Chelsea’s wrong approach vs. Man City, Arsenal thump Spurs, Ansu Fati’s return a boost for Barcelona
The fa cup is a football competition that takes place in England. Chelsea’s wrong approach vs. Man City, Arsenal thump Spurs, and Ansu Fati’s return a boost for Barcelona are all topics that I am able to answer.
As is customary for European soccer weekends, there were plenty of juicy discussion topics. Manchester City’s victory over Chelsea and Arsenal’s derby thrashing of Tottenham provided plenty of takeaways, while Barcelona welcomed back a star in Ansu Fati after a lengthy injury absence — and he scored in a confidence-boosting win. Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, and Liverpool were all concerned, as were Jose Mourinho’s Roma and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United.
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Gab Marcotti responds to the major events in the world of football on Monday.
Jump to: Man City defeats Chelsea | Real Madrid’s woes? | Arsenal thrash Spurs | No excuses for Dortmund | Barca’s blueprint | Mourinho rages | Brentford and Liverpool have fun | Juventus win, but also lose | Solskjaer whines | Atletico have problems | Maldini scores for Milan | PSG remain unbeaten in Ligue 1 | Inter’s Barella is a star
Man City came close to being faultless in their victory, but Chelsea’s strategy isn’t helping.
The amazing thing about Pep Guardiola is how often we level clichéd criticism at him, and how frequently we are proven incorrect. We used to think his Manchester City team was questionable defensively: well, they’ve only allowed once in the Premier League this season, and they’ve had the stingiest or second-stingiest defense in the Premier League for the last four seasons.
We used to argue (and some still think) that they needed a “known striker” — well, they came close to winning the Quadruple without one last year (and, no, Gabriel Jesus is not a “recognized striker,” whatever that means).
There are many more instances if you go back. Bernardo Silva has lost his cool, Rodri is too sluggish, Kyle Walker is too technical for a Guardiola squad, Joao Cancelo can’t defend, and no one knows who Ruben Dias is. Bernardo Silva was probably man of the match in Saturday’s 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge, Rodri, Walker, and Cancelo are all regulars in this squad, and Ruben Dias is well-known.
City came into the game against Chelsea after a lackluster draw against Southampton (a game they should have won) and just pushed the European champions into submission. Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne demonstrated that if your offensive midfielders work hard, are creative, and have good timing, you can play without a center-forward — or, better yet, rotate center-forwards — and not miss a beat.
For the visit to Chelsea, Man City’s strategy was bang on, but did the Blues make it easy given their own tactics? Getty Images/Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC
In center defense, Aymeric Laporte rejoined Dias and took care of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner as if he’d never been gone. Gabriel Jesus trapped Marcos Alonso in his own half, which was Chelsea’s only genuine option when Reece James was taken off. They managed 11 shots on goal from within the box without the “renowned striker” that everyone loves to speak about.
(I’m more convinced that Guardiola pursued Harry Kane not because he was a terrific striker, but because he was a wonderful player… and I’m not certain he would have played him as a number nine.) In fact, it’s revealing that City didn’t spend money on another center-forward when the Kane deal fell through. They will almost certainly do so at some time, maybe in January, but I believe it will be a kid with potential or a physical “Plan B” — if not “Plan C” — rather than someone one rung below Kane. Ferran Torres or the set-up we saw on Saturday will suffice in the interim.)
It didn’t seem like Dias and Laporte were one-on-one with Werner and Lukaku, as my colleague Julien Laurens characterized their formation as 2-4-4. But it didn’t matter because City had so much ball control and was putting so much pressure on it.
After the game, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel accepted blame, stating they couldn’t find a method to get through the press or deliver long balls to the front two. When I saw the team, I assumed he was emulating Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2 system from last season, with Werner filling in for Lautaro Martinez beside Lukaku. That worked for Conte at Inter Milan, and it allowed Lukaku to shine as a creator and finisher. Conte worked on it for two years, and Werner was playing with Lukaku for the first time. (And, unlike Martinez, he struggles to drop off and smash balls around the corners.)
Inter had an offensive juggernaut down the right flank in Achraf Hakimi; Chelsea had Cesar Azpilicueta, who at this point of his career is essentially an undersized center-back, after Reece James went out after half an hour. Plus, Inter’s midfield three featured passers like Nicolo Barella and Christian Eriksen, who would have struggled against City’s push if they weren’t Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante.
Would the narrative have been different if James hadn’t been injured, if Mason Mount had been available (and Chelsea hadn’t used three holding midfielders), and if Kai Havertz had started? Perhaps: we’re in the area of speculation.
What is obvious is that Tuchel’s strategy failed. Not at all. And, despite winning three consecutive games in the league and the Champions League before this one, Chelsea has only managed to impress for 45 minutes against Spurs in the last four weeks (something many teams do). There’s still a lot of work to be done.
Is a 0-0 stalemate a sign that Real Madrid has to rethink their strategy?
Carlo Ancelotti of Real Madrid resumed his experiments against Villarreal, maybe to get a better understanding of his team… or perhaps to surprise Unai Emery.
Fede Valverde started at right-back, Nacho at left-back (ahead of Miguel Gutierrez), Marco Asensio in midfield, and Rodrygo (ahead of Eden Hazard) and Vinicius as true wingers. It was the kind of arrangement that needed a good press to function, and it didn’t work out that night. Real Madrid did play high up the field, but it was much too easy for Villarreal to break the press when they lost the ball, and Thibaut Courtois was forced to make several huge saves.
Karim Benzema had a bad day, Asensio didn’t replicate his heroics from the previous match, and neither Valverde nor Nacho were successful at fullback (for separate reasons). In fact, if it hadn’t been for Emery’s apparent satisfaction with a stalemate in the second half, things could have been much worse.
Gabriele Marcotti, a senior writer for ESPN FC, has compiled all of the latest news and reactions.
For this squad, it seemed like it was too much, too soon. Valverde is required in midfield, where Casemiro is having a difficult time and the team lacks dynamism. Until Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy return, the logical solution is to play Nacho on the right and trust Miguel Gutierrez on the left. Asensio deserved to play, but he was exposed by the lack of an effective press in front of him.
Let this serve as a reminder that there is still work to be done, but credit must also be given to Emery and Villarreal. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as his collection of Europa League championships demonstrates, when he gets it right, he’s a difficult out for anybody.
Arteta’s vision comes together against the Spurs, and it’s better late than never…
Arsenal’s remarkable 3-1 victory against Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates Stadium was discussed by Mark Donaldson and Steve Nicol.
Mikel Arteta and Arsenal have won three consecutive games after starting the season with three losses, the most spectacular of which was a 3-1 thrashing of Tottenham in the North London Derby on Sunday. (This is especially true during the first hour or two.) They moved the ball swiftly and accurately, played with flair and organization, and seemed to be a squad that would only improve.
Performances like these buy you time and pique the interest of your audience. Eight players in the starting XI were under the age of 24. Why not start this reconstruction sooner rather than extending Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s contract, signing Willian, fooling about with David Luiz, or not making a choice on Alexandre Lacazette, as some of us suggested a year ago (and were chastised for it)? Did they truly believe they were near enough to the top four to justify spending money on expensive aging players?
In that way, last year seemed like a wasted season, but what’s done is done. While the large financial obligations remain — and will certainly slow the pace at which this squad can be improved further — Arsenal are now going in the right direction, with the right group of players.
Tottenham, on the other hand, had nothing to say following one of their worst displays in recent memory. Nuno Espirito Santo, who was brought in as a last-ditch manager, is clearly feeling the heat. It’s not entirely his fault — the Harry Kane issue and a lack of clarity in recruiting didn’t help — but it’s clear that on Sunday, he was part of the problem rather than the solution.
At Gladbach, injuries aren’t an excuse for Borussia Dortmund.
The defeat of Borussia Dortmund against Borussia Monchengladbach, according to Janusz Michallik, is a worrisome sign for a future without Erling Haaland.
You see Marco Reus, Erling Haaland, and a slew of other players out with injuries, and you’re inclined to forgive Borussia Dortmund for their loss to Borussia Moenchengladbach, particularly given Marco Rose’s homecoming and all the bad karma it entails. But then you question whether what we witnessed in Saturday’s 1-0 loss was the real Dortmund, and if Haaland’s goal-per-game strike rate is simply a means of covering up flaws.
You hope not, since Rose’s team appeared sluggish against an aggressive opponent, as well as displaying indiscipline at inopportune times (witness Mahmoud Dahoud foolishly getting sent off in the first half). And, despite the major absences, this is reportedly one of the deepest teams in the Bundesliga, with Gladbach also missing players.
Some are blaming Rose for her many injuries, but this isn’t necessary. If you want to find fault, simply watch Dortmund play and observe the kind of errors they make — not ones caused by a lack of skill, but rather by a lack of organization, discipline, and preparation.
Barcelona is lifted by Ansu Fati and La Masia: the pattern is obvious (for now)
After returning from injury with a spectacular goal against Levante, Steve Nicol addresses the high expectations placed on Ansu Fati.
Barcelona needed three points and a grin from the game against Levante after three games without a win in all competitions, a string of poor performances, and Ronald Koeman’s press conference antics, in which he delivered a prepared statement begging for support and then stormed out of the room. In a 3-0 victory, they got both.
It seemed like it was going to be a tough day without Frenkie De Jong, Ousmane Dembele, Martin Braithwaite, Sergio Aguero, Pedri, Sergi Roberto, and Jordi Alba — and with Philippe Coutinho and Luuk De Jong beginning. Nico and Gavi, two academy youngsters, were given the start, and the latter in particular shone as they surged to an early lead and never looked back. After Ronald Araujo, Riqui Puig, and Fati had entered the game, the total number of La Masia graduates for the day was nine.
Managers may easily alleviate pressure by dumping on the youngsters when things aren’t going well, particularly at a club like Barcelona, where La Masia (and its effect on the squad) is discussed in whispers. You may be critical about Koeman, but really, he didn’t have much of a choice. Only three players remained on the bench at full-time: reserve goalkeeper Neto, Samuel Umtiti (who is made of glass), and another youth team player. The story is tremendously strong when it works, and it’s up to Koeman to channel it now.
Fati is the protagonist of his own story. After three operations and almost 11 months on the bench, the wunderkind returned, scored, embraced the team doctor, and proudly donned the No. 10 jersey that had been vacated by you know who. You should continue with care since he’s still 18 years old. Even handing him the 10 looked excessive; he got it after seasoned professionals Aguero and Coutinho turned it down.
We don’t know what Fati is capable of; maybe he can lead the side. What we do know is that he’ll require the club’s and his team’s veterans’ full backing, and that his mere presence has given Barca supporters a huge lift.
Mourinho is enraged following Lazio’s victory in the Rome derby.
Following Lazio’s 3-2 victory over Roma in the derby, Jose Mourinho put on a display at the final whistle. It was nearly as fascinating as the game, which was a thrilling sight in and of itself. Lazio don’t exactly play Maurizio Sarri’s “Sarriball” (at least not yet), but they were deadly on the break, courageous in the challenge, and overall accomplished everything a manager could ask of them. The fact that Pedro, who was dismissed by Roma in preseason just to go across town, scored simply added to the sweetness of the situation.
At the final whistle, Mourinho kept his players on the field, telling them how pleased he was of their performance before going out to thank the fans. Roma did play well, despite their defensive wobbles: in the absence of captain (and full-blooded Roman) Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolo Zaniolo stepped up to lead the team, and he did it with skill and passion.
Gabriele Marcotti, a senior writer for ESPN FC, has compiled all of the latest news and reactions.
What enraged Mourinho — and he let the world know about it — was what seemed to be a straightforward penalty that was not awarded (Elseid Hysaj on Zaniolo). Lazio made a charge up the field, and Pedro scored to make the score 2-0. It’s difficult to go from a potential 1-1 to a 0-2 deficit, particularly when you’re Mourinho.
Is he, as his most cynical detractors suggest, playing to the gallery? It’s possible, but it’s functioning for now. This Roma team seems to be more energetic and motivated than they have in a long time. There’s no reason they couldn’t compete at the top if he can continue to bring the most out of Zaniolo. The more pessimistic among us will point out that we’ve seen this movie before: he began brilliantly at Spurs and Manchester United before losing his way. All of this is true, yet people do occasionally learn from their mistakes.
For the time being, I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. In addition, it’s a lot of fun to see.
Janusz Michallik comments on Liverpool’s 3-3 away tie with Brentford.
Brentford’s 3-3 tie with Liverpool on Saturday was a chaotic, exciting match that had you glued to your seat until the final whistle… assuming you were a spectator. It was probably not much fun if you were Jurgen Klopp or a Liverpool player.
It’s not that Liverpool played badly — they didn’t — and it wouldn’t have been a scandal if they’d scored that fourth goal — but it is a reminder that matchups matter in football, and Liverpool just don’t match up well with Brentford, which is why they won’t see them again for a while.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is a rampaging full-back and an important component of Liverpool’s offense, but he also leaves space behind him when he advances. Brentford exploited this like few teams in recent years by using a front two of Bryan Mbeumo and Ivan Toney to lock up Liverpool’s center-backs, leaving Rico Henry high and wide left (with Vitaly Janelt nearby), and mercilessly pumping balls into that area while matching their opponents for intensity and pace.
It’s still football, after all. Quality and experience are important, which is why Liverpool was not blown away, and I’m not convinced Brentford’s strategy would work for other teams. However, it perplexed Klopp on the day, and those are two significant points lost.
Injuries and mistakes hampered Juventus’ victory.
The good news is that Juventus had their moments in their 3-2 victory against Sampdoria, that the much-maligned midfield — particularly Manuel Locatelli and Rodrigo Bentancur — played well, and that they are now at least in the Serie A table’s lower half.
What’s the bad news? How much longer do you have?
Let’s start with the injuries, which are beyond Max Allegri’s control but which he desperately needed. Both Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata were substituted, and Allegri said after the game that they would not be seen again until after the break. Which, you’d assume, implies more Moise Kean and, most likely, a formation change, just as the duo was getting into their stride.
Then there’s the matter of the defense. Juventus has gone 20 games without a clean sheet in Serie A, the longest such run since 1955. While the emphasis for the team’s problems has been on the midfield and Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, maybe we should be focusing on the side’s failure to keep opponents out, particularly after taking the lead (which they did again on Sunday, going 2-0 up).
It’s not only Leo Bonucci who has been defeated in the air by Maya Yoshida. (Seriously!) Sampdoria aren’t exactly Brazil 1970 under Roberto D’Aversa — in fact, they’re designed to defend deep and counter, not to chase games — but Juve appeared to shrivel and encourage them forward.
This Juventus squad is now incapable of grabbing the lead and controlling the game. They must continue to play, something they do much too seldom.
Solskjaer’s whining about referees doesn’t sit well with him… particularly after a solid performance in a home defeat.
In Man United’s 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa, Janusz Michallik evaluates Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactics.
Manchester United lost their third game in a row, losing 1-0 to Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Saturday. Yes, that is the headline, but it is worth taking a closer look at those losses.
In the Champions League, they struggled against Young Boys, particularly while down to ten men. The League Cup is completely irrelevant: it may read United vs. West Ham, but when 21 of the 22 players are replaced, no one is fooled: it’s not them. And the Villa game might have easily gone the other way, so it came as a surprise to hear Ole Gunnar Solskjaer moan about the refereeing once again.
Did Ollie Watkins obstruct David De Gea for Kourtney Hause’s 1-0 Villa goal? Maybe, but De Gea was never going to get to it in the first place. Was it aggravating that Bruno Fernandes had to wait so long to take — and miss — his late penalty that might have tied the game at 1-1? Sure, but that’s unlikely to be the reason he sent it into orbit. (Moreover, Solskjaer said that it “didn’t go into Bruno’s mind,” raising the issue of why he brought it up at all.)
This follows his remarks on Friday about Klopp and penalties, in which he claimed that the Liverpool manager’s statements in January contributed to a decrease in the amount of penalties given to United.
Certain managers often discuss referees. It’s often a plan. It’s a little puzzling since Solskjaer doesn’t — or didn’t until lately. It doesn’t suit his image and is unlikely to help him in the public eye.
Atletico Madrid’s loss is Simeone’s fault, but the club’s issues are deeper.
Diego Simeone said that the 1-0 defeat to Alaves, who had scored only once in five Liga matches before to Saturday’s victory against Atletico Madrid, was “his fault.” It’s admirable that he behaves like an adult in contrast to some of his coworkers, but it’s not entirely his fault.
There is virtually little service going to the front duo of Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann without Koke and Thomas Lemar in the starting lineup. There was a period when they could both generate their own opportunities, but that is no longer the case.
Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop, and others to discuss the most recent news and debate the most important stories. ESPN+ has a live stream available (U.S. only).
Felipe and Stefan Savic seem to be regressing in the back, and the tenacious defending that was once a characteristic Atleti trait appears to have vanished.
Even if it means benching the two Camp Nou exiles, Suarez and Griezmann, there are things he can change, such as starting Angel Correa when he’s on form. (And if there’s anybody who has the power to accomplish it, it’s him.) Alternatively, focusing on the fundamentals at the rear, because some people have clearly forgotten how they got there.
Maldini scores, and the dynasty lives on… now let’s go on.
Let’s get this out of the way first. In Milan’s 2-1 victory away to Spezia, Daniel Maldini — son of Paolo and grandson of Cesare — earned his first Serie A start and scored his first Serie A goal. It’s an interesting tale since his father and grandfather both won European Cups and went on to become club legends, but for now, it’s just background information. Daniel is a young man who will be 20 in a few months and will write his own narrative. He doesn’t need the additional pressure, and there’s no need to bring up the other Maldinis until he wins a trophy in a prominent position, which is why you won’t hear me mention it after today.
Despite the fact that he was playing in the playmaking “hole” with a lot happening on around him, he appeared unaffected by his goal and was completely unfazed on the field. In all, this was a good win for a Milan team that made a lot of changes, relied on youth, and was rewarded once again with a win. They seem to be Serie A contenders, and once the starters are all healthy and playing, they’ll be able to go up a notch.
Despite the absence of Lionel Messi, Paris Saint-Germain make it eight wins in a row in Ligue 1.
Julien Laurens explains why Neymar and Kylian Mbappe at PSG are currently at odds.
The statistics are eye-popping, as you’d expect from a club that has scored 24 points in its first eight games. As expected, Paris Saint-Germain overpowered Montpellier, but the goals came from Idrissa Gueye and Julian Draxler, not Kylian Mbappe or Neymar.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team generated plenty of opportunities, and you have to question how much of that was due to Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to play three center midfielders (Gueye, Leandro Paredes, and Ander Herrera) rather than two plus Angel Di Maria and the big three up front. When Messi returns, Pochettino should consider this; sometimes less is more, even if it means sacrificing someone like Di Maria.
The TV cameras also seemed to show Mbappe on the bench, whining to teammates about Neymar’s failure to bring him the ball. I don’t believe it’s a huge issue; players often rant on the bench, and it doesn’t always imply there’s a gap between them. Mbappe and other PSG players, on the other hand, must be more cautious in public and assume that a camera is constantly focused on them, particularly now that they are in the spotlight more than ever.
Inter was defeated by Atalanta in a tense match, but Barella is the genuine thing.
On Saturday, Inter and Atalanta played out a thrilling 2-2 draw that could have gone either way: Fede Dimarco missed a penalty (a brave decision by Simone Inzaghi given his lack of experience in the league), and VAR correctly (albeit fortuitously for Inter) ruled out what would have been Atalanta’s winner.
After the weekend’s other outcomes, Inter would drop to third place, but I wouldn’t be too worried. This was not the soft-spoken Atalanta we’d seen earlier in the season, and there’s no shame in going toe-to-toe with them and sharing the rewards. Nicolo Barella showed why he may be the greatest all-around midfielder in the league by scoring a fantastic goal, Edin Dzeko showed his relentlessness even at 35, and Lautaro Martinez showed why he is the best all-around midfielder in the league by scoring a beautiful goal.
Barella is one of the few players who can mix quantity and quality, and he also has a lot of charm and intellect. Inter’s decision to construct the team around him is correct.
Chelsea’s wrong approach vs. Man City, Arsenal thump Spurs, Ansu Fati’s return a boost for Barcelona Reference: haaland going to barca.
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