European football review: Controversies and early upsets

The major talking point from the last few weeks of English football has been the new interpretation of the handball rule and its impact on the game.

Leicester City’s English striker Jamie Vardy shoots from the penalty spot to score his team’s third goal against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League. Leicester handed a 5-2 drubbing to its more famous rival, with Vardy netting three.   -  AFP

Manchester City’s aim of dislodging Liverpool as the English champion suffered an early setback as Pep Guardiola’s team lost 5-2 to Leicester City — Jamie Vardy scoring a hat-trick — in its first home game of the season.

Guardiola was forced to ring in a few changes as strikers Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus were out injured while Ilkay Gundogan was down with the coronavirus. Brendan Rodgers' Foxes made the most of the circumstances to claim their third win on the trot and storm to the top of the Premier League table.

However, the major talking point from the last few weeks of English football has been the new interpretation of the handball rule and its impact on the game. There is no new handball rule for this season. The rule was amended last season by FIFA’s rule-making body IFAB and the Premier League has implemented it, to fall in line with the rest of European football, from this season.

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The change sees handball instances being ruled more rigidly than simply being judged on intent. And the introduction of VAR has seen a spike in the number of penalties awarded — 20 in just 25 games.

“I think the rule is nonsense. I cannot understand how everyone in the game of football — the Premier League, referees, managers, and coaches — have allowed this rule to come into operation. It is ruining the game of football, no question of that,” Crystal Palace’s Roy Hodgson, speaking after his side’s 2-1 defeat to Everton, summed up the mood of the club managers about the new interpretation of the rules.

Manchester United benefitted from this change as it scraped past Brighton and Hove Albion. The referee had blown the full-time whistle with the scoreline reading 2-2. However, the VAR check on a handball a few seconds before the whistle awarded United a penalty in the 100th minute, which Bruno Fernandes converted.

Setbacks for Bayern Munich, Dortmund

Bayern Munich’s 32-match unbeaten run across competitions was cut short by a gutsy Hoffenheim on September 27. Having won the Bundesliga title for the last eight seasons, Bayern had not lost since December 7, 2019, and had gone 21 consecutive Bundesliga matches without a defeat.

However, that record fell flat as Hoffenheim struck twice in eight minutes in the opening half as Bayern struggled to get going. Joshua Kimmich halved the deficit before the interval, but a second-half brace from Croatian striker Andrej Kramaric saw Hoffenheim run riot and move to the top of the table.

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Bayern’s arch-nemesis Borussia Dortmund also suffered a shock defeat as Augsburg secured a 2-0 triumph. Dortmund had nearly 80 percent of the ball for much of the opening half but failed to put it to good use. Playing his 300th Bundesliga game, Daniel Caligiuri was the star of the evening as he set up the first goal and struck the second. Interestingly, Hoffenheim and Augsburg are first and second on the table and are the only two sides with maximum points after the first two matchdays.

Suarez impresses on Atletico debut

Luis Suarez made a memorable debut for Atletico Madrid as he bagged a brace and crafted an assist in his side’s 6-1 thumping of Granada. Suarez, who joined Atletico on September 25 after he was forced to make an unceremonious exit from Barcelona, took little time to adjust as he set up Marcos Llorente with a lovely first touch and then struck twice, all of this in 20 minutes, after coming on as a second-half substitute.

Atletico Madrid’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (second from right) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Granada FC. Suarez joined Atletico on September 25 after he was forced to make an unceremonious exit from Barcelona.   -  AFP

 

Meanwhile, defending champion Real Madrid banked on a controversial VAR decision to edge past Real Betis (3-2), while Barcelona cruised to an emphatic 4-0 win over Villarreal in its campaign opener.

Juventus drops points, Napoli on top

Juventus dropped its first points of the season as it played out a 2-2 draw with AS Roma. Andrea Pirlo’s side was in deep trouble as it was trailing 2-1 and was subsequently reduced to 10 men in the second half after Adrien Rabiot was sent off. However, the title-holder was rescued by a timely brace from Cristiano Ronaldo to ensure it took home a point.

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Napoli went on top of the Serie A table after winning its opening two games in fine fashion, scoring eight goals and conceding none. Verona and AC Milan also won their opening two games, but Milan was dealt a blow as talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic tested positive for the coronavirus.