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: Solskjaer's terrible tactics | Madrid win, Bale jeered | Barca still not firing | Man City still contenders | Liverpool concern | Leicester a threat | Ronaldo-less Juve win | Gabigol's Copa heroics | Eyes on Mourinho | Flick worth a chance | Nagelsmann, Leipzig for real | Arsenal are confusing | Conte's magic | Favre hanging on | Napoli nightmare
Solskjaer's terrible tactics
Maybe what is most telling is that, strictly speaking, it's not a bad result. Manchester United are below Sheffield United in the table, so drawing 3-3 at Bramall Lane -- as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's crew did on Sunday -- is no big deal. And, hey, they would have won if the ball hadn't stood up perfectly for Oliver McBurnie's injury-time finish.
That's the most rose-tinted reading you can have. Here's another one: Solskjaer lined up in a 3-4-3 formation that made sense only to him. It left Fred and Andreas Pereira on their own in the middle of the park against three opponents. (And we're talking Fred and Pereira here, not Roy Keane and Paul Scholes).
It also meant that centre-back Harry Maguire became United's de facto deep-lying playmaker. (Yes, he's good on the ball for a 6-foot-4 defender, but football doesn't grade on a curve.) It left Aaron Wan-Bissaka bearing the attacking burden down the right. Then there's Phil Jones, who was responsible for Sheffield United's first goal and was hooked at half-time.
Solskjaer has a zillion mitigating circumstances, from injuries (Paul Pogba, to name one) to the club's supposed lack of interest in running a rational transfer campaign in the summer to the inflated expectations after he took over the cluster mess a year ago.
But he also makes his own messes, and this misguided tactical approach was a prime example. After the game he noted that "sometimes football is beyond tactics," which does at least speak to the fact that his players battled to the end. It should be a given, but sometimes was not under his predecessors; indeed, Solskjaer referenced a thrashing last season at Everton as being a contrast to what unfolded on Sunday.
And then there's Brandon Williams, the 19-year-old left-back. I have no idea if he has the skill set to be a long-term United player, or even a Premier League player, but what I do know is that the kid has guts. In just his second league start, with 20 minutes to go and his team on the ropes, he had the courage to shoot from distance with his weaker foot, risking an earful from veteran teammates. Williams' shot halved the deficit and cued up United's comeback. Talk about taking responsibility.
Real Madrid win amid jeers for Bale
Moreno: It feels like destiny now for Liverpool
After another dramatic win, Ale Moreno says there's too many signs Liverpool will win the title.
Eden Hazard told L'Equipe that he weighed around 175 pounds this summer, which isn't great if you're 5-foot-9. Maybe that's why it took him some time to get off the blocks at the Bernabeu at the start of this season. Whatever the case, he's fit and sharp now. Hazard showed it on Saturday in the 3-1 top-of-the-table clash against Real Sociedad, along with his countryman (and former Chelsea teammate) Thibaut Courtois. The latter made a couple huge saves, the former drove La Real bananas at the back.
It could have been different. Madrid went a goal down on a Sergio Ramos brain fart, the crowd were angrily booing Gareth Bale (he was on the bench, but still) and it could have turned ugly quickly. But Zinedine Zidane's crew managed the game, rode Hazard and Karim Benzema, as well as Luka Modric, who turned in arguably his best performance of the campaign, and made their experience and quality count.
The way Federico Valverde performed, it's hard to see him out of the side even when Toni Kroos returns. Rodrygo may need a breather soon, but that's what the tall Welsh guy is for. In fact, Bale looked good when he came on, as if the jeers -- the usual ones this time augmented by those incensed by his trolling "Wales. Golf. Madrid" banner -- only spurred him on.
A word on the banner. How we perceive such things is often based on how we perceive the guy who does them. If you like Bale, you see it as banter, a way of poking fun at himself and the hysteria in Madrid. If you dislike Bale, if you see him as a distant, money-grubbing figure, then, yeah, the banner is an insult.
Barcelona must go back to the drawing board
For the first time this season, Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde shoehorned Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele into his starting lineup. The result was a 4-2-3-1, which saw the vaunted front four bunching centrally or on the left, with nothing coming down the right.
That helps to explain why Barca had to come from behind against cellar-dwelling Leganes, who had won once so far this season. Suarez equalised in the second half before Arturo Vidal's winner, which only stood because he was fortuitously onside after the ball came off a Leganes defender.
Back to the drawing board for Valverde, then. Hopefully, he'll realize that unless he puts in more work to get the movement right, 4-2-3-1 with this group of players is only going to work if you're desperately chasing the game.
Man City are not out of the title race
Burley: Spurs looked like their old selves under Mourinho
Craig Burley feels Jose Mourinho will get the most out of Tottenham based on the players' effort vs. West Ham.
You get beaten by your archrival of the past 18 months, and you go nine points back of the league leaders. Everybody scatters because it's international break and your next opponent are Chelsea, who haven't lost in two months (nope, the Carabao Cup doesn't count) and had won seven straight on the road.
That was Guardiola's reality and you'd have forgiven him if, after the first 25 minutes or so, he had become convinced the Gods were conspiring against him and his Manchester City players. Chelsea were bossing the game, Frank Lampard's trio of Jorginho, N'Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic were ruling the middle of the park and streaming forward at every opportunity.
City went a goal down and it could have been more. Suddenly, though, the rub of the green went their way. Three different deflections played a part in Kevin De Bruyne's equalizer. Riyad Mahrez scored an out-of-the-blue wonder goal. And City hung on in distinctly un-Pep like fashion to win 2-1. The fact that they were out-possessed at home for the first time since he became City manager tells its own story.
Manchester City don't fold. The fact that they've taken 238 of the past 279 points at stake in the Premier League is a pretty good hint that there are no white flags on the bench. More simply, they got back into the match because they got a good bounce on the equaliser and have enough individually gifted stars that somebody can pull something out of the hat at any minute.
That's part of being a great side and it's why, even as they climb back to third and continue to sit behind Leicester City, they're unlikely to collapse. City might even turn this league back into a two-horse race.
As for Chelsea, hats off to Lampard. He's at the stage where formation, and especially team selection, become critical. He opted for Emerson over Marcos Alonso, Christian Pulisic over Mason Mount (and Pedro) and he changed formation again. And he got it right, although if you want to nitpick, the continued faith in Kurt Zouma, especially when Chelsea are called to build from the back, is a bit of a question mark. Surely, in Antonio Rudiger's absence, you'd think someone like Andreas Christensen might be a better option.
Still, as Lampard himself conceded, Chelsea are far ahead of the curve. But making the right decisions to continue to progress will only get trickier.
Should Liverpool be worried?
Emery won't be sacked 'any time soon' despite poor results
Julien Laurens says Arsenal's board is still backing Unai Emery, but unhappiness is mounting at the club.
You may have seen this one before. Liverpool fail to impress, their opponents squander all sorts of chances and have a goal disallowed by VAR (in this case, James Tomkins' goal, which was ruled off after Jordan Ayew was adjudged to have fouled Dejan Lovren) and then they notch a late, scrambled winner. Tough-as-nails stuff of champions who don't need to play well but find ways to win? Or worrying signs that the tempo -- 37 points of a possible 39 points so far -- is unsustainable?
Maybe a bit of both. This is Jurgen Klopp pacing himself. It's not that he wants to play badly, it's that he knows his side won't last the season if they go all out in every game. And when they don't go all out, they can struggle. The bright spot for Liverpool, other than the win, was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain filling in for the unavailable Mohamed Salah. While he's done well in midfield, he's a more natural replacement on the flank than Divock Origi when one of the front three - Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane -- is missing. I suspect you might see this again.
Could Leicester become Liverpool's biggest threat?
Leicester City remain second in the Premier League table after their 2-0 win at Brighton. What a story it would be, given manager Brendan Rodgers' history, if they end up being the biggest challenger to Liverpool.
No, I'm not holding my breath either. But Rodgers has done a phenomenal job, and it is easy to forget just why so many were turned off by him during his time at Anfield. It wasn't his coaching -- he's been exceptional in that department for most of his career -- it was the way he presented himself and the things he said. Rodgers 2.0 is much more measured, letting his team do the talking.
Ronaldo absence no alibi for Juventus
One of the stated reasons for replacing Max Allegri with Maurizio Sarri was that Juventus wanted to "play better". Not just play more aesthetically pleasing football, but also better football in the sense of creating more goal-scoring opportunities and conceding fewer, which when you think about it, is the point of the game. Saturday's trip to face Atalanta underscored just how far Juve have to go.
Juventus came from behind to win, 3-1, but by virtually every metric (expected goals favoured the home side 2.58 to 1.32), they were thoroughly outplayed by Atalanta's breakneck approach. Gian Gasperini's side took the lead, missed a penalty along the way and were ultimately outdone by three goals in the final 15 minutes: two from Gonzalo Higuain and one from Paulo Dybala. Great players score great goals, sure, but the degree to which Juve were outplayed has to be worrying.
Nor can Cristiano Ronaldo's absence -- he's being kept fresh for Atletico Madrid on Tuesday, apparently -- serve as an alibi. These days, Ronaldo may help you score goals, but he doesn't necessarily make you play better. In fact, when he's there and Juve win, he's usually an alibi for why they did not play well.
"Gabigol" stars in Copa Libertadores final
He did it his way. Which is about as unorthodox as it gets, right down to breaking the cardinal rule of superstitious footballers: when playing in a final, do not touch the trophy on your way onto the pitch.
Well, Gabriel Barbosa -- aka Gabigol -- did exactly that, giving the Copa Libertadores a little pat as he trotted out for Flamengo to face Marcelo Gallardo's River Plate in the competition's first-ever one-legged final. Gabigol proceeded to do little or nothing for about 88 minutes, although here you have to also credit Horacio Pinola's marking and River's precise, effective press.
Suddenly, though, Gabigol came alive. First, he materialised at the far post to tuck in the irrepressible Giorgian de Arrascaeta's low cross. Then, before River realized what hit them, he pounced on a ball over the top, befuddling two markers, and slammed the ball past Franco Armani for the injury-time winner. You want numbers? That's 33 goals in 42 games for Flamengo in all competitions this season. Plus, of course, three red cards, including the second yellow he got after notching the winner in the final.
While Gabigol, 23, became the punchline to a joke at Inter after they signed him in 2016 -- he was known as Gabi-no-gol according to his ex-manager Frank de Boer, who lasted just three months at San Siro himself -- this is second straight prolific campaign back home: he had 23 goals last year at Santos.
Inter paid $35 million for his services, and he's still under contract through 2021. He looks anything but an Antonio Conte-type player, yet you wonder if maybe he doesn't deserve another look. Inter have to either extend his deal or sell him in January, otherwise they lose whatever leverage they have.
But Gabigol was the cherry on top of a Flamengo side that was built to win. From the manager, Jorge Jesus, onwards there's quality throughout the side, but especially plenty of European experience. Nine of the starting XI have played abroad, and the tally includes the likes of Rafinha, Filipe Luis and Diego Alves, long-time stalwarts at Bayern, Atletico Madrid and Valencia, respectively. They've done the league and Libertadores double and now they dream of next month's Club World Cup where the opposition will include Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool.
As for River, Marcelo Gallardo comes up short of winning his third Copa Libertadores and joining the legendary Carlos Bianchi in the history books. Old-timers will recognize his brand of football is antithetical to Bianchi's, which is why he has no shortage of suitors from across the Atlantic.
He ticks all the boxes, not just for managerial quality, style and charisma, but also because he played in Europe for five seasons, making it less of a transition. At 43, Gallardo is in no hurry to leave River, and indications are he'll do so only if and when the time is right. Good for him, if that's the case: football exists beyond Europe.
Pochettino who? All eyes on Mourinho
Usually, when a manager is sacked, stories emerge -- presumably emanating from the club -- to illustrate just why getting rid of him was such a good idea. Where Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino are concerned, though, we've had almost no negative leaks.
That can mean many things. Maybe the reasons for his forced departure were so obvious that Spurs found no reason for negative reinforcement. Maybe his popularity with players was so great that it has hard to find anyone to play along. Or maybe, given the speed with which he was booted and replaced by Jose Mourinho, the club were eager to shift the spotlight to the new boss.
Maybe it's all of the above. But such is Mourinho's outsized personality that a lot of the conversations around what the club could have done differently and how the situation deteriorated fell by the wayside. Instead, it was all eyes on his Spurs' debut away to West Ham. Tottenham won, 3-2, Mourinho dusted off a formation that saw his nominal 4-2-3-1 turn into a de facto 3-2-4-1, with Ben Davies tucking in, Son Heung-min offering width on the left and Serge Aurier doing the same on the right.
It was Tottenham's first league win in two months and their first away victory in the Premier League since New Year's Day. I wrote about Mourinho's appointment last week and while you're not going to draw serious conclusions based off two training sessions, a walk-through and a game against a free-falling West Ham side, what's evident is that all the eggs are now in his basket. Mourinho is expensive to hire and even more expensive to maintain. Only committing to him halfway is a recipe for disaster.
Bayern should give Flick a chance
I floated the possibility before: What if Bayern stick with interim manager Hansi Flick through the end of the season? It's not just a reaction to three straight wins (and three straight clean sheets, despite a defensive crisis at the back) and the fact that Bayern trail Bundesliga leaders Monchengladbach by one point, it's the fact that Bayern look hyper-charged in a way they haven't in a long while.
Some of that lift no doubt comes from Flick putting his faith in "Mister Bayern," Thomas Muller. He's been back in the starting lineup and leading the sort of ferocious press that dismantled Fortuna Dusseldorf, 4-0. Flick managed to cram Philippe Coutinho in the lineup as well, putting him out wide.
Coutinho on the wing means you lose some of his playmaking, and against certain teams, that's not ideal. But it's worth trying. The basic concept is getting your best players out there, and this system certainly achieves it.
Believe the Nagelsmann hype
Leipzig have notched 24 goals in their five-match win streak across all competitions, so the 4-1 thumping of Cologne on Markus Gisdol's debut actually hurt their average a little bit. Not as much as the visitors heads were hurting after a first-half shellacking that highlighted why the Julian Nagelsmann hype may well be justified.
Timo Werner opened the scoring in his 200th Bundesliga appearance (nobody has made that many so young; he is 23) and Emil Forsberg showed he is continuing his path to being the player he was two years ago. Like Bayern, Leipzig are a point back and just as a credible a contender.
Arsenal continue to confuse
Once again, I'm at a loss of words when it comes to Arsenal. The 2-2 draw with Southampton extends the winless streak to six games in all competitions. It's not surprising that chunks of the Emirates were calling for Unai Emery's head. That's what you get when you're facing a team that had taken one point out of the previous 21, line up at home with five defenders and two defensive midfielders and have to rely on last-ditch equalizer to avoid defeat.
Those of us who remember what Emery did with Valencia and Almeria (and to a lesser degree Sevilla and PSG) are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. But it's hard. The guy has serious messaging problems, and he has to carry the communications burden single-handedly, even though it's evidently not his forte. Right about now might be a good time for those above him -- technical director Edu Gaspar and head of football Raul Sanllehi -- to take some responsibility and speak out.
Conte works his magic touch
Antonio Conte's Inter faced a classic "trap" game away to Torino. Juventus had extended their lead atop the Serie A table earlier in the day, their opponent was the kind of prickly defend-and-counter outfit that is about as much fun as a visit to the dentist, and with a key Champions League clash coming up in midweek, you ran the risk of having a distracted team.
But this is what Conte often does best. He focuses his players, and they ran out 3-0 victors while pretty much dominating the game. Losing Nicolo Barella to injury until the New Year is another setback. It's up to Conte whether he'll become just another excuse or whether his coaching creativity extends to finding a solution.
Dortmund's Favre hanging on
Borussia Dortmund were twice booed off the pitch, once at half-time, 3-0 down at home to Paderborn, and again at the final whistle, despite taking it back to 3-3. It's not surprising given the first half performance and some ill-advised rotation from manager Lucien Favre, who left out Achraf Hakimi for Nico Schulz.
Favre's job is hanging by a thread, and he's showing exactly the kind of weaknesses that an experienced manager like him shouldn't: indecision and overreaction top amongst them.
Napoli's nightmare continues
The good news is that, for all the negativity, Napoli are five points off fourth place after getting a point on the road against an improving Milan side. The bad news is that Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis seems unflinching in his desire for self-destruction. He's keeping his lawyers busy, filing two separate legal actions against five of his players: Kalidou Koulibaly, Dries Mertens, Allan, Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne. First, there's an attempt to fine them via the Italian FA's arbitration chamber and then there will be a full-blown lawsuit.
It all stems from the "mutiny" after the home draw with Salzburg in the Champions League, when the players simply went home instead of reporting to the club's training complex, where they were supposed to sleep all week (one of those archaic conventions straight from the 1970s that is meant to motivate players but which nobody uses anymore).
Not only is all this unnecessary, you suspect there's more behind it. Like maybe giving yourself an excuse to cash in on assets (Koulibaly, Allan, Insigne) and not handing out big contracts to veterans approaching free agency (Callejon, Mertens). This story will not end well.