Upsets were the theme of the European weekend with giants Arsenal, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Liverpool failing to score a single goal between them.
But, while the bigwigs were drawing blanks, there were plenty of plenty of highlights elsewhere including an absolute humdinger between Celta Vigo and Real Betis in LaLiga.
ESPN correspondents Julien Laurens, Mark Ogden, Alex Kirkland, James Tyler and Luis Miguel Echegaray break down the most interesting and important stuff you need to know about the weekend.
Jump to: Talking points | Best goals | Teams in trouble | MVP of the Weekend
Everton do the unthinkable vs. Arsenal
There was much snickering and sarcasm during the week as Everton’s social media team posted footage of new manager Sean Dyche yelling words of encouragement while his players went through the agonizingly familiar bleep test four days before their huge game against Arsenal.
“No signings 31 days into one of the most important windows in recent history but here’s a video of the new manager in shorts and black trainers running the players…Everton that,” said one comment. “Yes, make them run. Haven’t done so all year!” joked another.
Well, no one’s laughing now as Everton — thanks to a perfectly organized, resilient and brave performance — defeated the leaders of the Premier League table, thus earning their first victory since Oct. 22.
Full-time SCENES! 🔊 pic.twitter.com/OuKsq2RYUW
— Everton (@Everton) February 4, 2023
Quite simply, the Toffees fully earned their 1-0 win against Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. Every single player worked extremely hard on that cold, unforgiving Goodison Park grass to ensure nothing was taken for granted and Arsenal never really got going, mainly because their opponents were ready to do almost anything for three points. The victory was thanks to obviously more than just a bleep test, but there is a nice metaphor here if you just allow it.
The bleep test represents commitment, fight and a need to push through the uncomfortable in order to succeed, and that’s exactly what Everton did Saturday. I don’t know where they go from here, nor can I tell if this win is misleading due to the motivational bump a player usually gets after the arrival of a new manager, but one thing is for sure: If they continue to fight and follow Dyche’s no-nonsense, organized tactics, then it won’t be Everton players that need to receive harsh commentary as they run through a bleep test. That should only fall to owner Farhad Moshiri and the club’s board. — Echegaray
Why did Casemiro get sent off? We need more consistency from VAR
Casemiro’s red card for violent conduct during Manchester United’s 2-1 win against Crystal Palace highlighted the total inconsistency of the use of VAR in the English game.
The former Real Madrid midfielder was sent off in the 70th minute after VAR official Tony Harrington referred an incident, which saw Casemiro grab Palace’s Will Hughes by the neck, to match referee Andre Marriner. Jeff Schlupp’s shove on United’s Antony, which led to the winger hitting the advertising boards at the side of the pitch, sparked a 20-player confrontation. During that scuffle, Casemiro grabbed Hughes by the throat and was cited by Harrington to Marriner, who then issued a red card for the Brazil international.
As a result, he’ll now serve a three-match suspension. Yet in the same incident, Palace’s Jordan Ayew grabbed United’s Fred by the throat and was not punished. And at the end of the brief melee, Casemiro and Hughes were seen laughing and hugging each other, with little suggestion of tempers continuing to boil over.
Ultimately, a player cannot grab an opponent by the neck and complain if he is subsequently sent off. But aside from the double standards of Ayew escaping punishment for the same offence, just rewind to last week when VAR intervention failed to result in a red card for Liverpool’s Fabinho following a dangerous tackle from behind on Brighton’s Evan Ferguson, which caused the young forward to limp off with an ankle injury.
It means that in the eyes of VAR, a reckless tackle that could inflict a significant injury is not worthy of a red card and three-match ban, but a brief tangle followed by the two players involved smiling and hugging is deserving of such heavy punishment.
Perhaps the time has come for a VAR review on a Monday morning which calmly assesses all incidents and decides whether or not to overturn red cards, or impose them retrospectively. — Ogden
Hail Haller the hero
Saturday was a day Sebastien Haller will never forget, and a day engraved forever in Borussia Dortmund’s history as well. Saturday was World Cancer Day and on that day, destiny did its job as Haller, who just beat his testicular cancer after months of treatment, became even more of a hero, showing that willingness and fighting spirit is stronger than illness.
Haller scored his first goal for Dortmund on their way to an emphatic 5-1 win against Freiburg. His header from a Jude Bellingham cross was his team’s third goal, enabling them to go on and put the game away. Edin Terzic’s team are now on Bayern’s heels and this momentum — four wins in four games since the restart — has them very much in the title race alongside the reigning champions, plus RB Leipzig, Union Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Haller is the perfect emblem for this team. At 28, he joined BVB from Ajax Amsterdam for €34.5 million before being diagnosed with cancer and thinking he might never play football again. He fought hard to beat his diagnosis and return to the pitch. After an assist against Mainz and a key move against Leverkusen, his goal against Freiburg, so symbolic and so loaded with emotion, means so much to everyone at the club and its fans. — Laurens
Madrid suffer another title race setback against Mallorca
Just when Real Madrid’s season appeared to be back on track — five games unbeaten and three consecutive clean sheets in LaLiga — along came Mallorca. A scrappy 1-0 defeat, with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois the latest injury worry, and Madrid are in trouble again, with rivals Barcelona threatening to build an insurmountable lead at the top of the table.
In some ways, this loss was inexplicable. Madrid had 73% possession, created 16 chances and ended the game with an xG of 1.63 to Mallorca’s 0.2. Mallorca’s winner was a bizarre own goal by Nacho, Dani Rodriguez’s cross looping off the defender’s head and over stranded stand-in keeper Andriy Lunin.
But in others, it was all too predictable. For all those chances, only one of the 16 became a shot on target. No Karim Benzema means no cutting edge, especially against a defence as deep-set as Mallorca’s. And when the time came to level from the penalty spot, with no Benzema or Luka Modric on the pitch, it fell to Marco Asensio, whose effort was well saved by Predrag Rajkovic.
Marco Asensio’s penalty is saved and Real Madrid are still behind 👀 pic.twitter.com/0RlbDAkSRb
— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) February 5, 2023
One note of optimism: This week’s Club World Cup might be just the change of scene that Madrid need, offering them an opportunity to regroup and bring home another trophy before returning to begin their bid to chase down Barca. — Kirkland
Caring is sharing: Rashford ends a beautifully crafted, team goal for Man United
Yes, Casemiro’s red card will be getting the headlines, but please — I beg of you, Man United fans — pay attention to Erik ten Hag’s football because there are times when it’s absolutely mesmerizing, and it’s more than just individual prowess. United won 2-1 against Crystal Palace on Saturday and Marcus Rashford scored his 11th — eleventh — goal since returning from the World Cup.
Oh, and what a goal it was. Some intricate passing outside and inside the box eventually led to Luke Shaw’s delivery finding the England international who coolly dispatched it beyond Vicente Guaita.
That buildup play from United. 😍
Marcus Rashford is unstoppable!
📺: @peacock #MyPLMorning.| #MUNCRY pic.twitter.com/Hl2zZSLUQM
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 4, 2023
“It was the perfect team goal,” said Ten Hag after the game. Yes it was, Erik. Yes it was. After Newcastle United’s draw with West Ham, United are now third in the league and looking very comfortable. — Echegaray
Gabri Veiga shines in Celta’s 4-3 win at Betis
There was no shortage of goal-of-the-weekend candidates in LaLiga, from Oihan Sancet’s rocket — the first of a hat trick — in Athletic Club’s 4-1 win over Cadiz, to the comedy value of Atletico Madrid’s Angel Correa scoring from the bench in their 1-1 draw with Getafe when his disallowed goal — followed by his immediate substitution — was eventually reinstated by VAR.
The assist 🥶
The knee slide🥶 pic.twitter.com/LC56OMxxJR
— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) February 4, 2023
But it would be a shame not to pick a goal from the game of the weekend, Celta Vigo’s 4-3 win at Real Betis. Celta forward Jorgen Strand Larsen’s opener is a contender, but let’s go for Gabri Veiga’s goal in the 42nd minute. From Luca de la Torre’s clever assist to Veiga juggling the ball past defender Luiz Felipe and scooping it over goalkeeper Rui Silva, it was a move of pure quality in a ridiculously entertaining match. — Kirkland
Reyna can’t stop scoring
For those keeping track at home, United States and Borussia Dortmund international Giovanni Reyna has come off the bench and scored in three straight games, which sure does suggest he might be a great impact substitute, eh?
GIO REYNA OFF THE BENCH AGAIN 😱 pic.twitter.com/YXQRa785M4
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 4, 2023
The goal itself was emphatic and classy in equal measure. Keep doing your thing, Gio. — Tyler
Teams in trouble
Angers in crisis
After 13 defeats in a row in Ligue 1, Angers have finally stopped the rot with an unexpected point away at Lorient on Sunday. The 0-0 draw wasn’t a great performance, but it didn’t matter. It was all about avoiding a 14th consecutive loss.
Angers already holds the all-time record in French top flight history with their unlucky 13 straight defeats, and they’re still very much in trouble as the nine points they now have in the table keeps them at the bottom, a massive 10 points away from safety.
It’s a mountain to climb for a team that’s already changed managers this season and, prior to their clean sheet against Lorient, had always at least conceded a goal in each league game this season, apart from against Nice (1-0) and Nantes (0-0). They now have two wins and three draws this season but they have are one of the worst teams in the history in Ligue 1. At least they didn’t lose again? — Laurens
Liverpool are going from bad to worse
Nicol: Liverpool players need to step up
Steve Nicol reacts to Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of Wolverhapton at the Molineux Stadium.
“Passive” is what manager Jurgen Klopp called the Reds’ performance Saturday, but the 3-0 defeat at Wolves deserves a stronger descriptor. Falling 2-0 behind inside 12 minutes thanks to genuinely shoddy defending, with Joel Matip deflecting in the opener before a poor clearance allowed Craig Dawson (of all people) to swing his leg around the ball to thunder it beyond a bewildered Alisson.
Liverpool did have some clear-cut chances after the break, but more lackadaisical play behind the ball allowed Ruben Neves (of all people!) to saunter on goal and stroke a shot beyond Alisson for Wolves’ third. After winning two games at the tail end of December, the Reds have lost three and drawn once in the new year, and that’s just in the league; add their FA Cup and Carabao Cup early exits, and there’s little to feel positive about for the remainder of the season.
With nine goals conceded and just one scored in the Premier League since Jan. 1, the rot is extensive and it’s hard to see a turnaround coming. We keep waiting, but it’s just not there. How much worse can they get? — Tyler
Doucoure the key to Everton’s big win
Abdoulaye Doucoure has been a huge loss for Everton this season, with the former Watford midfielder starting his first Premier League game since August in Sean Dyche’s debut as manager against Arsenal.
And it became clear pretty quickly in the 1-0 win against the league leaders that Doucoure’s absence is one significant factor in Everton’s struggles this season.
The 30-year-old, who was dropped by former boss Frank Lampard for disciplinary reasons towards the end of his 12-month reign as manager, missed a large chunk of the season with a hamstring injury.
But Doucoure has been fit to start for a while now and Dyche wasted no time in wiping the slate clean by naming the midfielder in his starting XI.
And Doucoure was immense for Everton. He dominated the midfield battle against Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard with aggression, leadership and a box-to-box energy which inspired those around him.
Everton’s midfield of Doucoure, Idrissa Gana Gueye and Amadou Onana provided the platform for a crucial 1-0 win and if Dyche can keep them fit, the team will stay in the Premier League.
But Doucoure is the driving force and he was outstanding against Arsenal. — Ogden