Another weekend of European soccer is in the books, and it provided us with lots to talk about. For a start, Arsenal dropped points from a dominant position to give Man City another edge in the Premier League title race. In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich were held to a draw by Hoffenheim, except Borussia Dortmund blew a 2-0 and 3-2 lead at struggling Stuttgart to keep the Bavarians in charge of the title race with weeks remaining
In LaLiga, Barcelona’s goal drought continued against Getafe, though the title still seems destined to end up at Camp Nou in Xavi’s first season as manager. Not bad. Elsewhere, there were talking points galore for Man City, Chelsea, Napoli and Tottenham.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Arsenal held at West Ham, which means Premier League title race is most definitely on
For the second straight week, Arsenal let a two-goal lead vanish and found themselves coming away with a point. If, against Liverpool, you could chalk it up to the Reds’ furious second half, then Sunday’s draw against West Ham is more concerning, and not just because Bukayo Saka missed a penalty that would have put them 3-1 up and probably killed the game.
Goals from Gabriel Jesus and Martin Odegaard put Arsenal 2-0 up within 10 minutes against an opponent that was coming off a Thursday night away game and had been hugely inconsistent all season (which is why they’re just four points clear of the drop zone). In those circumstances, it’s simple: you have to execute and control the game, but Thomas Partey gave the ball away, leading to a penalty, which Said Benrahma converted. And less than two minutes after Saka missed his spot kick, another defensive error opened the door for Jarrod Bowen to make it 2-2.
There’s little question Arsenal really missed Oleksandr Zinchenko in possession, when he does his move-central-and-become-a-playmaker schtick. It gives Arsenal an extra passer, allowing them to circulate the ball quickly and stretch the opposition. Kieran Tierney, his replacement, simply plays the position differently: he is much more of an up-and-down fullback who delivers crosses. Arteta asked Tierney — who was making his first league start of the year — to play the Zinchenko role coming inside and he showed why he’s not ideally suited to the role.
Partey’s performance was also disappointing. In times like these, you look to your leaders and he’s supposed to be the boss in the middle of the park. Between the mistake and his yellow card, he let himself down on the day. At the back, William Saliba’s absence has left a massive void, one that Rob Holding is struggling to fill (and evidently, Arteta doesn’t feel Jakub Kiwior is quite ready yet).
It’s easy to second guess, and in any case, these are details, some of which Arteta can fix, some which will require more time. What’s critical now is the messaging to the side.
We’ve become so accustomed to teams winning the league with 85+ points that it’s easy to forget how Arsenal have kept up a breakneck pace this season. Even with the two recent draws, they’re still on pace for 91 points. It may or may not be enough to stop City winning the title, but it’s worth remembering that year-on-year, they have 20 more points. Stumbling here or there for a very young team unused to title head-to-heads, isn’t just normal, it’s expected.
The gap is down to four points, and Manchester City still have a game in hand, plus the head-to-head with Arsenal on April 26 will be at the Etihad. Put differently, the title is in City’s hands: win all their games and they’re Premier League champions. But guess what? The same applies in reverse to Arsenal: win all your games and take a point from City at the Etihad and you’ll be champions.
– Olley: Saka’s penalty miss proves costly as Arsenal draw
– Arteta: Arsenal must be ‘ruthless’ after slip-up
There’s another wrinkle here. If City advance in the Champions League — they’re 3-0 up from the first leg against Bayern — they’ll have no free midweeks right up until the last day of the season. That takes its toll, and it could create a scenario whereby they need to make up the Brighton game on the Wednesday before the final day of the season: it’s the only available date. Given the way Brighton are playing, that’s not a great prospect.
In other words, expect more twists and turns. Arteta’s young guns are learning that this is part of winning, and that you can’t let the emotion of one game carry over into the next. They’re still in the race … provided they move on from Sunday.
Tuchel not proving to be an instant fix after Bayern draw with Hoffenheim
It was the sort of draw that feels like a defeat, and Bayern weren’t shy about voicing their disappointment after it finished 1-1 at home to Pellegrino Matarazzo’s Hoffenheim. From manager Thomas Tuchel himself (“that was bad… too slow, too emotionless… we need spirit”) to defender Matthijs De Ligt (“it can’t get worse than today”) and forward Thomas Muller (“we were shocked by our performance”), complaints were abundant.
Break it down clinically and it can seem like doom-mongering. Bayern took the lead, created plenty (22 shots, eight on target) and were undone by an Andrej Kramaric free kick in the second half, where goalkeeper Yann Sommer might have done better. They did appear to lack some urgency and their finishing was subpar (not for the first time), but there was enough there for the three points.
However, there’s a broader piece to address. Tuchel, the man who was going to bring order and confidence to this Bayern side in the short term, has won just two of his five games. One of those was Der Klassiker against Dortmund, when they were gifted three early goals; the other was the 1-0 over Freiburg in the league, powered by an improbable De Ligt wonder-strike. They got knocked out of the German Cup and barring an epic comeback against Manchester City, they’ll be knocked out of the Champions League on Wednesday.
Put another way, Tuchel has lost as many games in 15 days as Julian Nagelsmann lost in the previous 30 weeks. And as for keeping things calm and avoiding controversy? Well, you had the whole Leroy Sane-Sadio Mane incident, which began with an on-field argument towards the end of their Man City defeat and ended with a fight in the locker room. (Tuchel said it’s “case closed” on the issue, but time will tell.)
Clearly, if Nagelsmann was the problem — and that, by the way, remains to be seen — he wasn’t the only issue at the club.
Barcelona’s goal drought continues as Joan Laporta threatens lawsuits
Barcelona’s season on the pitch is, effectively, over. Barring an act of God, they’ll win LaLiga in Xavi’s first season, and the fact that they’ve known this for some time and have nothing to play for has impacted their last two games, both 0-0 draws (last Monday against Girona, Sunday against Getafe). Still, it’s jarring to note that they haven’t scored in 290 minutes, their longest LaLiga goal drought since the end of the Frank Rijkaard era 15 years ago.
It’s a reminder of how critical Pedri is to this team, especially when Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie De Jong are also unavailable. It was also interesting to see how, with Gavi deployed in midfield, Xavi opted to move Alejandro Balde into the left wing position rather than give Ferran Torres or Ansu Fati a shot. It was a curious move and a counterintuitive one because those two, to some degree, are playing for their futures at the club.
– Marsden: Barcelona are staggering to the finish line in LaLiga
Final word on club president Joan Laporta who, on Monday morning, finally addressed the Negreira case. Laporta went conspiratorial, saying there was a “smear campaign” against the club and then did what lawyers do: threaten to sue for “astronomical amounts” anyone who slanders his club. (When you’re a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail.)
Barca will have their day in court, but you hope he knows what he’s doing here. Because while the payments went on for a very long time, the bulk occurred before he returned to the club as president.
It would have been easier — and maybe more convenient — to distance himself from past regimes. Instead, he doubled down on Negreira, which suggests he must be extremely confident.
Ogden: Glazers could hold onto Manchester United for another decade
Mark Ogden reports on the latest developments on the Glazers’ intention to sell Manchester United.
It’s easy to underrate Manchester United’s 2-0 win away to Nottingham Forest, but this was impressive in terms of character and performance. It was sandwiched between a critical Europa League quarterfinal against Sevilla, it was against a side desperately fighting to avoid relegation and it came without a gaggle of regulars: Lisandro Martinez, Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw at the back, Scott McTominay and Marcel Sabitzer in midfield, Marcus Rashford up front.
Anthony Martial reminded you what things might be like if he was fit and consistent, while Antony showed glimpses of the drive and talent that prompted the club to spend north of $110m on him last summer. It’s encouraging, because it can’t be the same guys carrying the club time and again.
– Sources: Glazers confident of staying at Man United
– Ten Hag: Nothing but ‘finals’ left for Man United
On the flip side, Harry Maguire again had to play the villain. He got a yellow card for what looked like a weird, ungainly rugby tackle in midfield after just three minutes and then could have given up a penalty when the ball struck his outstretched arm later in the match. Coming off the back of his bizarre (and unfortunate) own goal against Sevilla, it’s the last thing he needs.
Don’t let late goals fool you: Real Madrid’s ‘B-team’ dominates Cadiz
OK, maybe B-team is a bit over the top, but Real Madrid lined up without Luka Modric, Vinicius, David Alaba, Eduardo Camavinga, Toni Kroos and Dani Carvajal away to Cadiz and still dominated. Thirty-five shots on goal (11 of them on target) with an xG of 3.34 tell their own story. Had David Gil — a back-up keeper, lest we forget — not had a monster game, this would have been far more one-side than the result suggests.
Beyond that, it was interesting to get a glimpse of a Vinicius-less Madrid. They become a far more pass-oriented side — Dani Ceballos was exceptional — and one that can carve you open. It’s a neat Plan B to have. You wonder if we might see more of it in the Champions League as an alternative to the familiar drives down the left searching for Vinicius’ acceleration.
On verge of Champions League semifinals, Inter lose their 11th game in Serie A season
Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Monza (a derby, of sorts) mean Inter have now lost more than a third of their league games (11 out of 30) this season. I wrote about them this past week, and not much has changed. This is still a team that creates plenty, but they don’t score as much as they should. They’re underperforming both in terms of expected goals (open play xG is 50, actual goals from open play is 44) and expected goals conceded (xG conceded is 21.61, goals given up from play stand at 31).
It’s an imperfect team, sure, but the gods of variance and probability haven’t been kind to them this season, at least in the league. (Cups are a different story, as they have home second legs coming up in the Coppa Italia semifinals against Juventus — the first one finished 1-1 — and against Benfica, whom they beat 2-0 away in the Champions League quarterfinals).
Of course, such explanations don’t always satisfy the narrative, so we come up with explanations that are either psychological — “they need the adrenaline of the big game to perform” — meaningless (“This is a Cup team”) or needlessly mean (“Simone Inzaghi is a rubbish coach”). The reality is simpler. At some point, if they keep playing like this, they’ll regress to the mean. Hopefully before the end of the season.
Minimalism nearly costs Man City against Leicester
Dawson: Never seen anything like record-equalling Haaland
Rob Dawson watches Erling Haaland equal Mohamed Salah’s record for goals in a 38-game Premier League season, with eight games to spare.
Time to trot out that old cliché about the game of two halves. Manchester City made quick work of Leicester in the first 45 minutes, going 3-0 up. Erling Haaland scored twice on just 13 touches — he’s up to 47 goals in 40 games this season, for those keeping score at home — and John Stones unleashed an improbable volley with his weaker foot.
Game over … or so you would have thought.
Pep Guardiola made two changes at half-time (off came Haaland and Stones, on came Manuel Akanji and Julian Alvarez) and two more by the 62nd minute (Cole Palmer and Kalvin Phillips for Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri). It may be just a coincidence, but from that moment on, Leicester had eight shots on goal to City’s one and an xG of 1.57 to City’s 0.04. Iheanacho pulled one back, James Maddison probably should have scored on the counter and Iheanacho hit the post at the end. In other words, it could have all gone horribly wrong.
– Dawson: Haaland’s heroics make the treble very possible for Man City
It’s hard to blame Guardiola for playing the percentages given City’s congested fixture list and given the way the first half had gone. And when you think about it, in light of the Champions League quarterfinal, first leg, against Bayern, there can be no better time for his players to be reminded of the perils of thinking you’re done and dusted when you’re 3-0 up.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the kitchen … Dortmund cook up a familiar mess
I don’t like bringing up the mental side of the game because so often it’s poppycock, after-the-fact type stuff observed from many miles away. But you have to make an exception in the case of Borussia Dortmund for the simple fact that it’s hard to see how they avoid heavy-duty scarring after Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Stuttgart.
With 12 minutes to go, they were 2-0 up away to relegation-threatened Stuttgart, who had played a man down (after Konstantinos Mavropanos’ silly second yellow) since the 39th minute. What’s more, they appeared in control with the man advantage they enjoyed for 38 or so minutes. They conceded just three shots, had several chances to add to their lead and were generally unruffled.
And then Tanguy Coulibaly carved out space for a shot, despite having two defenders on him, the ball hit Emre Can’s foot and deflected into the back of the net. OK, napping at the back and a bit of bad luck. No sweat. Six minutes later, Raphael Guerreiro mis-controls a defensive corner, the ball comes to Joshua Vagnoman and it’s 2-2. Another blunder. Another brain fart.
Cruel enough? Nah, it gets worse. In the second minute of injury time, substitute Gio Reyna grabs what should have been the winner, but no: virtually with the last kick of the game, Silas makes it 3-3, after an almighty whiff from Soumaïla Coulibaly on what should have been a simple clearance.
We done? Nope. It gets worse. Because not only did Dortmund have to deal with the fact they somehow threw away two points with a two-goal lead against 10 men, they found it would have really mattered given Bayern’s surprising home draw. They should have been top of the table, alongside Bayern; instead, it’s the status quo, and a reminder that old habits haven’t quite been kicked.
Chelsea vs. Brighton was a study in contrasts
Michallik slams Chelsea’s ’embarrassing’ performance vs. Brighton
Janusz Michallik reacts to Chelsea’s 2-1 loss to Brighton in the Premier League.
Chelsea and Brighton have a few things in common. Both are Premier League clubs, both changed managers this season… and it kinda ends there. Because while Brighton are very much a team, a squad built with cohesive vision that Roberto De Zerbi is taking to the next level, Chelsea are an ill-assorted bunch of very expensive players, assembled according to three different visions (pre-Todd Boehly, the wretched Boehly-Tuchel summer of folly and the latest winter spree), which Frank Lampard is failing to impact.
– Lampard’s Chelsea return goes sour
– Lampard slams Chelsea’s lack of ‘fight’ in defeat
Lampard, who has lost every game since taking over from Graham Potter, called Saturday’s 2-1 defeat the worst of the three and the numbers bear this out: 0.40 to 2.60 (xG), 8 to 26 (total shots), 2 to 9 (shots on target), 43% to 57% (possession). So too do the highlights, with some horrendous play at the back and a lack of initiative (beyond individual moments) up front.
You hope the guys calling the shots — technical director Christopher Vivell and co-sporting directors Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart — are at least turning this into a string of teachable moments and learning something.
Osimhen’s return not enough for Napoli away to Verona … not that it matters
Napoli have all but wrapped up the Serie A title, so the visit of Verona was really an afterthought with players and coaches focused on Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Milan. The main point of interest was the return form injury of Victor Osimhen: he came off the bench, rattled the woodwork and showed that he’s ready to start in the Champions League on Tuesday, which is all anyone could ask of him in this game.
That it finished scoreless shouldn’t be too surprising. Napoli rely on chemistry and with half a dozen starters rested, that was always going to be a big ask. Throw in the fact that Verona, fighting to avoid the drop, happily parked the bus — Napoli had an incredible 79% possession — and maybe it’s not surprising that it finished 0-0. I’m not sure anyone in Naples will care.
Things go from bad to worse for Tottenham as Bournemouth nail 95th-minute winner
Michallik: Bournemouth loss devastating for Spurs’ top 4 hopes
Janusz Michallik makes Tottenham outsiders for a Champions League spot after Bournemouth’s shock win.
Dango Ouattara’s late winner will grab the headlines (and rightly so), as will Davinson Sanchez coming on as a substitute and then being himself replaced. (That’s less of a big deal, I think: he came on for an injured teammate and, when he came off, Spurs changed formation to a back four.) But I was struck by manager Cristian Stellini’s reading of the game. He said they played well until they scored to go 1-0 up and then, again, when they made it 2-2 with two minutes to go. And then, he said, the dropped off again, inviting the opposition forward.
“We have to change this mindset,” he said, adding that they’ve been doing this for a long time and it has become a habit. To which the obvious answer is that he’s been the first-team coach some 15 months (first as Antonio Conte’s assistant, then as number one): shouldn’t he be the one to fix it?
Some teams are very comfortable sitting back and absorbing the pressure. Spurs aren’t one of them. Each of their three goals featured one or more individual errors (Sanchez, of course, but also Pierre-Emile Højbjerg for Ouattara’s winner). If you keep the ball further up the pitch and away from your goal, making mistakes won’t be as costly.
It was anticlimactic, but it still counts: PSG likely seal Ligue 11 with win over Lens
If Paris Saint-Germain was going to stumble on their way to the title and make an improbably wretched season even worse, it would need to happen in their head-to-head against second-place Lens. That it didn’t happen had more to do with Salis Abdul Samed getting himself sent off inside of 20 minutes for a late foul on Achraf Hakimi than anything else. Lens are known for their intensity and energy, but it’s nearly impossible to play that way when you’re a man down, away from home and up against the sort of ballers PSG have.
Goals from Kylian Mbappe, Vitinha (a nifty long-range strike) and Lionel Messi (after a Mbappe backheel) put PSG 3-0 up and effectively ended the game before half-time, though Lens battled gamely until the end, pulled one back and could have had another.
The gap at the top is now eight points with seven games to go. Given what a self-destructive season it has been, it’s possible they could implode and throw it away… but don’t bet on it. Their 11th Ligue 1 crown is around the corner, though it won’t blunt the pain and anger of a disappointing season.
Juventus put on a horror show vs. Sassuolo
They may get their 15 points back on Wednesday when the Italian FA appeals tribunal renders their verdict in their false accounting case, which would mean almost certainly finishing top four. They may yet go deep in the Coppa Italia and the Europa League — they drew the first leg of the former against Inter and beat Sporting 1-0 in the latter — but faith in Max Allegri has to be at an all-time low after the 1-0 defeat to Sassuolo.
Why? For the first hour Juve showed very little, with the twin attack of Dusan Vlahovic and Arkadiusz Milik seeing very little service. It was entirely deflating and no, the results they may get come the end of the season won’t make up for it. Other than giving more youngsters opportunities (at long last), like Nicolo Fagioli and Tommaso Barbieri, who made his debut, Allegri has shown very little progress this season.
The enduring image of the campaign is Fagioli crying on the bench. He gets it: this is not what Juve should be about.
Emery and Watkins drive Aston Villa past Newcastle … and maybe into the top-four race?
We’ve made the point before that Newcastle are ahead of schedule in even being in contention for a Champions League spot, and that Aston Villa — who have taken 22 of a possible 24 points in the past eight games — were always going to be a tough out. But Villa’s 3-0 win was a veritable spanking and the Magpies’ fixture list ahead is far from straightforward, with games against Spurs and Arsenal coming up. (They face Chelsea too, if you want to include them.)
As for Villa, Ollie Watkins has been nearly Haaland-esque in 2023 with 11 goals, but much of the resurgence is down to Unai Emery. Villa are a squad built to compete for the Europa League and he has them back where they should be, while also perhaps daring to dream a little: fourth place is six points away…
Milan right to make 10 changes even if it cost them vs. Empoli
With a huge Champions League quarterfinal trip away to Napoli (they lead 1-0 after the first leg) coming up on Tuesday, Milan boss Stefano Pioli engaged in some heavy rotation, replacing all 10 outfield players for the trip to Bologna. The knee-jerk answer is that it was a mistake because it finished 1-1, which means they miss the opportunity of putting some distance between themselves in fourth and Inter in fifth.
That’s one reading, but it’s the wrong reading. Milan gave up a goal inside of a minute and pretty much dominated the rest of the way. They had plenty of opportunities to win, no matter how poor the usual fall guys — Divock Origi, Charles De Ketelaere and Ante Rebic — might have looked, and they had a strong case for a penalty as well when Adama Soumaoro clashed with Rebic. The reserves showed plenty of fight and motivation, which is why they played.
Will the rest make a difference in Naples? Even if they win, we won’t definitively know either way. But in these cases, you have to trust Pioli, who has a whole sports science department backing him up.
Atletico Madrid roll on as Griezmann shines again…
Six wins on the bounce, 25 of a possible 27 points in their past nine games, the league’s de facto MVP in Antoine Griezmann… Atletico Madrid fans can be forgiven for wondering what might have been if they had played this way all season. They beat Almeria 2-1, but the gap was far greater than the scoreline suggests.
More importantly, they’re playing carefree, creative football without sacrificing defensive solidity. Few would have expected that when they lost Reinildo, their keystone defender, for the season back in February.
Barcelona away is up next, and while Atletico won’t reopen the title race (barring divine intervention), they can make a hell of a statement.
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