Another European soccer weekend is in the books, so let’s review! Bayern Munich shrugged off some recent woes with (yet another) comprehensive win over rivals Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga, while Arsenal were left raging after a controversial 1-0 defeat at Newcastle United in the Premier League that again involved VAR and its various applications. Oh, and in LaLiga, Barcelona wrapped up a dramatic (and lucky) late victory at Real Sociedad while Real Madrid fail to beat mid-table Rayo Vallecano. (The results also meant that Girona, a remarkable story, remain top of the league in Spain.)
Elsewhere, there were talking points around Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus, Napoli, Manchester City and more.
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It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Looking at the 4-0 score, folks will probably conclude the above. The last time Bayern faced Borussia Dortmund, things were far from mellow on the Sabenerstrasse. There was in-fighting — director of football Hasan Salihamidzic would be dispatched a few weeks later — they had just sacked manager Julian Nagelsmann and appointed Thomas Tuchel, they were second in the table, it was April Fools’ Day after an international break … everything was primed for Dortmund to take advantage of the situation.
What happened? Dortmund keeper Gregor Kobel had one of his worst outings in living memory and Bayern were leading 3-0 inside 23 minutes. It finished 4-2 to the Bavarians and could have been far worse for their rivals.
Fast forward to Saturday. Coming into the game, Bayern are again at sixes and sevens. Midfielder Joshua Kimmich is suspended, they’re coming off a shock Cup exit against third division Saarbrucken in midweek and Tuchel is a bundle of nerves, complaining about transfer activity and sparring with former Bayern legends turned TV pundits Lothar Matthaus and Dietmar Hamann. On top of that, this game is happening away from home with Dortmund, still undefeated in the league, having a real chance to not only leapfrog them in the table, but leave Bayern in fourth place, five points off the top of the Bundesliga.
What happened? A raft of horrendous defending — collectively bad, but given how well Nico Schlotterbeck had been playing this season, you expect more from him — and inside 10 minutes, Bayern are 2-0 up and the Yellow Wall has been silenced. Bad Dortmund, with all their bottling and insecurity, had returned. It finished 4-0 to Bayern, the home side put together a couple of chances (Donyell Malen and Marco Reus), nobody would have blinked if the visitors had racked up six or seven goals, either: this time, Kobel was arguably Dortmund’s Man of the Match.
What did we learn? You have to be somewhat careful with your analysis, because going 2-0 up (or 2-0 down) so early in a game has an outsized impact in matches like this. But it’s safe to say that right now, Harry Kane is more than living up to the price tag — 17 goals in 14 games, including his third hat-trick — Leon Goretzka remains a force when fit and Leroy Sané is close to unplayable right now. (If he has finally consistently harnessed his huge skill set and reached full maturity at 27, you can make a case that he’s a top 10 player in the world.)
Oh, and Bayern are ridiculously effective on the counterattack, when you combine the passing of Kane and Jamal Musiala with the flat-out speed of Kingsley Coman and Sane.
Tuchel is far more pragmatic than some of his predecessors in the role and unlike them, he’s not obsessed with the high press and playing the entire game in the opposition half with 60-70% possession. Equally though, he knows Bayern won’t have the luxury of being gifted an early multigoal lead in most games and while the gap in talent will see them through against most opponents, that won’t be the case against better sides. That’s what his critics, like Matthaeus, mean when they say Bayern “aren’t developing.” And that’s why, in a feisty postmatch face-to-face with Matthaus, Tuchel couldn’t help but fire back.
Even in victory, he looks like a bundle of nerves — he got booked when Bayern were leading 3-0 — and you feel that if Bayern are to succeed, a more centered Tuchel will be part of the solution.
As for Dortmund, Emre Can was undoubtedly missed in midfield, but there’s also an evident gap in quality and ideas. Niclas Füllkrug isn’t Erling Haaland up front — he will offer nothing if you don’t get him service, as happened on Saturday. Midfielder Marcel Sabitzer isn’t Jude Bellingham: he’s not going to single-handedly paper over cracks. Meanwhile full-backs Julian Ryerson and Marius Wolf aren’t going to give you what you got from Raphaël Guerreiro and Thomas Meunier on the attacking end.
Terzic needs to find patterns of play that work, because individual quality isn’t going to cut it. Not when Karim Adeyemi shows signs of regression, Donyell Malen has an off-day, Julian Brandt goes AWOL and Marco Reus shows his age.
Let’s get the game out of the way before we get to the refereeing decisions. Because yes, this was a football match — and a lively one at that — not just a series of VAR non-calls. It was physical and intense, which you’d expect from Newcastle at home (less so perhaps from Arsenal), but they showed that they too can hold their own in a full-blooded match. And as angry as Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was with the outcome, he can be encouraged by that.
Both sides were affected by the unavailable players. On the Newcastle end, it’s not that Sven Botman and Alexander Isak are necessarily much better than Jamal Lascelles and Callum Wilson in defence; it’s that their absence gives Eddie Howe fewer options on how to play. As for Arsenal, you appreciate Gabriel Jesus more when he’s not there, while Martin Odegaard’s absence was a big blow in terms of leadership and quality. His illness — as the club explained it — may or may not have to do with the needless 11 minutes plus injury time he played away to Arsenal in the League Cup when they were 3-0 down, but if it does, Arteta will be kicking himself.
On to the officiating. As I see it, the Kai Havertz on Sean Longstaff tackle could have gone either way — Havertz ended up with a yellow card, not red — but the non-call for that Bruno Guimarães whack on Jorginho is harder to accept. Referee Stuart Attwell had his back to the incident at the time, so this was entirely on VAR. They evidently didn’t feel that his forearm smash was intentional, but it’s hard to explain why Bruno would have his arm there, if not to smack the back of Jorginho’s head. And, in any case, we ought to remind ourselves that VAR also exists for incidents that referees don’t see. At a minimum it should be Attwell who should be making this call, with the benefit of an on-field review.
As for Anthony Gordon’s game-winning goal, this was complicated because there were three parts to it, which is why the review took so long.
The first was whether the ball went out of play. I have no issue with Attwell missing this because he was far away, and I understand how there is no definitive camera angle, because, well, the ball is round and images can get distorted by angles. Fine.
The second was whether Gordon was offside. Here, the issue was that they couldn’t find a camera view that definitively showed where the ball was when it caromed off Joelinton to Gordon. And therefore, they couldn’t determine when Gordon was offside and when he was back on. It’s a clunky explanation, but fair enough. You wonder about their decision not to invest in semi-automatic offside technology. They were quick to say that UEFA’s version wouldn’t have helped in this situation, because it doesn’t include a chip in the ball. OK, but FIFA’s version does include a chip. Why not consider that? In any case, without video evidence, you can understand why they couldn’t give the offside.
What’s mysterious to me is the third element: Joelinton’s contact with Gabriel. It looked like a foul in real time, and it looked even more like a foul on replay. Attwell didn’t give it and if you watch it again, it may have something to do with the fact that he was well outside the penalty area, with plenty of players in his way. This should be very much the sort of situation where VAR makes all the difference; instead, as explained on the Premier League website in the words of former referee Dermot Gallagher: “Attwell didn’t think it was a foul … the VAR didn’t think there was enough contact to overrule the referee, so therefore the on-field decision stood.”
That’s pretty twisted thinking. Unless Gallagher got to listen to Attwell’s conversation with VAR — in which case, they should make it public — he can’t know what Attwell thought. Maybe he didn’t think it was a foul, maybe he didn’t have a clear view so decided not to make the call, knowing VAR had all the pictures.
Additionally, Gallagher’s language is all wrong here: the VAR isn’t there to “overrule” the referee. The VAR’s job is to see if there’s enough video evidence to call for an on-field review by the referee. It’s his call, not the VARs. And as long as there’s the mindset that they have to decide whether to “overrule” the referee — as opposed to simply helping him make the correct decision — we’re going to have a problem.
A furious Arteta said “after 20 years in England” he was “embarrassed” at the poor level of officiating, and Arsenal doubled down the following day with a statement of support for their manager.
I get Arteta losing his cool in a heated postmatch interview. I’m not sure what the club statement achieves, other than making Arteta feel better in knowing his employer backs him (of course they do). Arsenal offered to work with chief refereeing officer Howard Webb and said they would welcome “working together to achieve the world-class officiating standards [the Premier League] demands.” That’s great, but it’s best done privately since, after all, Arsenal are league shareholders and Webb is employed by the league.
One final point, and this is not to be mean, but there’s a parallel universe where David Raya doesn’t make an uncoordinated flap for the ball and none of this ever happens.
With the crucial visit of Paris Saint-Germain coming up on Tuesday and a host of injuries to contend with, Milan coach Stefano Pioli’s goal was likely to get the three points at home to Udinese with as little fuss as possible. The visitors hadn’t won all season and he, presumably, expected a parked bus from new boss Gabriele Cioffi. So he figured he’d spring a surprise, ditching his usual system in favour of one with two centerforwards (Olivier Giroud and Luka Jovic), while playing Rafael Leão and Yunus Musah out wide.
The upshot? Milan’s worst performance of the season and a 1-0 defeat.
Never mind that the penalty converted by Roberto Pereyra was soft. It wouldn’t have changed how poor Milan were, or how angry and befuddled the San Siro crowd was. It’s too easy to play Captain Hindsight and say this was no time to change the system and, even more so, put Jovic on the pitch with all that it entails: Milan undermanned in midfield, Rafael Leao having to operate further away from goal, Musah asked to play a position he hasn’t played in years.
I don’t mind managers getting creative and trying something different, but this was just too extreme. That said, the broader issue with Milan is that they feel they need to go for the double battering room to beat a side with zero wins at home. It shows that he doesn’t have enough faith in his patterns of play, and how sorely they miss a creative midfield presence (like the injured Ismaël Bennacer). They’ll need to kick it up several notches against PSG if they are to have a prayer.
OK, so maybe “standout” is too strong a word, but Harry Maguire was one of United’s better, more committed players in the weekend’s 1-0 win at Fulham. This was the guy who the club tried every which way to move on in the summer. He stuck around, now he’s starting again, and while that may be down to injury, odds are he’s not going anywhere in January.
You can take this as a sign of how standards have dropped. In a “can’t lose” match away to Fulham, Bruno Fernandes (who else?) delivered the win with a late goal after a gaggle of deflected clearances and Keystone Kops moments from the Fulham back line.
United lost the expected goals battle (1.01 to 0.69) and looked worryingly flat for long stretches. In fact, while they took the three points to give the embattled Erik ten Hag some breathing room, they didn’t look like a side intent on fighting for their manager, unlike previous games where they played worse. That has to be a concern for Ten Hag, who knows his future may well be decided by a combination of when Jim Ratcliffe acquires his portion of control of the club (and cuts the first check for investment) and the outcomes of two upcoming away trips in the Champions League, against Copenhagen and Galatasaray.
As for Maguire, he was proved right. He has played his way back into the team. Whether or not he has a future at the club remains to be seen, but he’s certainly a big part of their present.
Maybe it was a Clasico hangover, as some have suggested. (If that’s the case, Xavi needs to kick some rear end.) Maybe it’s Real Sociedad, who are more talented than some realize. Or maybe there are deeper issues. Whatever the case, the fact that Marc-André ter Stegen was named, rightly, man of the match and that Ronald Araújo’s winner came late in injury time only tells you all you need to know about Saturday’s 1-0 result.
Barcelona were outplayed for much of the game, creating their first two real chances with Gavi and Araujo (the goal) well into injury time. Before that, La Real had gone close three or four times, and were denied what looked like a penalty (Jules Koundé on Mikel Oyarzabal). Barca’s buildup play was negligible, their attack impalpable and they were far too leaky defensively.
Sure, injuries — both the guys who came back and are still busy (Robert Lewandowski, Kounde, Pedri) and the guys who are still out (Frenkie De Jong, above all) — are a part of it, but it feels as if Xavi isn’t helping himself.
This was a game where Oriol Romeu might have taken some of the sting out of the opposition in midfield. If Kounde is going to play like that, you might as well stick with Andreas Christensen in defence, and you hope the João Cancelo-as-winger experiment is over. There’s a certain irony to the fact that Barca haven’t had a premium right back since Dani Alves was in his pomp and, now that they have one, Xavi shifts him in the front three, when he’s got guys like Raphinha and Lamine Yamal on the bench.
It was hard not to be moved when, having scored Liverpool’s equalizer in the fifth minute of injury time away to Luton, Luis Diaz lifted his shirt to reveal the message “Freedom for Dad.” His father’s kidnapping has dominated his life over the past 10 days. He missed the past two games; that he was involved in this one suggests that sometimes, work can offer much-needed distraction.
Liverpool probably deserved the 1-1 draw given the many chances they created, but failed to finish — Darwin Núñez again revealing that while his skill set is exciting, there’s still a rawness to him — though Jurgen Klopp said they did not play particularly well. As I see it, it had a lot to do with Luton’s merits on the day as they turned in perhaps their best performance of the campaign.
Something had to give when Inter visited Atalanta. Simone Inzaghi’s crew had won four of four on the road, Atalanta had yet to concede at home and as so often happens, it was Inter who outlasted the opposition en route to a 2-1 victory that keeps them top of the league.
You can focus on individuals — Hakan Calhanoglou put on a master-class in midfield, Lautaro Martínez scored a wonder goal (he’s up to 13 in 14 matches in all competitions) — but what stands out about this Inter team is their ability to, as Inzaghi put it, “play four or five matches in one.” By this he means change approach — from direct to build up and back, from sitting deep to pressing — multiple times during a game. It’s one way to keep the opposition off balance. Throw in his love of substitutions, both planned and extemporaneous, and you get a side that’s hard to prepare for and play against.
He’s not fashionable and he doesn’t give off “winner” vibes, but Inzaghi is working extremely well in tricky circumstances.
Rayo Vallecano aren’t the punching bag they once were, and have finished midtable in each of the past two LaLiga seasons. Even with manager Andoni Iraola gone, they’re in the top half of the table. That said, there’s an expectation that Real Madrid should stomp all over them at the Bernabeu and when that doesn’t happen — as was the case Sunday in the 0-0 draw — fingers will get pointed.
Regular readers will know I worry when teams don’t create chances; I worry less when they simply don’t finish them. Fede Valverde missed a one-on-one with the keeper at the start of the game, and Joselu alone could fluffed a hat-trick of opportunities. Real Madrid put together an xG of 2.19, while Rayo — who defended in numbers — had zero shots on target en route to 0.10.
Sure, it’s annoying to drop two points and maybe, if Jude Bellingham hadn’t played hurt for much of the game, things might have been different. But the performance was there from Madrid (and that’s not always the case), so I think you can be relatively relaxed about this.
An early Fabio Miretti goal sent Juventus on their way to a 1-0 road win against Fiorentina that means they’ve taken 16 of the past 18 points at stake and are just two behind Inter. Some will see it as some sort of vindication of Max Allegri’s approach, but I’d pump the brakes little. Wojciech Sczcesny had to make some huge saves, Fiorentina are the typical side that dominate play, but lack cutting edge, and the home team didn’t have the benefit of their Ultras, who boycotted the match. (They were absent in protest at the fact that the game was not postponed following the flooding that hit the region and had resulted in seven deaths.)
Still, you can give Allegri credit for sticking with the in-form Moise Kean ahead of Dusan Vlahovic (the latter is a better player, but he’s still coming back from injury), for getting his substitutions right and for seeing out the win. Lest we forget, Juve are without their captain, Danilo and two big pieces like Nicolo Fagioli and Paul Pogba in midfield (both suspended, albeit for different reasons).
Can this sort of Allegri formula work, perhaps with a signing or two in January? This season, with no European football, possibly — if they win their head-to-head games. Long-term, I don’t think so.
Jérémy Doku is just 21 years old and has been at the club less than three months, but it’s fair to say he stole the show on Saturday despite his many heralded teammates, scoring one goal and setting up another four in Manchester City’s 6-1 drubbing of Bournemouth. It’s City’s 22nd consecutive home win in all competitions and it lifts them to the top of the table, at least until Spurs play Chelsea on Monday night.
Doku sometimes gets described as a “find” by City’s scouting department, which is kind of funny given that he made his debut for Anderlecht at 16 and for Belgium at 18, starring in their Euro 2020 side. City paid roughly €60m in transfer fees to bring him in from Rennes, which is far from exorbitant when you consider that guys of a comparable age and position — like Manchester United’s Antony and Chelsea’s Mykhaylo Mudryk — cost more.
The knock on Doku had been two-fold: he gets injured, plus he’s undisciplined and can be a bit selfish with his dribbling and shooting. On the former? Well, you hope he stays fit because he’s a joy to watch. On the latter, when you consider his give-and-go with Rodri, his service to Bernardo Silva, his pressing efforts off the ball … well, he looks far more polished than his critics had suggest.
Credit to Pep Guardiola? Sure, but credit Doku too for very quickly proving the doubters wrong.
Bayer Leverkusen’s 3-2 away win against Hoffenheim was huge, because it means they’ve taken 43 of a possible 45 points in all competitions this year. Nobody in Europe’s Big Five leagues comes close.
They did look as if they were slowing down somewhat compared to recent outings, which is more than understandable. But against Hoffenheim, they ran into a different issue: they can beat themselves.
At half-time, they were 2-0 up — that Florian Wirtz-Victor Boniface partnership is devastating — and they had limited the home side to three shots and 0.09 xG. But if you live by playing out from the back, you sometimes get hurt by playing out from the back.
Hoffenheim hit twice in the space of two minutes by taking advantage of Leverkusen losing the ball in their own half and while Alex Grimaldi scored to secure the three points in the end, it should serve as a reminder to Xabi Alonso. You don’t need to go all safety-first when you have a lead, but, equally, there’s some balance to be had. This could have been really costly.
Until 2017, they had never even tasted the Spanish top flight and they play in a stadium that seats roughly 14,000 people, but Girona sit in first place in La Liga, two points ahead of Real Madrid and four ahead of Barcelona. Sure, their schedule has been pretty soft — they’ve played only two sides in the top nine, losing to Real Madrid and drawing with Real Sociedad on opening day — but they’ve beaten everybody else and they’ve played some good football too.
It’s not quite the fairytale it might seem — the club’s two biggest shareholders are City Football Group (as in Manchester City) and Marcelo Claure, who previously owned Inter Miami CF — but it’s pretty remarkable.
Will they regress to the mean once they start facing tougher opposition? Probably, and the fact that they’ve scored 28 goals from open play on an xG of 19.42 suggests they’ve been pretty fortunate so far. But heck, why not enjoy it for as long as it lasts?
It had been a really rough October international break for Napoli boss Rudi Garcia, between stories of meetings between his club owner, Aurelio De Laurentiis, and the injury to Victor Osimhen, his top scorer. He couldn’t have asked for more upon his return: three wins and a draw in all competitions, and back into the top four in the league.
The catalyst in Osimhen’s absence? It’s little Jack Raspadori, who has scored in each of the last three games. Salernitana, whom they beat 2-0 on Saturday, are in last place for a reason (they have yet to win this season), but it’s still a local derby and still the sort of game you could have seen this team screwing up in September. That they didn’t is a big deal to Garcia, who is now counting down the days until Osimhen’s return.