Real Madrid humble Barcelona Liverpool impress vs Man City

This weekend in European soccer had huge games and massive talking points galore. From Real Madrid getting the better of Barcelona in the Clasico to a depleted Liverpool finding a way to beat Manchester City at Anfield in the clash of modern-day rivals, this weekend had everything.

Elsewhere: Serie A’s title race got hotter as Napoli stayed on top, but Milan, Inter and Juventus all got three points to keep the pressure on. Chelsea kept winning under new boss Graham Potter, while Arsenal‘s remarkable start to the season continued with another victory, one that pushed them four points clear atop the Premier League table.

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It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.

Jump to: Clasico fall-out | Liverpool beat Man City | Juventus get a win | Arsenal stay red hot | Union Berlin best Dortmund | Spurs formation shift? | Origi issues at Milan? | Man United’s limits | Mbappe walks back PSG exit talk | Atletico go old-school | Chelsea keep winning | Napoli gut it out | Sane stars, Bayern brilliant | Inter back on track

Xavi is right: it’s time for Barcelona to shake things up after Clasico defeat

Real Madrid’s 3-1 win on Sunday saw them move three points clear of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga. More than that, as Barca coach Xavi himself said, it underscored the gulf in maturity between the defending champions and his side.

This goes beyond the old trope of a defensive, counterattacking side filled with veterans outsmarting a fresh-faced, up-and-at-them group such as Barca. (Not least because while Barcelona’s average may be lower, there is no shortage of 30-something leaders, or presumed leaders, on Xavi’s side.) Rather, the maturity extends to the coach and the approach to the game. Xavi has been doing it for three years, his opposite number Carlo Ancelotti for three decades.

And give Xavi credit, he is the first to take responsibility, saying he will never blame players since he picks them, after all, and they go out there following his instructions. So if he’s going to take it on the chin, what should he be doing differently?

Exhibit A, as I see it, is his use of wide players (or non-use, except as a sub, in the case of Ansu Fati). Xavi’s golden years at Barcelona as a player came under two different coaches: Louis Van Gaal and Pep Guardiola. As my colleague Julien Laurens has pointed out, it seems this team is channeling the Van Gaal concepts more than the Guardiola ones. So much of their play goes through Ousmane Dembele on the left and Raphinha on the right to the point that the midfield is often a bit player in terms of offering penetration.

It was fine for Van Gaal, whose wingers were Rivaldo and Luis Figo, among the very best in the world and multifaceted players who were far more than up-and-down wingers. It becomes a problem — and Barca become predictable — when it’s Raphinha and Dembele.



Julien Laurens fully expects Karim Benzema to be named the winner of this year’s Ballon d’Or award.

It feels as if there is a ton of Van Gaal in Xavi’s Barca and less of Guardiola in there. The latter, of course, had the benefit of Lionel Messi, but his other wide players (Thierry Henry and, later David Villa) were far more versatile. What’s more, while he too encouraged long spells of possession, especially initially, it was purposeful possession, designed to open gaps for Andres Iniesta and Xavi to go vertical when necessary. We see little of this in the current Barca side, despite the fact that in Pedri and Gavi he has the players to do it. And as a result, we see less of Robert Lewandowski than we should, or rather, we see fewer dimensions of him: in real life he can pass, he can hold up play and he can drop to link play for midfield runners (all things he did at Bayern), but at Barca he’s mostly just a goal scorer. (He’s a phenomenal one, sure, but it’s a bit like using your iPhone only to make calls.)

And we also see little of Ansu Fati. Sure, he had a horrendous injury last season and was out for a long time, but he’s been back in training for six months now and yet has somehow managed just two starts in all competitions. This despite the fact that he has actually appeared in Barcelona’s past 18 games, suggesting he’s fit. Sure, he’s still 19 (he turns 20 on Halloween), but that doesn’t seem to be an issue for Pedri and Gavi, who are actually younger than he is.

Ruthless Real Madrid show Barcelona how far they have to go
Barcelona president confronts referees after Clasico
Madrid manager Ancelotti: Clasico win reminded me of Champions League nights

The issues with the back line and Sergio Busquets‘ fading powers are somewhat beyond Xavi’s control. Eric Garcia is what he is, Sergi Roberto is a makeshift right-back and unless Ronald Araujo and Jules Kounde are both fit at the same time, this side is bound to be vulnerable. Two of the three goals conceded Sunday came from obvious individual defensive errors. It can’t all be the manager’s fault.

As for Real Madrid, they got most things right for most of the game, which is all you can ask for. I did expect them to manage the match better at 2-0 up and the ending, especially after Fati came on, was nervier than it should have been. But with the V2 rockets out wide (Vinicius and Fede Valverde), Aurelien Tchouameni bossing the midfield and the veterans picking their spots (I especially liked the job Toni Kroos did after the break), you always felt they could have kicked it up a notch if needed.

As important as Xavi’s work with the first XI — and I’m genuinely curious to see how he shakes it up — equally important will be the messaging from the club. Yes, they’re on the brink of elimination from the Champions League (which will have serious financial repercussions) and they just lost a Clasico (which always impacts morale), but they can’t lose sight of the fact that there is plenty more to compete for (and they’re only three points back). You do this by staying calm, pushing the right buttons and not trying to confront the referee after the game, like Joan Laporta did.

A bit more leadership and a little less performative nonsense from the guy who pulls the levers wouldn’t go amiss right now.

Liverpool’s performance matters more than their win over Man City



Shaka Hislop sings the praises of Liverpool after their 1-0 win over Manchester City.

Liverpool and Manchester City served up a humdinger Sunday. In terms of thrills-to-goals ratio, this came close to setting records. The difference was Mohamed Salah‘s goal — made possible by Alisson‘s quick thinking and Joao Cancelo’s blunder… seriously, why not drop off Salah, jockey him and wait for help? — but there were so many “might have beens” in this game. From Salah’s first-half chance (brilliantly saved by Ederson) to Diogo Jota‘s header on the one hand, to Erling Haaland‘s chances and Phil Foden‘s disallowed goal, which so incensed Pep Guardiola, on the other.

(My take? VAR did the right thing in sending it back to referee Anthony Taylor, since Taylor could not have seen Haaland grab Fabinho‘s shirt. From there it’s up to Taylor to decide whether, in keeping with all the physicality he allowed in the game, he thinks it’s a foul or not. In this case, he decided it was a foul and disallowed the goal. I can live with that.)

Liverpool condemn chants from Man City fan section
Guardiola targeted by coins thrown from stands
Ogden: Salah bests Haaland as Liverpool end Man City’s win streak

I think both teams did themselves proud. Jurgen Klopp made some big calls — leaving Salah up as a sort of permanent “out ball,” picking Harvey Elliott (who was excellent) in midfield and James Milner at right-back — and they mostly paid off. Guardiola will be accused (as often happens) of “overthinking” for the way he reshaped his team — a de facto back three, Bernardo Silva sitting deep — but it created plenty of chances for his side. And regular readers will know this, but I’m often reluctant to blame a manager for trying to get an edge. Especially away at Anfield.

One final thought: Haaland has acknowledged multiple times that heading is the part of his game he can most improve. If he does, it’s lights out for defenders and goalkeepers.

Juventus get the win they need, but shouldn’t read too much into it…

It’s obvious to all that after consecutive defeats — against AC Milan (OK) and Maccabi Haifa (not OK) — and a “ritiro” (a throwback to an archaic Serie A custom whereby players get sequestered in a hotel or a training ground for days ahead of a match), what mattered for Juventus was getting the three points against Torino in the derby.

A Dusan Vlahovic goal in the second half gave them just that, but make no mistake about it, this is still a wounded team. They didn’t even have a shot on goal (let alone on target) for the first 33 minutes (and this was against Torino, not Manchester City) and, of course, the goal came with 15 minutes to go. And while they showed more drive and cohesion after the break, this set-up — with Filip Kostic as a winger in a 4-3-3 — is not the answer. It’s a first baby step on the way back, like putting a towel on an open wound while you figure out what to do next.

As for Max Allegri, his decision to drop captain Leo Bonucci raised eyebrows, and some speculated the veteran defender was ready to move on. The simple fact though is that his options at the back are very limited. Danilo, who started against Torino, is a recycled full-back, Allegri doesn’t seem to be a fan of Federico Gatti and Daniele Rugani is nothing to write home about. These two need each other, at least for now.

Arsenal off to best-ever Premier League start as VAR saves the day vs. Leeds United



Shaka Hislop says Arsenal deserved their hard-fought win over Leeds after an excellent start to the season.

With the 1-0 win Sunday over Leeds United, the count now stands at 27 of a possible 30 points for Mikel Arteta’s crew. Unlike previous outings, they did not play particularly well against Leeds and, in fact, but for VAR things might have turned out rather differently. It’s worth noting because this game was delayed due to tech issues with VAR and had it gone ahead without it (as some argued it should have), Leeds would have had a penalty and Gabriel a red card after Patrick Bamford ran into the Brazilian defender and then pretended he’d been fouled (so much for the stereotypes, eh?).

Arsenal struggled against a very well drilled Leeds side who probably deserved more. There are lessons to be learned here for Arteta. The good news though is the luxury of being able to learn and grow while still taking home the win. And coupled with City’s defeat, the gap is now four points, which is significant too. There are four games to go until the World Cup break: Arsenal could well be top of the league at Christmas.

Luck matters too… and Union Berlin stay top after beating Borussia Dortmund



Shaka Hislop shares his disappointment with Borussia Dortmund in their 2-0 defeat to table-topping Union Berlin.

This is not to say the Bundesliga leaders are lucky, but things got a whole heck of a lot easier for them against Borussia Dortmund after Gregor Kobel‘s early blunder gifted them the lead. They added a second after 20 minutes, and the rest of the game followed a familiar script: Dortmund with tons of sterile possession, and Union being as direct as you can be (which is how you get 16 shots on goal with just 23% possession).

Highlights (U.S.): Union’s flying start continues with win over Dortmund

I don’t know how long this game plan can yield results like this — before the Sunday clash, they had 16 goals from open play with an xG of just 7.07 — but Union fans are loving the ride. As for Dortmund, this was probably the sort of game where they could have used Anthony Modeste (who was unavailable) up front. They plugged away and did create some chances late on, mostly through Youssoufa Moukoko, but obviously this is disappointing.

You knew what Union were going to do: it’s reasonable to expect you to come up with a game plan to counter it more effectively.

Tottenham stay perfect at home and move up to third as a 3-5-2 formation beckons

It took Tottenham a while to break down Everton, but this game was never really in doubt, other than the odd counterattack from the visitors. Spurs made it eight wins from eight games across all competitions at home and this offers a confidence boost as well after some patchy outings.

Antonio Conte doesn’t usually change systems that work, so it was interesting to note that after Richarlison went down injured early in the second half, he sent on Yves Bissouma and switched to a 3-5-2. With Dejan Kulusevski unavailable and Lucas Moura only just back from his injury, it was the logical thing to do, but equally Bissouma was one of their big summer signings and had featured little thus far, with Conte opting for the Rodrigo Bentancur-Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg partnership.

Bissouma was very effective, and I suspect we may see this 3-5-2 for a while (not just until Richarlison or Kulusevski return). Against certain opponents, especially those who defend deeper, it can be a more effective option.

Milan scrape a win in Verona, but Origi questions remain

Milan hardly sparkled in their 2-1 win away to Verona and, in fact, they seemed to hang on for dear life at the end against a physical, high-energy opponent that man-marked all over the pitch. Sandro Tonali got the winner capping off a nice combination with Ante Rebic and the victory keeps them third, just three points behind Napoli. Given the many absences and the fallout from the midweek spanking at the hands of Chelsea in the Champions League, coach Stefano Pioli will take it.

We did see Divock Origi play the entire second half and, incredible as it may sound, this is his second longest stint on the pitch since 2021. For a club that have been so careful with their signings, going for youth and value, backed up by analytics and numbers, Origi’s pick up always felt strange. Yes, he scored some big goals in big games for Liverpool, but he’s also a guy who started just 13 league games in four years at Anfield.

This was his eighth appearances in all competitions for Milan this season and we’ve yet to see him have much of an impact. That matters, because Milan’s other strikers are Olivier Giroud (who is now 36) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who is 41 and has yet to play this season). Beyond that, you’re forced to recycle Ante Rebic (who has an entirely different skill set) up front. Which is far from ideal.

Man United show their current limits in scoreless draw with Newcastle



Shaka Hislop finds it hard to understand how Fred and Marcus Rashford both missed chances to win the game late on for Manchester United vs. Newcastle.

OK, so Newcastle United are a good side who played well, Manchester United won the xG battle and Marcus Rashford‘s header at the end could have won the game. (And, you imagine, if that had been Cristiano Ronaldo, whom Rashford substituted, it would have won them the game.) But it was a bit weird to see Erik ten Hag talking about how well his team played and being so chipper in discussing how his men deserved “a big compliment” for withstanding Newcastle’s physicality. (Sure, they play hard, but they’re not Tony Pulis’ Stoke either.)

Dawson: Ronaldo makes feelings known as Man United fall short

It’s also odd to see him go on about the goal referee Craig Pawson disallowed after Ronaldo stole the ball as Nick Pope was about to take a free kick. It’s not Ronaldo’s fault it was clever thinking and maybe Pawson had signalled for play to restart. But it has zero to do with how United played.

More of a concern, as I see it, ought to be how this team operates without Christian Eriksen, the drab performance by Bruno Fernandes and the fact that Ronaldo (disallowed goals excluded) managed just one shot on goal. If you’re going to start him up front — and it’s only the second time he has done it in the league — you need to make sure your team gets him service.

PSG win ‘Le Classique’ and Mbappe walks back his comments

Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille closed out the weekend with an enjoyable game that saw Igor Tudor‘s crew enjoy plenty of possession but PSG carve out the most dangerous chances. And we even saw Kylian Mbappe record his first assist of the season, setting up Neymar for the game’s only goal.

Mbappe also denied reports that he asked PSG to let him go and that signing a new deal at the Parc des Princes was a mistake. He said he was “napping” when the news came out and that his entourage were all watching his brother play in a youth game. I’m pretty sure the entire French media didn’t just make that story up: if they had, you can be sure PSG would have denied it rather than simply hiding behind a “no comment.”

Mbappe denies PSG exit rumors

I get it: he said what he felt he needs to say and now he doesn’t want the headache, but he’s not helping himself by sending out mixed messages. It would be far easier to simply state: “Guys, I don’t know what the future will bring but right now I’m just focused on PSG and winning the Champions League and Ligue 1. Please don’t keep asking about this.”

Atletico Madrid go old school to get three big points in Bilbao

Following the frustrating midweek draw against Bruges, when they laid siege to Simon Mignolet‘s goal without finding a way through, Atleti followed up with a much tighter, gritty and “Cholista” game away to Athletic Bilbao. Defeat would have seen them four points out of third place and the opposition had taken 10 of 12 points in their previous four outings.

It felt like an old-school victory because the winner came courtesy of Antoine Griezmann and Atleti needed to dig deep to resist the late Bilbao onslaught, with Reinildo channeling his inner Diego Godin. This is the tightrope Diego Simeone continues to walk: the grittiness that made him a legend versus the sort of football most top clubs play. On Saturday it paid off, though the injury to Jan Oblak does not bode well.

Potter tinkers in search of answers, but Chelsea keep winning



Shaka Hislop is full of praise for Kepa Arrizabalaga after he made a string of excellent saves in Chelsea’s 2-0 win away vs. Aston Villa.

With the 2-0 victory away to Aston Villa, Chelsea have notched five wins on the bounce for Graham Potter. Sometimes more than once thing can be true: Chelsea deserved it, but Kepa Arrizabalaga made some phenomenal saves and individual errors played a part in both of Mason Mount‘s goals. Edouard Mendy is fit again (he was on the bench) but has yet to dislodge Kepa, who appears to have seized the opportunity to play at levels not seen since he was in Spain.

More broadly, Potter is clearly still trying to find the right set-up while still drilling home his concepts. That he is winning while doing it is a credit. That it is taking a while speaks to injuries, but also to how oddly assembled this team is. The 3-4-3 formation used Sunday does not appear to be the answer — at least not with Raheem Sterling, filling in for the injured Reece James, at wing-back — but at this point, it’s trial and error. The transition from Thomas Tuchel to Potter in terms of playing style is not quite as seamless as some thought.

Napoli gut it out to stay top as Spalletti leans on his subs’ bench

Napoli dropped plenty of points at home last season and there was a moment when it looked like the clash Sunday with Bologna was heading in the same direction. They went a goal down in the 41st minute and, given that they had created little in the first half, the fears weren’t illegitimate. But then Juan Jesus scrambled an equaliser just before half-time, Luciano Spalletti made two key changes and everything was turned on its head.

Off came Jack Raspadori and Matteo Politano, on came Chucky Lozano and Victor Osimhen. Lozano put Napoli ahead and, after a mistake by Alex Meret led to Bologna’s equalizer, Osimhen notched the winner.

Twelve of Napoli’s 25 league goals this season have come from substitutes. That speaks not just to the options available to Spalletti, but also to his ability to make the right changes at the right time.

Sane shines as Bayern rampage, Freiburg comes back down to earth



Shaka Hislop lauds Bayern Munich’s return to form but is thankful teams such as Union Berlin are showing some fight in the early days of the race for the title.

Bayern made Freiburg look like cannon fodder, which is what they’ve been in the past, but what they most certainly aren’t this season: heading into the game, they had lost just once in all competitions. But that’s how they appeared to a Bayern side perhaps keen to show that their earlier wobbles are a thing of the past.

It finished 5-0 — it could have been more but, with all due respect, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting was leading the line — and the standout was Leroy Sane. His more central position has unlocked so many aspects of his game and he’s playing some of the best football of his career.

Highlights (U.S.): Bayern thrash Freiburg 5-0

What also helped was the back four, which as I see it is probably Julian Nagelsmann’s best combination: Alphonso Davies and Noussair Mazraoui out wide, Matthijs De Ligt and Dayton Upamecano (or Lucas Hernandez) in the middle. Once Thomas Muller is back and healthy, it will be interesting to see how Nagelsmann puts the pieces together. Playing him up front, with Sadio Mane wide and Sane through the middle — has to be tempting, but then where do you put Jamal Musiala?

It’s a nice dilemma for any manager to have.

Barella shines as Inter win to get back on track

Inter began the month with a home defeat against Roma. It didn’t matter that they played reasonably well; all that mattered was that it was the second loss in a row, which meant the knives were out for coach Simone Inzaghi. The reaction is excessive, but hey, this is Inter: psychodramas are never far away. Since then, they’ve notched two Serie A wins (most recently the 2-0 over Salernitana) and, more significantly, they got the results they needed (1-0 and 3-3) in the virtual playoff home-and-away series against Barcelona in the Champions League.

Romelu Lukaku is still out injured and Marcelo Brozovic too, but the side has very obviously rallied around Inzaghi, and he has done his part by making them that little bit more direct. All of this has suited Nicolo Barella who was back to his very best against Barca and on Sunday. He’s becoming the emotional leader of this side and he has all the qualities to step up.

(Also relevant is the fact that Andre Onana has finally replaced Samir Handanovic as the week-in, week-out goalkeeper… it took forever and it may have been a painful step given Handanovic’s service, but it was necessary.)

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