Barcelona, Blog, Blog - Marcotti's Musings, Clubs, Real Madrid, Spanish Primera División, Story

Missed any of the action around Europe this weekend? Have no fear: Gab Marcotti is here to catch you up with all the talking points in the latest Monday Musings.

Jump to: Real defeat Barca | What Bundesliga protests mean | VAR finale for Everton vs. Man United | Coronavirus impacting Serie A | Liverpool must refocus after loss | More Mbappe magic | Man City win Carabao Cup | Have Dortmund turned corner? | Mourinho moaning again | How Lazio went top of Serie A | Chelsea’s struggles go on | Leipzig slip | Atalanta score SEVEN goals

Real’s clasico win makes them title faves over Barcelona

See the world through blaugrana glasses and it’s not so bad. Barcelona marched into the Bernabeu, created three solid chances in the first half and eventually lost 2-0 to a deflected strike from Vinicius Jr. and a garbage time goal from, ahem, Mariano Diaz.

While the above is true, it’s also fair to say that Real Madrid’s Clasico win at the Bernabeu since 2004 wasn’t down to chance. They made the adjustments they needed to make in the second half — namely, pushing up and passing higher and making it hard for the opposition to get into the final third — and looked more threatening almost immediately. Quique Setien didn’t have the answers to counter that. Martin Braithwaite, coming off the bench, isn’t Luis Suarez and all that was left was the usual, sterile possession.

The game could easily have taken a different turn but for those first-half misses, particularly from Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi. It happens: players miss chances, even ones who are paid handsomely to convert them, because they usually do. More of a concern was the lack of answers in midfield not through lack of application, but simple lack of quality. Adding an extra midfielder didn’t make their possession any more incisive though, to be fair, at least Arturo Vidal offered a bit of oomph.

Gerard Pique said afterward that this was the worst Real Madrid in recent years, which naturally raises the question of what it says about Barcelona, who are now one point behind them in the table with 12 games remaining. They’re still close enough to the top of table that, despite arguably a tougher run-in than Real Madrid, La Liga remains wide open and, of course, they’ve got the Champions League to look forward to. But there’s no escaping the fact that unless things suddenly, magically come together for Setien, any silverware they win this season will be down to the superhuman efforts of Messi and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Real Madrid’s gritty win over Barcelona tilted La Liga in their favor and showed that they’re much closer to being the finished product than their clasico rivals.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, showed grit and self-belief. I didn’t pick up on it watching on TV, but my colleague Sid Lowe, who joined us on the Gab + Juls podcast, pointed out that the atmosphere at the Bernabeu was dire at half-time. They had dropped five points in the previous two Liga games, they could have been two or three goals down by half-time and they’d just been beaten at home by Manchester City in the Champions League. That’s the sort of negativity in which you can easily drown. Instead, they pushed on. Zidane didn’t make any personnel changes, as if he was telling them: “OK, it’s a major rough patch, we’ve got one foot out of the Champions League and we could be throwing the league too … but we got a reprieve and live to fight another day. You guys were out there, you guys turn it around.”

– Hunter: Vinicius tilts title race in Real’s favor
– Real ratings: Vinicius the hero
– Barcelona ratings: Messi, Griezmann fall flat

Isco forced a world-class save from ter Stegen, Vinicius’ furious running turned him into an ideal spoiler, Toni Kroos‘ passing became crisper and Raphael Varane continued his defensive master class. Even Marcelo, with one notable lung-bursting recover tackle on Messi, chipped in with some defensive heroics. Character and personality aplenty. This is a team that, post-Cristiano Ronaldo (who was up in the stands), is less about individual match winners. It might have been a different story if Eden Hazard hadn’t gotten injured or if Gareth Bale didn’t have his string of ailments/passion for golf. But in terms of where they are now, a point clear of Barcelona, they’ll sink or swim based on their collective efforts.

Most of all, they have enough individuals who, on their day, can go to the next level. Isco, for one, and Varane, Sergio Ramos, Kroos, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema. None of these guys might be difference-makers in every game, all of them can be difference-makers in a given game. Barca don’t have that, at least not to this extent, which is why Real Madrid have to be slight favourites for La Liga at this stage.

Fan protests against Hopp escalate in the Bundesliga

Bayern’s trip to Hoffenheim looked no different than many of their recent outings. Leading 3-0 after 15 minutes (just like against Cologne two weeks earlier) against an opponent that had taken one point from a possible 12 in recent weeks. And then things got weird, after some traveling Bayern fans displayed a banner insulting Hoffenheim’s chief financial backer, Dietmar Hopp.

A bit like Leipzig, Hopp isn’t popular with many rank-and-file Bundesliga supporters because, in their view, he circumvented the league’s 50+1 rule, which mandates that clubs have to be non-profit entities with control staying with the supporters. Things escalated this season after the league banned Borussia Dortmund supporters for two seasons from attending games at Hoffenheim for their repeated targeting of Hopp. They saw this as unfair, not least because their opposition to him was limited to chants and banners. Hopp didn’t help himself when he placed recording equipment in the away end for Dortmund’s visit and then took legal action against three Borussia fans who had insulted him during the game.

Part of this is a broader rejection from Bundesliga fans against what they see as the over-commercialization of football. (Opposition to Monday night football comes into this too.) But what tipped the balance for many — even uniting traditionally rival fan bases like Dortmund, Gladbach and Bayern against the establishment — was the away ban inflicted on Borussia supporters. In their view, this strikes right at the heart of a supporters’ right to protest, which is why they didn’t remove their banner even when Bayern coach Hansi Flick pleaded with them to do so or when the referee suspended the game.

That suspension is what led to the final 13 minutes of kick-around in Saturday’s 6-0 rout, rather than playing out the game.

– Uersfeld: Bayern, Dortmund games halted by protests
Anti-Hopp messages cause stoppage at Union vs. Wolfsburg

Two evident thoughts spring to mind here. One is that it’s not the players’ job to do this. Referees have protocols, police and stewards have powers to remove people (and banners). Let the authorities deal with it and let the consequences play out. If rules were broken, there are people there to deal with it.

The uncomfortable corollary to this, of course, is that it’s bad optics. We just saw players effectively refusing to play a game that was pretty much over already because a banner was displayed offending a millionaire’s dead mother and claiming the moral high ground. Would they have done the same if the score had been tied and the outcome in doubt? Would they have done the same if that had been racist abuse raining down from the stands?

The other is that Hopp himself seems to be living in denial. On Sunday, he said: “If I remotely knew what these idiots wanted from me, it would be easier to understand. I can’t explain why they’re so hostile to me. It reminds me of very dark times.” He then added: “I don’t want to talk to these people, it’s pointless.”

Leaving aside the bad taste of his possible allusion and that resorting to more name-calling helps nobody, you can’t complain about not understanding why they don’t like you while at the same time refusing to speak to them or expounding an iota of effort to see what their problem is. Which, by the way, most folks have no trouble understanding, even those who disagree with their methods.

Man United escape Everton with a point

Bad news and good news out of Goodison Park for Manchester United. The bad news is that based on performance, Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Everton means two points dropped and David De Gea made a colossal blunder. The good news is that at least they got a point (after VAR disallowed what would have been Everton’s winner), that Bruno Fernandes is the real deal and De Gea made a key late save, reminding us of what he can still do.

The upshot is that they remain fifth, just three points from the Champions League places, while the late VAR decision divides opinion and comes down to your interpretation of interference. Gylfi Sigurdsson was obviously offside; was his mere presence enough of a disruption to De Gea when he obviously wasn’t blocking his view? Did he interfere by moving his legs out of the way when the keeper obviously wasn’t going to get to Dominic Calvert-Lewin‘s finish after it deflected off Harry Maguire‘s heel?

My answer would be no, and that the goal should have stood, but I can also see the opposite argument. What’s pretty evident is that if the assistant had flagged for offside and if referee Chris Kavanagh had reviewed the incident — something he should have been allowed to do, since it was a question of interpretation — we would likely have avoided the post-match aggro.

– Dawson: Fernandes helping Man United evolution
– Man United ratings: De Gea 5/10 in draw

Final thought on De Gea. At some point, United will have a big call to make in terms of whether keeping him as number one or handing the job to Dean Henderson, who has been stellar on loan at Sheffield United this season. In normal circumstances you’d imagine them competing for the starting job in preseason training and the manager making a decision … but these aren’t normal circumstances. De Gea signed a new deal paying him close to $20m a year. He’s far and away the best-paid keeper in the world, which makes him very difficult to shift, particularly since the few teams who could afford him aren’t looking for a new keeper.

Incidentally, this raises the point that United’s three best-paid players are De Gea, Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez. Two of those three, for different reasons, have contributed virtually nothing to the club this season. The other is vastly under-performing his contract. You hope that somewhere within the club, someone is reviewing these choices.

Serie A in continued flux over coronavirus

When it comes to the coronavirus epidemic, obviously we have to defer to the experts, so postponing games or playing behind closed doors in affected areas is a price worth paying. What’s harder to swallow is the hesitation, and ensuing chaos, from the Italian league.

Juventus-Inter was supposed to be played behind closed doors on Sunday night, along with four other games in affected areas. Then it was postponed to May 13, with the Coppa Italia final moving to May 20 and moving from Rome to Milan because of Euro 2020 preparations). Then it looked as if they were going to move it to this Wednesday, which meant the scheduled Cup semifinals were going to be played at some undefined point in the future. (Oh, and Monday’s Sampdoria vs. Verona game was cancelled within 24 hours of kickoff.)

Now, as of Monday lunchtime, they’re talking about playing this past weekend’s games, including Juve vs. Inter, next weekend and shifting everything back a week. But don’t bank on it, because it could all change again within the next few hours.

Liverpool’s run finally ended. Now they need to refocus

It had to come at some point, but few would have imagined that it would come away to Watford and with such a poor performance. Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat at Vicarage Road doesn’t change much in the grand scheme of things: they’ll still win the Premier League and they’ll do it with a record points total or close to it. But prior to falling at Watford, and since their two weeks off, they’ve beaten bottom-of-the-table Norwich with a late goal, lost away to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and had to come from behind to overcome West Ham, 3-2. When the front three don’t produce and Trent Alexander-Arnold has an off day, they can be vulnerable.

Ames: Does defeat tarnish Liverpool’s march to the title?
– Ogden: Liverpool loss shines brighter light on Arsenal’s Invincibles
– Toe Poke: Did a fan’s letter doom Liverpool?

Then again, everybody has a weakness, and the Reds have built up so much capital that they can more than afford a wobble. That said, if they slip up at Chelsea in the FA Cup on Tuesday and don’t turn it around against Atletico in the Champions League return leg, it might be tricky to stay motivated the rest of the campaign.

Mbappe magical again for PSG

Kylian Mbappe may have been relatively up and down this season, but this move against Dijon on Saturday showed he’s in the mood as much as the two goals he scored in the 4-0 win. He now has five goals in his last five games.

More broadly, Paris Saint-Germain needed a quiet, resounding win after the chaos of their last few Ligue 1 outings. A bit of normality doesn’t hurt.

Man City hang on to win Carabao Cup

After about half an hour of the Carabao Cup final, with Manchester City 2-0 up, it looked as if we were heading for a blowout. Given some of Pep Guardiola’s choices — not Claudio Bravo for Ederson (we’re used to that in the cups), but rather starting Phil Foden and leaving out both Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne — didn’t seem an obvious conclusion before kickoff.

– Stream replay: Man City 2-1 Aston Villa (U.S. only)
– Highlights: Man City clinch third straight Carabao Cup (U.S. only)
– Ogden: Man City win cup but show era of dominance might be ending

John Stones had a Phil Jones moment before Mbwana Samatta’s thundering header made it 2-1 and opened up the game, but City went on to win their third straight League Cup. The Premier League may be gone, but Pep is still thinking Treble of a different kind.

Have Dortmund turned a corner?

Borussia Dortmund’s 1-0 home win over Freiburg was in stark contrast to their recent games: calm, controlled, no defensive jitters, decidedly understated. Hardly impressive, but efficient.

It leaves them four points behind Bayern and one behind Leipzig but more important than that, it’s also their second consecutive clean sheet and their third in the last four games. Have they turned a corner defensively? Don’t hold your breath.

Mourinho shouldn’t be giving up on this season yet

Last week, Jose Mourinho talked about how he wished he could fast-forward to July 1. Presumably that would mean a fresh start, a full preseason and a bunch of new players. You get what he’s saying, but surely he also understands that Spurs, for now, are still alive in two cup competitions and have a shot at next season’s Champions League. And whether or not they qualify — not to mention how well they perform in this year’s cups — will determine their budget this summer, as well as how much fun Mourinho has spending it.

Statements like that have knock-on effects. It’s not the reason they squandered a 2-1 lead with just over half an hour to go and lost 3-2 at home to Wolves, a direct rival in that hunt for Champions League spots, but it does set the tone. Just as dropping Toby Alderweireld (more so than Jan Vertonghen, who clearly doesn’t seem to fit in Mourinho’s plans) for Eric Dier.

Lazio extend their remarkable run and take Serie A lead

Lazio moved to the top of Serie A with a 2-0 dismantling of Bologna, extending their lead to two points over Juventus who have a game in hand. They haven’t lost in the league since September, they won 16 of their last 18 games and have scored two or more goals in 19 leagues matches: in the big five leagues, only Manchester City, Liverpool and PSG have done better. That’s some company to keep.

Whether or not they maintain this run is subject to endless debate, but you have to tip your cap to Simone Inzaghi, the guy in charge who exudes a certain calm this year, a sense of knowing when to speak up and when to let things rest. In some ways it’s reminiscent of Claudio Ranieri’s remarkable 2015-16 Leicester campaign, and it may well end up the same way.

Chelsea continue to struggle in 2020

Take out the FA Cup win over Hull, and Chelsea have now won just one of their past seven games against top-flight opposition. Their 3-0 home beat-down at the hands of Bayern means they’re virtually out of the Champions League while the futility of the chasing pack has been the only thing keeping them in the Premier League’s top four. They have 11 fewer points this season than last season at the same stage and, by the way, most fans celebrated when last season’s manager moved on.

Williams: Chelsea’s grip on top four is slipping

This weekend’s 2-2 draw against Bournemouth underscored a lot of the worries many had. The early-season reliance on youngsters was great, but there is such a thing as burnout. Callum Hudson-Odoi is injured. So is Christian Pulisic. Tammy Abraham is exhausted, bouncing in and out of the side. Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori aren’t the fixtures they were in the autumn. And while you assume Frank Lampard had a good reason to drop Kepa Arrizabalaga for Willy Caballero, the drop-off is evident. Throw in the injury to N’Golo Kante and it’s not hard to see why they’re in this position.

Lampard said earlier this season that his Chelsea team was ahead of the curve; now, they’re regressing to the mean. It might still be enough to grab that fourth Champions League place, but it’s tough going.

Leipzig drop points, but don’t lose hope

Leipzig’s 1-1 home draw with Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday sees them slip three points behind Bayern. It was probably a fair result, though Leon Bailey was fortunate when his badly scuffed shot beat the keeper.

Julian Nagelsmann himself said his team did not play well and wouldn’t have deserved the victory, which is fair enough. There is a ton on their plate right now and for most of his team, it’s the first legitimate title race in which they’ve been involved. But this is far from over and their run-in looks more than manageable on paper.

Teams should try to take notes on what Atalanta is doing

For the second time this season, Atalanta scored seven goals on the road, beating Lecce 7-2. Duvan Zapata grabbed a hat-trick and Josip Ilicic served up one of those moments of skill that reminds us all why we fell in love with this game.

Only Bayern and PSG have scored more league goals this season than Atalanta in Europe’s Big Five leagues. The most interesting question is whether other clubs are going to take inspiration and attempt to mimic some of what Gian Gasperini preaches Because the fact of the matter is that these are good, not great, individuals. And if he can get them to play like that, other clubs of comparable size (Atalanta have the 12th highest wage bill in Serie A) ought to be able to do it too.

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