Missed one of the actions around Europe this weekend? Don’t be afraid: Gab Marcotti is here to catch up with all the talking points in the last Monday Musings.
Jump to: Crossroads for Man City? Fiorentina’s fury at Juve (en) Zidane wins the Madrid derby ‘ Liverpool keep the cabotage ( Could Plea’s costly error against Leipzig (en) Great victory for Barça (en) Man United white vs Wolves (en) Drama of Mbappe for PSG (en) Could Lazio win Serie A? ‘ Haaland, Sancho star again ‘ Is Chelsea done with Kepa? ‘ Milan’s winning streak ends ‘ Muller back at Bayern better? Conte, Inter win again
Guardiola, Man City face big decisions after this season
Pep Guardiola reminded us of that age-old mantra after Manchester City’s 2-0 away defeat at Tottenham: it’s not basketball, it’s a low-scoring game, sometimes you can do everything right, create tons of chances and still not win. He is undeniably right, and that is why performance matters more than results. The problem is that that’s not quite what happened against Spurs.
Yes, City’s dominance in terms of possession and created opportunities was overwhelming, but there were also two critical errors – Ilkay Gundogan had his penalty saved and Oleksandr Zinchenko picked up a second yellow for a rather pointless tactical foul – which greatly influenced the game. (If Mike Dean had been a little more star and sent off Raheem Sterling for that early foul on Dele Alli, it would have been three.)
A team cannot be expected to be flawless, but these two incidents are proof that City has Not doing everything right and maybe, rather than talking about how proud he is of his players, he should focus on what he can do to limit mistakes further, to the point that they mitigate days like Sunday.
Players miss penalties, that’s a reality. But City have missed five of nine in all competitions this season and three of six in the Premier League, where they are at the bottom of the chat table. For a supposedly detail-obsessed guy, not to mention having so much talent at his disposal, that’s a strangely uncomfortable statistic.
As for Zinchenko, he obviously had a mental failure. Maybe he forgot he was already on a yellow. Maybe he didn’t realize that the guy he was chasing was not a speedster like Heung-Min Son, but the more deliberate Harry Winks. There’s a lot going on. But you wonder, again, whether making tactical fouls a key element of stopping breakaways is a good idea. Yellow cards accumulate and expose you to playpieces, which is not exactly your strong point.
Others may be harder on the city, predicting all kinds of misfortune and gloom. Sterling is overworked, David Silva (who has not played) is “passed”, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones never had it, the teams understood them, Pep’s message becomes obsolete after three and a half years. I don’t believe it. In the Premier League table, in terms of points, they are pretty much where they have been every season for the last seven years, except the last two when they broke records. And read- forget, they are always among the favorites to win both the national cups and the Champions League. All this without Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte, who were supposed to be key cogs in Guardiola’s machine this year, and while losing his assistant, Mikel Arteta, to Arsenal midway through the campaign.
Ogden: Man City have lost their way
– Man City ratings: Gundogan 5/10
Spurs ranking: Lloris 9/10, Bergwijn 8/10 on debut
Things look worse than they are because Liverpool are so far ahead. If it was really an apocalyptic scenario, they would lose ground through the board and not dominate the games. Having said that, there are big decisions to be made. Both rear positions appear to be problematic in the long run. Even assuming That Laporte returns to his pre-injury level, he will still need a legitimate partner. Sane is an even bigger question mark and while Aguero has a few years left, he is by no means certain Gabriel Jesus will be able to fill his important shoes. But here and now there is no reason to go all the Little chickens.
As for Tottenham, it’s easy to paint this as a Mourinho smash-and-grab masterclass. It was not such a thing. If his plan had been to sit down and soak up the pressure, he probably wouldn’t have gone with two midfielders playing ball in Giovani Lo Celso and Winks, but would have opted for a more physical ball winner instead. We don’t know – and he won’t tell us – but looking at the XI, it looked more like a set-up designed to alternate possession spells with balls through for men before pacy.
Still, there are a lot of positive points to take away beyond the result for Spurs. Steven Bergwijn scored a one-goal catch and seems to have figured out exactly what Mourinho wants. Winks and Lo Celso held on, while Hugo Lloris has had his game since his return from injury. What’s more, fourth place doesn’t seem so far away anymore.
Fiorentina’s Commisso takes calculated shot at Juventus
The (mainly one-sided) rivalry between Fiorentina and Juventus is one of the most bitter and acrimonious in Serie A. Fiorentina owner Rocco Commisso added another chapter on Sunday with his post-match comments after Juve’s 3-0 win.
Juventus received two penalties – both converted by Cristiano Ronaldo, who has now scored in 11 of his last 12 appearances – but the second in particular upset Commisso. He made the rounds on television after the game, calling the refereeing “disgusting” and “shameful” and saying that a club with the revenue and payroll of Juventus does not need “gifts” from match officials. Commisso added that if the league wanted to fine him, he was more than welcome.
There are a few things to make here. First and foremost, he wasn’t a guy who was raging with adrenaline immediately after the final whistle. He said it after the game, then went on television, hours later, to reiterate his point of view. Then there is the fact that if Juve’s second penalty, for a foul by Federico Ceccherini on Rodrigo Bentancur, could have been contentious, it was by no means a day flight: I would not have given it, but it falls squarely into the camp “seen them given”. Finally, you normally talk like that after a tight and hard-fought game where you feel you deserve more. That wasn’t all: Fiorentina were vastly outdone by a Juve team that actually performed very well.
Commisso himself said it was the first time in the seven months since he acquired the club that he had talked about the match officials, which is true, and he wasn’t just referring to that game. But given the history between the two clubs and the perception of Juventus over the years, you assume he knew exactly what he was doing, and he felt like he was playing to the crowd.
There is no doubt Commisso has had a huge impact on Fiorentina since his arrival – not just financially – and he has given both the club and the city a shot in the arm. He is the kind of Serie A owner wants – and needs – if they will continue their return. But unless he wants to put Juve on trial for past crimes against humanity (and no doubt there are many who would like to do so) then, on that occasion, his schedule was seriously off.
Credit to Zidane for the way Real won the Madrid derby
I said it last week, but heck, I’ll say it again because it’s true. Zinedine Zidane proves people wrong. All those guys who said he was a turnkey boss, a man-manager who murmured to his Galactic and looked at them with his icy gaze, a guy whose tactical manual amounted to “our guys are better than theirs, so don’t spoil it.”
He showed it again in the Madrid derby. Without Eden Hazard, without Gareth Bale and without Rodrygo, Karim Benzema played alone in front with a five-man midfield. And guess what? It didn’t work. Atletico, despite the absences of Joao Felix and Koke, whipped up former pride Diego Simeone, hit the post and growled their way to a dead end. (And, in fact, they could have had a decent penalty cry when Casemiro knocked down Alvaro Morata). What did Zidane do? He snatched Toni Kroos (who is taking guts, even if your initials are ZZ) and Isco at half-time, sent on Vinicius and Lucas Vazquez and went 4-3-3. Suddenly the momentum changed and Diego Simeone had no answers. He finished 1-0 and could have been more.
Kirkland: Madrid teams go in different directions
These are the characteristicsa manager who reads the game and makes the right decisions. Of course, he has a lot of options on the bench, but with all due respect, Vinicius and Vazquez are probably fourth and fifth in the depth chart. If Madrid hang on to win La Liga this season, it could be (for Zidane personally) as big a feat as his Champions League crowns, if not more.
As for Atletico, the absentees (and failure to sign Edinson Cavani) cannot be an alibi. Of course, you don’t expect them to win at the Bernabeu, but in their last five outings they have scored a goal… and it was against the third cultural level Leonesa in the Copa del Rey.
Liverpool continue to move to the Premier League
Liverpool are in the zone as they head towards their winter break. It’s like in NBA2K when the player catches fire and sinks all his shots. Southampton put them to the test for half-time, the Reds woke up from their torpor and four goals scored. You didn’t even notice that Sadio Mane wasn’t playing.
Liverpool ratings: Salah 8/10 in rout
The gap between them and second place Man City is 22 points and, unless Jurgen Klopp is taken away by little green men, the Premier League suddenly decides to award 15 points for a win the rest of the way or the first-team resigns en masse to follow BTL on tour, they will win the title for the first time in three decades. Never in the history of the English game has a team enjoyed such a massive lead at any time, let alone in early February.
Klopp’s choice could soon be whether to rest the players for the Champions League and, if they somehow overtake Shrewsbury with their U-23 team on Tuesday’s fourth day, the FA Cup.
What did Plea think against Leipzig?
Leipzig hosts Borussia Monchengladbach was the clash of beginners in the hope of upsetting the existing order in the Bundesliga. It was also a meeting between two of Europe’s most interesting bosses: Julian Nagelsmann and Marco Rose. What did we learn from the 2-2 draw?
First and foremost, that sometimes a difference in quality can be measured in the propensity to error. Three of the four goals – including the two that gave gladbach a two-out lead in a first half where they still had the upper hand – were the result of (relatively) unforced individual errors. Leipzig struggled to get back to 2-1 before Alassane Plea’s double yellow, which left Gladbach down a man. Without him, they struggled to get out of their own half and finally succumbed to Christopher Nkunku’s 89th minute wonder-strike.
A word about Plea, who was booked for reprimanding the referee, and then, after his yellow, continue to jaw in his direction. Some, including Leipzig boss Nagelsmann, thought it was hard. I would choose another word for when you get two reservations in the space of a minute for dissent: stupid. Too often, players see a yellow card as a licence to get away with something, since referees are generally reluctant to send someone off. This was one of the most preventable you will see all year round.
A good weekend for Setien, Barcelona
Quique Setien stuck to Barca’s “old school” approach of possession on Sunday, but lined up a more orthodox four-back (Nelson Semedo at right-back, Clement Lenglet in the middle) rather than the bizarre hybrid we had seen in the last outings. The result was a 2-1 win over Levante which keeps Barcelona three points from the top.
Beating Levante at the Camp Nou is not a matter of writing and, in fact, the last few minutes were far too nervous and uncomfortable, with Marc-André ter Stegen again needed to keep them safe. But there are two things that bode well. One is Ansu Fati’s two goals. The wunderkind only turned 17 in October and had not scored (or played much) in La Liga after his blistering debut. He stepped up at the right time on Sunday and, with Luis Suarez on, is probably the man before who mesh most naturally with Lionel Messi.
The other should be obvious, but it may not be a coincidence that the Barca opener came from the kind of sudden, north-south long pass that had been absent from Setien’s playbook. It was not a hoof; he was surgical and precise (heck, it was Messi delivering it) but he caught the opposition’s defense flat-footed. It is not difficult to see how mixing in the occasional vertical game makes Barcelona’s possession game more focused and effective.
Man United should have beaten Wolves
After his scoreless draw on Saturday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke of the difficulty of scoring against wolves, then cracked a joke about how “someone must have moved the goal posts.”
Dawson: Fernandes shows he wants to improve Man United quickly
Yuk yuk. In fact, the Wolves have kept a blank sheet away from home twice this season – bizarrely against quality opponents, Leicester and Manchester City – and the xG (a measly 0.80) tell their own story. Needless to say, without Marcus Rashford injured and with this tame version of Anthony Martial, it was always going to be hard for them. Ride on Odion Ighalo, which might not put the running impulses, but at least is a living body that will prevent them from running Mason Greenwood into the ground (and, perhaps, help him avoid wear at a young age that certainly didn’t help Rashford.)
Bruno Fernandes (finally!) has made his debut and there is some encouragement to draw from it. He may not be Bryan Robson’s second arrival (as his honorary suggests), but he has a lot of courage and personality and is ready to put himself in the game. He seemed to understand what United needed right away and did their best to provide it.
Mbappe’s frustration is bad news for Tuchel, PSG
Paris Saint-Germain beat Montpellier 5-0, but Kylian Mbappe made headlines for the wrong reasons. He was seriously angry to come with 20 minutes to let Thomas Tuchel know. The PSG boss tried to calm him down, to no avail, and there is talk of Mbappe getting amends.
It’s not the first time this has happened — it happened in the return game against Montpellier too — and Tuchel has to play his hand here. Forget the silent cliché of how you want your players to be angry at the idea of coming off. It’s a no-brainer. But Mbappe is 21 and if he hasn’t learned that starting when you’re leading by five goals so your teammates can get a run-out is part of the game, then he’d better start now. Tuchel cannot afford to have his authority repeatedly questioned in public.
Could Lazio sneak in and win Serie A?
Lazio continue to prove the skeptics (including me) wrong, slamming SPAL 5-1 this weekend. If they win their game in hand this week, they will be two points off the top of Serie A, which seemed unthinkable this summer. Ciro Immobile is up to 25 goals, more than anyone else in the Big Five European leagues and right now he feels like he can shoot blindfolded and he would hit the back of the net.
Their pursuit of Olivier Giroud in the transfer window, although ultimately unsuccessful, suggests that they are starting to believe too. Without European football commitments to get in the way (unlike Juventus and Inter), they are ideally placed to take that on the wire and perhaps – whisper it – even make history.
Haaland, Sancho sensational again for Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund continue to ride the hype and momentum generated by Erling Haaland. The man-child started his first match and scored twice in the 5-0 defeat of Union Berlin, while winning a penalty. It’s seven goals in his first three games but for those who keep the score at home, his attack rate keeps going down: it’s now a goal every 20 minutes or so.
Jadon Sancho also had a monster game becoming the youngest Bundesliga to reach the 25-goal mark. In the league, he now has 12 goals (even last year) and 13 assists (one fewer than last season), with 14 games to go. Oh, and he won’t be 20 until March, which is downright scary.
Is Chelsea done with Kepa?
A point away from Leicester, who are a place above them in the table, is not a bad result for Chelsea, but they could have done without the many chances conceded. I wrote about them last week, and I stood by it: it’s a transitional season, and if they finish in the top four, well, that’s gravy.
More interesting – and brave – is Frank Lampard’s decision to drop Kepa Arrizabalaga for Willy Caballero. The latter’s contract expires in the summer and if you have seen him play, you will know why he will not return. Kepa may be the most expensive goalkeeper in the world, but he doesn’t have a great season. You can only assume that Lampard knows what he is doing and has read his possible reaction correctly.
When a guy like Kepa, who is 25 years old and still has a lot of market value, gets dropped, he usually ends one ofs two ways: either with a quick reconciliation or with a summer move. Chelsea can’t get their full cost back, but given the amortization, they’ll still recover the fees. Keep an eye on this space.
Milan’s victory comes to an end
Milan were held at home by Verona 1-1, ending a run of five consecutive victories in all competitions. The stock explanation is to point out the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had the flu, but just as important was the fact that Ismael Bennacer was suspended. Without him, the Milan midfielder simply cannot function at the moment.
At the end of the game, we witnessed the debut of Daniel Maldini. Unless you live under a rock, you will know that his grandfather, Cesare, and his father, Paolo, played for Milan. In fact, both won European Cups and both captained Italy as well as Milan. This is the last time you’ll hear me talk about it until he does something special. The three-generation thing is a neat story, but he’s 18 years old (already two years behind Dad, who made his debut at 16) and if not for his lineages, we wouldn’t be talking about that. Let’s sit down and let him write his own story, without too much pressure. That name is enough.
Muller back at his best for Bayern?
Bayern surged to the Bundesliga, winning 3-1 at Mainz, their seventh consecutive win in all competitions. They came out of the door quickly, got their goals and managed the game from there.
One thing that seems obvious is the improvement of Thomas Muller under Hansi Flick. With Niko Kovac at the helm, Muller was in it and (mostly) outside. Flick has regenerated it away and he responds not only with performances, but also goals: he has six in Bayern’s last nine outings. Not bad for a guy who, if the rumors were to be believed, was going to be shown the door if Kovac had stuck around.
Conte really relying on the youth that Inter win again
Inter kept pace with Juve at the top of Serie A, beating Udinese 2-0 thanks to two goals from Romelu Lukaku, which brings their total to 20 over the season in all competitions. They didn’t play particularly well, but at least they didn’t drop any points, as they did in the previous three outings.
Credit however to Antonio Conte. Many, including yours really, listened to his rants about the need for more depth and more “winners” in his team and took it as a sign that he would put veterans ahead of young people. There is no doubt that he values the experience, but against Udinese he started with Alessandro Bastoni (who is 20 years old and has now supplanted Diego Godin in the first choice of Inter XI) and Sebastiano Esposito (who is 17 years old). It is not something you imagine he would do only two or three years ago.