Arsenal rise to Newcastle challenge, Real Madrid win Copa del Rey, De Gea hurts Man United, more
Gab Marcotti, Senior Writer, ESPN FCMay 8, 2023, 11:56 AM ET
It’s been another brilliant weekend in European soccer, so let’s review. We had a gritty Arsenal win at Newcastle that keeps the Premier League title race alive another week, while Real Madrid claimed the Copa del Rey for the first time since 2013-14. There was a major error by David de Gea as Man United lost a second straight league game in the tight race for the top four; Liverpool are right behind them after a 1-0 win over Brentford.
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich took a big win over Werder Bremen, and Borussia Dortmund thumped Wolfsburg to keep the Bundesliga title race close with just three rounds of matches remaining. Napoli got to celebrate their title at home, though with plenty of questions ahead about their future to perhaps sour the mood.
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It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Arteta’s moves pay off as Arsenal win at Newcastle
I don’t know if Arsenal are going to win the title — the odds are certainly against them — but games like Sunday show that they’d be worthy champions. It’s not just the road victory against Newcastle, as only one club had won at St. James’ Park since 2021, but the way it came about.
For the second straight game, Arteta dropped Thomas Partey for Jorginho in the middle of the park. Against Chelsea in midweek, many interpreted it as Partey (who has struggled of late) merely needing a breather, and given Arsenal were at home against a less physical opponent, it made sense. But most expected Partey to return for the trip north; instead, Arteta opted for Jorginho. The move paid off handsomely as he was, along with Martin Odegaard, arguably the best player on the pitch.
Jorginho brought much needed calm to Arsenal in front of a raucous, passionate crowd, weathering Newcastle’s press and bringing the full weight of his big game experience to bear in what turned into an open, entertaining end-to-end affair. Nick Pope and Aaron Ramsdale both made stellar saves, Newcastle hit the woodwork twice and Arsenal once and had this game finished 4-3 either way, nobody would have batted an eyelid. It was the sort of match that required nerves and courage as much as quality and Arsenal, with all their inexperience and tendency to need to dominate to achieve success, passed the test with flying colors.
– Reaction: Arsenal rediscover their mettle vs. Newcastle
– How Premier League teams can qualify for Europe
Odegaard showed again why he’s been one of the best midfielders in Europe. His physical attributes and technical ability may be what earned him a move to Real Madrid at age 16, but his in-game intelligence and leadership quality are the elements that have taken him to a different level. Arsenal can do math — they’re one point back from Manchester City, but with a far worse goal difference and having played one more match — and will know the title race is out of their hands. But they’re showing they also know that it’s not over, that Manchester City have to play six games in 19 days — three of them on the road in the league, two of them against Real Madrid, home and away — and that anything can happen. And if it does, they want to be there.
As for Newcastle, they’ve won eight of their past 10 games and have to believe this is just a bump in the road that leads to next season’s Champions League. This game could have gone their way with a bit more luck (starting with Fabian Schar‘s own goal) and they are still abundantly playing with house money, but this is most definitely not the time to take your eye off the ball.
Real Madrid complete their own ‘Grand Slam’ in 18 months … but when does Vinicius Jr. become a concern?
Is Vinicius vs. Walker the key battle within Real Madrid vs. Man City?
Gab & Juls debate how Man City will look to stop Vinicius Jr. in their Champions League semifinal vs. Real Madrid.
When they look back, even if their Champions League run should end in the semifinal against Manchester City, Real Madrid may conclude that it has been a pretty good 18 months. Over that time period, they won LaLiga, the Champions League, the Spanish Super Cup, the European Super Cup, the Club World Cup and, with Saturday’s 2-1 win over Osasuna, the Copa del Rey too. For a club that likes to count titles, it’s their 100th trophy.
Furthermore, the “Grand Slam” (of sorts) comes without the sort of Galactico signings of yesteryear — Aurelien Tchouameni are guys for the future as much as the present, David Alaba and Antonio Rudiger were free agents — and with the hurt of the one big player, Kylian Mbappe, who didn’t materialize at the Bernabeu. Manager Carlo Ancelotti has instead focused on what he already had, making some players better and squeezing as much as he could out of others.
– With brilliance and controversy, Vinicius stars in Copa del Rey win
– Ancelotti hails Brazilian stars in Real’s success
– Madrid back Ancelotti to stay after Copa glory
One of those who has undoubtedly improved is Vinicius. There’s no answer to a guy who can beat you one-on-one time and again, and it’s no coincidence that both Real goals against Osasuna were a direct result of Vinicius wreaking havoc on the wing. That said, there’s a concern that accompanies him: only one forward or winger in Europe has more yellow cards this season.
So far, Vinicius has collected 10 in LaLiga, five in the Copa del Rey and one in the Champions League. Those are huge numbers given the position he plays (and how he plays it), and many are for dissent or squabbling with opponents. Last year, Vinicius had seven in all competitions; this year, it’s already more than twice as many. He turns 23 this summer, and so it’s time to stamp this out of his game — otherwise suspensions and red cards may follow.
De Gea costs Man United at West Ham … and leads to plenty more questions
Laurens: Man United should be worried about Liverpool in top 4 race
Gab & Juls react to Liverpool’s win over Brentford and discuss their top four hopes after Man United’s loss vs. West Ham.
David De Gea had one of those horrendous days on Sunday. It wasn’t just the blunder on Said Benrahma‘s weak shot that gave West Ham a 1-0 win, either: he looked uncoordinated and distracted on far too many occasions. Chalk it up to nerves if you like, but the guy is 32 years old and has been there for 11 years — these sorts of performances should not be happening. The fact that he’s in the midst of contract negotiations — and would reportedly need to take a pay cut in order to extend his deal — only puts the spotlight on him even more.
De Gea isn’t solely responsible for the situation Man United are in, and as I’ve written plenty of times, manager Erik ten Hag has done a remarkable job in his first season given the number of injuries and subpar signings this team has accumulated — the fact that some of the signings are down to him speaks more to the fact that he’s a far better coach than he is a recruitment guy. But the reality is that Untied have a one-point lead and a game in hand over fifth-place Liverpool in the race for a Champions League spot, and there’s reason to be nervous. (Yeah, I know Manchester City are in a similar situation with the lead title, except they have a ton more going for them.)
– Reaction: Man United are losing form at the worst time
– Sources: De Gea’s No. 1 spot is up for grabs
A top-four future is critical to United’s medium-term future because of the uncertainty surrounding the club. We don’t know whether the Glazers will sell to one of the two bidders on the table — and even if they do, being in the Champions League obviously moves the needle in terms of players they’re able to sign — or if they will take on more debt and keep running the club themselves. (If it’s the latter, Champions League revenue is even more important.)
What is obvious, however, is that a major squad revamp is needed. In some ways, De Gea is far less of a concern than other positions, but in others, he has seemingly come to symbolise the rut of recent seasons.
Juventus win, Vlahovic gets abused and Gasperini says silly things
Juventus notched a big win on Sunday, 2-0 away to Atalanta. They weren’t outstanding — they rarely are under Max Allegri — but it was fully deserved and, crucially, it was again a showcase for their gifted youngsters, which shows that the club’s mentality has changed. But the real story was Dusan Vlahovic.
After he scored deep in injury time, a sizeable portion of Atalanta supporters jeered Vlahovic, calling him an ethnic slur. (It’s not the first time this has happened, either: he received similar treatment ahead of his move from Fiorentina to Juventus.) Under Italian FA regulations, that’s ethnic abuse, so the referee applied the anti-racism protocol, suspending the game. A warning soon came over the loudspeakers saying the match would be abandoned if the abuse continued. He also booked Vlahovic for appearing to sarcastically egg on the home supporters.
It’s pretty clear what should happen next. When Romelu Lukaku was racially abused away to Juventus, Juve took immediate ownership. They acknowledged the abuse and issued the maximum ban they could against two supporters. They also collaborated with law enforcement and the FA investigation, which led to the banning of another 171 of their own fans. That’s responsibility. That’s accountability.
Atalanta need to also do the right thing here. Instead, their coach Gian Piero Gasperini said after the match that they’re not racist since their midfielder Mario Pasalic is Croatian and their defender Berat Djimsiti is Albanian. He also said these are just “insults,” and that “racism” is a different, more serious matter.
It’s 2023: we’ve moved beyond that. It doesn’t matter whether or not those Atalanta fans actually are prejudiced against the Romani people. The only thing that matters is that they used ethnicity as a vehicle to abuse Vlahovic, and that’s unacceptable. Period.
Gasperini is responsible for the first team. Those who are responsible above that, namely owners Stephen Pagliuca and the Percassi family, need to speak up and take action. They can’t let Gasperini’s inanities be the only thing coming out of that club on this issue.
Salah powers Liverpool as they close in on top four … but Nunez needs to improve
Is Liverpool’s strong finish cause for optimism next season?
Janusz Michallik says Liverpool’s run of six consecutive wins proves the squad are still buying into Jurgen Klopp’s ideas.
Mohamed Salah was on hand to deliver the goal that sent Liverpool to their sixth straight league victory against Brentford. The win keeps their top-four hopes alive, and while they’re still not where Jurgen Klopp wants them to be — and while a top-four finish remains out of their hands — the momentum matters, and Trent Alexander-Arnold is growing into his new role.
– Salah scores his 100th goal at Anfield in Liverpool win
– Liverpool fans boo anthem to honor King Charles
Salah turns 31 this summer and signed a big extension last year. The fact that he hit the 30-goal mark for the third straight season, rather than resting on his laurels, is a testament to his drive and professionalism. But he’ll need help up front, and it’s critical that Liverpool get more from Darwin Nunez.
Nine goals in 29 league appearances (and just 19 starts) isn’t a great return for a guy who cost €75m (rising to €100m with bonuses) last summer. He has underperformed xG by three goals and while he provides plenty even when he’s not scoring, you expect a plug-and-play top drawer striker for that kind of financial commitment.
Nunez didn’t exactly light it up in his first season at Benfica two years ago — six in 29 league games — before going to the next level in his second campaign (26 in 28). Klopp will be hoping for a similar trajectory at Anfield.
Bayern Munich on course for title, but goals are drying up and Tuchel has plenty to do
Bayern beat Werder Bremen away 2-1, which means they’re still one point clear at the top of the Bundesliga. They might have won by more against a free-falling opponent — Werder have taken five of a possible 27 points in the past two months — but circumstances, like a brilliant Jiri Pavlenka save and a late, long-range wonder goal from Niklas Schmidt, conspired against them. The win doesn’t change the fact they’re not playing well, though, and any notion that Thomas Tuchel’s appointment to replace Julian Nagelsmann would be an instant turnaround was decidedly far-fetched (as many of us pointed out at the time).
Take out his debut against Borussia Dortmund — when Bayern were gifted three goals — and Tuchel’s team has managed just nine goals in eight games in all competitions. That’s 1.12 per game, which doesn’t compare favourably to Nagelsmann’s 111 in 36, or 3.08. In fact, it’s two whole goals fewer. Tuchel is trying different things with this squad — Ryan Gravenberch getting his second start of the season, Joao Cancelo in a more prominent role, Thomas Muller on the bench — but these are the things you expect in preseason, not during a stretch run for the title.
Man City win and Haaland gets a tongue-lashing from Guardiola, straight from the coach’s playbook
Why Guardiola kept his Man City stars on the pitch vs. Leeds
Rob Dawson explains why Pep Guardiola didn’t rest his star players in the 2-1 win over Leeds, days before playing Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Manchester City should have already been out of sight against Leeds United when they were awarded a penalty while already 2-0 up. They’d enjoyed 81% of possession, boasted an xG of 1.85 (that would become 2.63 with the penalty), and enjoyed 19 shots on goal to 3 (of which just one Leeds effort was even on target) as the game unfolded the way you’d expect it to unfold against a Sam Allardyce side.
Erling Haaland, City’s regular penalty-taker, opted to let Ilkay Gundogan — who was one goal away from a first-ever hat trick — take the spot kick and almost immediately, everything changed. Gundogan sent his penalty against the post, Leeds exploited a Manuel Akanji mistake to make it 2-1 with five minutes to go, and you found yourself wondering whether in a fiery finale whether City would drop two points at home. They didn’t, of course, and City remain a point ahead of Arsenal with a game in hand.
– Relentless Man City keep winning as Gundogan outshines Haaland
– When can Man City clinch the Premier League?
Pep Guardiola, of course, could not have known that when Gundogan failed to score, and maybe that’s why he railed at Haaland, telling him three times that he should have taken the spot kick. But I like to think there’s more to Guardiola’s words than simply respecting the coach’s instructions. (Haaland’s penalty record, as a senior pro, is 30-for-33 for club and country; Gundogan’s, before the miss, was 13-for-15… there’s not much in it.) Rather, I suspect it was the fact that Haaland was not having a great game. He took six shots — at least three of them chances you’d expect him to easily put away — and failed to score.
You wonder if, in those circumstances, Guardiola was simply delivering that old coaching chestnut: if your shot isn’t going in, just keep shooting. Consider Haaland’s goal-scoring record, I don’t think confidence is an issue for him.
All downhill for Borussia Dortmund as they keep up the pressure
Having dropped two points last week against Bochum (and lost first place in the Bundesliga), all eyes were on Borussia Dortmund and Sunday’s visit of Wolfsburg. No danger of relegation, outside shot at the Europa League: this is precisely the sort of no-pressure opponent you’d rather not face in this situation if you’re as self-destructive as Dortmund can be.
But, no … this was never a contest. They swatted Wolfsburg away with an emphatic 6-0 win and stayed laser-focused, from the first minute to the last. Good news for Edin Terzic: mentally, they look ready if Bayern slip up.
Inter roll on with win over Roma, Mourinho says he’s tired
Inter made it five wins in a row with a 2-0 victory away to Roma, underscoring their fine run of form that, to be fair, predates the run of victories. Simone Inzaghi played something close to his best XI — Lautaro Martinez was the only bona fide regular to sit out — and a depleted Roma found themselves on the back foot for much of the game. The challenge for Inter now is to take the form with them into the Champions League semifinal derby this week.
As for Roma, the half-dozen-plus absentees are definitely a mitigating factor, though there’s a broader theme here about Jose Mourinho’s current state of mind. He sent on three youth team players at the end and insisted on listing injured guys like Georginio Wijnaldum and Stephan El Shaarawy on the bench.
Many saw it as a way of underscoring how he feels his squad is too thin to compete, especially as they’re also in the Europa League semifinal. Mourinho says he was proud of the players who did play, but also noted how he was “tired” because his job involved much more than being a mere manager of Roma. His “why do I have to do everything around here” may resonate with fans, but it puts Roma’s owners, the Friedkins, in an uncomfortable position.
Mourinho has a year left on his contract with Roma, though you can’t help but wonder whether this season will be his last. And heck, if he rides out with another trophy like the UEFA Europa League (after winning the UEFA Europa Conference League last year), it may suit him just fine.
Frank Lampard wins his first game as Chelsea manager
Chelsea’s season is over. It ended a while ago, and it’s just about going through the motions at this point. Still, six straight defeats under Frank Lampard, their third manager of the campaign, was an embarrassment, and Chelsea put things right by winning 3-1 away to Bournemouth.
It wasn’t a performance to write home about, and frankly, they were a bit fortunate with the late goal just as they had been unfortunate in some of their earlier defeats. There was little to learn too other than, perhaps, the fact that right now, Noni Madueke is outshining Chelsea’s other more illustrious January signings.
Perhaps the new boss — whether it’s Mauricio Pochettino, as many expect, or somebody else — will remember this.
Napoli beat Fiorentina to cue Scudetto party, but key departures might be imminent
Napoli celebrated their first game as champions back at the Stadio Maradona with a 1-0 win over Fiorentina as Victor Osimhen notched his league-leading 23rd league goal of the campaign. Nothing could spoil the party and nothing did spoil it, but there are key questions to be answered, starting with whether this club will be raided by others in the summer.
It’s not just the players — though the likes of Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia will attract plenty of attention — but also two of the key men who put the team together. Sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli has a ton of suitors — including Juventus and Premier League sides — and after eight years in Naples, looks likely to move on. Coach Luciano Spalletti reportedly wasn’t best pleased that his contract was extended by another year when the club exercised their option and communicated it to him via email.
Spalletti, of course, knew that the club had the option of a one-year extension, but after winning a historic title, you wouldn’t have expected to simply receive an email from HR.
Tottenham on track for Europe, Kane passes Rooney on Premier League scorers’ list
Michallik: Kane is the only one who delivers for Tottenham
Janusz Michallik reacts to Tottenham’s 1-0 home win vs. Crystal Palace where Harry Kane moves second in the all-time Premier League goalscoring charts after netting the only goal of the game.
If Tottenham end up playing European football next season, this weekend’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace may be remembered as the game in which they turned things around. It wasn’t a stellar performance, but it was their first victory after four matches without a win, and with Brighton and Aston Villa uncomfortably close behind them, they needed the three points.
The goal came courtesy of Harry Kane, who showed just how well-rounded his skill set it these days: a superb pass to Pedro Porro started the move, a Kane header finished it. It was Kane’s 26th league goal of the campaign and his 209th career score in the Premier League, pushing him past Wayne Rooney into second place behind Alan Shearer (who, at 260, remains within reach).
– Kane overtakes Rooney in Premier League scoring charts
– Will Kane be English football’s record scorer if he overtakes Shearer? Not even close
Regular readers will know, however, that I think Premier League all-time tables are silly since English football didn’t begin in 1992, so where does Kane rank all time? Well, he’s in 21st place — one behind Geoff Hurst, hero of England‘s 1966 World Cup win.
Given that Kane turns 30 this summer, how many more can he manage? Well, for context, if he gets another 80 before he retires (not a far-fetched possibility), he’ll reach 289 and only three men will have scored more: Dixie Dean (310), Steve Bloomer (314) and Jimmy Greaves (357).
Milan swat Lazio aside, but are now sweating about Leao
Stefano Pioli hates it when folks talk about Milan having an “A-team” and a “B-team,” but the fact is, over the past few weeks, he has rotated heavily and dropped points with the second-stringers. He didn’t do that against Lazio on Saturday, and the upshot was a 2-0 victory that leaves them in fifth place, two points behind fourth-place Inter but very much in the hunt for a Champions League spot.
Milan’s goals came thanks to a defensive error from Lazio and a Theo Hernandez gallop-and-wonder-strike combo — we’ve seen him do this before — but they created plenty of chances outside of that. The bad news? Rafael Leao came off injured with a muscular problem after 11 minutes and is a doubt for the Champions League derby on Wednesday.
Needless to say, especially in what promises to be a very tight game against their rivals Inter, he would be a massive loss.
Paris Saint-Germain take a step closer to the Ligue 1 title, and it’s easier for them on the road right now
They had a little bit of good fortune with their first two goals, but PSG’s 3-1 win over Troyes was fully deserved. The title is just around the corner, and it will likely be the least celebrated of the Qatari era, given the meltdown in Europe, the fans’ anger at the club and the Lionel Messi debacle.
Like we said, the end of the campaign can’t come soon enough. And the fact that they’ve won five straight away from the Parc des Princes, but have taken just three of a possible 12 points in their last four home games, suggests they kinda feel the same way: home turf is toxic right now.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.