only lasted 30 minutes. And for Tottenham, the worst is maybe yet to come as they will travel to Manchester City next weekend.
For Aston Villa, considering their bad away form this season coming into this game (two wins in six), their victory is a fantastic result. They rode their luck of course but their offside trap worked great again (they caught Tottenham offside five times denying them three goals) and manager Unai Emery won the tactical battle of the two managers with his halftime substitutions. Villa are now in fourth place in the table, continuing their incredible form since the arrival of the Basque coach a year ago. -- Julien Laurens
On Thursday night, when asked about the Foxes, Chelsea coach Emma Hayes was keen to point out the attacking way Leicester City play under Willie Kirk, singling out their strength when it comes to one-on-one duels. It was exactly that endeavour that saw the visitors pull themselves back into the tie after conceding twice in the first five minutes, first to Lauren James within the first minute and then a Courtney Nevin own goal four minutes later.
Despite heading in at half-time just one goal down, with Chelsea leading 3-2, the Blues' ability to problem solve and show their mettle over second halves shone through once more. Rather than being allowed to contest the one-on-ones, the Foxes were pushed back in a clump, unable to break the Chelsea press until late in the day after the hosts had put the match to bed with it ending 5-2.
It was another marker for the Foxes' growth over the last 12 months, the game routine in the end for Chelsea but one they were made to work through, particularly in the first half. Yet, for the development of teams like Leicester, who've impressed in spells this season, it was a day of polarised scores across the entirety of the WSL, hammering home just how hard it is for those who want to challenge to the top teams. No team in England better at producing consistent results and finding wins be they ground out or strolls through the park than Chelsea, the champions continuing to show the way in the WSL. -- Sophie Lawson
Status quo in Serie A after Derby d'Italia
Juventus and Internazionale are the best teams in Serie A this season. We knew it before the weekend, and their clash on Sunday night confirmed it. The Scudetto will be won by one of them, and the race for it will be beautiful. They are two vastly different teams, and the first Derby d'Italia of the season was awaited with a lot of impatience in Turin: Hosts Juve were on a five-game winning streak, while for Inter it was six successes in a row.
The match did not disappoint. The first half was intense, with high pressing from both teams and a goal each. First, Dusan Vlahovic scored for Juve after a great one-two with Federico Chiesa, before Lautaro Martínez equalised after some great Inter movement. A number of big tackles had the stadium atmosphere at fever-pitch, with both teams looking for the go-ahead goal.
The second half was a cagier affair as neither team wanted to lose the game. Ahead of Sunday, the two-point gap at the top of the Serie A table was not a bad one, and once Juve realised they could not win the match, they clearly became happy with not losing it.
In the end, the 1-1 draw was a tale of two strikers: The heavily criticised Vlahovic, who silenced his critics with a cool finish, and the wonderful Lautaro who has now 27 league goals in 2023.
And so, the battle for Serie A's bragging rights continues. Next weekend, Juventus will face Monza away knowing that Inter have a difficult match in Naples to play the champions. It could just be a matter of days before we have new Serie A leaders. -- Laurens
News of the day
Former England men's team and Barcelona coach Terry Venables died at the age of 80 after a long illness. Venables, who also managed Tottenham Hotspur -- where he won the FA Cup in 1991-- led England to the semifinals at the 1996 European Championship, which they hosted. A statement released by the League Managers' Association on behalf of Venables' family read: "We are totally devastated by the loss of a wonderful husband and father who passed away peacefully yesterday after a long illness. We would ask that privacy be given at this incredibly sad time to allow us to mourn the loss of this lovely man who we were so lucky to have had in our lives."
After Alejandro Garnacho's stunning bicycle kick goal on Sunday, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag said the 19-year-old has the potential to be one of the best players in the world. Although the winger's strike drew comparison to Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo's goals in similar style, the Dutchman said Garnacho still has work to do to reach their level. Ten Hag said: "Don't compare, I don't think it is right. But he definitely has high potential to do some amazing things, it's not the first time we saw this. We have already often seen glimpses, but if you want to be a player like Rooney or Ronaldo you have to score 20, 25 goals in the Premier League each season. That's not easy to get, you have to work hard, you have to go in areas where it hurts. So a lot to come. But potential, he has it."
And finally, on Sunday ...
We saw a familiar sight during Sevilla's match against Real Sociedad when Sergio Ramos was given his 21st red card in LaLiga and 29th in his career as a whole. During his time at Real Madrid, the fiery defender was known for getting booked for rash challenges, and it's the same old story at his boyhood club.
SERGIO RAMOS STRAIGHT RED CARD FOR A RECKLESS CHALLENGE 😳 pic.twitter.com/bY26Bhq7G2— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 26, 2023
Ramos is now three cards clear at the top of the list for players with most red cards in LaLiga history. His studs up, reckless challenge in the 88th minute of Sevilla's 2-1 loss was Ramos' first since making his emotional return to Sevilla. But will it be his last? If football history has taught us anything, it's that despite his age (37), Ramos shows no signs of mellowing.
The lead: Man City fail to preserve Premier League top spot
Jurgen Klopp says he won't talk about Liverpool's title chances until the last few months of the season but he might not be able to keep it quiet for much longer. For all the preseason talk of Arsenal being Manchester City's main challengers, Liverpool have quietly gone through their first 13 games with just one defeat -- and even that one at Tottenham involved one of the worst VAR disasters.
The Brazilian goalkeeper was at fault twice for City's goal -- first when his weak kick out went straight to Nathan Aké and then when Erling Haaland's shot smashed through his hands. He was also lucky that Chris Kavanagh decided he had been pushed by Manuel Akanji when he dropped a cross at Rúben Dias' feet to tap into the net. VAR Stuart Attwell agreed with Kavanagh but it looked soft.
Despite Allison's nervous afternoon, there wasn't much between the two teams and, whether Klopp wants to admit it or not, it should give Liverpool confidence that they're capable of matching City over the course of the season. Klopp probably doesn't have the squad depth that Guardiola enjoys but if he can keep everyone fit, and deal with the distraction of the Europa League, there's no reason why Liverpool shouldn't be in the title race come April and May. Maybe then Klopp will even talk about it. -- Rob Dawson
Steve Nicol reacts to Erling Haaland becoming the fastest player to score 50 Premier League goals.
Saturday talking points around the leagues
Havertz scores winner to send Arsenal to top of Premier League
Mikel Arteta's side beat Brentford 1-0 at the Gtech Community Stadium courtesy of Havertz's 89th-minute header from a sublime Bukayo Saka cross -- only his second goal since signing for £67.5 million from Chelsea last summer. The search for Havertz's best position has extended into international football with Germany utilising the 24-year-old at left-back and left wing-back during this month's international break.
For Arsenal, he has played as a No. 8, a false nine and out wide at times without finding much consistency in his game -- an issue which led Arteta to overlook Havertz in his starting lineup against Brentford, instead favouring an experiment with Leandro Trossard operating as a No. 8 alongside returning captain Martin Ødegaard.
Trossard had a goal ruled out on VAR review for offside shortly before half-time but this was a disjointed display from the visitors, who lacked sufficient creativity to cause Brentford too many problems.
In fact, Ramsdale almost marked his comeback in calamitous style, gifting Brentford a chance to open the scoring on 13 minutes by freezing in possession inside his own box. Only Declan Rice's brilliant goal line clearance to deny Bryan Mbeumo prevented maximum damage.
Ramsdale, recalled here by necessity given Arsenal's new No. 1 David Raya, was ineligible as he is on loan from Brentford, also later escaped any consequence of inexplicably throwing the ball straight into the ground as he tried to distribute.
But he recovered his poise in the second half, albeit owing his clean sheet to another stunning clearance off the line, this time from Oleksandr Zinchenko, as he kept out substitute Neal Maupay's 77th-minute header.
The last word went to Havertz, who was dragged to the away end by Arteta at full-time in an attempt to boost the confidence of a player whose expensive acquisition was supposed to move Arsenal closer to the Premier League title. After Manchester City and Liverpool drew earlier in the day, the Gunners seized their moment with a hard-fought win that resembles a small step in that aim. -- James Olley
Florian Lejeune's second-half own goal cancelled out Unai López's brilliant opener to save a point for Barça, who have now won just two of their past five games in all competitions. Meanwhile, they are winless in five against Rayo.
The result will do little to quiet the negativity around the team which Xavi said was affecting his players before the international break. Against Rayo, he bemoaned the team's mentality in the first half, saying levels had perhaps "subconsciously dropped" since winning LaLiga last season. The Barça coach was also critical of the decision not to give a late penalty for Alfonso Espino's challenge on Raphinha.
More criticism will follow, Xavi accepts that, but he also backs his team to turn things around. They will need to do so quickly with three key home games over the next fortnight. First, they host Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday needing a result after losing at Shakhtar Donetsk last time out. They then welcome Atlético Madrid and surprise leaders Girona in LaLiga. Any more dropped points and they could see Girona and Real Madrid, who began this weekend four and two points ahead of them respectively, start to leave them behind.
Barça wore shirts with the message "We are with you, Gavi," on them before kickoff against Rayo after losing him to injury for the rest of the season this week. They could have done with him with them on the pitch, though, as they struggled to get going in Vallecas. Xavi said the mentality to "really go for the game and be aggressive" was missing; that's something Gavi, characterised as the heart and soul of the team by his boss, has in bundles.
López's clean strike from distance -- which Barça felt could have been ruled out because Sergio Camello's was standing in an offside position -- caught out goalkeeper Iñaki Peña, who was standing in for the injured Marc-André ter Stegen, to give Rayo a half-time lead. Barça did improve after the break. Ferran Torres, Pedri, and Iñigo Martínez all had headed chances before Lejeune turned Alejandro Balde's cross into his net in the 82nd minute.
That set up a frantic finale, which ended with Espino's challenge on Raphinha. Xavi said it was a "clear penalty." Rayo coach Francisco, whose side also drew with Real Madrid a few weeks ago, said he hadn't seen it. Neither the referee nor the VAR agreed with Xavi, who warned his players a mentality change is necessary if they want to challenge for trophies again this season. -- Samuel Marsden
Dembélé stars in exciting top of Ligue 1 clash
There was nothing better that Ligue 1 could offer to come back from the November international break than this appealing PSG vs. AS Monaco match on Friday evening under the lights at the Parc des Princes. And it didn't disappoint, even without the likes of Warren Zaïre-Emery and an injured Marquinhos on the Paris side and suspended Youssouf Fofana for the visitors. It was an intense, open and spectacular top-of-the-table clash between the league leaders Parisians and third-place Monégasques.
PSG won 5-2, a score probably a bit too harsh considering how good Monaco still performed, but it was great publicity for Ligue 1. PSG were outstanding with the ball at times and the best player on the night was undoubtedly Ousmane Dembélé. The French international scored his first goal for PSG with an incredibly tight finish after a wonderful first touch.
All evening long, he created chaos on his right wing with his dribbling, his pace and his partnership with Achraf Hakimi. As always, he didn't always make the right decisions, and he had zero successful crosses, but he made such a difference, including in the buildup play. Luis Enrique has made him a key part of his plans and he is indispensable. PSG are six points ahead of Monaco, probably their toughest rivals for the league title this season, even more so than Nice.
For Adi Hutter's team, they will rue their missed chances but they played some really good stuff at times while Folarin Balogun and Aleksandr Golovin have demonstrated so much talent. But on Friday night, they just came a bit short against the reigning champions. -- Laurens
Americans abroad: Balogun strikes in mixed day for USMNT players
In France, AS Monaco were unable to close the gap between them and league leaders PSG as they fell 5-2 at the Parc des Princes. Balogun's fourth goal this season wasn't enough for Monaco on Friday, but it was a return to form for the striker after failing to hit the net in either of the two matches against Trinidad and Tobago in the Concacaf Nations League last week.
Meanwhile, in Germany, we saw an All-American clash as Giovanni Reyna's Borussia Dortmund took on Joe Scally's Borussia Monchengladbach as the hosts looked to continue to stamp their authority in the Bundesliga race. Scally played the full 90 minutes, while Reyna came on at half-time, and it was the latter who got the last laugh as Edin Terzic's side snatched a 4-2 comeback win after going down 2-0 inside the first 28 minutes to go to fourth in the table, 10 points behind league leaders Bayer Leverkusen.
In Italy, on a night where we saw Francesco Camarda become the youngest player to play a Serie A match, AC Milan snatched a 1-0 win over Fiorentina with both Christian Pulisic and Yunus Musah starting as Stefano Pioli's side remain in the Serie A title race and remain third, six points behind league leaders Inter.
Finally in the Netherlands, we saw three Americans take to the pitch as PSV were able to beat FC Twente 3-0 with Ricardo Pepi, Sergiño Dest, and Malik Tillman all featuring with Tilman getting the assist for the final goal thanks to Johan Bakayoko and to remain top of the Eredivisie. -- Roberto Rojas
News of the day
Manchester City's Erling Haaland continues to break records as the Norwegian striker became the fastest player in Premier League history to reach 50 goals, beating Andrew Cole's previous record of 65 games. He scored the opening goal in the match against Liverpool that ended in a 1-1 draw after Trent Alexander-Arnold scored a second-half equalizer.
Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino slammed his side's performance following their 4-1 loss to Newcastle United, which left him "very angry" and disappointed, calling it their worst of the season. "We were soft in every single challenge. We did not compete. We did not show we were playing for something important," Pochettino said. "It was tough to be in the stands. We cannot complain about the result, we did not read the game from the beginning."
And finally on Saturday ...
Harry Kane continues to make history in Germany. After scoring the only goal in Bayern Munich's 1-0 win over Cologne, Kane was able to break numerous new records as he continues to shine for the Bavarians in just his first season. Among the records that the striker has been able to get is becoming the first Bundesliga player to score 18 goals in the first 12 matchdays and breaking Jadon Sancho's record of 17 goals to become the highest goalscoring Englishman ever in a single Bundesliga campaign.
What's even more insane is that when Robert Lewandowski broke the single-season record for most goals in a Bundesliga season with 41, his tally after 12 matchdays was 15. Kane has already scored three more at the same time Lewandowski did when he eventually broke the record so if he keeps his form up, he might be on pace to break the Polish striker's record as well.
Harry Kane scores on an open net to give Bayern Munich a 1-0 lead.
The former Tottenham striker is on red-hot form as he stands atop everyone else as no one else has more goals in Europe's top five leagues, with 22 in all competitions. That being said, even though Bayern Munich are unbeaten in the league, they are still in second place and firm in the Bundesliga race being only two points behind league leaders Bayer Leverkusen.
If Bayern are going to continue to chase an unprecedented 12th straight league title, it'll all depend on whether Kane will be able to continue his hot form for Thomas Tuchel's side and finally give one of the best strikers of his generation long-awaited silverware. -- Rojas