Arsenal celebrated a famous win at Old Trafford, several big clubs (Bayern, Liverpool, Spurs) have won, and Milan remain the hottest team in European football.
It’s Monday and Gab Marcotti is reacting to the greatest moments in football of the past week.
Jump to: Arsenal’s master class | Bayern rest stars, still win | Liverpool ugly wins | Ronaldo strengthens Juve | Ibra, Milan continues | Barca not in crisis (yet) | Chelsea is still in the works Spurs react to Mourinho | Bad week for Leipzig | PSG, Mbappe calm down and win | Risk on the brand for Real | Dortmund wins | Inter’s VAR Drama | Man City wins Felix shines for Atletico
Arsenal dropped a masterclass to eventually win at Man United
If you want to look at football in the simplest and most negative way possible then Manchester United 0, Arsenal 1 was a boring game between two midfield teams with few chances and it was decided by a silly mistake that resulted in a penalty kick. In some ways you would be right. You’d be pretty ignorant too, because what we saw from Mikel Arteta’s team was a master class in playing a certain type of football.
Arteta took the diamond from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (more of this shortly) and crushed it like a zirconia.
There have been outstanding performances across the team – Gabriel in the back, Bukayo Saka in the midfield, the duo of Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny in the midfield – but what struck you the most was the collective and the way Arsenal were at the right time and in the right position pushed the right areas to disrupt United. Arteta wiped the floor in the tactical battle with Solskjaer, and so we don’t forget, two things are required: game planning and execution. Even the most brilliant plan – and Arteta has shown he is a sophisticated thinker in this regard – falls apart if you don’t buy into it. It was totally on Sunday, and that’s thanks to his work on the training ground.
– Report: Man United 0, Arsenal 1
– Arsenal ratings: Partey, both hold 8/10 in big wins
– Man United ratings: Pogba 5/10 as a team below average
It’s not just about teaching movement patterns and repeating them endlessly. It’s also about helping players relax mentally and physically.
Elneny and Rob Holding both played very well and were critical to Arsenal’s success. Around this time last year, Elneny was a guy who’d been loaned to Besiktas to get off his paycheck and who was being shopped all over Europe. Holding was a guy who hadn’t played a minute of Premier League football by that point in 2019. Few would have predicted they would star 12 months later at Old Trafford and Arsenal’s first win there in 14 years.
Arsenal is still in the works. An Elneny partey probably won’t be seen for most weeks, but the fact that Partey can work seamlessly with Dani Ceballos and / or Granit Xhaka is a plus. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was more effective (and committed) at Old Trafford, but the fact that he only managed 10 open shots isn’t great when he’s 31, your top scorer and you just gave him a massive contract to have . (For context, Harry Maguire took as many recordings as he did.)
Alexandre Lacazette is a press machine – and did a lot of valuable off-the-ball work at Old Trafford – but he’s more gun-shy than Aubameyang (he’s got eight). Kieran Tierney has been very effective as a third center-back but it feels like his future is on the left side of a foursome.
But these are all things that can be worked on. And displays like on Sunday – and more generally the way Arteta has worked so far – suggest that advances on the pitch will continue. (Where you might be a little less certain is in the front office, which has massive contracts for older players, but that’s a problem for another time.)
As for United, the two most obvious scapegoats (surprise, surprise) will be Paul Pogba and Solskjaer. Pogba made a serious mistake in conceding a goal and was consistently poor. He was far from the only United player to underperform, but because he’s the club’s most visible player and record player, he’ll carry the can. Once again. What is fair enough: high wages, great responsibility, etc. What is stupid, however, is the criticism he received to explain how and why he admitted this punishment against Bellerin.
Standing in front of the cameras, Pogba said he cost United the game and when asked to explain his hasty action, said that maybe he was a little “out of breath”. I have absolutely no problem with footballers owning their mistakes and technically explaining where they screwed it up. If, however, there is to be more ridicule and criticism, they will not talk at all or hide behind anodyne clichés again.
Craig Burley criticizes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactics in Manchester United’s 1-0 loss to Arsenal.
As for Solskjaer, I don’t think moving to a diamond midfield was necessarily the wrong decision. Indeed, this is a way to bring more creative players – Bruno Fernandes, Pogba and / or Donny van de Beek – onto the field. The idea was good, the execution was terrible.
A diamond necessarily means that you play narrower. That’s fine when you have attacking defenders – less so when one of your defenders is Aaron Wan-Bissaka. So you make adjustments. Your front pair offers the width or top of your diamond. Players just can’t be static. However, Sunday’s iteration of the Diamond highlighted the weakness of the system.
Part of this is due to Arteta simply outsmarting him; Part of it is the failure to make the necessary adjustments and make them properly. You will learn that in training on the system. And unfortunately the training time is a bit tight this season. However, this does not mean that this system cannot be effective or that Solskjaer should give it up.
The strong rotation of FC Bayern Munich works
Jan Aage Fjortoft cancels the victories of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund before the classic.
Bayern Munich have made four signings in the last 48 hours of the transfer window. Two of you, Bouna Sarr and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who started against Cologne on Saturday, while two more, Douglas Costa and Marc Roca, came as a replacement. Bayern won 2-1 with Hansi Flick describing the win as “arduous”, but in the spring the fact that they have the squad depth to devour minutes and remaining starters could make all the difference for a triple defense.
The profit margin is due to the fact that Cologne played really well and that you can’t expect to be as dominant as Bayern without playing the field Robert Lewandowski, Kingsley Coman, Leon Goretzka, David Alaba, Lucas Hernandez and Alphonso Davies and Not suffer from some kind of degradation in performance.
This is Bayern’s version of load management, and they seem to be doing it to some extent like few other top clubs do.
Liverpool have to figure out how to win without Van Dijk
Steve Nicol admits he found it difficult to watch Liverpool try to get back against West Ham.
Jurgen Klopp described Liverpool’s Champions League win over Ajax as “a bit dirty” and he could categorize Saturday’s 2-1 win over West Ham in the same way. Liverpool were flat and their two goals came from a soft penalty shoot-out from Mohamed Salah and a moment of true genius Xherdan Shaqiriof all people who have settled down Diogo iotaTarget. (Yes, the same Shaqiri who played every nine minutes before Saturday in 2020).
– Liverpool ratings: Phillips 8/10 on Premier League debut
Faltering after losing Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool will take every win there is now. But at some point they have to figure out how to play without him – and play well. They have a long way to go before they can bring aid in January and a longer way to go before he gets back.
Juve gets a boost from Ronaldo as Pirlo finds his best XI
Gab Marcotti from ESPN FC is breaking down what he’s seen from Juventus so far this season.
Cristiano Ronaldo returned from COVID-19 with two goals from the bench when Juventus scored a goal in an impressive 4-1 win over Spezia that also saw Alvaro Morata find and score the net Not I rejected the goal of VAR for offside. Cue the inevitable “Cristiano saves Juve” knee jerk.
Obviously, Ronaldo is doing Juve better and he made the difference against Spezia, although this was probably partly due to Paulo Dybala having a very bad week (not just on Sunday but against Barcelona as well). Andrea Pirlo’s side is still taking small steps forwards and backwards, and there were a few bright spots: Morata’s game (offside), Federico Chiesa growing on the flank, Danilo behind. However, two big questions remain. On the one hand, you can fix the lack of creativity in midfield – Arthur and Rodrigo Bentancur are the closest thing to a playmaker who speaks volumes – and on the other hand, as a partner of Ronaldo.
In Morata, Dybala (if he regains his mojo), and Dejan Kulusevski, Pirlo has three solid options. If he wants to build chemistry he’ll want to give one of them a run in the side, even if it means making the other two unhappy.
Milan and Ibra continue the club’s remarkable undefeated run
Shaka Hislop can’t believe how Zlatan Ibrahimovic managed to bond with a bike kick at the age of 39 in Serie A.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored one goal for Franck Kessie and scored the winning goal with an awkward but effective overhead kick in Milan’s 2-1 win at Udinese. They are two points ahead of the top of the table and have remained unbeaten in 24 games in all competitions. Talk about a trend reversal.
– Why Ibra is still the king of acrobatic goals in football
Ibrahimovic will hit the headlines and rightly get a lot of praise. But this turnaround also has a lot to do with coach Stefano Pioli because he is doing it with largely the same crew that were there last season. (Milan added four outfield players – Sandro Tonali, Brahim Diaz, Diogo Dalot and Jens Hauge – in the transfer window, but they only started four games between them).
Working with one of the youngest squads in Europe, Pioli has managed to get the most out of Ibrahimovic without making his squad dependent on him. Part of it is the function of getting hungry, energetic young talent around him. It is also up to Ibrahimovic to reach a level of maturity at which he does not feel that he has to do everything, but rather enjoys working for the team.
Milan hasn’t had a run like this since the early 1990s. Given the uncertainty and unconventionality in this busy, COVID-scarred season, you wouldn’t rule her out for the title.
It looks bad, but this is not yet a crisis for Barcelona
Ale Moreno believes Lionel Messi is hurting Barcelona by trying to create everything himself.
The numbers say Barcelona have won two of the last 12 points in La Liga and are in the bottom half of the table. Given that the 1-1 draw with Alaves came just days after the sudden resignation of club president Jose Maria Bartomeu, the temptation is to play all chicken little and conclude that the sky is over Camp Nou falls.
In fact, it’s time to put the brakes on. And not just because they scream “CRISIS”! also ignores the convincing 2-0 win over Juventus.
– Barcelona ratings: Griezmann 7/10, Messi 6/10 tied
The fact is that Barca dominated Alaves and only scored a goal because of one colossal mistake Neto and Clement Lenglet. They came back balanced (Antoine Griezmann scored his first goal of the season, which is not nothing) and could have easily won this game.
That doesn’t mean everything is fine – far from it. This is still a poorly put together team with a leadership vacuum in the front office that pays the price for mistakes made in the past (and present). But there was a reaction to what happened on Monday and between Juventus and Alaves it was a positive one. Manager Ronald Koeman lives to fight one more day.
Chelsea won but Lampard needs to get more out of the stars
Craig Burley says Chelsea fans will dislike Frank Leboeuf more than him after criticizing the Blues’ win over West Ham.
Frank Lampard chose a new Chelsea for the trip to Burnley and scored a 3-0 win.
Instead of aligning with a low-lying passerby Jorginho or Mateo Kovacic, he put N’Golo Kante in front of the back four, with Kai Havertz and Mason Mount next to him in midfield. Hakim Ziyechthat was exceptional, and Timo Werner were way out (although both regularly cut inside) with Tammy Abraham front.
Chelsea ratings: Ziyech 9/10, Edge 9/10 in big win
It cast a spell against Burnley and is another option for Lampard, but I’m not sure it’s a blueprint for the future. The three midfielders could find it difficult against teams with more possession. Havertz can play as “eight” but it also means he’s farther from goal, which is a shame. And it’s hard to see this system work with anyone other than edge, but Lampard is right to experiment now and look for different solutions. Chelsea are still in the works and it’s not clear how all of these pieces will fit together.
Tottenham takes on Mourinho’s challenge
Jose Mourinho has played for Real Madrid fans after Gareth Bale’s winner for Tottenham against Brighton in the Premier League.
Jose Mourinho called his crew on social media after the 0-1 loss to Royal Antwerp in the Europa League on Thursday and responded with a 2-1 win over Brighton on Sunday. It wasn’t the nicest win, but in terms of character, they reacted just as he asked them to. Spurs are now second in the standings, two points behind Liverpool, and of course Gareth Bale took the winner.
Mourinho’s approach to Bale for the rest of the season will be interesting. The Welshman is not a “plug and play” footballer unless you just put him in the foreground and play strictly on the counter, which Mourinho doesn’t want to do when his team is trying to evolve. To put him in a position where he can perform at his best, he needs the right parts around him that work properly and do justice to his abilities.
While there have been examples (think Zlatan at Inter), Mourinho has rarely cared about individual talent throughout his career and has chosen to put the collective first. And with Bale in his thirties, on loan, and not the most consistent player, it won’t be an easy decision to make.
The Leipzig Week is getting worse and worse
Not a good week for Leipzig. On Wednesday they were beaten 5-0 by Manchester United in the Champions League. On Saturday they fell 1-0 against Borussia Mönchengladbach and lost their place at the top of the Bundesliga.
Julian Nagelsmann’s heavyweight clout of Alexander Sorloth and Yussuf Poulsen didn’t quite work out and further down there were some important absences that weighed heavily. But what probably hurt more was Gladbach’s goal scorer Hannes Wolfwho is actually on loan from … Leipzig. (Some leagues, like the Premier League, have restrictions on loan players that their parent clubs face. The Bundesliga does not.)
The 21-year-old Wolf was a rising star in Salzburg, who moved to Leipzig last season (all part of the RB group, of course), but did not start a single league game under Nagelsmann. So he moved to Gladbach, where he was reunited with Marco Rose, who had given him his debut in the Salzburg days. Football can be a small world, and vengeance is a dish that is best served cold.
PSG easily wins after Mbappe’s anger
Kylian Mbappe was furious at halftime during Paris Saint-Germain’s away game against Nantes. What did referee Hakim Ben El Hadj do? He didn’t freak out or start waving his cards around; He just called Mbappe and PSG skipper Marquinhos into his locker room at halftime and they talked.
Imagine being called into the director’s office. In the end, a little common sense and calm helped defuse the situation. PSG won 3-0 and, for once, the referee was praised.
Eden Hazard breaks real drought
In a 4-1 win against a newly promoted team, of course, but if that marks his return to fitness it will be a huge boost for Zinedine Zidane. Hazard can either play in the front three or out wide Karim Benzema in a front two, without loss of quality.
– Real ratings: Benzema 9/10, Hazard 8/10
Caution (and your injury record) suggests not to get carried away. Beyond Hazard, Real Madrid have had three solid performances in a row. (Don’t let the late comeback against Gladbach fool you: you could and should have scored more and earlier.) ZidaneThe hot seat is a little cooler at the moment.
Dortmunders rest and win before the Bayern showdown
With Erling Haaland sitting outside – nothing to get angry about “The classic“Against Bayern in a week, apparently it’s a precaution – it was Marco Reus‘Turn on to run the line for Borussia Dortmund versus Arminia Bielefeld.
Reus is a good player who played up front in his youth, but a bit like back then Julian Brandt spells Haaland, it’s just not the same. The movement is different, the emphasis is different and Dortmund simply lacks the edge with all their possessions that they have with a real center forward.
Lucky for them that against a team like Bielefeld, which are not very good, Mats Hummels was there to do double duty. In the 2-0 win he scored both goals before leaving the field injured. When the opponent’s bus is parked, there is no substitute for a bit of muscle strength and presence in the box. Getting an “off-brand” Haeland for precisely these situations should be a priority.
Inter frustrated with VAR
Inter were held 2-2 by Parma on Saturday and while Ivan Perisic was about to be forcefully pulled into the box (think Harry Maguire on Cesar Azpilicueta) and neither the referee (who came on late) nor the VAR seemed to notice , it cannot excuse the performance. Without Romelu Lukaku, Inter looks like a team of individuals. They still create opportunities, but not through playing patterns. And defensively, getting burned twice by Gervinho – who is still quick but a predictable counterattacker – is just not acceptable.
If there is a VAR silver lining, Nicola Rizzoli, the chief referee, has recognized the mistake and will take action against referee Marco Piccinini, just as he did last Monday against Piero Giacomelli, the official in the Roma-Milan match. People make mistakes, it’s a fact of life. Some people make more mistakes than others. Given that they are all professionals, it is right that those who make fewer mistakes are rewarded and those who make more mistakes are sanctioned.
Man City paints results
For the first time in Pep Guardiola’s tenure as Manchester City manager, they have not scored more than one goal in four consecutive league games. Guardiola himself said nine goals in six games are “not enough” – in fact, only Wolves, Crystal Palace and the four teams at the bottom of the table have scored fewer goals. Saturday’s winner against Sheffield United came back straight away Kyle Walker.
– Dawson: Man City is fighting for Guardiola
It is almost too easy to point out the lack of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. Ferran Torres, who has played wide on the right for most of his career, has been up front in the last two games, but expecting a 20-year-old to fill Aguero’s shoes is obviously a crazy question. It’s not about talent and physical tools either; It’s about movement. And indeed, while City is shooting about as much as last season, their xG clearly shows they are making worse shots, also because those intricate passes are activated (and often ended) in the box by a center forward.
The good news? Despite all of this, they grind out results. If they win their game in hand, they will be in second place, two points behind Liverpool. There is still a long way to go and time to go to fix things.
Felix takes a step with Atletico
After scoring two goals against Salzburg in the Champions League, Joao Felix came back on Saturday with two more goals in Atletico Madrid’s 3-1 win in Osasuna. Diego Simeone says he has found consistency that matches the looks of great talent he showed last year.
Felix is only 20 years old and it feels like he’s shaking off the burden the $ 150 million prize could have put on him last season. They know that if given space, they can produce in transition. What is less clear is whether he can play in a front two with a guy like him on the same level Luis Suarez.
Ultimately, the talent is there and so is the trust. And if, like water, you have both, you can usually find a way through.