Gab Marcotti is here to recap a busy, dramatic weekend in soccer. Welcome to Monday Musings.
Jump to: Man City vs. Spurs | Breaking down Coutinho to Bayern | Man United’s Alexis problem | Bale dazzles for Real | Arsenal got a gem in Ceballos | Balotelli returns home | Lampard and Chelsea so far | Dortmund look good | Joao Felix is a gem | PSG in chaos? | And finally…
Were Man City unlucky vs. Tottenham?
It may have been overshadowed by the late disallowed goal, but Manchester City’s performance against Tottenham was about as comprehensive a drubbing as you’ll see between two top-six clubs. Realistically, the fact that City are already at last season’s levels — and that includes Kevin De Bruyne, who seems to have put injuries behind him and has returned to his 2017-18 self — will matter far more in the long run than the two points dropped, unlucky as they were to draw 2-2. (As you’ll recall, Man City were one of the unluckier teams last season despite winning a second straight league title.)
As for Tottenham, it’s hard not to be disappointed by what you saw. The midfield trio of Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks and Tanguy Ndombele were a revolving door for much of the game, but that had plenty to do with the lack of help they got from the attacking midfielders and the fire-fighting they had to do on the flanks, where Danny Rose and Kyle Walker-Peters had rough days.
OK, I got two paragraphs in without bringing up VAR, so let’s get this done.
Erik Lamela pulling down Rodri certainly looked like a penalty on television and, at the very least, it seems like something referee Michael Oliver might have wanted to review. There are two points to make here. The first is that we simply don’t know why it wasn’t subject to an on-field review. VAR may have alerted Oliver, who told them he didn’t want to review it because he had seen it and was happy with his on-pitch decision (unlikely). Or VAR may have decided not to alert him, particularly since it didn’t meet the Premier League’s stated goal of having a “high bar” for on-field reviews so they could be few and far between (quite possible).
There’s a quick and easy fix for that: better communication. I’ve likely mentioned this before but at a minimum, in real time, it makes sense to brief the media on why a decision was (or was not) taken.
The other point is that the second explanation — that it doesn’t meet “the high bar for VAR” standards — is, frankly, problematic. Whether you thought it was a penalty or not, something like that should be the referee’s call: set the bar any higher and you might as well not have on-field reviews.
As for the disallowed Gabriel Jesus goal, it’s not a VAR issue: it’s all about the changes to the Laws of the Game, much like Leander Dendoncker‘s disallowed goal last week for Wolves. As of June 1, the laws state that a handball, even if accidental, that leads to a goal invalidates the goal. The standard reaction was that — to paraphrase Charles Dickens — “the Law is an ass.” Undoubtedly it could be better written but the reason it was brought in was because of the belief in the principle that gaining an advantage from handling, even if accidental, was anathema to the game.
As I see it, this was a decision for a pre-VAR world. Without VAR, it makes sense to spare the referee the task of determining intent in what is often bound to be quick, pinball deflections. With VAR, common sense should rule. That said, let’s not forget that 99 percent of football matches are played without VAR, and IFAB’s job is to legislate for the game as a whole, not just big leagues who can afford VAR.
Maybe this is one situation where you can revisit the law, allowing those leagues with VAR to make their own decision on whether a handball that leads to a goal is accidental or not.
Ultimately, the Law itself makes sense in real time, but less so with the benefit of replay.
Breaking down Coutinho’s loan to Bayern Munich
Who got the better deal from Philippe Coutinho‘s loan move from Barcelona to Bayern Munich? Certainly Barca. Whether Bayern benefit from it too remains to be seen.
The Catalans get his wages of roughly $25 million off their books for a season and that already is an achievement. Coutinho was in the category of players who, due to the size of their contract, could only play for a very small number of clubs. They placed him at one of those who could afford him and, as a bonus, he’s in a shop window. Doing well at Bayern isn’t like doing well in China or the Gulf. People will notice. So even if Bayern don’t make the loan permanent, Barca will have options in terms of suitors next summer if he performs well in the Bundesliga this season.
From Bayern’s perspective, it’s a tougher call. The wage plus loan fee ($35m to cover both) is massive for a one-year rental. Sure, they got themselves an option to buy for $135m, but next summer Coutinho will be 28 and at that age, that’s still an arm and a leg for anyone not named Lionel or Cristiano.
It feels a little bit like the James Rodriguez deal all over again, minus Carlo Ancelotti, and there’s now a question over where to play him. Stick him in the No.10 hole — his best position — and you need to shift Thomas Mueller wide, which isn’t ideal). Play a 4-1-4-1 and you either have no defensive midfielder (because Thiago is sitting in front of the back four) or no Thiago (which isn’t good either). Play him wide and you lose one of your wingers.
Coutinho adds quality, sure, and he’s no doubt hungry and motivated. But then so was James, supposedly. The best-case scenario for Bayern is that Coutinho has a great season, fits Munich like a glove and they negotiate a deep discount on the $135m option. Right now, though, that feels like a long shot.
Would Man United be foolish to let Alexis leave?
Whether Alexis Sanchez‘s proposed loan move to Inter makes sense is pretty much down to the numbers.
If, as has been reported in Italy, Inter can get him for a minimal fee (less than $3m, plus an option to buy at around $15m) while also getting Manchester United to pay half his wages (which, lest we forget, are the highest in the Premier League, somewhere between $22m to $31m, depending who you believe) then it might make sense for the Milanese club as a short-term fix with a high upside. If they’re just indulging in wishful thinking, Inter may want to pump the brakes.
Less clear is how it makes sense from United’s perspective. This is one club where shaving a chunk off the wage bill really doesn’t make much difference. In addition, while Sanchez may not have covered himself in glory at Old Trafford over the past 18 months — he has scored three more league goals than the club’s executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward — he’s still a live body who plays up front (and looked really sharp in the Copa America). I already thought United were short-handed after the sale of Romelu Lukaku they’ll be even thinner with the Chile international gone, when Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood really do become the only options beyond Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
Beyond that, you rather feel both these clubs are guilty of a lack of clear thinking. It wasn’t a mystery that Sanchez wasn’t working out at Old Trafford, that Antonio Conte wanted a striker and the two clubs have been talking all summer over Romelu Lukaku, so why was it left until now to attempt the deal? Shifting Sanchez sooner would also have benefited United, giving them time to sign another forward.
(And no, don’t drink the Greenwood-and-Chong-all-along Kool-Aid. If that really was the plan, they wouldn’t have pursued Mario Mandzukic.)
Zidane trusts Bale in Real’s opener… and it pays off
The curious thing about Real Madrid’s 3-1 opening day win at Celta Vigo was how familiar it was. Seven of Zinedine Zidane‘s starters were around for the 2015-16 Champions League final, his first. (It would have been eight, but for the fact that Dani Carvajal was injured.) That number included Gareth Bale and it didn’t need to: even with Eden Hazard absent due to injury, Zidane had plenty of choices, from Isco to James Rodriguez and from Luka Jovic to Lucas Vazquez).
What does it mean? Simply that both are professionals. Zidane would probably still prefer Bale (and his wages) were elsewhere, but as long as Bale is around, why not use him? And from Bale’s perspective, he does what he’s paid to do. I’m not sure there’s much more to read into it than that and, as Zidane himself said, with the market closed in England and closing elsewhere, it looks as if he’s sticking around.
As for events on the pitch, Real Madrid were efficient and let their experience guide them through, even after Luka Modric‘s rather harsh red early in the second half. Some awful finishing from Celta didn’t hurt either. This likely won’t be the Madrid side we’ll see later on in the season but for now, they reminded us that they’re a unit who know how to win and still have far more quality than all but a handful of sides. That will do.
Ceballos already stands out for Arsenal
It will be curious to see what Unai Emery’s long-term plan for Arsenal might be, once Nicolas Pepe finds his feet and the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil are consistently available. For now, he’s getting results with Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson, which is further evidence that sometimes pay stub and pedigree matter less than system, enthusiasm and application.
Still, the star of the win over Burnley was Dani Ceballos, whose passing, awareness and personality more than moved the needle. Apart from four or five positions, it’s hard to nail down what Arsenal’s Best XI is when everyone is available. But what’s obvious already is that Ceballos needs to be a cast-iron starter, whatever the formation, whatever the mix.
“SuperMario” returns to Italy
No, Mario Balotelli won’t be joining “Gabigol” at Flamengo. Instead he’s going home, to his native Brescia, newly promoted to Serie A. Most have given up any attempt at psychoanalysis when it comes to “Super Mario” but on paper, you’d assume that being back in his home town will help him.
Balotelli says he hopes to convince Roberto Mancini to give him a place in the Euro 2020 squad and that wouldn’t have happened if he’d gone to Brazil. He turned 29 this month (boy, that snuck up on you, didn’t it?) and if he were a cat, he’d only have a couple of lives left. Three years in France yielded 51 goals in 88 appearances, which isn’t a bad return, but the bar, for him, is as high as it has ever been. And you can see why.
Lampard’s Chelsea still taking shape
Last season, the pundits and talking heads attacked Maurizio Sarri every which way for playing Jorginho in front of the back four and N’Golo Kante a little further forward, and to the side, of a midfield three. Surely that would all change with a sensible manager like Frank Lampard in charge?
While Lampard has changed a few things, like making Jorginho less of a basketball style “point guard” through whom everything must run, he’s still the deep-lying playmaker. And Kante is still the pressing machine, free to wreak havoc with runs into the box when the opportunity presents itself.
Credit to Lampard for not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Now, he just needs to get his team to play for a full 90 minutes. As good as Chelsea were in the first half-hour, they feel away badly after the break against Leicester and could easily have lost the match before settling for a 1-1 draw.
Dortmund show why they’re a title contender
Expectations are high in Dortmund after a big spending (by Bundesliga standards) summer that saw them add four legitimate starters in Mats Hummels, Nico Schulz, Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt. All but Brandt started (he came on at the end) in the 5-1 drubbing of Augsburg and, after they gave up the opener, it was about as one-sided as the score suggests.
Borussia Dortmund are deep and they have options in almost every area of the pitch. For the first time in a while, the Bundesliga is far from a foregone conclusion.
Joao Felix is a gem
Conventional wisdom suggested the $135m fee paid for a guy with less than 40 professional games under his belt was excessive. But if he keeps this up, he’ll prove that conventional wisdom — to paraphrase Dickens a second time — is also an ass.
PSG’s season is off to a horrid start
As if the mood at Paris Saint-Germain wasn’t grim enough, they fell away to Rennes on Sunday night and the Neymar saga is no closer to a conclusion. And despite some late chances, they fully deserved their 3-1 defeat against a side that started 16-year-old Eduardo Camavinga (you may want to remember the name) in the middle of the park.
Neymar and Presnel Kimpembe aside, this wasn’t too far off full-strength PSG either. So while Thomas Tuchel has a point when he says that if Neymar leaves they need more signings, it’s also not much of an excuse for what happened Sunday night.
Bas Dost is strongly rumoured to be on his way from Sporting Lisbon to Eintracht Frankfurt. Are you excited? I know I am.
This concludes the latest edition of #BasDostWatch.