In the midst of another international break, we pick both the biggest success stories and disappointments of the 2018-19 campaign to date
WINNER: MAURIZIO SARRI
Ahead of last month’s trip to Anfield, Chelsea’s new boss Maurizio Sarri warned, “We have to work and improve and then, maybe in a year, we will be the same level as Liverpool.”
Yet here we are, just two months into the new season, and Chelsea are level on points with Liverpool and Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, having already knocked the Reds out of the League Cup.
Even Jurgen Klopp, who has long been an admirer of Sarri’s work, has been blown away by the instantaneous impact the former Napoli boss has had on the Blues.
“The biggest change I have ever seen in such a short space of time,” he told a news conference. “Wow! The style is completely different. What a manager he is!”
It is an opinion shared by everyone in west London. Indeed, Chelsea’s players are lining up to sing Sarri’s praises.
Eden Hazard is determined to win something for his new boss, having been unshackled from the defensive responsibilities that held him back under previous coach Antonio Conte.
Cesc Fabregas, who is relishing his conversion into a regista , says he is feeling “emotions” he never thought he’d feel again, while the resurgent Ross Barkley said he’d be a better player if would have “improved a lot more” had he played under such a meticulous manager when he was younger.
Doubts remain over whether Chelsea can sustain a title challenge given their glaring lack of a prolific goalscorer but there is no longer any question mark over whether Sarri was the right choice to succeed Conte.
He has already re-established the Londoners’ among England’s elite. Just imagine how good they’ll be in a year’s time!
Off the field, Juventus received widespread criticism for their public statement in response to the rape allegations against Cristiano Ronaldo.
On the field, though, things could not be going much better for the Bianconeri, who have won all 10 of the competitive games they have played so far this season.
Granted, Emre Can has proven predictably incapable of adding anything to the midfield but, even then, the Old Lady had little to lose after acquiring the former Liverpool man on a free transfer.
Besides, the decision to re-sign Leonardo Bonucci has paid off, with the defender slotting seamlessly back into the Bianconeri backline, while Joao Cancelo is looking like a steal at €40 million, with coach Massimiliano Allegri rightly buoyant about the Portuguese’s chances of becoming the best right-back in the world.
In addition, after a slow start, the goals are now flowing for Ronaldo, who has already formed a formidable forward partnership with the evergreen Mario Mandzukic.
Indeed, if Paulo Dybala maintains his recent resurgence, Juve really will have an attack capable of firing them to a first Champions League title since 1996.
Allegri’s side are not without their flaws – particularly in the middle of the park – and there are concerns over their discipline but their start to the season has been almost as perfect as their record.
After just four rounds of the season, new Sevilla coach Pablo Machin was a man under pressure.
His Rojiblancos side had neither won nor scored a goal since their opening-day victory at Rayo Vallecano.
There was even a dreaded vote of confidence from club president Jose Castro, as Machin insisted that his side “were not playing badly”.
Just over a month on and Machin is again calling for calm, only now because Sevilla are top of La Liga, after a run of four successive wins, including a 3-0 rout of Real Madrid.
“We must realise how long the season is, that there will be tough runs of results,” the ex-Girona boss warned. “We must not analyse the standings. Otherwise, we will get vertigo.”
Wise words, of course, but Sevilla fans are quite enjoying looking down on Real and Barcelona from the top of the Primera Division right now.
The players are also clearly loving life under Machin.
New signing Tomas Vaclik has made more saves and kept more clean sheets than any goalkeeper in Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues.
Nobody in La Liga has created more goals than Pablo Sarabia and Jesus Navaz (four apiece), while on-loan AC Milan flop Andre Silva has been reborn under Machin, netting seven times already.
The Portugal international enthused after the Real win, “We have full trust and belief in the coach.”
Thankfully, Castro did, too, after Sevilla’s slow start and the Rojiblancos are now reaping the rewards.
LOSER: JULEN LOPETEGUI
Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos has publicly pleaded with his employers to resist the urge to sack Julen Lopetegui.
“It’s never good when there is a change in coach,” the defender reasoned. “It would be crazy.”
Crazy, yes, but also wholly unsurprising.
Having been thrashed by city rivals Atletico in the UEFA Super Cup, Real now sit fourth in La Liga after a run of four games without a win – or even a goal – making this their worst scoring drought since 1985.
Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema may have started the season in impressive form but the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo is now being keenly felt up front.
Madrid’s problems do not end there, though.
Dani Ceballos aside, Madrid’s midfielders have underperformed so far this season, Ramos & Co have looked decidedly dodgy at the back, while new arrival Thibaut Courtois has been no better an option in goal than Keylor Navas.
Madrid’s lack of major signings obviously hasn’t helped Lopetegui’s cause, while Isco’s injury has deprived him of some much-needed creativity in attack.
The bottom line, though, is that Lopetegui is failing dismally to get the best out of what remains a stellar squad and, as recently revealed by Goal , his future now hinges on the Clasico clash with Barcelona on October 28 .
Lose at Camp Nou and former Spain boss Lopetegui will be sacked for the second time in four months, only this time with no new job waiting for him when he returns to Madrid.
After Monaco announced on Thursday that Leonardo Jardim had been relieved of his coaching duties, the club’s players rushed to pay tribute to the man who led them to a stunning Ligue 1 title triumph just over a year ago.
“Thank you very much for these years of work, trust and success,” star striker Radamel Falcao wrote.
“It has been an honour to work under your leadership.
“I pay homage to your professionalism during all these years at the club and I wish you the best in the new projects that are available to you.”
As one of the most respected coaches in world football, Jardim certainly won’t be short on offers. He’s definitely going to be fine.
Monaco could be a different story altogether, though.
Thierry Henry has taken over at the Stade Louis II and the World Cup winner is a club legend.
However, Henry has no previous experience managing at the highest level and would be hard pressed to replicate Jardim’s success in the principality.
There is still plenty of talent in the Monaco squad but this is a side that have won just once in 12 outings in all competitions this season – and even that was all the way back on August 11.
Essentially, this is a club in decline, devastated by the owners’ insistence on selling their best players on an annual basis.
Henry should be able to lead Les Monegasques out of the Ligue 1 drop zone but getting a club that sell their best players every year back into the Champions League looks like an impossible job.
Good luck, Thierry!
LOSER: NIKO KOVAC
Oktoberfest began on September 22 with Bayern Munich fans toasting their side’s seventh successive win in all competitions under Niko Kovac.
When it ended last Sunday, they were drowning their sorrows after a fourth consecutive game without a victory.
As for Kovac, he can’t even go to a Bayern basketball game without being whistled by disgruntled supporters.
Club president Uli Hoeness has argued that the “crisis” has been blown out of all proportion but he has also questioned his Croatian coach’s rotation policy.
However, it’s hardly surprising that Kovac has felt compelled to chop and change given he inherited an ageing squad and was allegedly blocked from reinvigorating it with the likes of Ante Rebic.
As former midfielder Lothar Matthaus pointed out after last weekend’s 3-0 loss at home to Borussia Monchengladbach, “Bayern had nine players in the field who played in the Champions League final in 2013!
“Many players have been awarded new contracts and Bayern ignored exciting talents in the transfer market. I can’t understand it.
“But Kovac is an ambitious guy with a plan. He is the right man to turn things around. The responsibility lies more with club management and players.”
However, should Bayern’s bad run continue after the international break, there is little doubt that it will be Kovac who pays the price for the club’s parsimony during the summer transfer window.