Sevilla-Real Madrid’s ill-tempered draw, unpacking Chelsea vs. Arsenal, more: Marcotti recaps the weekend

The international break ended and club football returned across Europe with a packed slate of big results and talking points. There was Chelsea v. Arsenal, as the Blues took a 2-0 lead only for the Gunners to fight back and draw with a pair of late goals. We saw an ill-tempered and controversial 1-1 draw between Sevilla and Real Madrid in which Vinicius Jr. was again racially abused. Oh, and Barcelona’s “La Masia” academy contributed in a big win over Athletic Club given the club’s injury woes heading into next Saturday’s epic Clasico clash.

Elsewhere, there were eye-opening conclusions to be made about Liverpool (who scrapped to beat Everton), Juventus (who won late at Milan), Manchester City (who ended a ‘crisis’ with a big win over Brighton) and Manchester United (who rode a rotated XI to a much-needed victory vs. Sheffield United) and Paris Saint-Germain (as Luis Enrique meddles again with his team and formation).

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It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.

I have no idea if referee Ricardo Burgos De Bengoechea saw the video Real Madrid TV, the club’s in-house channel, released before he took charge of their trip to face Sevilla. If he did, it likely didn’t help him and frankly, it’s pretty cheap that a club would do this.

It smacks of hoping to get the benefit of the doubt from him by reminding him (and the world) just how often he has screwed up against you. And because it preemptively inflames the fan base — lest you didn’t know, Real Madrid have a huge fan base — it further ratchets up the pressure on the referee.

As it happened, Madrid were angry at him before the game and, after the 1-1 draw , they were angry postgame, too. Fede Valverde’s goal was disallowed for Jude Bellingham being offside: it was a correct call from what I could tell on TV. So too was Bellingham’s finish to cap a counterattack that De Burgos Bengoechea had stopped 15 seconds earlier for a foul on Lucas Ocampos, though it was a stoppage the players didn’t notice. And, perhaps most infuriatingly, no penalty was called when Sevilla’s Jesús Navas made contact with Vinícius.

My take? VAR made the decision based on the footage they have available. As for Bellingham, it was weird that play didn’t stop when the referee blew play dead, or that players didn’t really react to the referee. The Navas contact, to me, is a pretty stonewall penalty: when you’re moving as fast as Vinicius does, you’ll go down. And before you think it was all one-way traffic on the refereeing front, Bellingham was also lucky not to be sent off for what looked like a rake of the studs across Ivan Rakitic’s leg.

The controversy doesn’t end there. We also saw Sergio Ramos, facing his old team after 18 years, clash with a number of opponents including Antonio Rüdiger, whom he appeared to grab by the jowls only for him to laugh and hug him later. (Rudiger did not appear to enjoy it). Mind games, dark arts: hey, it’s Sergio.

More serious was the racist abuse that Vinicius suffered from Sevilla fans in the stands, including one caught on camera. If there is a positive takeaway from the umpteenth time that Vinicius experiences this nonsense, it’s that Sevilla immediately took action. They identified the fan, ejected him and reported him to police. It’s a baby step, but an important one: until clubs have the courage to act against their own supporters, we’re going to struggle to deal with this.

(Vinicius also got involved in a full-blown melee in the final moments of the game, which featured, among other things, one of the silliest bits of play-acting you’ll ever see, courtesy of Sevilla keeper Orjan Nyland.)

And the football? I, for one, enjoyed the game. Sevilla looked better in the first half and towards the end, when Kepa Arrizabalaga had to make a huge save to deny Ramos (who else?). Madrid were resilient and probably a little unlucky with the officiating. Sevilla turned it into something other than just football, and Madrid were a lot less comfortable than they would have been if it had been just about playing the game.

Break it down to its component parts, and Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Saturday was all about mistakes.

There was defender William Saliba jumping with an outstretched arm to give Chelsea the opening penalty (and lead). Or Mykhaylo Mudryk mis-hitting a cross that, thanks to David Raya’s poor positioning, turned into a wonder goal. (Yeah, I know that Mauricio Pochettino said on TV that it was Mudryk’s intention to lob the keeper, but if you look really closely, his nose gets that tiny bit longer when he says that).

There was Robert Sánchez not realising that Declan Rice was not only good enough to shoot, but to score from the position that he did. Or Malo Gusto losing Leandro Trossard on the far post when Bukayo Saka’s cross came in. And while we’re at it, let’s chuck in referee Chris Kavanagh (and VAR) not realising that Sanchez cleaning out Gabriel Jesus should have been a penalty.

It’s true that mistakes are a part of the game, but most of these were unforced errors. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the lack of prep after the international break, maybe it was the fact that Chelsea are very a much a work-in-progress (and some individuals are just not that good) and Arsenal happened to turn in arguably their worst first half of the campaign.

And so, you look for positives. On the Chelsea end, the first hour or so showed that when they play with intensity and organization, they can blunt most opponents. That’s a credit to Pochettino. He’s clearly getting buy-in from his players and his striker-less set-up — Conor Gallagher and Cole Palmer picked ahead of Enzo Fernández and Moisés Caicedo, with Mudryk and Raheem Sterling wide — worked well for most of the game. Whether it’s repeatable or a long-term solution remains to be seen.

On the Arsenal end? Coming back from two goals down in the last 15 minutes is obviously big for morale, Rice is ever more the midfield mainstay and Saka is a continuous threat. Arteta is using his substitutes more effectively than last year (when he was hardly using them) and over the course of a season, that matters. That said, I’m not sure Arsenal come anywhere near their ceiling until Havertz becomes a consistent contributor (to the point where he starts every game) and Gabriel Jesus becomes a goal-scoring center-forward (or he keeps doing what he does, but others pick up the slack).

First, let’s remind ourselves of something important. Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilbao 1-0 on Saturday with just six outfield players on the pitch. Just two of them — Ronald Araújo and Marcos Alonso — had started a game before this season. Another, Lamine Yamal, is 16. The guy who came on and scored, Marc Guiu, is 17: not only was he making his debut for the first team, but he’d played all of 9 minutes for Barcelona B. The other two had never played a single minute of senior football.

That was the injury crisis facing Xavi, who also had three precocious homegrown products — Alejandro Balde (20), Gavi (19) and Fermín López (20), the latter making only his second league start — on the pitch. The long list of unavailable stars may have paved the way for his youngsters, but Xavi wasn’t shy of pushing the likes of Balde, Gavi and Yamal into the first team even when others were fit.

It’s a mindset, evidently: they know the club, they know the system, they can slot in. (And, in Guiu’s case, score the match winner with the kind of cool that Robert Lewandowski usually shows.) It seems obvious, but it takes courage and Xavi has it in spades.

Guiu takes the headlines, and rightly so, but Barcelona deserved to win even before he came on. Particularly in the second half — Bilbao didn’t take a single shot after the 55th minute — Barcelona created plenty of chances and, in fact, Unai Simón was arguably man of the match.

Barcelona are now one point off the top prior to next weekend’s Clasico and while they might not automatically get better when the injured guys return, they certainly won’t be getting worse. Whatever happens, Xavi will have options.

Manchester United were hardly impressive in the 2-1 win away to Sheffield United, but don’t take my word for it; just ask Erik Ten Hag, who said they “found a way to win.”

But before you bemoan yet another subpar performance, here’s a timely reminder that more than half of the players many expected to form their strongest lineup this season was missing at Bramall Lane. This includes their entire starting back four (that’s how we ended up with yet another Johnny Evans-Harry Maguire partnership in central defense) and what was supposed to be their first-choice midfield partnership (Mason Mount and Casemiro). Plus, of course, not one but two reserve left-backs in Victor Lindelöf and Diogo Dalot.

Between the sticks was a goalkeeper (André Onana) who has been pilloried for some recent blunders, up front was a 20-year-old center-forward (Rasmus Hojlund) and wide on right, a winger (Antony) who is currently being investigated in two continents for domestic abuse.

Are these excuses? Sure, but it’s also not quite the sort of stable, nurturing environment best suited to teams looking to grow. In those circumstances, you’re just happy for the points and the positives, and after a rough first half, there were some good ones to take home: United hit the woodwork twice, Hojlund looked alert (if profligate) while the back four and Andre Onana held things together.

Especially on a sad day like Saturday, with news of the passing of Sir Bobby Charlton reaching them shortly before kickoff, the three points and the reaction towards the end are what’s most important. And, probably, that’s what Sir Bobby would have appreciated most.

Stefano Pioli’s Milan have embraced attacking football and the risk/reward dynamic that comes with it. That means committing men forward and leaving your central defenders to defend in space. Against teams who play a front two — like Juventus did on Sunday night, with Arkadiusz Milik and Moise Kean — there’s a chance they’ll be left one-on-one in space. That’s exactly what happened to Malick Thiaw, and his clumsy attempt at stopping Kean left Milan a man down in the 34th minute.

From that point, it was always going to be an uphill task. Max Allegri’s Juve is far from flawless, but they know how to take the sting out of a game, especially with an extra man. And while there was a fair amount of luck to Manuel Locatelli’s deflected, second-half winner, it wasn’t undeserved given how little Milan created. The fact of the matter is that against sides like Juve, Milan need guys like Theo Hernández (who wasn’t there) and Rafael Leão (who was there more in body than in spirit) to make things happen, otherwise it gets really tough. Especially when playing 10 vs. 11.

As for Juve, the 1-0 win means they’re just two points off the top, which few would have imagined in the summer. Allegri says they’re not realistic contenders (and I tend to agree, mostly because of him), but if they can channel this solidity and get some value added when their injured guys — Dusan Vlahovic and Federico Chiesa — up front are ready to start, who knows?

Mainz haven’t won a league game in six months (yes, really) and that wasn’t going to change on Saturday with the visit of Bayern Munich, though weirdly, Bayern are the last team they did beat, back in April. However, two early goals from Kingsley Coman and Harry Kane sent the visitors on their way to a 3-1 win, and Bayern never really looked back.

Games like these end up being very predictable, so what stood out? Well, Leroy Sané confirmed his occasional unplayability, Konrad Laimer continued his audition for right-back with mixed results — the sort that have you wondering why Josip Stanisic went on loan — and Mainz starlet Brajan Gruda had some highlight reel moments (he’s 19, but remember the name). But most of all, I loved seeing Sven Ulreich pull off a stellar save.

Guys like Ulreich — pretty much career backups at big clubs who, you imagine, idolised keepers like Raymond van der Gouw growing up — seemingly accept spending the best years of their career working in the shadows, week in, week out. Except for a year as a starter at Hamburg in 2020-21, he’s been Bayern’s reserve keeper for nine years.

The club obviously like him as a No. 2, less so as a No. 1, witness how they brought in Yann Sommer last year after Manuel Neuer’s injury. Neuer is still out, so Ulreich is left keeping his seat warm and on Saturday, he reminded us that, yeah — he can pull off a stunning save, deflecting Jae-Sung Lee’s shot off the post.

Red cards change games, and Saturday morning’s one in the Merseyside derby was altered by the one that was shown to Ashley Young (and not altered by the one which wasn’t shown, but should have been, to Ibrahima Konaté).

There’s no arguing here: as Everton’s most experienced player at 38 years old, maybe forgetting he was on a yellow, Young deserved the second caution for the mistimed tackle on Luis Díaz. (Just as — and Klopp just about admitted as much — Konate should have had a second yellow of his own nearly half an hour later.) But hey, it’s Craig Pawson’s world, we’re only visiting.

Sure, the Merseyside derby is tough to officiate, but this was a pretty big blown call. Just as it was pretty big that he entirely missed Michael Keane’s obvious handball later on in the second half. (Fortunately, after what seemed like an eternity, VAR intervened and set him straight, leading to Mohamed Salah’s penalty.) Salah then added a second in injury time as Liverpool rolled to a 2-0 win.

Was it deserved? Probably, though credit Everton for battling gamely and staying in the game. The “Dyche-ball” of Everton boss Sean Dyche might not always be pleasing on the eye, but it did make life difficult for Jurgen Klopp’s crew. Still, it’s three points for the Reds and, hopefully, a better sense of what to work on to go to the next level.

The reason the word “streak” is in quotes is that, while technically accurate — City did lose back-to-back Premier League games — it’s also a bit misleading. Sandwiched between the defeats to Wolves and Arsenal was a Champions League game against Young Boys they won with relative little drama. Plus, the loss to Arsenal ultimately came down to a deflected shot.

It’s the same drill with Erling Haaland. Yes, he hadn’t scored for City in a month (which, for him, are equivalent to dog years, so it felt like seven months), but he did notch twice for Norway over the break, becoming their all-time leading goal scorer. So take City-related stats with a pinch of salt.

More telling was their performance against Brighton. Two early goals (via Haaland and Julián Álvarez), John Stones and Rodri back in the starting lineup, Jérémy Doku running rampant on the left and a 2-1 win that saw them back at the top of the table.

Any nit-picks? Manuel Akanji, who usually doesn’t deliver stinkers, dropped a big one, getting himself sent off for two yellow cards and making a big blunder on Ansu Fati’s goal. But perfection, in this gruelling campaign, is going to be elusive. And against a side that provides a different challenge than what City usually face — Brighton went to toe-to-toe, showing little fear — Pep Guardiola’s crew looked impressive.

Matches after international breaks are often tricky. Especially when — as was the case with Napoli manager Rudi Garcia — the break began with reports of your boss meeting with potential replacements, and ended with your star center-forward, Victor Osimhen, picking up an injury that will keep him out for a month or so.

Throw in an away trip to Verona, where clashes between these two sides have often been tense, and there was reason to fret.

But in Osimhen’s absence, others showed they could step up. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia popped up with two goals, Jack Raspadori offered trickery and altruism and even midfielder Jens Cajuste, less than impressive thus far, turned in a solid performance in Saturday’s 3-1 win. There were still wobbles at the back and they’re obviously better with Osimhen than without, but it’s easy to forget this team has a fair bit of depth.

Garcia isn’t out of the woods yet, but in Raspadori and Gio Simeone, he has a forward platoon capable of holding down the fort until his star striker returns.

Leave it to Luis Enrique to never stop experimenting. His experimental 4-2-4 set-up backfired badly against Newcastle at St James’ Park in the Champions League, but he revisited it in Ligue 1 play against Strasbourg. (He’d probably call it a 4-2-2-2, but… whatever.) Bradley Barcola and Lee Kang-In were positioned out wide and Kylian Mbappé played through the middle with Goncalo Ramos, while Carlos Soler was picked ahead of Achraf Hakimi at right-back.

PSG rolled to an easy 3-0 win, which really doesn’t tell us much: Strasbourg are poor and haven’t gotten a result at the Parc Des Princes in years. But it’s clearly a concept that Luis Enrique likes and will continue to tinker with. This is a man who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “over-thinking” … why not use your brain to try and get better and better every game?

Such is the standard that Xabi Alonso’s team have set this season that their 2-1 away win to Wolfsburg this weekend felt a bit more laboured than we’re accustomed to. They took the lead, weathered the equalizer and then Alex Grimaldi popped up with the winner. It wasn’t quite the steamroller they’d been treating us to this season, but then again Wolfsburg are mid-table and had won every home game this season in the Bundesliga.

Meanwhile, Xabi Alonso may have an interesting conundrum on his hands real soon, with news that Patrik Schick could be available again this week.

Injuries limited Schick to just 10 league starts last season, and he hasn’t played since March. But in 2021-22, he was the Bundesliga’s second-highest scorer, with 24 goals in 27 appearances. He’s different from Victor Boniface, of course, and he’s a guy Xabi Alonso inherited.

Managers are often loathe to tinker with a winning side, but Schick can be devastating to opponents when he’s fit and firing. It will be curious to see how, and if, he fits in.

Torino are what you might call a “tough out,” especially when you play them in their back yard, and Inter began Saturday’s clash as if they had the post-holiday blues. Leave it to manager Simone Inzaghi to sort things out with his substitutions. I hesitate to call them “game-changing,” because I think we tend to overrate this, but the fact is Inter played much better after Carlos Augusto, Davide Frattesi and, especially, Denzel Dumfries came on in the 57th minute.

Inzaghi loves his “planned subs,” and there’s no question this trio prompted Inter’s second half revival and all three scores in the 3-0 win. They stay top and, impressively, have won four of four away from the San Siro in Serie A without conceding a single goal.

Antoine Griezmann has no doubt scored better hat tricks — this was a penalty, a blunder by substitute Vicente Guaita and a side-footed effort from a few yards out — but the one in the 3-0 win at Celta will stand out. It takes him within eight goals of the club’s all-time leading scorers (Luis Aragones), and capped a bizarre game that saw Celta fight back furiously, but unsuccessfully, despite playing more than an hour with 10 men.

There was little arguing with Iván Villar’s red card, but Celta seemed unaware that they were a goal down as they continued to pepper Jan Oblak’s goal. Diego Simeone likely won’t be happy with the fact that Atleti couldn’t kill the game against 10 men and, in fact, had to wait until 26 minutes from time to add a second goal. Still, it’s six wins on the bounce, they’re three points behind table-topping Real Madrid (and Girona!) and they have a game in hand.

It’s not a bad place to be…

Stephan El Shaarawy capped an emotional week that saw him falsely accused of illegal betting with a huge late goal that gave Roma all three points against Monza. It wasn’t a great performance — Jose Mourinho himself said after that Monza did not deserve to lose — but it showed fight, grit and bloody-mindedness and, at least until the likes of Lorenzo Pellegrini and Paulo Dybala return, that’s probably the most you can expect from this side.

As for Mourinho, he was gracious after the post-match press conference, but less so at the final whistle. He clashed with Monza boss Raffaele Palladino and his staff (not for the first time), mocking them by pretending to cry. His “cry more” schtick didn’t impress the referee, who sent him off. It’s the fourth time since the start of the 2022-23 season that Mourinho has been shown a red card, and he’ll now miss the game against Inter next week.

You’d have thought that while you can sort of understand a manager getting a red for losing his cool and berating a referee or getting into it with an opponent, this sort of sending off — for taunting! — is, both needless and stupid, especially at his age. I’d hope Mourinho would agree.

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