The international break finished on Friday, and club soccer returned this weekend across Europe in emphatic, entertaining fashion. The Manchester derby was one-way traffic in Man City’s favor, as expected, and Arsenal thumped Tottenham in the first North London derby of the 2022-23 campaign to show that Mikel Arteta’s work is very much going in the right direction. Elsewhere, Barcelona went back atop LaLiga with a win and Real Madrid defeat, Napoli cemented their spot atop Serie A and Liverpool still have issues despite a long spell without games in which to fix what was broken.
It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Jump to: Man City derby fallout | Real Madrid drop points | Arsenal beat Spurs | Roma pile pressure on Inter | Liverpool still have issues | Plenty to cheer for Barca | Chelsea win, Palace right to be angry | Milan need more than Leao | Messi leads for PSG | Respite for Juventus | Dortmund collapse again | Napoli stay top | Atletico go old-school
Darkness returns to red side of Manchester as Phil Foden, Erling Haaland run rampant
Forget Anthony Martial‘s two garbage-time goals for Man United that came when the game was long over. Heck, forget Antony‘s solo effort, too: It was a great strike, but the sort of individual whack-it-and-see that players turn to when they’re getting no help. Now consider that Man City could easily have reached double figures.
Ugly, ain’t it? That’s the negative reality that Erik ten Hag has to banish from his mind following the 6-3 drubbing his side endured at the Etihad on Sunday. Coaches are trained to be positive, to look forward, to build on strengths and mask weaknesses, but where does he even begin?
Ten Hag came as close to reading his team the riot act as he’s likely to get.
“If you don’t fight, you are going to have a problem against Manchester City,” he said. “This was different to Brentford [when they were also 4-0 down at half-time]. In that game we didn’t run, against City we wanted to run, but we didn’t follow the principle and rules and had a lack of belief.” Translated from Dutch coachspeak: The players didn’t follow instructions, made poor decisions and didn’t believe in what they’re doing.
You have to appreciate Ten Hag’s honesty here, because he’s going out on a limb. If players aren’t following tactical instructions, if those instructions are wrong, if they don’t buy into what they’re being told … well, usually that’s on the manager.
It’s fair to put some of it on Ten Hag. United looked entirely unprepared for what hit them: That’s a manager’s first job. Equally, the fact that Casemiro, the $80 million man who was starting (and winning) a Champions League final just last May, has yet to start a Premier League game this season doesn’t help, and that’s on Ten Hag. It’s not Bryan Robson, Paul Ince and Roy Keane rolled into one who is keeping him out of the side: It’s Scott McTominay.
Some of it is on the players, especially given the space City were afforded on too many occasions. Not just at the back, either, but up front, where the press — even a half-hearted, half-assed version — was rarely seen.
And, of course, a lot of it is down to the fact that City are a better side by several orders of magnitude. Not just in terms of having better players — that too, though lest we forget, we’re also talking about Manuel Akanji, who was thoroughly unspectacular at Dortmund last season; Nathan Ake, who made 19 league starts in two seasons before this one at City; and, for most of the game, Sergio Gomez, who arrived with little fanfare from Anderlecht — but rather in having better chemistry, organisation and coaching.
If United and Ten Hag are looking for answers and hoping Sunday was just a blip in what many thought was a mini-revival, City and Pep Guardiola can do no wrong right now. Haaland has given them a different dimension, sure, but there’s a familiarity to how they move the ball — with purpose, quality and pace — that’s been their hallmark for several years now. And when you parachute guys like Haaland, Gomez or Akanji into the team, or you move guys around (Ilkay Gundogan in place of the absent Rodri), they don’t miss a beat. That’s not just good players, that’s good coaching.
Final point on — who else? — Cristiano Ronaldo, who stayed rooted to the bench and did not come on.
Some suggested this was disrespectful, but I take the opposite view, with the caveat that Ten Hag and those who work with him every day know best in terms of what he would find respectful and disrespectful. Sending Ronaldo on when you’re 4-0 down would have been hanging him out to dry. You don’t treat one of the legitimate G.O.A.T. candidates in the game that way.
It’s not the Osasuna curse: Real Madrid were simply poor in dropping points…
Football folk are notoriously superstitious, so when, for the second year in a row, Real Madrid drop points at home against a side they should beat like Osasuna and Karim Benzema misses from the spot (twice last year, once this year), you’re tempted to see patterns. There are none. It’s called coincidence. These were different games, and the fact is that while Real Madrid could have won, they didn’t play well (though they played even worse last season).
It’s the first time they’ve failed to win this campaign, it comes after an international break and it marked Benzema’s return after a month out. They still put together an xG of 2.65 (to the Osasuna’s 0.50), so let’s not freak out. That said, this team needs more cutting edge than scoring once with a weird long-range cross, like Vinicius did.
And no, the fact that Luka Modric was absent isn’t an excuse. Leaving aside the fact that your fortunes shouldn’t depend on a 37-year-old, the issue wasn’t creating chances; it was converting them.
Arsenal are for real after passing Spurs test, but they’ll need to find another level
Shaka Hislop still has reservations about Arsenal’s defence despite their impressive attacking play in their 3-1 win vs. Tottenham.
Sunday’s North London derby was a reminder of why performance matters and why sometimes, to paraphrase Rafa Benitez, “Football is a lie.” What I mean by that is that but for very fine margins — one of Arsenal’s goals was a low-percentage worldie from Thomas Partey, another was a defensive error, the third came in garbage time against 10 men, Spurs uncharacteristically lacked quality and precision on their counterattacks — Arsenal might have lost this game, and then the narrative would have been about Mikel Arteta’s young guns being too green and losing against another Big Six opponent (just like they lost to Manchester United).
Fortunately, you can actually watch the games and not just rely on incidents and highlights. And if you did, you saw an Arsenal side that played very well against an opponent who set out to hit on the counterattack and did it very well for much of the game. So while the goals themselves may have been incidental, the play was not.
Arsenal were assured and purposeful and by no means fazed by the opposition or the occasion. Whatever limits are on this team aren’t the sort of things they can change, which is why City still remain favourites for the title (play the combined XI game, and you’ll see what I mean). But Arteta is affecting what he can affect, and that’s all you can ask for right now. Oh, and if City stumble, who knows?
As for Spurs, Conte’s plan seemed to be to absorb pressure and hit in transition. He said the latter area is where they came up short, and he’s right. It’s just that, with hindsight, maybe this game called for Tottenham taking the game to the opposition a little more than they did.
Roma defeat makes it four losses in six games for Inter and Inzaghi …
It’s inevitable, but now the target is squarely on Simone Inzaghi’s back after Inter’s 2-1 home defeat to Roma. It’s inevitable, and maybe a bit harsh: Inter did not play poorly against Roma (Inzaghi said it was their best performance of the season, which is a bit OTT, but not far off), and again, it was a Samir Handanovic blunder that led to Roma’s equalizer (paging Andre Onana).
On the other hand, the uncomfortable sense is that, even when Inter play well, it’s the style that doesn’t fit. The possession game is neatly executed, but it’s often too slow, with patterns of play that become predictable. When the stars are present and on top of their game, they can hurt you in many ways. If something is just a little bit off, things break down.
As for Roma, Jose Mourinho (who was suspended and watching from a van nearby) got it right in dropping Tammy Abraham and going for a more lightweight attack, with Lorenzo Pellegrini as a de facto false nine and Paulo Dybala and Nicolo Zaniolo given plenty of freedom. Roma picked their spots and were rewarded with a Mourinho-esque win that keeps them just four points off the top.
No solutions found over international break as Liverpool concede three at home to Brighton
Shaka Hislop criticises the performances of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk in Liverpool’s 3-3 draw with Brighton.
When things go wrong for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp gives a grown-up response, essentially saying he’ll go away, study what was wanting and figure out how to fix it. There’s not much else a manager can do after the fact. Those who thought the international break might bring some wisdom, then, will have to wait on the evidence of the 3-3 home draw against Brighton.
The good news is that this team showed again they have plenty of character, coming from two goals down. The bad news is that they keep making individual errors that are often compounded by a lack of intensity further up the pitch.
Without taking anything away from Brighton, who were exceptional in Roberto De Zerbi’s Premier League coaching debut, each of the three goals conceded can be pinpointed to mistakes by Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil Van Dijk, respectively. And worryingly, they could have easily conceded two more goals if Leandro Trossard (who nevertheless bagged a hat-trick) and Danny Welbeck had taken their first-half opportunities.
Klopp blamed Liverpool’s tactical execution, describing their positioning at 3-2 as “horrible to watch,” but right now, it’s only one of the problems he needs to fix.
It’s not just about the win: Plenty to cheer for Barcelona despite so-so display
An absolute world-class goal of precision and misdirection from Robert Lewandowski (up to nine goals in seven games) was the difference on the day for Barcelona away to Mallorca. It was a more of a minimalist performance than we’ve been used to this season under Xavi, but that’s OK, and not just because the win, coupled with Real Madrid’s draw the following day, sees them return to the top of LaLiga.
Ansu Fati made his first start of the campaign, Marc-Andre ter Stegen extended his unbeaten streak between the posts, and despite the scare from Kang-in Lee at the end, Barca showed they can manage a lead. Most encouraging, though, was the rejiggered back line.
With Hector Bellerin, Jules Kounde, Ronald Araujo all out (and Eric Garcia on the bench), we saw Andreas Christensen and Gerard Pique team up in the middle, with Alejandro Balde switched to the right. They came through unscathed, and while there’s still an evident gap in quality with the regulars (especially in central defence), performances like these build confidence. It’s a long season, and Barca will need this depth.
Potter’s Chelsea get first win, but Palace are right to be furious
Shaka Hislop gives his thoughts on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s first Chelsea goal and Conor Gallagher’s late stunner in their 2-1 win vs. Crystal Palace.
Moments change games, and if you’re Crystal Palace, the decision not to send off Thiago Silva when he handled the ball in a potential “denial of goal-scoring opportunity” (DOGSO) turned the match on its head.
The referee felt Jordan Ayew was not heading toward goal and with 35 yards to go, Chelsea would have gotten a covering defender back to challenge him. The VAR was OK with it and did not ask for an on-field review. Thiago Silva stayed on the pitch (unlike Nathaniel Clyne, with whom he clashed in the incident), and moments later, he set up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s equalizer. Late on, Conor Gallagher delivered the winner for Chelsea.
It’s premature to judge Graham Potter’s impact on this team, so right now it matters that he got his first win and Aubameyang opened his account. It’s not clear how these pieces fit together, especially at the attacking end, and you wonder whether he’ll definitively abandon the back three (Chelsea played a back four at Palace and a three against Salzburg in his other game) or whether this midfield can hold up. Yet there’s plenty of time for him to answer these questions and others.
Rafael Leao and a ton of grit powers Milan to victory, but they need more
You can look at the glass as half-full and consider the three points and the fact that AC Milan, already without Theo Hernandez, Alessandro Florenzi, Mike Maignan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (OK, he hasn’t been there since last season) also lost Simon Kjaer, Davide Calabria and Alexis Saelemaekers along the way and still weathered an injury-time equaliser away to Empoli to win 3-1, scoring in the 94th and 97th minutes. Or you can worry about how they conceded several late chances before the equalizer and really didn’t create much in the first half.
I lean a bit toward the latter. Yes, this is a team that are supposed to be built around depth and intensity, but in reality too often have to ride their brightest stars, Rafael Leao and Sandro Tonali. And we saw what happens when they lose too many pieces along the way.
Milan are still very much in the hunt, but you feel a lot more comfortable when Stefano Pioli doesn’t have to rely on grit and character and late goals to bring home all three points.
Messi free-kick sends PSG on their way against Nice as Ekitike makes his debut
Lionel Messi scored his first direct free-kick of the campaign to open the scoring for Paris Saint-Germain with the sort of eye candy strike that reminds you how last season’s hiccups were just that: a nine-month hiccup. (October has only just started, and he has nearly matched last season’s league total already.)
This game was closer than it should have been until Kylian Mbappe came on to replace Hugo Ekitike with half an hour to go. Ekitike was making his first start of the campaign, and, of course, at 20 years of age, he is one of the most hyped kids in Ligue 1. He didn’t get a shot off, and PSG kicked it up a notch after Mbappe replaced him (duh…), but he did show flashes. And frankly, coming into a side and playing with Neymar and Messi straight away isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.
He’s the only true central striker PSG have; he’ll get his chance to grow.
Juventus win first game since August, giving Allegri some respite
I wrote before about Juventus’ “Septembre horribilis,” and it matters that they returned from a break with a 3-0 win over Bologna. It wasn’t a stellar performance, nor a great opponent, but it’s at least something to keep the psychodrama at bay ahead of a key stretch of games (two must-wins against Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League, Milan away and the Turin derby).
The downside is that in getting this win, Max Allegri switched to a 4-4-2 formation, a system that worked well on the day but that Juve are unlikely to use when their injured stars return. That means it still doesn’t feel as if they’re building toward anything.
Sunday wasn’t about that, and that’s fine. For now. The real test will come in the next two weeks.
A second-half collapse costs injury-hit Dortmund
One of the things I was hoping to get from Edin Terzic’s return to Dortmund was some semblance of normality. No such thing! They traveled to Cologne without a bunch of attacking regulars (Giovanni Reyna, Marco Reus, Gregor Kobel and Sebastien Haller), but they still took the lead and created chances in the first half.
Then came a staggering collapse after the break, as defensive errors — one from Thomas Meunier (not surprising) and one from Nico Schlotterbeck (more surprising) — allowed Cologne to take the lead in the space of four minutes. They would later add a third before Dortmund made it 3-2 in garbage time.
The thing is, they’re still just two points out of first place in the Bundesliga, so it’s understandable if Terzic figures it’s best not to do major surgery and instead wait for the injured to return. Maybe. But performances like these are gutting, and they risk having knock-on effects. And further up the pitch, the lack of cutting edge is telling. Anthony Modeste was an emergency signing, fine, but he doesn’t fit this team and he’s not performing. It’s time to give Youssoufa Moukoko a go, just to see what you have.
Zambo Anguissa fires Napoli to victory as they stay top of Serie A
Nobody get overexcited, but Napoli looked like the sort of team that win titles on Saturday in their 3-1 win over Torino. Still without Victor Osimhen, they wrapped things up in the first half with two goals from Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and one more from Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, before seeing out the victory in the second half.
Some will focus on their prolific attack or a defence that hasn’t suffered with Min-jae Kim replacing the departed Kalidou Koulibaly. But where this team has really impressed is in the middle of the park, and while Stanislav Lobotka and Piotr Zielinski have drawn plenty of praise, don’t forget Zambo Anguissa, who scored twice. At 26, he’s entering the prime of his career and has ironed out some of the poor decisions that marred his time in the Premier League while maintaining the drive, quality and unpredictability that make him such a mismatch for opponents.
Diego Simeone talked up how his Atletico side played just the way he likes it away to Sevilla: tough, compact lines, grating counter-attacks, physicality up front with Alvaro Morata and Matheus Cunha and moments of quality (witness Marcos Llorente‘s gorgeous goal). It’s great, and it works against most opponents. The question is whether they can bottle this and churn it out regularly. Or, whether it works best against an opponent on the verge of self-destruction with frayed nerves and a coach, Julen Lopetegui, who could be out real soon.
Sevilla made wholesale changes and gambled their way back into the game, losing shape and nerve before Morata scored the second to kill the match. For what it’s worth, I thought this set-up looked more effective, with Cunha coming in from the left and Morata up front (and, of course, Griezmann coming on for his customary cameo with half an hour to go).
It means no room — and fewer minutes off the bench — for Joao Felix, and he was reportedly unhappy at getting just four minutes. So be it. For all his talent, he’s not pulling his weight and doesn’t fit this side most games. I’m Team Cholo on this one.
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