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Ah, another weekend of football across Europe's top leagues is upon us, which means jubilation, heartbreak and a bit of schadenfreude -- depending on who you support, of course.
The weekend started in the Premier League with Arsenal getting a win that was a bit of a mixed bag, while Manchester United were leapfrogged by a superior Newcastle United. In LaLiga, Toni Kroos put on a splendid turn-back-the-clock performance for Real Madrid while Girona -- the surprise No. 2 on the league table -- staged a thrilling comeback win. The Bundesliga got partially snowed in and, in Serie A, Christian Pulisic scored as AC Milan tallied a comfortable win.
There's plenty to get to, so how about we stop dilly-dallying and get to it then?
- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)
- Read on ESPN+: Can other teams copy Aston Villa's top-four playbook?
SATURDAY REVIEWThe Saturday lead: Arsenal start fast finally, but still allow nerves in win over Wolves
There has been a lot of talk around Arsenal this week about "game states" -- and that will continue despite Arsenal's 2-1 win over Wolves on Saturday at Emirates Stadium.
Manager Mikel Arteta has explained a lack of fluency in some of the Gunners' play this season by a failure to score early and to change the state of a match in their favour, creating tension they could otherwise avoid. After thrashing Lens 6-0 in midweek, it appeared Arsenal were making further headway in improving on their fast starts on Saturday by racing into a 2-0 lead over Wolves after just 13 minutes.
Arsenal players celebrate Martin Ødegaard scoring the second goal in a 2-1 win over Wolverhampton. Although the Gunners made a fast start, it still got nervy in the end. Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal via Getty Images
To underline the point Arteta has been making, Saturday was the first time this season they had scored in the opening 15 minutes of a Premier League match -- and some of the football Arsenal played was sublime. Bukayo Saka continued his influential form by forcing his way through the Wolves defence to score on six minutes. A wonderful team goal featured Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus combining for a pullback, which Martin Odegaard converted with aplomb.
Yet, despite Wolves offering little threat, Arsenal managed to inject some jeopardy into a game that was long there fore the taking. Zinchenko lost the ball cheaply in his own box, allowing Matheus Cunha to fire in four minutes from time to set up a needlessly nervy finale. Substitute Eddie Nketiah wasted a glorious chance to finish Wolves off two minutes later, hitting the post when clean through.
Although no damage was done, Arteta will know there is still work to be done to turn Arsenal into the same ruthless machine Manchester City have long been in matches like this. That said, the Gunners spent Saturday night enjoying a four-point lead at the top of the table with Luton to come in midweek. -- James Olley
Saturday talking points around the leaguesKroos turns back the clock, leads injury-ridden Real Madrid to another win
Injuries mean that Real Madrid are currently without Aurélien Tchouaméni, Eduardo Camavinga and Luka Modric in midfield -- but as long as Toni Kroos is at the heart of the team, they don't have too much to worry about.
Yes, the German's legs aren't getting any quicker at 33 -- coach Carlo Ancelotti compensates for Kroos' lack of pace by playing perpetual motion machine Fede Valverde alongside him -- but his speed of thought remains unmatched.
At the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, Kroos provided the moment of outstanding quality in Madrid's 2-0 LaLiga win over Granada with a contribution that showcased his ability to execute quicker, and more accurately, than just about anybody else. In the 26th minute, Kroos met Brahim Díaz's pass infield with a cushioned, first-time through ball which split the Granada defence and put Diaz one-on-one with substitute goalkeeper André Ferreira.
Diaz's finish was composed and precise, but the fact that so many teammates -- David Alaba, Antonio Rüdiger and Jude Bellingham among them -- ran to congratulate Kroos first before turning to celebrate with Diaz spoke volumes. This was as much Kroos' goal as Diaz's. And it was a demonstration of why, whenever he can, Ancelotti still finds a place for Kroos in the midfield.
It wasn't just the assist. Kroos had more touches (148) and completed more passes (124 of 132 attempted) than any other player on the Bernabeu pitch.
There were notable roles too for Bellingham -- who will have been disappointed not to score -- and Rodrygo Goes, too, who followed up when the Englishman's second-half shot was saved to grab his seventh goal in five games.
But the star was Kroos. Let's enjoy him while we still can. -- Alex Kirkland
Manchester United's loss to Newcastle raises a question: Where's Varane?
Of all the issues at Manchester United at the moment (and there are plenty) Raphaël Varane's disappearance from manager Erik ten Hag's plans is a significant one.
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Against Newcastle on Saturday, Varane was again left on the bench as Ten Hag picked Harry Maguire and left-back Luke Shaw as his centre-back pairing. In midweek against Galatasaray, Victor Lindelöf was selected ahead of him and, since the 3-2 defeat to the Turkish champions at Old Trafford on Oct. 3, Varane has started just one of United's last 11 games.
United have leaked 34 goals in 21 matches in all competitions -- including 14 in five games in the Champions League -- and still the French World Cup-winner can't get a game.
It's possible that by January, Ten Hag will also have Lisandro Martínez and Jonny Evans fit and available -- and it wouldn't be a surprise if there was significant interest in Varane in the next transfer window. The 30-year-old has been linked with moves to Bayern Munich and the Saudi Pro League and if other clubs come calling, you could understand the temptation to find a fresh start somewhere else.
Still, Maguire's resurgence has shown that, even in the most unlikely cases, there is a way back for players under Ten Hag -- but Varane would have every right to be growing restless on the bench. -- Rob Dawson
Girona's thrilling comeback the latest clue the joint LaLiga leaders are in for a special season
Something special is cooking at Girona -- and not just the ginormous paella served up to fans outside the stadium before Saturday's thrilling late comeback win against Valencia at Montilivi.
Michel's side play on the front foot and after going a goal down to Valencia they did not abandon their principles. They pressed and harried until the end and got their reward in the final 10 minutes, substitute Yan Couto setting up Cristhian Stuani for both of the goals.
"They move you around and they play with you," said Valencia scorer Hugo Duro at full time. "They are a magnificent side. There's a reason they are up the top."
The winning goal sent Michel racing down the touchline to celebrate with his players in front of a 13,343 sell-out crowd. As Girona sit level on points with Real Madrid on the LaLiga table, the belief that they can achieve something historic this season is growing. With 38 points from a possible 45, it's not hard to see why.
They once again end the weekend as joint leaders with Real Madrid. Next Sunday? The small matter of a trip to Catalan neighbours Barcelona. -- Sam Marsden
Americans Abroad: Koleosho scores first Premier League goal; Pulisic reaches Serie A goals record for USMNT
U.S. men's national team fans may not have heard of Luca Koleosho, but after this weekend that could change. The American-born winger scored his first Premier League goal on Saturday for Burnley's win over Sheffield United. It was the fourth goal in a five-goal rout, but still a big milestone for Koleosho.
The 19-year-old was born in Connecticut, but moved to Spain at a young age to pursue his soccer career, where he ended up in Espanyol's youth system and joined the senior team last year. He joined Burnley in the most recent summer transfer window on a four-year deal.
Koleosho is eligible to represent the U.S., Canada, Nigeria and Italy. He made a few appearances for the USMNT at the youth level, but since then has been representing Italy, debuting for the Under-21 team last month.
Burnley put FIVE past Sheffield United in a dominant showing at Turf Moor! pic.twitter.com/24S2iahRdl
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) December 2, 2023
Meanwhile, Christian Pulisic scored his fifth league goal for AC Milan since joining the club this summer, scoring the game-winner in Milan's 3-1 over Frosinone 3-1 on Saturday in Serie A.
Pulisic stands at five Serie A goals in 12 appearances, matching Weston McKennie's 2020-21 season-haul for Juventus, which remains the most any American has scored in the league in a single season. -- Caitlin Murray
News of the day
The draw for the 2024 edition of the European Championship took place Saturday, and Spain and France have both been placed into tough groups. All the Euro groups, plus analysis, are here.
The format of UEFA Women's Champions League will undergo a major overhaul for the group stage from the 2025-26 season while a second-tier competition will be launched, UEFA announced on Saturday. The new UWCL format will consist "of an 18-team league phase with three home and three away matches followed by knock-out rounds," UEFA said, with further details about the new competition forthcoming.
A frustrated Luis Enrique said on Saturday that his Paris Saint-Germain team does not simply rely on striker Kylian Mbappé for goals. The manager was asked about the large gap in goal production on the team, but dismissed that he had any concerns: "There are a lot of players who have scored. We don't just depend on Kylian," he said, in part.
play1:46EURO 2024 draw reaction: You want to be the best, you've got to beat the best
ESPN's Mark Ogden gives his immediate reaction to the Euro 2024 draw, with England in Group C with Denmark, Slovenia and Serbia.
And finally ...
Bayern Munich's match against Union Berlin, scheduled for Saturday at Allianz Arena, had to be postponed due to heavy snowfall, which also caused hundreds of flights to be canceled in Germany.
Look at the photos and it's easy to see why, even though a Snow Klassiker could've been fun.
A view of Allianz Arena on Saturday after the heavy snowfall that both canceled Bayern Munich's game and flights across Germany. Jan-Philipp Burman/City-Press GmbH Bildagentur via Getty Images
Squint closely and you can see the workers on the roof of Allianz Arena removing snow. Safety first! -- Murray