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Everton are the surprise package of the season so far in England, moving into second place behind Manchester City, and one man has been integral to their rise


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No Premier League signing has been more effective this season than Idrissa Gana Gueye. Everton director of football Steve Walsh wanted to buy Gueye from Lille last summer while in charge of recruitment at Leicester City but was turned down in favour of Aston Villa. Leicester instead moved for N’Golo Kante and won the title while Villa were relegated.

Walsh kept his eye on his first-choice Gueye though and brought him to Goodison Park for a bargain £7.1m this summer.

The Senegal international's energy, ability to find a pass, pressing off the ball and his reading of the game have all helped to transform the Everton midfield and give the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Yannick Bolasie the space to thrive. His statistics are convincing and he ranks among Europe's best for passes, touches, duels won and tackles.  

Everton have made their best start to a league season since 1978 with Ronald Koeman painstakingly rebuilding confidence on the blue half of Merseyside.

Everton have won four games from five – and even if Everton are yet to truly meet a Premier League team of real substance - 13 points from 15 is a welcome return to form with Gueye at the heart of it.

Koeman was full of praise for the 26-year-old after the weekend win against Middlesbrough, stating that he could go on to become the league's best player in that position. One thing is for sure, Gueye will be chalked down as another "diamond in the rough" for the man who brought Kante and Riyad Mahrez to England from France. 


RB LEIPZIG GIVEN WINGS

It’s either a dream come true or a nightmare in the real world, depending on your viewpoint. Only six years after acquiring the playing license of fifth-tier SV Markranstadt, RB Leipzig are making their mark in the Bundesliga.

Funded, named and branded by the Red Bull energy drinks company, RB (Rasen-Ball) Leipzig have not so much split opinion in Germany as managed to assemble a whole army of critics from all clubs against them.

German football clubs are fiercely protective of their traditions. Fans see RB and their token 17 members as a slap in the face to all that makes German football unique and a perversion of its 50+1 ownership model which hands majority control of a club’s decisions to its members – usually fans.

RB have had opposition fans stage protests, have had stones pelted at their bus and against Dynamo Dresden earlier in this season’s DFB-Pokal, have even had a bloodied, severed bull’s head tossed onto their pitch. It has been an ugly, hostile start to life in German football for Dietrich Mateschitz – the billionaire fizzy drinks baron.

That, however, has not stopped RB’s seemingly unstoppable rise. While traditional Bundesliga clubs Schalke and Werder Bremen languish pointless at the bottom of the league, RB have scored seven points from nine and only sit behind Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin in the standings. They were victorious against Borussia Dortmund a couple of weeks ago – much to the frustration of BVB’s hardcore support – and this weekend just passed made light of Hamburg, winning 4-0 away from home.

There were again protests but a cannily-assembled RB coached by Ralph Hasenhuttl simply had too much power on the day. Their recruitment strategy is overseen by Ralf Rangnick – once of Hoffenheim – and RB are signing the cream of Europe’s young talents between the ages of 18 and 24. Scotland’s Oliver Burke was persuaded to drop Nottingham Forest for the Bundesliga while Stuttgart’s biggest academy prospect Timo Werner was also prised away following relegation. He scored two against Hamburg with Davie Selke – sold by Werder Bremen – also on target.

RB Leipzig are inverting the order in German football – making good on Rangnick’s prediction that they would be closest to Bayern in the years to come. It looks to be coming to pass rapidly and the club – with their ultra-modern training facilities and first-rate academy - are winning over the majority of locals in a football-mad region starved of top-flight football for decades.


HOPELESS VALENCIA ARE THE WORST TEAM IN SPAIN

Valencia are sinking like a stone. They are the only team in Spain’s LaLiga yet to register a point this season having suffered four consecutive defeats. Sunday’s loss against Athletic Bilbao came after Valencia themselves had taken the lead. Moreover, their losing streak stretches to seven matches when factoring in the final three games of last season and there is seemingly no hope left.

The LFP had to come out in support of the club last week against two supporter groups accused of agitating for protests in Mestalla during home games and intimidating younger fans into not supporting the team.

Coach Pako Ayestaran is already said to be staring down the barrel – with Thursday’s league match against Alaves now seen as make or break.

The Peter Lim-owned outfit conducted a fire sale of their own accord over the summer with stars Shkodran Mustafi, Andre Gomes and Paco Alcacer all departing for big money. Their replacements – including Eliaquim Mangala, Mario Suarez and Munir – meanwhile are not anywhere near the calibre of the departed.

The widespread discontent among one of Europe’s most demanding sets of supporters is only going to increase.


KINGS OF MONACO ENJOYING THE VIEW FROM THE TOP

Further down the line, Paris St-Germain will get their act together on a consistent basis and will make a big push for a fifth consecutive French Ligue 1 title. For now though, PSG and everybody else for that matter are in the shadow of Principality club AS Monaco.

Radamel Falcao – his futile Premier League wandering ceased – is back with the club who own his signature and scored his first league goal of the season against Rennes at the weekend – a win which keeps Monaco clear at the top of the table.

Latest Monaco prodigy Thomas Lemar scored twice more – adding to the goal he scored against Tottenham in the Champions League midweek – to help Leonardo Jardim’s side to a seventh consecutive win in all competitions.

There will be a tail-off in form at some stage in the season but those few fans who make the regular trips to Stade Louis II can enjoy the views from the top for now.


ICARDI GIVES DE BOER BREATHING SPACE AT INTER

Barely a month in the job and facing the sack – that was the situation for Frank De Boer at Inter ahead of the Derby d’Italia against Juventus on Sunday. The champions, moreover, had made an imperious start to the Serie A season and were ready to tear into their arch-rivals.

Confidence and patience at Inter were at an all-time low following what was described as one of the most embarrassing nights in the club’s history – a Europa League loss to Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Thursday night. Somehow, though, Inter pulled it out of the fire to give a reprieve to their embattled coach.

Mauro Icardi stole the show with a goal and assist while the landmark summer signing Joao Mario impressed in his first San Siro start.

It was an uncharacteristic stumble from Juventus and – perhaps – a sign of things to come from Inter who can now kick-start their season.

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