Alvin Jones, Staff Writer
Karim Benzema scores Madrid’s opener. Photo//Juan Medina/Reuters
The stakes were high for El Clásico. Two undefeated sides, level on points fighting for top position of La Liga. The home side, Real Madrid, have expectations set higher than ever. Defending champions of Europe and Spain led upfront by Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema. Barcelona, on the other hand, are hoping for a season of improvement following a mediocre campaign. Barcelona’s recent fortunes have been mixed; they were undefeated in and top of La Liga but facing all-but-certain elimination from the Champions League, following disappointing results against Inter and Bayern.
It was Benzema opening the scoring in minute ten, putting away a Vinicius Jr. shot parried away by Andre ter-Stergen. Barcelona’s defense was sliced through for Benzema’s fourth La Liga goal in six games. After the two teams shared chances, Fede Valverde scored a screamer from outside of the box for Madrid’s second. A ball from Ferland Mendy found the Uruguayan midfielder alone on the edge of the box. Valverde took a touch and struck the ball neatly into the net. A wonderful strike to make it 2-0 with just over half an hour played.
Fede Valverde (left, number 15) scores against Barcelona. Photo//David Ramos/Getty
A 51st minute goal from Benzema was disallowed. The two teams traded opportunities before Barca found a late lifeline. Late substitute Ferran Torres scored in minute 82. Ansu Fati made a powerful run into the box from the left, drifting past Valverde. Fati passed the ball to Lewandowski, who laid the ball off for Torres to tap-in.
That lifeline was snuffed out thanks to a late penalty. Eric Garcia caught Rodrygo, who went down. Rodrygo stepped up and placed the ball in the bottom right corner. A 3-1 win for Madrid and a re-establishing at the top of the table. For Barcelona, a bitterly disappointing loss and a reminder of how far they, as a team, have to go to retake their spot at the top of Spain.
It is truly a fascinating time to be Arsenal. Following a 3-1 loss to rivals Manchester United, the Gunners have gone four Premier League games without a defeat. Their Sunday game against Leeds United would prove to be one of their toughest, most anxiety-inducing challenges of the year.
Arsenal Star Bukayo Saka (right) and defender Ben White (left) celebrate the opening goal. Photo//David Price/Arsenal FC/Getty
The game itself was suspended after two minutes due to technical problems at Elland Road. The referees were unable to use their communication technology as a result of electrical problems. After 40 minutes, the game restarted. After minute 34, Arsenal star Bukayo Saka scored. Martin Odegard slipped a through ball to Saka after a giveaway by Leeds midfielder Rodrigo. Saka placed the ball into the top corner from a tight angle, 1-0 to Arsenal.
Arsenal found themselves defending an ambitious Leeds throughout the second half. In the 59th minute, a penalty for Leeds was denied. A pass from Jack Harrison floated into the box and Arsenal defender William Saliba hit the ball with his arm. Leeds star Patrick Bamford stepped up to the spot and missed the ball wide and low to the right. He missed his attempt to score low into the corner, a huge break for Arsenal.
Leeds attacker Luis Sinisterra had a shot blocked in the 65th minute after a clean run from Brandon Aaronson. In the 70th, Bamford missed a chance. In the 75th, Aaronson cut inside and shot, forcing a great save from Aaron Ramsdale. Arsenal survived the pressure all the way through to the end.
That was until a last-minute twist in extra-time, Bamford and Arsenal defender Gabriel got into it and Gabriel appeared to kick out at Bamford. The initial call was a red card for Gabriel and a penalty for Leeds. It looked as if Arsenal had come undone in the last moments. However, a VAR check chalked the penalty off, and the red card was rescinded and replaced with a yellow. Bamford was called for a foul on Gabriel. Arsenal held on, not only to a win, but to top of the table after their toughest win yet.
With Arsenal four points ahead, the pressure turned to back-to-back Premier League champions Manchester City. City were away playing Liverpool on Sunday. City went into Anfield (a stadium they have won in once in almost twenty years) with a 21 game undefeated streak dating back to last season. On the other hand, Liverpool was struggling for form, winless in three, and missing key players like defender Ibrahima Konate to injury.
Liverpool star Mo Salah celebrating his game winning goal. Photo//Jon Super/AP
Liverpool and City drew both fixtures 2-2 last season, this season’s first affair was another riveting attacking showcase. In minute 14, a shot by Ilkay Gundogan was saved by Liverpool keeper Allison. Six minutes later, Ederson saved a header from Harvey Elliot. City’s best chance came in minute 34. A hard challenge on Mo Salah by Rodri set up a series of passes that ended in a missed header by Erling Haaland. The atmosphere on the touchline and in the stands grew tense. Haaland placed another chance at Allison before halftime.
In minute 49, an excellent save by Ederson, who stood his ground one-on-one with Mo Salah saved City from a certain goal. The long-awaited opening goal appeared to have arrived at minute 51 for City. Haaland wrestled the ball off Fabinho, City found de Bruyne, who passed to a charging Haaland. Allison came off his line to collect the ball, Haaland appeared to sneak the ball away from him, setting up Phil Foden to score.
However, the goal was disallowed after the referees determined that Haaland fouled Fabinho. The stadium erupted, and so did City manager Pep Guardiola, who expressed his sharp disapproval with the refs.
After a back-and-forth affair, the game winner came via Mo Salah. In the 75th, a long ball from keeper Allison found Salah, who turned past Cancelo and scored one-on-one versus Ederson. A stunning goal to shock City and end their unbeaten streak.
Emotions boiled over at the very end. City midfielder Bernardo Silva got tangled up with Salah. Much to the dismay of Liverpool’s players and supporters, there was no foul called. Perhaps no one was more irate than Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Klopp screamed at the assistant referee and was sent off. Liverpool hung on and got a signature, potentially season-changing win. For City, a well-fought but deeply bitter defeat, a familiar result at Anfield. Arsenal are now four points clear at the top. It is still early days, but it must be a great feeling for the long-suffering Arsenal.