A mid-September week-end loaded with marquee match-ups was somewhat overshadowed by Leo Messi’s injury, scarier than in actuality, an injury that came in the final moments of Barcelona’s away win at Atletico Madrid as the little man was trying to break out into open space. Messi was in instant agony, his ankle seriously swollen within a minute. It first appeared that the injury was devastating. But the good word came later in the day – Messi is expected to make a full recovery and be apt to play in a couple of weeks, something that is hard to believe given the look of his ankle. As for the derbies, here are the highlights.
Feyenoord – Ajax 1-2
Another mega clash in Holland ended the usual way, with the Rotterdam side fighting and scraping but lacking the quality that the Amsterdam side brings. Feyenoord made it interesting with a goal in the 80th minute, but Ajax rued missed chances to inflict a heavier blow. The rivalry and the hatred is alive and well, but the Dutch police handled this maximum tension encounter without incident.
Benfica – Sporting 2-0
Two Oscar Cardozo goals gave the home side a deserved Lisbon derby victory. Benfica took the spoils without much anxiety, controlling the middle of the field and creating more, but generally containing a lackluster Sporting. For the green and white side of the Lisbon, the crisis of form continues despite a lot of turnover in the past few years. Offensively, Sporting created very little and now clearly there is a psychological complex that the club must overcome.
Saint Pauli – Hamburg 1-1
Saint Pauli’s stadium was rocking, their legendary fans sensing victory, singing and celebrating a 1-0 lead over the cross-town rivals as the match entered its final minutes. It was not to be. Hamburg’s Mladen Petric scored a brilliant goal to even the match and spoil the party, a great individual effort from 30 yards away that took everyone, not only St. Pauli’s goalkeeper, by surprise. A fair outcome.
Manchester United – Liverpool 3-2
Or really, Dimitar Berbatov – Liverpool 3-0. Three excellent, maybe one stupendous, goals from the Bulgarian international sealed the win for United after Liverpool had climbed back from a 0-2 deficit at Old Trafford. Berbatov confirmed his scoring prowess and Sir Alex Ferguson’s faith on the most important day on the calendar for Man United, shutting up the many detractors who questioned his arrival at the club. For Liverpool, the result is a reflection of where the club really is: not strong enough to compete in line with its ambitions. Roy Hodgson is a great manager and he will figure it out, but the sooner the better. Midfield weakness and a Fernando Torres in dimmed form diminish the club’s prospects greatly.
Fenerbahce – Besiktas 1-1
Not the biggest derby in Istanbul, but a big one nonetheless. Fener lead until near the end, then relinquished a penalty that was converted by former Real Madrid man Guti. A draw allowed everyone to go home with some measure of comfort. A loss in games like these can take weeks to overcome in Instanbul.
Flamengo – Fluminense 3-3
Another thrilling Flu-Fla episode featuring six goals in a campaign where Fluminense needs every point as it competes with Corinthians near the top, while Flamengo is having an indifferent season. In a see-saw back and forth game, Fluminense opened and closed the scoring, Flamengo punching three times in between. The atmosphere was visibly subdued for a match of this caliber. The match took place at the Joao Havelange Olympic stadium, as Maracana, the home of both teams, is now officially under renovation for the 2014 World Cup.
Malaga – Sevilla 1-2
The Andalusian derby went to the visitors after Malaga had actually gone ahead. A Martin Caceres goal just before halftime proved to be the winner, enough to provide a very bruised, talented Sevilla with three badly needed points. Small redemption for a club that was eliminated from Champions League contention by Braga, who lost to Arsenal 6-0 last week, and suffered a home defeat to Paris Saint Germain in its first Europa League match. Could this be the start of the turn-around for a Sevilla team that still features a lot of very good players?
Bordeaux – Lyon 2-0
Lyon spent a lot of money in the off-season, including buying Bordeaux’s play-maker star Yoann Gourcouff, supposedly to propel the club to higher heights in the Champions League after coming close to eliminating Real Madrid last year. So far, the new alignment is off. Lyon has struggled greatly in the new French season, while Bordeaux has absorbed the loss of both prolific goal-scorer Marouane Chamakh (to Arsenal) and Gourcouff in stride. Lyon can bounce back before falling too deeply to climb, but the room for error is drastically reduced now.
Schalke – Borussia Dortmund 1-3
This is the ultimate Westphalia derby featuring two proud, neighboring clubs from Germany’s northwest, the equivalent of Man United – Liverpool. In the end, it was a great day for Dortmund and a victory to relish for a long time. Schalke managed to get a consolation goals from new man Huntelaar, but their unthinkably disastrous start to the season continued for last year’s Bundesliga runner-up. Four games played, four losses, alone at the very rock bottom of the table.
Atletico Madrid – Barcelona 1-2
The big match of La Liga generally lived up to expectations. It was a match of two teams with the difference in quality visible, Barca creating with more fluidity and ease. Atletico turned the second half into a scrappy affair, pressing for a result, even a draw, but it was Barca that came closest a number of times. David Villa was not on his best day, but Messi and Iniesta were. Typical Barca movement made the difference, while Kun Aguero left the game with an injury and Forlan did virtually nothing for Atletico. Messi’s injury, courtesy of Thomas Ujfalusi, looked much worse than it appeared at first, a relief not only for Barcelona fans but also for Argentina and for all supporters of the game around the world. Real Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla also took home three points with the same 2-1 away wins.
Next week-end the attention turns to Italy, when Inter Milan and AC Milan are set to square off in a local derby, Juventus is due to face Roma, while the always-spicy Sicilian derby between Palermo and Catania also is on the schedule.