The Premier League is back! So is La Liga in Spain! And there were fireworks in France as Ligue 1 rivals clashed. It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the sport of football from the past week.
Jump to: Liverpool shouldn’t panic yet | Unpacking PSG-Marseille brawl | Jury’s still out on Arsenal? | Hoeness sounds off re: Thiago, Alaba | Griezmann the answer for Barca? | Mourinho, Spurs must do better | First look at Pirlo’s Juve | Higuain a cautionary tale | And finally, Bas Dost
Liverpool shouldn’t panic yet despite wild game vs. Leeds
There are 101 mitigating circumstances to explain Liverpool conceding three goals at home to newly promoted Leeds United and needing two penalties (both legit, but both gifts) to avoid dropping points in the eventual 4-3 win. It’s the first game of the season, there was no proper preseason, Leeds’ goals were either world-class or the result of individual errors, it’s Marcelo Bielsa (and there’s a reason why he’s known as “El Loco”), they really haven’t had much to play for in months … you get the picture. It’s all valid, all true and I’m not going to through all of it.
What’s interesting to note, though, is that Liverpool have seemingly been oblivious to one of the most ubiquitous morsels of conventional wisdom among top clubs — the notion that teams have cycles, and if you want to stay at the top, you need to freshen things up regularly or change the manager. Messages get stale, motivation wanes, players age. It’s such a truism that Harvard Business School made a case study out of it, enlisting the help of none other than Sir Alex Ferguson.
The transfer window is open until October 5, of course, but the fact is that — with all due respect to Takumi Minamino, Kostas Tsimikas and Harvey Elliott — the last starter (or, credibly potential starter) they acquired was back in the summer of 2018 when they signed Fabinho, Alisson and Naby Keita. If they don’t add anybody this window, they’ll certainly be going against the grain.
When you also throw in the fact that five of the starting XI is 28 or older (six, if you count Georginio Wijnaldum, who becomes a free agent at the end of the season and could you leave), you wonder about Jurgen Klopp’s approach.
It’s not the reason why Saturday unfolded the way it did, but it’s pretty much a dead certainty that if they don’t emulate the stellar feats of the past two seasons, it will come up, because we love our nice, tidy explanations. Lack of competition for places … a squad that should have been freshened up … players who are less hungry … you know the drill.
ESPN FC’s Mark Ogden discusses what Jurgen Klopp might do to resolve Liverpool’s lack of strength in depth.
Me, I’ll give Klopp the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned it. And judging from Mohamed Salah‘s performance, there’s no cause for concern. (Roberto Firmino a bit less so, perhaps …) The flip-side of not “freshening up,” after all, is chemistry. These players know Klopp and his system — which is complex and not quickly digestible — inside and out, and, evidently, he sees more value in that than effecting change because conventional wisdom says you should.
What’s more, he has a contract through 2024, which means he’s committed to rebuilding this side at some point. This isn’t some short-term situation where he squeezes as much as he can out of this group and then rides off to a Barcelona or PSG.
What it does mean however is if the conventional wisdom is correct, and Klopp is wrong, the rebuild will necessarily need to be more of an overhaul.
Ligue 1 has a big issue to deal with after PSG-Marseille brawl
It’s going to take some time to fully understand what happened at the end of Le Classique between Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille. OM’s 1-0 victory was overshadowed by the five red cards in injury time and, more than that, by the very serious accusations of racism made by Neymar against Alvaro Gonzalez. Neymar took to social media to claim he had been called “monkey motherf—er” while Alvaro responded, for now, with a social media post saying “there is no place for racism.”
There’s a lot to unpack here, and Ligue 1 have since confirmed a meeting this Wednesday to review Neymar’s red card and his accusations. What’s not in question is that the match spun badly out of control towards the end, with Neymar shoving Alvaro out of bounds and, on the ensuing goal kick, Dario Benedetto and Leandro Paredes predictably clashing in the middle of the park to set off the melee that saw both players sent off, along with Layvin Kurzawa and Jordan Amavi.
Julien Laurens says there wasn’t enough football played is PSG’s loss to Marseille where five red cards were given.
Ligue 1 needed this outcome from its showpiece clash like it needed a hole in the head. Accusations of racism between players are difficult to prove one way or the other, so unless there’s an admission or video, it will be tricky to get closure here. As for Neymar, you’d imagine the authorities would be more lenient if he’d confronted Alvaro directly, rather than sneaking up behind him and appearing to sucker punch him during the ruckus. In the age of VAR, he was never going to get away with it.
The game itself was physical and ugly, which, given the rivalry, is more than understandable. PSG, evidently, are short on preparation and short on players (Kylian Mbappe, Marquinhos, Mauro Icardi and Keylor Navas were all out) and while this is the first time since 1984 that they lost their opening two games, there’s obviously plenty of time to recover. Still, with suspensions and fines looming, it’s a horrendous way to start the season. Having proved so many naysayers wrong in their run to the Champions’ League final, it feels as if all that goodwill and momentum has gone out the window.
Still too early to know what to make of Arsenal
Steve Nicol praises the performance of Willian on his Arsenal debut in their 3-0 win over Fulham.
Arsenal confirmed the steady progress made under Mikel Arteta with Saturday’s 3-0 rout of Fulham. It’s true that their opponents were awful, but the Gunners executed well and looked self-assured. Willian came up huge, as did another new signing, Gabriel, and in the short-term at least, there’s reason for cheer.
Longer term? It’s anyone’s guess. You’re still dealing with a front three with an average age of 31 who, if Pierre Emerick Aubameyang extends his deal, will be eating up a huge chunk of the wage bill. (If he doesn’t, Arsenal will likely lose arguably their best player on a free transfer.) Meanwhile, Granit Xhaka‘s midfield partner will be either the guy we saw on Saturday (Mohamed Elneny who is 28, was on loan last season and is entering the final two years of his contract) or Dani Ceballos (who is on loan) or, possibly a new signing.
In other words, long-term Arsenal won’t look much like this, and while there is no shortage of young talent, it’s hard to judge when they don’t get on the pitch.
Hoeness taking wrong approach with Thiago, Alaba contract talks
Uli Hoeness is just a Bayern Munich board member these days, no longer the club’s all-powerful supremo, but he’s still unfiltered when he speaks. If anything, more so. Thiago Alcantara and David Alaba are both in the final year of their contracts and both can, in theory, sign a pre-agreement with any club come Jan. 1 and leave as free agents next summer.
For both, this will likely be their last big contract of their careers. So they’re doing what you expect players to do: try and get the best possible deal while they still have leverage. It’s normal. But Hoeness, perhaps playing to his own fans, sees it differently.
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens talk about Uli Hoeness’ claims that Bayern are being blackmailed over Thiago.
He said Thiago already had an agreement with Manchester United or Liverpool (or both) but the clubs hadn’t been in touch with Bayern, thinking they’d wait until the end of the transfer window to “blackmail” the club into agreeing a cut-price deal. “That’s not the way to do things, as I see it,” he said.
As for Alaba, who has been as loyal a servant as you could wish for since joining the club 12 years ago, Hoeness described his agent, Pini Zahavi, as a “money-grubbing piranha.”
This sort of name-calling isn’t a good look; it also smacks of pot and kettle. Football is a business these days, and few clubs understand this better than Bayern. (In fact, few clubs, including Bayern under Hoeness, have contributed as much to making it this way.) Alaba and Thiago are fully entitled to use whatever leverage they have whichever way they see fit.
Griezmann up front might be the answer for Barca?
The transfer window is open for another three weeks, so logic suggests Barcelona will pick up a striker to replace Luis Suarez, assuming those Italian lessons to get his passport weren’t just for fun and he does move on. In the meantime, Barca played their first friendly with Lionel Messi, and we saw Antoine Griezmann lead the line.
It may not be the ideal solution, but it’s a solution. Griezmann did it for an entire season at Atletico Madrid and did it well. And he has Lionel Messi’s support. The Argentine, playing his first game since the “Burofax incident” and subsequent fallout, let Griezmann take a penalty to help shake him out of his funk (he had missed three in a row for France).
You’d feel better with a different option up front, but for now, this will have to do.
Mourinho, Tottenham must do better
Shaka Hislop points out Tottenham’s lack of play making in their 1-0 loss to Everton in the Premier League.
Tottenham looked poor in the 1-0 defeat to Everton on Sunday. Part of me salutes Jose Mourinho for being honest and saying his players were “lazy” in their pressing, had the wrong “state of mind” and were ill-prepared physically due to the lack of a proper preseason. But then part of me remembers that most teams had to deal with a curtailed training camp, and that pressing instructions and preparing your players mentally is a big reason why he’s one of the highest-paid managers in the world.
Spurs still forced two brilliant saves out of Jordan Pickford in the first half, and this game could have taken an entirely different turn had they scored, with Tottenham sitting deeper and hitting on the break. It doesn’t change the fact that, right now, they’re pretty one-dimensional and lacking creativity. Giovani Lo Celso‘s return should help with the latter; the rest is up to Mourinho and the players.
A first look at Pirlo’s Juventus
Juve’s friendly against Novara (a 5-0 win) offered a glimpse of Andrea Pirlo’s idea of football that, until now, had been anybody’s guess since he’s never actually coached. They lined up in a 3-5-2, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Dejan Kulusevski up front (Paulo Dybala and others are not yet available).
The two big takeaways were the use of a back three — albeit a more playmaking back three, and one that was very high up the pitch — and an emphasis on short, intricate passing and positional switches. It’s an ambitious way of playing, and difficult to pull off, but shows Pirlo wants to do things his way. It’s also the sort of football he himself would have loved to play.
Higuain deal a cautionary tale
Gonzalo Higuain received a $2 million payoff to leave Juventus with a year left on his contract. He’s taking his skills to South Florida, where he’ll join up with Blaise Matuidi at Inter Miami. Higuain is 32, but if he stays fit and his mindset is right, he can contribute to Major League Soccer. Yet his case should still serve as a cautionary tale for clubs breaking the bank to sign veteran players.
Juventus paid €90 million ($100m) to sign Higuain in 2016 and gave him a five-year deal worth around €13m ($15m), believing he was the missing link who would deliver the Champions League. That was a ton of money to tie up in a guy on the eve of his 29th birthday, and while he was productive in his first two seasons, scoring a total of 40 goals (which were actually just four more than he scored in his final year at Napoli), the numbers simply didn’t add up — especially after the club spent big to sign Cristiano Ronaldo. Unhappy loan spells at Milan and Chelsea followed, along with a disappointing final year at Juve.
There’s a lesson there for anybody who believes age is just a number and the present matters more than the future.
And finally …
Bas Dost scored for Eintracht Frankfurt in their 2-1 away win over 1860 Munich in the first round of the German Cup. He also set up a goal for Andre Silva, making his first start since his permanent move from Milan for €10 million. Dost and Silva renew their partnership from last season, which yielded 20 Bundesliga goals.
This concludes this instalment of #BasDostWatch. It is the first #BasDostWatch of 2020-21.