Man United must learn, Barca slip up, Ronaldo returns, Totti inspires, more
The Manchester derby lived up to the hype, at least for the neutral. A lot of the focus postmatch was on individual incidents and performances, but there was also an interesting tactical punch/counterpunch to the game.
The United XI picked by Jose Mourinho clearly could not cope with the sharpness of City's possession in the first half, particularly in the middle of the park. So he threw on Ander Herrera alongside Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini and suddenly City's passing lanes were disrupted and United were in the ascendancy. That lasted until Pep Guardiola took his own countermeasure -- Fernando for Kelechi Iheanacho -- and City once again claimed supremacy.
Mourinho complained about United being denied two penalty decisions by referee Mark Clattenburg. One was somewhat weak: Nicolas Otamendi's handball off Antonio Valencia's cross. Given that Valencia cuts the ball back and the Argentine defender is turning in the opposite direction, it's hard to imagine any referee blowing for a spot kick there.
Where Mourinho has a much stronger case concerned Claudio Bravo's second-half challenge on Wayne Rooney. The directives given to referees are pretty clear and the fact that the goalkeeper got the ball matters little: Studs up and excessive force equals foul in most areas of the pitch. And because this incident occurred in the box, we're talking a penalty.
Would that have changed the game? Of course. So too, though, would Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring after Bravo's mishap with John Stones at the end of the first period. Or, indeed, Bravo not making an elementary error when he came for the cross that led to Ibrahimovic's goal.
What would not have changed, though, was United's performance. And that was poor.
Mourinho's decision to give Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard their first starts of the Premier League season blew up in his face. Lingard had not played since the Community Shield more than a month ago, while Mkhitaryan was coming off an injury picked up on international duty and did not look fit. That both were withdrawn at half-time indicates Mourinho realized this and, in fact, knew he was fortunate to go into the break down just one goal.
He obviously got his selection wrong given the way the game panned out, but you can also see the logic to it. Lingard probably works harder than any of United's wide options and Mkhitaryan is particularly effective in the transition game. But, of course, that only works if they're fit and in the right frame of mind. And against City they were not.
Managers get paid to take the decisions and those decisions have consequences. The challenge now for Mourinho is to make sure United can move on and not let that first half linger. Pick Lingard and Mkhitaryan and it means you're not picking Juan Mata or Anthony Martial, both of whom started United's first three games and represent some $150 million worth of talent.
Nor, for that matter, are you picking Marcus Rashford, the club's bright young thing or Memphis Depay, who is neither gone nor forgotten. That's par for the course with a squad as big as United's. What's important is that the guys Mourinho plans to count on down the stretch continue to have faith.
As for City, the way they passed from the back dispelled any notion that Joe Hart could have played in this system. You may like or not like it -- personally I think there's still too much risk involved -- but it's evident the side are ahead of schedule in terms of absorbing Guardiola's philosophy.
It's also interesting to note how City's possession game is only a distant relative of the tiki-taka from their manager's Barcelona days. That was about horizontal movement and waiting for a gap. This is vertical, north-south stuff, with every pass bringing the promise of a shot or a run on goal.
City were worthy winners and you wonder what they'll be like when Vincent Kompany, Ilkay Gundogan, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane are all fit and available to start. United still have things to figure out -- how to best use Paul Pogba being one of them -- but ultimately, it's just one game. As long as there is no knock-on effect, they'll be fine.
Barcelona's back-ups slip up
Sometimes you make a rod for your own back. Even with giving all the credit in the world to Alaves -- lest we forget, they also took a point off Atletico Madrid this season -- Barcelona's performance on Saturday suggested more than a bit of underestimation of the opposition. Or maybe just that the second string isn't quite as good as Luis Enrique had hoped.
As many as seven regulars were missing from the Barca XI and not all have rational explanations. Marc-Andre ter Stegen was injured. Fine. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez had just come back from international duty in South America, so they started on the bench, as did Andres Iniesta, who had not played in nearly a month.
OK, you get all that, though you wonder if maybe the wrong South Americans were rested: Javier Mascherano also played during the international break and he really struggled against Alaves.
But Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique were also left out, the latter two out of the squad entirely. And it's hard to believe they were fatigued from international duty, given they played a home game against Liechtenstein and won 8-0.
Luis Enrique is evidently thinking in terms of rotation and keeping his big squad -- bigger than last season anyway -- happy, while blooding newcomers like Paco Alcacer, who made his debut. That's fine, but if you're going to pull stuff like that, you need to get it right. And, against Alaves, Barca came up well short.
Two points dropped for Chelsea
Antonio Conte was furious after Chelsea's 2-2 draw at Swansea and you can see why. His team dominated, but failed to fully capitalize on the many chances they created and then conceded two wholly avoidable goals.
One was a lapse that led to Thibaut Courtois felling Gylfi Sigurdsson for a penalty and the other was a huge refereeing blunder, when Andre Marriner failed to notice that Leroy Fer won the ball off Gary Cahill by kicking him not once, but twice. How all four of the match officials failed to notice what happened is difficult to understand.
One theory was that Marriner was somehow unsighted and, because he didn't see the foul, he couldn't give it. That's fine -- to a point -- but if that's the case you wonder about the smirking way he dismissed Cahill's protests afterwards when all he had to do was shrug his shoulder and say: "I'm sorry, I'm doing my best but unfortunately I didn't see the foul. And if I don't see it, I can't give it."
Conte can at least take heart from a sterling performance, possibly Chelsea's best of the season. And the fact that Diego Costa did not respond to provocation while showing the best of his devastating, wrecking ball skills and bagging two goals.
Ageless Totti inspires Roma again
Francesco Totti says he was "scared" for the first time in his life when he stepped up to take a penalty in the third minute of injury time of Roma's clash with Sampdoria on Sunday. He had come on a half-time, with Roma 2-1 down, and delivered the assist for Edin Dzeko's equalizer.
Now, Roma had been awarded a highly dubious spot kick and here was a chance to win it and, fear or no fear, there was no question who would take it. Totti duly converted from the spot for his 249th Serie A goal.
He turns 40 later this month and this is supposed to be his 25th and final year of top-flight football. But he has scored five goals in his past seven games -- three from open play -- in just 166 minutes of play and, after the match, said: "Maybe if I keep feeling like this come the end of the season I won't retire."
Maybe he was joking. Maybe he wasn't. If he can keep turning in high-quality spot duty like this, maybe Roma won't want him to retire.
RB Leipzig stun Dortmund
There are plenty of Bundesliga fans who have a beef with RB Leipzig and what the fact they stand for and that's fair enough.
Equally though, from a neutral's perspective, their brand of football is fun to watch, particularly when pitted against a heavyweight like Borussia Dortmund and a coach like Thomas Tuchel.
Saturday's match between the two sides didn't disappoint and you get the feeling, newly promoted though they might be, that Leipzig will make plenty of waves this season. Borussia Dortmund had chances and probably could have put the game away, but Ralf Rangnick's crew gave as good as they got and Naby Keita's late winner was not entirely undeserved.
Defeat was tough to take for BVB but there are positives for Tuchel, starting with Mario Gotze, who looks an entirely different player from the one who moped around Bayern Munich last year. Get the real Gotze back -- let alone the player we thought he might become -- and Dortmund can compete with anyone.
Higuain stars as Juve roll
On Saturday Gonzalo Higuain made his first start of the season for Juventus and showed why the doubters -- including yours truly -- might have got it badly wrong. He scored two goals inside of 10 minutes against Sassuolo, both gorgeous, both typical of him: A driving gallop and angled finish on the counter and a stunning volley.
Juventus rolled to a 3-1 win to make it three for three on the Serie A season. Nobody really expected them to trip up but Sassuolo are young, feisty opponents, earning kudos left, right and center for their style of play. No matter; Juve wiped them away and killed the game early.
Meanwhile, Max Allegri showed again that he's a master man-manager, spreading the minutes around and getting into the game both Stephan Lichtsteiner and Hernanes, two men Juve had supposedly tried to shift on deadline day.
Ronaldo makes a scoring return
Why, it was almost as if he'd never been away. Cristiano Ronaldo made his seasonal debut -- his first appearance since the Euro 2016 final -- on Saturday and, within six minutes, had given Real Madrid the lead vs. Osasuna.
Zinedine Zidane's men rolled to a 5-2 victory, which was also their 15th consecutive win in La Liga going back to last season. And we even got to see Karim Benzema off the bench after nearly a month on the sidelines.
Osasuna, admittedly, weren't much of a test, but Zidane getting his big guns back and having them already firing is a big boost. As was the performance of Luka Modric, who capped his night with a superb late goal.
Roll on the Champions League; Real Madrid look ready.
Increasingly, it looks as if Liverpool might be the ultimate rollercoaster team this season. When Jurgen Klopp's system doesn't work, they look awful. When it does, they look as if they can steamroller anyone.
It was the latter we saw on Saturday against Leicester in a 4-1 victory. It wasn't perfect -- there are still things to work on defensively and, in fact, the less Lucas Leiva has to play centerback, the better -- but it was a taste of what the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Saido Mane can do when in full flight.
The trick for Klopp will be finding a scheme that allows those three to operate while also incorporating Philippe Coutinho. Against opponents who park the bus, the Brazilian's ability to unlock opposing defences will be invaluable.
Balotelli back with a brace
Guess who's back? Back again. Balo's back. Tell a friend.
OK, I'll stop before we need to pay Marshall Mathers royalties. But Mario Balotelli made his debut for Nice on Sunday against Olympique Marseille and scored as many league goals -- two -- as he did in the previous two seasons at Liverpool and Milan.
Nobody should get carried away: No corners have been turned. But let's at least recognize the fact that, once again, Balotelli is the master of his own destiny. And if he wants to go back to being what he was -- let alone become what he could be -- this was an important first step.
Positive signs for Inter
It's been a tough first month for Frank De Boer on the Inter bench and Sunday night's game against Pescara, with the Nerazzurri a goal down against a newly-promoted side, looked as if it would continue the theme.
But then up popped Mauro Icardi to do what world-class strikers do. One of his two goals was an exceptional header, the other a poacher's finish. The three points buy De Boer some time and maybe a bit of protection from the most savage criticism.
But truth be told, against impressive opponents, you saw more than a few green shoots in Inter's play. There is a lot to work on -- transitioning to the possession football De Boer craves isn't easy -- but what they're not lacking is hunger and spirit.
Other Inter sides would have wilted in that situation but this one did not and that means something.
Heartbreak for Las Palmas
Nobody expected Las Palmas to stay top of La Liga for long, but what happened Saturday in Seville was simply heartbreaking.
Quique Setien's men took the lead after 15 minutes and hung on as Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli sent wave after wave of attacks crashing against their back line, only to then capitulate on a highly dubious penalty with one minute to go.
And, to make matters worse for Las Palmas, Carlos Fernandez scored Sevilla's winner in the fourth minute of injury time, off a corner that was taken when many felt the game was over. You only hope the side from the Canary Islands can bounce back.
When we last saw our hero, he was swapping the delights of Wolfsburg for the rather more cosmopolitan joys of Lisbon. On Saturday, he made his debut for Sporting and scored in the 3-0 win against Moreirense. If you're keeping score at home, he's on pace to notch 31 league goals this season...
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.