There were huge results (and not in a good way) for Manchester United and Liverpool this weekend, Bayern Munich hung on to win a seven-goal thriller, we were denied a chance to see Juventus take on Napoli and Spain’s big three (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid) all looked sluggish in La Liga.
It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the sport of football from the past week.
Jump to: Pressure on Solskjaer? | Why didn’t Juve vs. Napoli happen? | Liverpool in trouble? | Barca still finding feet | Everton still perfect! | Bayern lacking intensity | Inter, Conte drop points | Real Madrid’s midfield mess | Man City’s defensive fix? | Can Dortmund keep stars happy? | Chelsea’s work continues | Atalanta to win Serie A? | Arsenal reshuffle, win | Atletico back to square one? | Dost Watch
Pressure on Solskjaer after Spurs thrash Man United?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said it was his “worst day ever” as a manager. Jose Mourinho left Old Trafford with the satisfaction of a man who had just humiliated both his old employer and the man chosen to replace him. When Manchester United lose 6-1 at home — let alone against a side that were playing their fourth game in eight days — the focus will inevitably be on them, but it’s worth giving credit to Spurs and their manager, too.
Tottenham didn’t just capitalise on errors, either; they were clinical and organized. Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane were ruthless, but I was impressed with the way Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Tanguy Ndombele and Moussa Sissoko ran the midfield. The trio shut down Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes (the latter came off at half-time) and starved Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford of service, especially after Anthony Martial was sent off.
(I don’t think we need to dwell on the red card too much: yes, Erik Lamela could have also gone, but the simple fact is that if you hit an opponent, no matter how hard, in a VAR match, you’re a fool. Period.)
If anything, from Spurs’ perspective, you wonder how things change when Gareth Bale and Giovani Lo Celso become available and Dele Alli gets off the naughty step. I still think there are some games, especially against smaller teams, where you need the creativity Lo Celso provides (and which nobody else does). Equally, I don’t think it will be as simple as just dropping Bale on to the wing and letting him work. Given how effective Kane has been in dropping off and linking play — showing shades of Teddy Sheringham, for the old-timers who remember him — you wonder if we might not see more sophisticated schemes, with Bale moving aside.
As for United, their deficiencies have been covered in depth. Ed Woodward takes the brunt of the criticism because the buck, both for transfers and managerial appointments, ultimately stops with him, but this was also about Solskjaer and his choices. Forget for a minute the signings that were or were not made. Eric Bailly and Harry Maguire didn’t just make poor decisions — they looked as if they hadn’t worked on any kind of defensive shape and movements, particularly against the counter. Losing a man obviously affects the way you play, but even at full-strength, United were poor from the midfield forward.
Every time Solskjaer is questioned, some folks pop up and say “well, they changed managers before and that didn’t fix things, did it? So what’s sacking Solskjaer do?” They then bring up the usual scattershot critique we’ve heard a million times: Woodward, recruitment, structure, philosophy, Pogba and, of course, Phil Jones.
Julien Laurens and Gab Marcotti take aim at Man United’s defending in their 6-1 defeat to Tottenham.
But guess what? Both things can be true. United might have a whole raft of major problems while also having a manager who is in over his head. And with the transfer window shutting, the quickest, easiest fix is getting a different manager. Just because it didn’t fix things before — though, to be fair, both Louis Van Gaal and Mourinho did win silverware — doesn’t mean it might not improve matters and buy you a little time to fix the club’s major ailments.
By the way, I’m not suggesting Solskjaer ought to be sacked. I’m suggesting he ought to be held responsible like the rest of United’s moving parts, and that the decision over whether he stays or goes should be more about whether United believe they can get somebody who will do better, not whether he “deserves” to be kept around.
Why didn’t Juventus vs. Napoli happen?
Italian football once again showed that its capacity to shoot itself in the foot know no bounds. Juventus vs. Napoli was supposed to be this weekend’s Sunday night show-piece clash and yet, it wasn’t played. Why? Well, that part depends who you believe.
According to league officials, it’s because Napoli simply didn’t show up, which is why they’re likely to forfeit the match. They did register two positive tests for COVID-19, but under the protocol agreed by the league and the government, the rest of the squad was free to travel and play under a sort of “soft quarantine” — essentially, a set of rules that allow them to train and play, provided they remain sequestered in a hotel outside of those times and provided they take private transportation (and, indeed, they had chartered a plane).
Gab Marcotti explains why Napoli did not travel for their match against Juventus.
According to Napoli, they were at the airport and all set to go Saturday night, when they were notified by regional health authorities that they were subject to harder quarantine measures and could not travel. On such matters, local health authorities have the last word.
I’m not even going to try to divine who is right here because, at the heart of it, is badly written, contradictory legislation. What is undeniable, however, is that other teams, like Atalanta and Milan, have traveled without problems under the “soft quarantine” measures after positive tests in their squad. And that, if Serie A is to complete their season, they need one set of rules that is clear to all and not contradictory.
Are Liverpool in trouble after Villa shock?
The question gnaws at you. Was Liverpool’s 7-2 humiliation at the hands of Aston Villa purely a blip, or was it a sign that there are major issues that have not been addressed?
– Liverpool ratings: Van Dijk, Adrian 3/10
I’d lean towards the former after watching how well they played against Arsenal a week earlier. Three of Villa’s goals came off significant deflections. Another three came off massive individual or collective errors, while the remaining one was a worldie from Ollie Watkins. Meanwhile, Liverpool scored two and wasted at least another two clear-cut chances.
ESPN FC’s Julien Laurens explains why Liverpool’s 7-2 loss to Aston Villa might not just be a “blip”.
Take nothing away from Villa. They too had extra chances that weren’t taken. Watkins may take the headlines, but Trezeguet and Jack Grealish were exceptional too. Liverpool were hit by the double-whammy of being subpar and being unlucky.
Individual errors are less concerning than collective ones, especially when they come from usually reliable players (like Trent Alexander-Arnold). What is a concern is how this team played with a lot less intensity than the week before, especially in the front third and in midfield, which only made a back four (already having a bad day) all the more exposed.
We’ve praised Liverpool for their ability to win without necessarily going all-out and learning to pace themselves and conserve energy, saving their accelerations for little bursts when needed. Klopp will know whether Sunday was a case of being a little too passive at the wrong time or whether there are deeper issues, like a loss of hunger and motivation by some players.
We’ll find out soon enough who the real Liverpool is: the Merseyside derby, against league leaders Everton, is next up after the break.
Barcelona still finding their feet
Sid Lowe explains why he thinks Sevilla “privately believe” they can compete for the La Liga title.
Barcelona went into Sunday’s clash with Sevilla as a work in progress. They’d enjoyed two wins out of two and no goals conceded prior to this weekend, sure, but this was their first real test. In the end, they came away with a 1-1 draw and still plenty of questions.
Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi were quiet. Frenkie De Jong and the rest of the midfield are well behind where they need to be. It also felt odd when, with half an hour to go, Ronald Koeman replaced Griezmann and Ansu Fati (who is driving Barca in this early stage of the campaign) for Pedri and Trincao when he had Ousmane Dembele on the bench.
If this is a team that’s still finding itself, Sevilla look like far more of a settled unit. Julen Lopetegui took the game to Barca and showed little fear and plenty of confidence. This squad has plenty of bite to add to its quality and thus far has weathered the departures of Sergio Reguilon and Ever Banega. Lopetegui has so much depth at his disposal, and this is such an unusual campaign that they may well be Liga contenders if they continue on this path.
Everton, Ancelotti proving people wrong with perfect start
Everton’s 4-2 victory over Brighton makes it four wins out of four in the Premier League (and seven out of seven in all competitions). They sit top of the league with a three point lead, and unlike Toffees teams of yesteryear, are actually fun to watch. Already without two-thirds of their starting midfield (Andre Gomes and Allan) they lost Richarlison inside half an hour against a Brighton side who have been playing much better than their results suggest. Still, they were unfazed and let the quality of James Rodriguez and Dominic Calvert-Lewin make all the difference.
Sterner tests are to come, of course, but already, Ancelotti is proving some folks wrong — especially those who, given his previous stops at Real Madrid, Bayern and Paris St. Germain, believe he can only work with superstars. And with Calvert-Lewin already having scored six league goals (nine overall), he’s showing his chops at helping young talent grow as well.
Bayern Munich lack intensity, still beat Hertha
Jan Aage Fjortoft says Robert Lewandowski is already among the greatest players he’s ever seen.
It took a herculean effort from Robert Lewandowski for Bayern Munich to overcome Hertha Berlin, 4-3. The freshly minted UEFA Player of the Year scored all four goals, including an injury-time penalty. I’ve written about their depth issues before and it looks like the solution is bringing Douglas Costa in on loan, keeping Javi Martinez around and giving Chris Richards (who did well on Sunday) a run at right-back.
It’s suboptimal, but, hey, it’s 2020.
Coach Hansi Flick lamented defensive errors that led to Bayern squandering leads of 2-0 and 3-2. He’s correct, but there’s more to it. They lacked intensity and creativity in the final third as well — Alphonso Davies reverted to his old position on the wing and showed rust in that role — and, credit where credit is due, Matheus Cunha and Jhon Cordoba lit it up for this ambitious, if unpredictable, Hertha. But, yes, there’s work to do.
Inter can’t afford to drop points like they did vs. Lazio
Gab Marcotti explains why he believes Inter should have taken all three points in their 1-1 draw vs. Lazio.
Inter should have taken all three points against Lazio, especially given their first-half dominance and the nearly 20 second-half minutes they played with a man advantage after Ciro Immobile‘s sending off. That they instead had to settle for a 1-1 draw is a credit to Lazio, but also a highlight of this team’s usual limits: too often they either struggle to create, or when they do create, they struggle to score.
Conte’s insistence on forcing Ivan Perisic to play wing-back is as baffling as his obsession with Arturo Vidal (playacting aside, he did well, but building your team around a 33-year-old with a unique skill set is foolhardy over a long season).
Neither Vidal nor Patric (who got Stefano Sensi sent off) covered themselves in glory. But at least Vidal did receive a whack to the head, whereas Patric got, at worse, a nudge to the chest. Like Lamela’s antics in the United game, we can do without this kind of playacting.
Real Madrid are a mess in midfield
Zinedine Zidane reverted to the “winger formation” against Levante, with Vinicius and Marco Asensio lining up alongside Karim Benzema. Vinicius scored a neat goal, but he also missed a couple sitters, leaving you to wonder what he might do if he ever achieved consistency (easy to forget he’s only 20 years old).
But equally, Real Madrid struggled to manage the game despite taking an early lead and conceded far too much to a bright Levante side. The fact that Thibaut Courtois, again, was man of the match, speaks volumes. Much of the focus has been up front, but as I see it, he still has to find the right mix in midfield too. With Toni Kroos unavailable, he went with Luka Modric, Fede Valverde and Casemiro, but the issue isn’t as much personnel as it is chemistry and fitness.
Have Man City fixed their defensive issues?
Frank Leboeuf doesn’t mince words when criticising Benjamin Mendy’s defensive abilities.
Pep Guardiola taking on Marcelo Bielsa was always going to be a “different” experience for players, managers and viewers alike. Even neutrals were left emotionally and physically exhausted after a rip-roaring, high-paced, pedal-to-the-metal spectacle. Leeds United vs. Manchester City finished 1-1 and while either side could have won it, maybe it was a fair result in the end.
I’m not sure how much Pep and Man City learn from this, though, because thankfully, they only face Bielsa twice a year. But given the defensive issues they’ve endured in the past, the set-up we saw in the final 20 minutes, with Nathan Ake at left-back, might be the way forward. He played there before, at Watford, and did so very well. And while Pep’s system requires his fullbacks to attack, they don’t necessarily need to be the second coming of Dani Alves to be able to do so effectively, as Kyle Walker proved on the other flank.
Dortmund’s success will depend on how well they rotate
Kasey Keller explains why he feels Gio Reyna will be better than his former U.S. teammate Claudio.
Giovanni Reyna may have turned in his most impressive performance yet for Borussia Dortmund, dishing out three assists in their 4-0 thumping of Freiburg on Saturday morning. More than the numbers — let’s face it, if you get to pass the ball to Erling Haaland, who bagged two goals, you will rack up assists — what impressed was how well he linked with Marco Reus, who was making his first start of the campaign.
We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: other than finding some defensive solidity, Lucien Favre’s biggest task this season will be doling out the playing time. With Jadon Sancho, Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard, Reus and Reyna effectively competing for two spots most weeks, there’s plenty of depth, but the flip-side is keeping everybody happy and choosing the right combination in the right games.
Chelsea’s work in progress gets another big result
The good news for Frank Lampard is that Chelsea won 4-0. The bad news is that they only came alive in the second half against a side, Crystal Palace, that only seems to be able to play on the break. Which, in truth, leaves us no further forward.
Maybe it’s still too early, but it’s difficult to tell what the master plan is. And that’s fine: you’d rather Lampard experiment (while still getting results) than fixate on an idea and try to make it work. But Cesar Azpilicueta, who started in place of Reece James, is a completely different type of full-back. Thiago Silva looks like the only central defender he really trusts (West Brom debacle aside), and he’s 36 years old. Jorginho is back starting after being linked with a move all summer. Kai Havertz may have found his role, behind a big striker like Tammy Abraham and with a genuine winger like Callum Hudson-Odoi out wide, but what happens when Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech are fit?
This team is a work in progress and will remain so for some time. The challenge is to experiment and grow while still grinding out results.
Don’t sleep on Atalanta in Serie A title race
The “Goddess” (as Atalanta fans call their club) rolls into history. Their 5-2 win over Cagliari means they’ve scored four or more in each of their three opening fixtures. The last team to do that in a Big Five league were Real Madrid, back in 1987 (the “quinta del Buitre”/Hugo Sanchez side).
They’ve hung on to their stars, they’ve added depth and quality and, no, opponents still haven’t figured them out. Might they still be top of the league come the end of the season?
Arteta’s reshuffle works in win vs. Sheffield United
ESPN FC’s Shaka Hislop explains the decision that helped Arsenal take all three points vs. Sheffield United.
Mikel Arteta’s reshuffle — reverting to back four, starting Eddie Nketiah ahead of Alexandre Lacazette — didn’t quite yield the desired results against Sheffield United in terms of performance. Sheffield United limited their chances and were hugely unlucky that David Luiz did not get sent off for an evident tug on Oliver Burke‘s shirt after just four minutes: needless to say, a red card would have changed the game.They also endured an unnecessarily nervy final few minutes after the Blades pulled one back, before closing out a 2-1 win.
Arsenal’s two goal scorers (and two of their better players on the day) were Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe, two guys who, in theory, are destined to come off the bench following Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s contract extension and Willian‘s free agent signing. It’s a reminder that Arteta does have options and quality.
If there is a silver lining other than the three points, it’s that both seized their chances and Arteta, no doubt, noticed. Creating competition for spots — and not just going with the big names on big contracts — is one way to get the best out of his squad.
Atletico back to square one?
We were all so excited about a new-look Atletico Madrid after their 6-1 opening day rout of Granada, with Luis Suarez and Joao Felix stealing the show. Now, after back-to-back scoreless draws (Saturday at home to Villarreal), you’re wondering if normal service has resumed.
Atleti turned this into one of their old-school, grind-it-out games and Villarreal were happy to oblige. If you’re going to play this way, you need to show you can win this way as well.
Bas Dost scored for Eintracht Frankfurt in their 2-1 home win over Hoffenheim. This was his second Bundesliga goal of the season and he is now on pace to score 22 in the league. He has three goals in four appearances this season in all competitions.
This concludes the latest instalment of #BasDostWatch.