What a weekend of soccer! We say it every weekend, and every weekend it’s true. We saw Manchester United get a first win under Ralf Rangnick, Bayern Munich wrap up a controversial derby over Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid edge away at the top of LaLiga and Inter Milan put Jose Mourinho under pressure at AS Roma with an emphatic victory.
It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Jump to: Dortmund fury, Bayern joy | Rangnick begins with a win | Inter maul Mourinho, Roma | Errors doom Chelsea | Madrid lose Benzema, still win | Bernardo Silva shines | Milan top of Serie A | Barca overlook Betis | PSG look flat | Liverpool’s luck | Juve impress | Atletico pay price | Kane misfires, Spurs win | Atalanta down Napoli | Marsch out at Leipzig | #BasDostWatch
Venom and loathing after a combustible Klassiker
Borussia Dortmund were furious on Saturday night after their 3-2 home defeat against Bayern, and it’s not difficult to see why.
This was their first home Bundesliga defeat in nearly 12 months, a game that saw them fall four points behind Bayern instead of leapfrogging the Bavarians at the top of the table. This was a match which saw them play well and outplay the opposition for long stretches. And most of all, this was a game that was decided by individual errors: from their own players, sure, but in their view from the referee, Felix Zwayer. And they let the world know afterwards, with Jude Bellingham saying: “You give a referee that has match-fixed before, the biggest game in Germany, what do you expect?”
There’s no getting around this. These are very serious words and it’s no surprise that on Monday, it emerged that Bellingham was being investigated by German police responding to a libel complaint.
The problem isn’t necessarily the first part of what Bellingham said, though strictly speaking, that’s not entirely accurate.
Janusz Michallik asks why Borussia Dortmund struggle to beat Bayern Munich, after the Bundesliga champions secured their seventh straight win against them.
In 2004, Zwayer was a 23-year-old assistant referee in charge of running the line in a third-tier game between Wuppertaler and Werder Bremen’s reserves. The referee was a man named Robert Hoyzer, who would later be jailed for fixing a series of lower-division games in conjunction with a Croatian gang who ran a bookmaking operation. An investigation found that Zwayer had taken €300 from Hoyzer, but stopped short of proving that Zwayer had fixed the game. He was banned for six months by sporting justice and, in the criminal case, testified on behalf of the prosecution in helping to convict both Hoyzer and the criminal gang.
The problem is the second part of what he said — “What do you expect?” It’s a direct implication that somebody who has been dishonest and biased before may well do it again. Bellingham isn’t saying that Zwayer is a bad referee who shouldn’t be in charge of such a big game; he’s using his past to undermine his integrity. That’s a problem because our whole justice system — whether criminal or sporting — is based on offenders being given another chance after they’ve served their punishment. Zwayer was given that chance and, in the intervening 17 years, seized it with both hands. Not only has not been touched by allegations of corruption, he rose through the refereeing ranks to establish himself as one of Germany’s top referees, receiving the highest marks at UEFA and FIFA level as well.
Zwayer was found guilty of the crime and he did the time, so to speak. We believe in second chances, and he’s been pretty much exemplary since. If he got calls wrong in the Dortmund-Bayern game — and we’ll get into that in a minute — it was because he made a mistake or wasn’t good enough, not because he’s corrupt.
Speaking on The Gab & Juls Show, Jan Aage Fjortoft suggested Zwayer’s past must have come up immediately after the final whistle, when Dortmund’s players retreated into the dressing room before coming back out to fulfil their media duties. Bellingham is an articulate and thoughtful young man, and it’s easy to forget he’s still just 18 years old. We’ve all made bad decisions as teenagers, and bringing this up was one of them.
As for the game itself, Dortmund more than held their own. Julian Brandt and Erling Haaland scored great goals, and much of their frustration no doubt comes from the fact that two of Bayern’s goals were the result of craven individual errors — Mats Hummels for one, and a collective Keystone Kops effort, made worse by unlucky ricochets, for the second — and the third was the Robert Lewandowski penalty awarded by Zwayer after VAR’s intervention for a handball by Hummels (who else?). Throw in Dortmund’s frustration over the penalty that wasn’t given — Marco Reus‘ tussle with Lucas Hernandez, which led to Marco Rose being sent off — and you begin to understand their anger.
Personally, I had no problem with the Hummels penalty. It doesn’t really matter where he’s looking, if you lean in with your elbow out, you’re putting yourself at risk (and gaining an advantage). Hernandez on Reus was more borderline, and what incensed Rose was that Zwayer didn’t go look at the VAR monitor. But the fact is that if he feels he had a clear view and VAR doesn’t think his call is incorrect (or there’s something he didn’t spot), he doesn’t need to go. That said, if he had taken a look, perhaps Rose wouldn’t have lost his head to the point that he had to be physically carted away by his assistant.
And so, the 3-2 win means Bayern extend their lead at the top, winning away against their toughest domestic opponents (and doing it without Joshua Kimmich), without necessarily performing anywhere near their best. That’s what title-winning teams usually do. As for Dortmund, the worst thing that can happen now is that all the focus falls on this Bellingham-Zwayer affair instead of their own failing, especially at the defensive end. Four points is not a huge gap; it’s early-December. They owe it to themselves and to their fans to do better and take a real run at the title.
Rangnick era begins with new look, victory over Crystal Palace
Janusz Michallik spots the differences Manchester United showed in Ralf Rangnick’s first game in charge.
Ralf Rangnick has obviously not had any real time to work with Manchester United since his appointment, but he wasn’t afraid to shake things up. His 4-2-2-2 formation — Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford up top, Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho just behind, and the Fred–Scott McTominay duo in front of the back four — is straight out of the old-school Rangnick playbook. It’s designed to press high and keep possession in central areas, and it did just that against Crystal Palace, also because Patrick Vieira’s crew were happy to sit and play on the counter.
United looked good for an hour or so, before understandably running out of steam a little. One of the downsides of this system is that it’s energy-sapping and obviously, it will take some time to adapt and make it more efficient. The only goal scored came courtesy of Fred and it was a deserved three points, but it remains to be seen how quickly United can make this set-up work and, in fact, how well it will work against sides who keep more of the ball and build from the flanks.
This set-up gives United a shot in the arm and they will likely win games in the coming weeks because they have better players than most of their opponents. But it will take some time before it really bears fruit for Rangnick.
Inter Milan run rampant away to depleted Roma
Inter produced on the best 45 minutes we’ve seen them play in a long time at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday, racing out to a 3-0 lead and never looking back. The win allowed them to stay within a point of table-topping Milan, and some are asking whether they might be even better than last season’s Antonio Conte-led title-winners.
Maybe it was because of the symmetry and the fact that the three guys who scored on Saturday — Edin Dzeko, Denzel Dumfries, Hakan Calhanoglu — are all newcomers who replaced three supposedly irreplaceable players (Romelu Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi, Christian Eriksen). That’s going a bit far. This team may play better football than Inter did last season, but they probably aren’t a better team. Not yet, anyway.
As for Roma, a morose Jose Mourinho rattled off his absentees after the game: Tammy Abraham, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Stephan El Shaarawy, Rick Karsdorp, Carles Perez. That can explain a defeat, but it’s tougher to accept it explaining such a poor performance. It’s also tough to explain Mourinho saying that, given the absences, Roma’s attacking potential was “nil.” It’s an odd way to motivate the forwards he did have available: Nicolo Zaniolo (arguably the most gifted Italian player in Serie A), Eldor Shomurodov (brought in in the summer for around $20 million) and Borja Mayoral (who Mourinho may not rate but who scored 17 goals last season).
Maybe he’s just pushing buttons to motivate players, but it seems distinctly counterintuitive. Roma as a city is especially impatient, so if this criticism is part of a master plan, it had better work quickly.
Individual mistakes condemn Chelsea to defeat and third place
After Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat at West Ham, Thomas Tuchel made the point that details make all the difference at this level and that individual errors cost Chelsea dear, both last weekend against Manchester United and on Saturday. “We must care about details, not ask big questions or doubt the big picture,” he said.
He’s correct, of course, but both things can be true. Individual mistakes — the many fluffed chances against United, blunders from Edouard Mendy and Jorginho against West Ham — cost Chelsea as many as six points, sure, but the big picture isn’t quite right, either.
This team doesn’t run quite as smoothly with Ruben Loftus-Cheek alongside Jorginho in midfield, rather than N’Golo Kante or Mateo Kovacic. It’s not through any fault of Loftus-Cheek, but just because he’s a very different player and his presence requires adjustments. That comes with time and chemistry.
A similar argument applies further up the pitch. Whether Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz or Timo Werner, these players aren’t interchangeable. And it’s harder for Chelsea to adjust to the qualities of whoever is up front when the men behind them change frequently as well.
Janusz Michallik defends Arthur Masuaku after his late strike ensures West Ham enjoy all three points against city rivals Chelsea.
There’s obviously enough talent here to overwhelm most teams, and it might have been enough against West Ham too without the individual errors. There certainly was enough in recent outings against Juventus and Leicester, when Chelsea didn’t just win, but looked sharp. But Chelsea paid a dear price against a well-organised and motivated West Ham, driven by a midfield tandem (Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek) who can shut down most ball movement effectively.
Losing top spot can have a psychological effect, of course, but you’d imagine there’s enough experience in this squad to weather that. There’s a long way to go, plenty of head-to-head games against their rivals, and no reason to panic. But the fact is that after two months in the lead, Chelsea are looking up at Manchester City and Liverpool.
As for Mendy, goalkeepers make mistakes, even outstanding ones — just ask Jan Oblak — so there’s no point in dwelling on it. In fact, you’d rather your keeper make massive blunders once in a while than come up a hair short time and again.
Real Madrid lose Benzema, but find Jovic and go eight points clear
Pablo Zabaleta praises Real Madrid’s consistency in LaLiga after they increased their lead to eight points by beating Real Sociedad.
Sometimes, it feels it’s about showing up at the right time. Real Madrid traveled to take on Real Sociedad away after two distinctively lacklustre performances against Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao, games they won but could just as easily have lost. Real Sociedad had not lost at home since April in any competition and when, after 17 minutes, Karim Benzema went down injured, it didn’t look great for Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
When, instead of, say, Marco Asensio or Eden Hazard, Ancelotti turned to Luka Jovic — widely seen as a bust by Madridistas and had not started a single game under Ancelotti — to replace Benzema, it raised a few eyebrows. But Ancelotti wanted a genuine striker to replace Benzema, even if it meant a guy who’d not scored in his past 16 appearances for the club. And he was vindicated: Jovic set up Vinicius’ opener with a neat flick and made it 2-0 with a brave, close-range header.
Real Madrid controlled much of the game against an opponent who suddenly appears to be drifting and turned in a much better performance than in previous outings. There are still concerns — some blame Ancelotti for being over-reliant on the older legs in midfield — but they do appear to be pulling away in LaLiga: They are eight clear of Sevilla (who have a game in hand) and have the right kind of momentum going into the derby with Atletico Madrid next weekend.
Bernardo Silva shines as Man City roll, Jack Grealish auditions at center-forward
Janusz Michallik credits the work of Pep Guardiola after Bernardo Silva’s brace against Watford.
Manchester City had no issues dismantling Watford 3-1 on the road, and once again, Bernardo Silva showed just why he’s in the form of his life.
Pep Guardiola anointed him the best player in the Premier League; I hate rankings of this sort, so I’ll let somebody else wade in there. Instead I’ll just point out he’s having this sort of season after a subpar campaign last year that saw him effectively up for sale most of the summer. Coming back like this shows tremendous character and man-management.
Jack Grealish lined up at center-forward — call it a “false nine” if you like, but he rather looked like a traditional modern striker, mobile in his approach, linking play and offering a central reference point when needed — and did well. You can add him to the list of alternatives in that role — Phil Foden, Ferran Torres, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez — which only makes you realize how City are likely only to bring in one of two types of center-forward: a big, powerful type to come off the bench in rare situations or a true world-beater. There’s no point simply bringing in another body.
Milan go top of Serie A with professional performance (and no strikers)
With a huge Champions League clash against Liverpool coming up, all Milan wanted from their game against Salernitana were three points and no injuries. They got half of those wishes.
Franck Kessie and Alexis Saelemaekers scored early to wrap things up against, arguably, the worst side in Serie A. But both Pietro Pellegri, standing in at center-forward, and Rafael Leao picked up injuries, leaving them severely depleted up front given that Ante Rebic and Olivier Giroud were also out. Stefano Pioli had to reinvent Rade Krunic at center-forward, which isn’t quite the same thing.
Of course, they still had a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the bench, but understandably, he was being kept wrapped in cotton wool ahead of the trip to Anfield. So while they celebrate first place, they reflect on the fact that their 40-year-old icon is the only fit forward.
Xavi looks beyond Real Betis and Barcelona pay a heavy price
Janusz Michallik defends Xavi after his first defeat as Barcelona manager and insists he can learn from Betis manager Manuel Pellegrini.
Say this about Xavi: He’s not afraid to roll the dice and make big calls even if sometimes, like on Saturday, they backfire badly.
Barcelona travel to Munich to face Bayern in midweek, knowing that only a win guarantees them a spot in the Champions League last-16 because Benfica, who are two points behind them, face a Dynamo Kyiv side with nothing to play for. And that may well have played into his decision to bench three key men like Frenkie De Jong, Gerard Pique and Ousmane Dembele for Betis’ visit on Saturday. And that decision, possibly, ended up costing them the game.
Maybe Xavi figured that Betis were without their best player (Nabil Fekir), that Manuel Pellegrini had lost here in his last 10 attempts, that Betis hadn’t kept a clean sheet at the Camp Nou since 1994 and that it all meant something. Instead, Betis went toe-to-toe and Barca struggled to impose themselves. They looked lightweight in the middle of the park, Philippe Coutinho looked lost out wide and Memphis Depay had an off day (not his first, of late).
Depay, especially, is looking less and less like a center-forward (probably because he isn’t) and that can be problematic if, as Xavi does, you insist on playing with wide front men.
The 1-0 defeat leaves them six points off the top four, which isn’t a tragedy, but neither does it bode well. You wonder if, hindsight being 20/20, maybe the boost of a win over Betis might have been worth more than the “rest” afforded his three starters, two of whom (De Jong and Dembele) came on anyway.
Wijnaldum rescues a point, but PSG still look flat
An injury time goal from Georginio Wijnaldum helped Paris Saint-Germain avoid defeat against Lens, but there was little to cheer for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, who were outplayed for a lot of the game.
Keylor Navas had another rough day between the posts, leading many to question the rotation between him and Gianluigi Donnarumma that’s been going on all season. Competition is good in most situations, but you wonder if for goalkeepers, things work a little bit differently and the constant uncertainty is doing more harm than good.
It’s also hard to shake the feeling that motivation (or lack thereof) might not be an issue, too. PSG are 11 points clear at the top of Ligue 1, and it’s early December. They’re not really going to play a match that really matters until the Champions League knockouts in the spring. Maybe Pochettino ought to prioritise these intervening months to try out new solutions to make his group of superstars into an actual team.
Origi gets the ‘super-sub’ headlines, but Liverpool’s performance should have been enough
Janusz Michallik explains why he believes Liverpool may well look back fondly at their late victory against Wolves, should they win the Premier League this season.
I’ll never tire of saying this. Yes, goals are critical because this a low-scoring sport, but it’s also one drenched in randomness, happenstance and, well, luck. Playing well is a much better indicator of what’s to come than the final score, because the scoreboard often lies.
Liverpool played very well away to Wolves and created plenty of chances, which is what a team is supposed to do. Less good was their finishing, and that’s down to the individual.
Bear that in mind when lionizing Divock Origi. Yes, his 94th-minute strike was obviously crucial to Liverpool’s 1-0 victory, but it was the least they deserved, given how well they played and how much they dominated in the previous 93 minutes.
Celebrate Origi, by all means. It’s not easy to come into games cold and make a difference, and yet he’s done it plenty of times. But don’t forget the stellar performance of the other guys on the pitch, and remember that Klopp is probably right when he says he wishes he could get Origi more minutes, but he simply can’t.
Why? Well, he won’t say this, but the other guys are better. A lot better, at least within Klopp’s framework.
It’s too early to say they’ve turned the corner, but Juventus impressed against Genoa
OK, you can only beat what’s in front of you, and Genoa — stellar performance from Salvatore Sirigu aside — are a very poor side. But we saw Juventus do something they’ve rarely done since Max Allegri’s return: go out, dominate and take the game to the opposition. It finished 2-0 — the opener a classic “Olympic goal” from Juan Cuadrado, who scored straight from a corner — though it could have easily been five or six.
Without Federico Chiesa, Allegri went for an aggressive lineup, using Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Bernardeschi down the wings and playing with intensity, aggression and quality. They’re still way back in the title race — seven points from fourth, 11 off the top of the table — and there’s no guarantee they can play like this against better sides. But they did show a different way of playing, one that doesn’t look like dated. That’s not nothing, and if you’re a Juve fan, you’ll take it.
Atletico pay dear price against Mallorca as Oblak runs out of miracles
Jan Oblak has been one of the world’s best goalkeepers for several years now. This season, however, he has shown signs of being merely human, and it’s costing Atletico Madrid. Against Mallorca, a better side than their league position suggests, he made some big first-half stops, but he failed to keep out Takefusa Kubo on the counterattack in injury time and Atleti fell at home 2-1.
It’s obviously not his fault that Atleti, desperately looking for a late winner, got caught up the pitch, but watching Kubo’s finish (which was far from irresistible), you expect Oblak to keep it out.
Yet Atletico’s issues go beyond a shutdown keeper not pulling out yet another miracle save. It took them ages to take the lead — and only after conceding more chances than Diego Simeone would have liked — and then, at 1-0 up, they switched from a 4-3-3 formation to a 5-3-2. Presumably this was to protect the lead, but it had the opposite effect, emboldening the visitors.
It’s not what Simeone needs heading into a sink-or-swim Champions League clash with Porto.
Kane still misfiring, but Tottenham beat Norwich, are knocking on top four’s door
Mark Donaldson and Janusz Michallik discuss how Tottenham is in good hands with Son Heung-min if Harry Kane was to leave Tottenham Hotspur.
There’s a reason Norwich, recent results notwithstanding, are in the relegation zone, but Tottenham’s 3-0 win on Sunday is still cause for (cautious) celebration. It leaves Tottenham two points from fourth place with a game in hand, which probably puts Antonio Conte ahead of expectations in terms of results.
In terms of performance, there’s still work to do — he’d be the first to say it — but results give you confidence. Now, if they could only help Harry Kane find his scoring boots.
It’s extraordinary to think that the guy for whom they turned down a $150m bid last summer and who averaged 23 league goals a season over the past seven years is still stuck on one goal this campaign … and we’re closing in on Christmas. Kane could have had a hat trick on Sunday. Needless to say, if he finds his mojo, Spurs’ progress curve will get that much steeper, and that much more quickly.
Atalanta are for real as depleted Napoli lose top spot
It’s not so much the fact that Atalanta beat Juventus and Napoli on the road in the space of a week that makes them title contenders; it’s the way they did it. They were buccaneering and front-foot forward in Naples, more cautious and counterattacking in Turin, but always with the same determination and fluidity that’s increasingly as much of a Gian Piero Gasperini hallmark as the back three and the wing-backs.
Against Napoli, they came back from 2-1 down and continued throwing punches at the opposition until the end, emerging as 3-2 victors. Whatever they’re doing (and lest we forget, they have the 10th highest budget in Serie A) is working: bottle it up and watch them go.
As for Napoli, they were missing key players in every department: Kalidou Koulibaly and Kostas Manolas at the back, Fabian Ruiz and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa in midfield, Lorenzo Insigne and Victor Osimhen up front. And they also lost midfielder Stanislav Lobotka early in the second half.
Plenty of mitigating circumstances, to be sure. So while losing top spot in Serie A is a blow, it need not be a crushing one. They’ll be back.
Too much, too soon? Marsch fired by RB Leipzig
In the wake of their defeat to Union Berlin, RB Leipzig’s head coach Jesse Marsch has been relieved of his duties after just three months in the role following a disastrous start to the season.
Jesse Marsch obviously had a rough ride at Leipzig: 11th place in the Bundesliga after three straight losses, and three defeats in five Champions League games tell their own story. But it’s still a little surprising to see him summarily sacked like this.
You change coaches when you think the team won’t improve or when you believe you can get a major upgrade by hiring someone else, which doesn’t seem to be the case here. Marsch’s Leipzig wasn’t great (heck, they weren’t even good), but he did have a bunch of mitigating factors. After all, this is a side that lost their starting defensive partnership (Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano) and emotional leader (Marcel Sabitzer) over the summer. Marsch is also a manager who went from having an all-conquering juggernaut at Salzburg to having to build something new in a new league, following in the footsteps of one of the best coaches around (Julian Nagelsmann).
Marsch worked for the Red Bull organisation in one form or other for eight years. That’s enough time to fully evaluate somebody and know what he can offer. Firing him after five months is an admission of failure — the organisation’s failure as much as Marsch’s.
Bas Dost scored for Bruges in their 3-2 home win against Seraing. He now has seven goals in 14 Belgian league appearances and is on pace to score 20 in the league. Overall, he has nine goals in 20 appearances in all competitions this season.
This concludes this instalment of #BasDostWatch.