Welcome to the Burn Notice, a weekly column where I give you my unsolicited thoughts on the week’s soccer action.
Bernardeschi Delivers Smooth Winner for Juve in Fiorentina Return
Frederico Bernardeschi’s sensational free kick goal felt bittersweet. The young midfielder from Tuscany came up through the Fiorentina youth system and starred in four seasons as the number 10 playmaker for La Viola. After last season, he moved to arch-rival Juventus, and Friday marked his first return to the Stadio Artemio Franchi to face his former team.
He did not disappoint.
Friday’s winner was simply exquisite (after winning the foul no less), and shows why he’s worth 40 million pounds. However, Bernardeschi has been very hit or miss for Juventus thus far. Including Friday, he’s only scored five goals in 24 appearances for the Old Lady. Admittedly, Juventus has trouble this season fitting players into the right spots, and Bernardeschi has been one of those casualties. Let’s hope this goal revitalizes his production.
From Fiorentina’s perspective, how heartbreaking to see your best homegrown player go to your biggest rivals, and then score the winner on is return? The last few seasons have been underwhelming for La Viola , and this felt like an extra twist of the dagger.
Note: Buffon accomplished yet another milestone on Friday, marking his 500th appearance for Juventus. A big, overhead soccer-style clap for him.
Barcelona Own Copa Del Rey, Coutinho scores first goal
Barcelona/Valencia duels are always hotly-contested, especially at the Mestalla. This leg’s Copa del Rey clash was no different. After a seesaw first half, Philippe Coutinho acrobatically broke the deadlock for Barcelona, and propelled La Blaugrana to the final through a 3-0 aggregate victory.
After Coutinho’s highly public transfer from Liverpool last month, it was the first time he’s scored for his new team. The goal was exceptional, combining skill and athleticism with the awareness to lose his marker at the back post. For Coutinho, it’s a boyhood dream come true. Playing for the Catalan side is something he’s wanted, and the 25-year-old is living it up.
Awaiting Barcelona in the final is Sevilla, who are the only thing standing between them and a fourth straight Copa del Rey title. This cup might as well be called “Copa del Barcelona,” because they are the king of this competition. Pun intended.
Anyway, it’s true. Barcelona have dominated this of late. Not only have they won the last three titles, but they also hold the most ever trophies in its history (29). I would bet on them to win it again.
Spurs See Off Gunners at Wembley Stadium
Tottenham overcame a new-look Arsenal team at Wembley Stadium, 1-0, on Saturday in front of a Premier League record crowd. Harry Kane (who else) was able to out jump Laurent Koscielny for the winning header early in the second half. However, Spurs missed a host of opportunities to extend the lead and were almost pegged back by a shock Alexandre Lacazette equalizer in the dying moments.
The atmosphere at Wembley for the game was electric, and propelled Tottenham onward. Spurs were clearly the better side and they should have won by at least two goals. Kane and Christian Eriksen were everywhere, and the Spurs midfield suffocated any Arsenal attempt to engineer an attack.
Their superiority was especially evident in the second half; Arsenal were on their heels and could only hold on. Were it not for some misplaced shots and very nice Petr Čech saves, this could have been a rout. The win must be a confidence booster for Tottenham, especially ahead of their Champions League Clash with Juventus today.
For Arsenal, the first half felt like slight pressure to one’s temple or sinuses. Not yet a full headache, but the pervasive kind just present enough to affect. The Gunners had opportunities (including a questionable offside call that went against them), and looked dangerous on the counter attack utilizing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s speed. They weren’t the better side in the first half, but they weren’t overwhelmed.
The second half, however, Spurs turned the simmering pressure up to a full migraine. Arsenal’s inferiority was evident, and the back line was under siege. One kept waiting for Arsenal to snap out of it and break through the defense, but that never materialized. New signings Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were largely invisible, with the former recording only six touches all game. For a side that cruised so effortlessly against Everton last week, their lack of grit was once-again apparent.
Let’s not dive too deeply into Lacazette’s struggles, however. Suffice to say that the substitute had two opportunities to equalize in the dying minutes and was unable to convert. He gets paid to score goals and Arsenal could have used one from him on Saturday.
Napoli Get a Big Boost With 4-1 Win Over Lazio
The Serie A title race is neck and neck. After Juventus’ victory on Friday, Napoli had a critical contest at home on Saturday against third-place Lazio. They delivered big, winning 4-1 and reclaiming the league’s top spot.
This was a weird game, and one Napoli had to have. In truth, the score line is a bit flattering to the Partenopei. Lazio took the lead almost immediately after three minutes when an awkward cross into the box found the back of the net. Then, through a combination of unlucky breaks and mental errors, the Roman outfit gave away four unanswered goals and it was over.
For Napoli, they exploited opportunities and grew into the game as it progressed, eventually overrunning their opponents. Juventus are picking up steam and Napoli could ill afford to drop such a big game at home. Maurizio Sarri’s team will feel very pleased to come away with such a definitive win.
For Lazio, I’m sure they would like to have this one back. It was a dream start on the road, and they were very organized throughout the first half. Unfortunately, everything fell apart after they conceded. Callejón’s opener could have been avoided, as well as the own goal that followed it. But once Napoli took the lead, defeat felt inevitable.
U.S. Soccer Elects Carlos for President
The U.S. Soccer federation elected its former Vice President, Carlos Cordeiro, to serve as head of the organization for the next four years. I wrote about what’s at stake prior to the election, and I wish Cordeiro the best of luck.
The real work begins now for him and his team. Stay tuned.