There was a lot going on in the football world on the last weekend before Christmas. Bayern Munich left late to defeat their youngest rival for the Bundesliga title, Bayer Leverkusen. But Barcelona lost more points Lionel Messi got closer to yet another record. There were big wins for Real Madrid, Manchester United, Leicester and Milan. Liverpool scored seven goals away, a controversy Marcus Thuram in Gladbach’s latest stumble and business as usual for Atletico Madrid.
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It’s Monday and Gab Marcotti is reacting to the greatest moments in the world of football of the past week.
Jump to: Bavaria’s lucky win | Arteta’s Statistics | Barca in limbo | Messi ties Pele | Man United’s big win | Inter’s title challenge | How Leicester defeated Spurs | Milan stays hot | Real can’t relax Atletico back to winning | Liverpool scores seven | Don’t worry about Leipzig | Will PSG draw rue Lille? | Thuram should know better Juve reveals Pirlo’s vision | Man City wins ugly
Arteta should focus on Arsenal’s squad, not stats
Mikel Arteta was 26 years old and played for Everton when Rafa let Benitez go across town his famous “FACTS” press conference, the one where he meticulously shot back at Sir Alex Ferguson and his “mind games”. Fighting fire with fire seemed like a good idea at the time, but it led to Benitez being ridiculed by the media as unsafe and – maybe by accident, maybe not – losing his top spot in the league.
Maybe Arteta missed all of this, or maybe he really thought things would be different if He rattled off statistics and probabilistic models to underline that Arsenal played better than their results and basically had bad luck. I don’t know, but one way or another someone should have told him it was a bad idea.
– Ogden: Arsenal’s squad is the problem, not Arteta
– Arteta: Aubameyang is prepared for scans for injuries
– Carabao Cup preview: can Arsenal upset Man City?
It’s not that Arteta is necessarily wrong. Based on what we’ve seen on the pitch, it may be correct that Burnley only had a 3 percent chance of beating Arsenal and that the Gunners were desperately unlucky to lose. However, if you quote statistics from a probabilistic model, you will invite ridicule.
Analysis and statistics have made great strides in football, but for the punditocracy and most of the fans, it’s still nonsense and excuses. (And I say this as someone who often cites expected goals and believes in modeling.) It is loss-loss. Furthermore, if you don’t specify whose model you’re using and how it’s derived, you’ll get worse.
After losing 2-1 to Everton, they got two of the last 21 points. Did you miss some important players Gabriel and Xhaka by suspension, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Thomas Partey through injury? Of course they were. (And if you want to go there, Everton has been missing James Rodriguez, Andre Gomes, Allan and Lucas Digne.) Did you create opportunities? Yes. (However, since these are stats, it was the only one with an xG greater than 0.10 Nicolas Pepe‘s punishment and that was more of a function of Tom Davies‘Brain fart than anything else while Everton had three.)
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta uses some confusing statistics to explain their recent bouts.
Arsenal’s performance at Goodison was nothing to write home about, much like most of their recent games. Arteta undoubtedly recognizes this because he phoned the changes. He handed the armband to the captain Rob Holding, he fell Hector Bellerin (and played Ainsley Maitland-Niles in this position instead Cedric Soares) and he picked Eddie Nketiah Alexandre Lacazette. If he was happy, he would have kept the status quo.
Arteta is in a difficult position and as I wrote earlier, the way this roster has been put together (and the way money has been spent) is doing him a disservice. The best thing to do is to find out how this team can play out of today’s funk, rather than giving probabilities and statistics to an audience that just looks at the results.
Bayern are lucky against Leverkusen
A simple, superficial reading of Bayern’s 2-1 victory in the top duel with Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday is that the winning mentality made the difference. They are confident, they have a sense of the obvious fate, and they know they will find a way to win.
I’m not happy with metaphysical explanations like that, but it definitely feels like that. How else can you explain the fact that this team can miss a goal early and lose its most creative attack threat (Kingsley Coman) after half an hour are usually in second place behind every ball and have no chances for most of the first half and still win?
Jürgen Klinsmann praises Bayern Munich’s efforts after a late win against Bayer Leverkusen.
The Jonathan Tah/.Lukas Hradecky The early Christmas present paved the way and changed Leverkusen’s views at the same time. It reminded you of the “Pin Pals” episode from The Simpsons, when Ned Flanders looked up at the sky and said, “God, it’s me, Ned …” and the last swaying Pin falls over. From that moment on, Leverkusen became more shy, almost as if they were satisfied with the draw, or at least happy to give up the initiative and play on the counter. And Bayern came out of the gate shooting. Maybe messy with a bit of Tony Montana spraying lead all over the place, but with real intent.
The goal fell deep into stoppage time and, as always, was partly due to Leverkusen’s negligence Joshua Kimmich (who came on as a substitute mid-second half after a long injury break) punished Tah and prepared Robert LewandowskiWinner.
Was it earned? Bayern weren’t great, but they were better than in the last few games. And while both goals were due to mistakes by their opponents, they showed courage and intention after the break. Still, they have to solve many problems to get back to where they were a year ago.
Coach Hansi Flick is not afraid of big calls. Broadcast Niklas Sule Right-back against it Moussa Diaby worked, but it’s obviously not a long-term solution. I think it shows how little trust he has Benjamin Pavard (banished to the bank) and Bouna Sarr. But the most talked about will undoubtedly be his decision to move Leroy Sane – who came on for the injured Coman – after 36 minutes on the pitch.
Jan Aage Fjortoft reacts to Bayern Munich substituting Leroy Sane for Bayer Leverkusen.
Dropping an uninjured submarine is already viewed as humiliating in football circles. Weaning him off for a 17 year old child (Jamal Musiala), who has only started two Bundesliga games this season, only makes it worse, especially if you’re the club’s second-costliest addition to have arrived after long and public persecution.
Predictably, Sane didn’t take it well. He went into the locker room and stayed there until the club reminded him to be a good sport and sit in the stands. Just as predictably, the club made it clear that it was a carrot and stick approach. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said he was confident that they would get the best out of him at some point.
Could be. And although the Bayern-friendly local media get to the point, I’m not so sure. Sane will be 25 next month – he’s not a kid. He was severely handicapped in his career by injuries, but even when he was fit, he was largely inconsistent. He has been deposed several times by Guardiola in Man City, and Jogi Loew is known to have deleted him from the 2018 German World Cup squad. It has ups and downs, and Bayern probably knew that.
Sane is not playable on a good day. On a not so good day, you get what he served on Saturday. Does the whipping approach – after feeding more carrots than Bugs Bunny – make sense at this point? We will see. They hope that – and it wouldn’t be the first time Bayern have done this – there is a plan behind it, and not just an inability to admit that they sometimes do something wrong.
Barcelona remains suspended
Barcelona’s 2-2 draw with Valencia highlighted much of what we already know about this team, albeit with a new crease. Ronald Koeman did not replace the unavailable Frenkie De Jong with a central midfielder like Miralem Pjanic, but gave up any pretext from 4-2-3-1 and switched to 4-1-4-1, left Pedri, Philippe Coutinho and Lionel Messi easily through the middle. With Antoine Griezmann When he wandered inward – as he’s used to – it was a different version of what my colleague Sid Lowe describes as the 4-1 Splodge.
– Messi ‘motivated’ to help Barca after ‘bad’ summer
Valencia conceded a lot of possession and, as you would expect, the blockade was difficult to break apart from the occasional Messi moments (once again, he shot a lot). Still, Jordi Alba came down to the left and there Barca inevitably attacked when they needed space.
According to Julien Laurens, Ronald Koeman is not building Barcelona in a way that adequately supports Lionel Messi.
If your glass is half empty, you’ll find it’s a draw against a midfield team that has only won once since September – to be fair, the Real Madrid win came – and that Messi’s goal came after a penalty ( which he missed) that probably should never have been forgiven. When your glass is half full you will find that Barca have still shown a lot of spirit and balance of odds, possibly deserving a little more. Not least because both goals in Valencia were the result of severe defensive mistakes: Mouctar Diakahby went unmarked the first time and Oscar Mingueza showed his limits the second time.
This is Barca now: a team in limbo. In these circumstances, sometimes you get people to go through the movements. That doesn’t happen what Koeman can hold onto. Like many of these people, he knows that it is by no means certain that he will be here next year, so he makes the most of what he has. Sometimes it’s good enough. Often it isn’t.
A word on Messi, Pele and goals
Messi reached Peles’ goal record with a single club in the 2-2 draw, finishing in 643rd place for Barcelona. As the records go, it is completely imperfect. Some have put Pele’s goals with Santos at 642, others at 644. Others could still point out the folly of comparing statistically two legends from such different eras, one of which scored the majority of its goals at Campeonato Paulista half a century before the other.
– Pele congratulates Messi on the record
Ideally, we would just recognize them as some of the greatest goalscorers of all time, who have stayed with their clubs for many years and just keep going. But hey, career goal records generate content and are easy to digest. Also, it’s nice to hear classy news for Messi from Pele who is undoubtedly preparing another for when Cristiano Ronaldo breaks his overall record. (Which might be just as dubious, but as I said, whatever floats your boat …)
No matter how many goals these guys have scored, it is A LOT OF.
Solskjaer needs to build on Man United’s big win
Steve Nicol explains why no conclusion can be drawn from Man United’s 6-2 win over Leeds.
Manchester United’s 6-2 win over Leeds United means that if they win their game in hand they will finish second on the table two points behind Liverpool. That’s big. That matters, even if they finish sixth in this compressed, upside-down Premier League second if they lose their game in hand (and Aston Villa, Chelsea and Manchester City win their game).
This isn’t a time to celebrate prematurely, but it doesn’t mean you’re going too far the other way too. This game could just as easily have ended 10-8 or 4-5 or whatever. This is what happens when you play against Marcelo Bielsa and his Fantasyland football brand at high risk and high reward. If Leeds are just a little off, a team that counters well and knows how to use their quality (and United does both) will tear them to pieces.
– Dawson: Are Man United real?
– Carabao Cup Preview: Man United’s tough Everton trip
So while you don’t want to read too much into the result, there are positive aspects. Scott McTominay showed another dimension of his game that can perhaps be exploited more often. Marcus RashfordConfidence will only grow. The back four were able to hold their own against a clumsy opponent despite the chances they had given.
The challenge for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is to build on those positives as he knows all too well that he only faces Leeds twice a year.
Will Inter win Serie A this way?
Gab Marcotti praises Achraf Hakimi’s performance in Inter Milan’s 2-1 win over Spezia.
Inter may not have shed light on it lately, but the 2-1 win over Spezia means they have picked up 19 out of a possible 21 points in their last seven games. (The only game they didn’t win was against Shaktar Donetsk: it cost them a spot in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, but it was also one that they could easily have won.)
What’s pretty obvious is that after Antonio Conte tried to push high and overtake the opposition earlier in the year, he’s more likely to revert to a counterstrike style. They defend deeper, they make the wingbacks (like Achraf Hakimiwho scored a great goal) and strikers have room to run, and they have softened the aggression.
It’s not an approach that inevitably pays off in Europe, but Conte clearly believes he can deliver a title like a league campaign in the long run.
Leicester’s deserved victory at Tottenham
Gab and Juls discuss whether Brendan Rodgers will prioritize the Premier League or the Europa League.
We were concerned about what could happen when two extraordinary counter-attacks like Tottenham and Leicester face each other. Was it a stalemate? Would one manage to find another dimension and show that they could also create in possession?
The answer was “yes” and it was Leicester.
– Olley: Spurs, Mourinho is showing some cracks
– Carabao Cup preview: Spurs should have enough to beat Stoke
Inspired by great performances by Wilfired Ndidi and James MaddisonThey overwhelmed Spurs’ previously impressive midfield and fully deserved the three points. Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele – They suppose out there to add some quality and creativity to a team that defends well – both of them had days off as well Moussa Sissoko and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
Leicester’s lead from a penalty was a gift from Santa Aurier, but – a goal down and an attack – Spurs were really fighting and that was supposed to be Jose Mourinho’s takeaway. That’s what he has to do right if they are to be legitimate title contenders. We know he can do the other – play very well without the ball – but if the opponent allows it, Spurs have to reinforce it.
Milan stays hot in Italy
Matteo Bonetti praises the young AC Milan team after extending their unbeaten league run to 25 games.
Rafael Leao scored the fastest goal in Serie A history when Milan beat Sassuolo 2-1 to stay at the top of Serie A. And yes, they did it without one of their defensive leaders (Simon Kjaer) without their best midfielder (Ismael Bennacer) and without their central first and second choice strikers (Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ante Rebic).
Their starting grid had an average age of 22 and they played with speed, confidence and precision – all the qualities that Stefano Pioli has promised and delivers. The old stereotype of needing established superstars and experience to win in Serie A seems decidedly outdated and when Ibrahimovic returns he will join a team full of confidence. The high press could get a little less intense – yes, he’s the eternal Norse god and all that, but he’s also 39 – but the luxury of leaving him in the box and just converting the opportunities created instead of roaming the pitch doing anything will make Milan better.
Another lesson for Real Madrid
Ale Moreno said Real Madrid have responded to pressures for Zinedine Zidane’s future.
Less than 20 minutes after Real Madrid’s trip to Eibar, Zinedine Zidane’s side had taken a 2-0 lead Karim Benzema had just missed a sitter. It looked like a mule in the making. Instead, Real Madrid suffered a bumpy second half, conceding a world-class goal to Kike Garcia and almost giving up a penalty when the ball ricocheted off Sergio RamosElbow. (It was classic “seen-them-given” type and another day with a different VAR, who knows?)
Lucas Vazquez scored the 3-1 in garbage time, but it should serve as a reminder: Real Madrid are just not good enough at the moment to just play in spurts and still dominate the games. The seizures Eibar’s press gave them after the break are proof of that.
Atletico rally behind Suarez, Costa
Alejandro Moreno asks why Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid always allow teams to make games interesting.
There was no derby hangover for Atletico Madrid or for Luis Suarez. Just a bump on the road. You get hit in the teeth, pounded on your bum, and get up right back. And win.
Suarez scored two goals in a 3-1 win over Elche, his first in around six weeks. Both were the kind he has scored a lot of goals over the past few years. He’s turned his back on defenders and found the right timing in the penalty area – proof that if you look after him and keep the players around him, he’ll keep converting even at 33 years old.
Atleti’s “other” center-forward also scored after almost a month, and that could matter (although it was never a penalty and what VAR thought will likely remain a mystery forever). Diego Costa can probably best recreate what Suarez does not in terms of style but in terms of presence in the box. Atleti’s lead is strong, but to defend it over a long season they cannot rely solely on roadrunners like Angel Correa or Joao Felix. It’s a hell of a lot easier with a real battle-ridden center-forward like Suarez or his muscular understudy Diego Costa.
Any downside to Liverpool’s 7-0 win?
Frank Leboeuf says that without Neymar and Mbappe, PSG play a lot more “compact” and that was seen against Lille.
At halftime, Liverpool were 3-0 and had blurred all proposals for the Crystal Palace weapons – the Jeffrey Schlupp threat. Eberechi Eze and Wilfried Zaha On the counter, Roy Hodgson’s karma against his old club would derail them. And after taking the lead, they were ruthless and smashed seven goals, including two of Roberto Firmino who has hopefully lost the “non-scoring center forward” tag once and for all.
– Hamilton: Liverpool are unscrupulous at the top of the table
They did this with the usual cast of absenteeism and with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain After a long break from injury, he’s playing his first 16 minutes of the season from the bench: he’s another valuable option in midfield. The only (fussy) question mark could be why Klopp like 4-0 against guys at the beginning of the second half Curtis Jones and Mohamed Salah instead of giving minutes to those who rarely play, like Rhys Williams or Divock orig. But hey, he won 7-0 and is at the top of the table for Christmas. Who should I argue with?
Leipzig is slipping, but nothing to worry about
Leipzig lost points at home to Cologne this weekend, although it dominated for a long time as we got used to it. Creating opportunities wasn’t the problem; Ending them was the problem, and it’s not the first time we’ve seen them do this.
That said, you worry if you don’t create more than you don’t finish. And when you consider that Julian Nagelsmann missed half a dozen players (including three nailed starters like Konrad Laimer, Lukas Klostermann and Christopher Nkunku) and had guys like Marcel Sabitzer and Dayot Upamecano With less than 100 percent, it’s obvious that Leipzig can survive more than most other absences. That could be decisive on the track.
Will PSG regret losing points to rivals?
ESPN FC’s Steve Nicol said Liverpool absolutely “wiped the floor” in their 7-0 win over Crystal Palace.
With Neymar hurt and Kylian Mbappe On the bench, it was always a different Paris Saint-Germain team against Lille that topped the table in Ligue 1 on Sunday. And, by the way, Lille have their own problems with owner Gerard Lopez, who is reportedly on the verge of being forced to sell the club.
It’s very tight at the top and PSG are in third place, one point behind Lyon and Lille. Marseille, with two games in hand, could still pass PSG too. It’s the price you pay if you don’t win head-to-head against each other: you lost to Marseille and Lyon and are now down two points against Lille.
Thuram was sent off when Gladbach’s tough run continues
Julien Laurens expresses his disappointment with Marcus Thuram after he was fined by Mönchengladbach for spitting on another player.
memo to Borussia Mönchengladbach’s superstar striker Marcus Thuram. You have an illustrious family tree and a very bright future. You should know that even after a serious foul, you shouldn’t spit in the face of an opponent, especially when it comes to VAR and cameras. You screwed it up and potentially cost your team the game. It happens. Apologize, study, and move on. (Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s not overlook the receiver, Stefan Posch: Yes, it’s gross and excruciating to be spat on, but it still doesn’t mean you have to throw yourself to the ground.)
Gladbach fell to 10 men after Thuram’s red card and fell 2-1 against Hoffenheim. It’s not a great moment for Marco Rose’s team: Schalke has been the only Bundesliga team that they have beaten since Halloween. (And let’s be honest, most teams beat Schalke …)
Juventus show the best example of Pirlo’s tactics so far
Juventus beat Parma 4-0 but what is more than the goal line must be encouraging that we have seen more of Andrea Pirlo’s vision than has been realized in any other game. They signed men up front, they led the midfield (thanks to an excellent performance from Rodrigo Bentancur in the playmaker role and Weston McKenniewho quickly becomes inviolable for his tactical skills) and they created many opportunities.
Up front, Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals, including a patented injury-time header in which he posted the poor defender. The ability to have two legitimate airborne threats – and like good crossers Juan Cuadrado, Dejan Kulusevski, Alex Sandro and Federico Chiesa – gives them another dimension.
Guardiola, Man City ugly win against Southampton
Pep Guardiola’s critics love to portray him as rigid and unable to conjure up a Plan B … except that he did just that against Southampton on Saturday. Against Ralf Hasenhuttl’s intense high press, which had enabled them to avoid defeat in all but one game since last September, he decided against a center forward (Ferran Torres was there nominally but didn’t play like a central striker), was patient and conservative in his line-up, and wasn’t afraid to venture into space for long if conditions warranted it.
The result was a hard-fought 1-0 victory thanks to Raheem Sterling‘s goal (after a long pass straight from Ederson about Kevin De Bruyne) and while both sides stood chances, City looked determined but consistently calm. It will take you more days like this to get back into the title race.