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: Arsenal's embarrassing weekend | Real ready for clasico? | Why was Kean subbed after 19 minutes? | Inter fading in Serie A? | Barca drop points | Mourinho turning Spurs around | Juve climb back to top | Coutinho finds his mojo | Don't write Gattuso, Napoli off yet | Liverpool's unbeaten run continues | Gladbach slowing down? | Chelsea caught out | Leipzig, Schick soaring | Should game in Spain have stopped? | Unlucky Depay
Arsenal's embarrassing weekend on and off the field
Maybe it was the scale of the first-half demolition. More likely is that it had been scheduled for some time and the fact it took place just a few hours after Arsenal were embarrassed at home by Manchester City is just a coincidence. Either way, it's not a great look when your managing director (Vinai Venkatesham) and your contract negotiator (Huss Fahmy) are photographed leaving Mikel Arteta's house at 1:20 a.m. Especially when, 200 miles away and seven hours earlier, Arteta was sitting on the opposite bench.
It's not the fact that they're talking to Arteta. He was a candidate when Arsene Wenger left 18 months ago, and he may well be the leading candidate now. You hope they're going through the appropriate channels and Manchester City are fully aware of what's happening. There are issues of trust, perception and simply knowledge of a rival club in the balance here. But if that's the case, why the middle of the night? Why this cloak-and-dagger nonsense? Especially since -- news flash here! -- Arteta isn't Kim Kardashian. He doesn't have paparazzi camping outside his house, 24/7. Whoever took that picture was tipped off and that, in turn, raises other issues of trust and who might benefit from such a photo getting into the media.
As for the clash between the two, it prolongs Arsenal's run to one victory in their past 11 games. But more than the 3-0 win for Man City, it was the first half battering endured by the Gunners that should give you cause to ponder. After Gabriel Martinelli's early chance, it was as if Kevin De Bruyne & Co. simply switched off the lights.
- Dawson: Man City remain a force, Arsenal malaise continues
- Man City ratings: De Bruyne, Foden 8/10
- Arsenal ratings: Chambers 2/10 as Gunners collapse
Arsenal's woes are well-documented, as is the fact that Freddie Ljungberg can only do so much. Equally, if Unai Emery's system really did mask some of the players' individual flaw to some degree, this one seems to augment them. Matteo Guendouzi's rawness, Nicolas Pepe's defensive lapses, Calum Chambers' clunkiness, and then there's Mesut Ozil. You either commit to him or you don't, and if you do, you give him a platform to hurt others. Expecting him to disrupt City's build-up play and then getting angry when he can't (or won't) do it is unreasonable at this stage.
As for City, it wasn't just flat-track bullying. Guardiola used the opportunity to try different things, like Phil Foden (making his first league start of the season) in midfield or putting De Bruyne back in his original role out wide, with licence to roam. The gap between them and the top is 14 points; Liverpool fans won't let them forget it. Only a huge improbable sporting cataclysm and subsequent collapse will deliver us a two-horse race, but it's critical that City maintain the intensity high and continue to challenge themselves and their players. Pep wouldn't have it any other way.
Real still finding right balance ahead of Clasico
Real Madrid's trip to Valencia was a reminder that few things will come easy this season in La Liga as well as the age-old truism that goals change games.
The first half-hour or so saw Zinedine Zidane's side generate at least three clear-cut chances against Albert Celades' injury-riddled crew. But a combination of Jaume Domenech's goalkeeping and some poor luck kept them out, and the rest of the way it was Valencia with the upper hand. Dani Parejo was a monster against a midfield without Casemiro (he was on the bench with the Clasico coming up and was one booking away from a suspension), and after going ahead through Carlos Soler, they were the ones with plenty of chances to double their lead. Then came the climactic ending, with Thibaut Courtois' gigantic volleyball frame knocking the ball down off a corner, Ezequiel Garay doing the Mexican hat dance over the ball and Karim Benzema, Mr. Reliability, smacking in the equalizer.
For Valencia, the 1-1 draw was a reminder that even without half a dozen regulars, this team won't lie down, and Celades isn't afraid to trust in youth: witness the way Ferran Torres is growing into a team leader. As for Real Madrid, it ought to be a reminder (in both the positive and negative sense) that games last until the final whistle. The days of coasting are over, at least until Zidane gets his alchemy right.
Squeezing Isco and Luka Modric into midfield behind two strikers is a novel approach and one worth revisiting, but he has so many options and permutations that it's almost harder to get things right than it is to screw things up. Still, an extra creative presence in the middle of the park -- at least while Rodrygo is up front and until Eden Hazard returns -- is a bonus right now.
Kean sub detracts from good day for Everton
Everton's visit to Old Trafford rather confirmed what we already knew about Manchester United. When they can defend and play on the counter, they are extremely dangerous because Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are exceptional footballers, and, well, Daniel James is very fast (and may get there one day). When the opponents sit and park the bus, it becomes cumbersome. Particularly when, as happened in Sunday's 1-1 draw, they get little production from their full-backs.
Mason Greenwood's performance (even beyond the goal) was encouraging, and he may give them a different dimension up front, but it's worth remembering he turned 19 two months ago and it won't do him any good if he doesn't get service. Like it or not, this team needs either Paul Pogba or somebody who can do what Pogba does in terms of offering creativity.
Everton's feel-good postgame was marred somewhat by Duncan Ferguson's substitution of Moise Kean one minute from time (and only 18 minutes after sending him on). The Everton boss was heavily criticised for blanking Kean as he came off the pitch and the disconsolate youngster wandered straight down the tunnel.
Ferguson said it was "nothing personal" and he that was simply trying to waste time with the substitution. (He also said Kean ''couldn't handle the pace,'' which raises the question: which is it?) If that's the case, then maybe a handshake when he comes off -- witness what Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp did this season with Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson respectively -- might have been more apropos. If, on the other hand, it was some kind of message/warning/punishment to Kean, then he needs to have the guts to own it postmatch.
I have to confess my bias here: Ferguson was one of my favorite footballers, thanks in part to moments like this. I'm going to chalk this one up to managerial inexperience.
Inter's fatigue costs them lead in Serie A
In many ways, Inter's 1-1 draw at Fiorentina, which cost them their two-point lead over Juventus, mirrored their defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League. They created plenty early but failed to convert enough chances so that when the legs started to tire in the second half, they became vulnerable. There's not much more to it than that, and it won't change with this midfield, which was overworked once again: you need Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella in particular back.
If you want to call it Antonio Conte making excuses, fine. But it's also true: the way Inter play, if they're asked to defend high up the pitch and attack after the hour mark, they will struggle. So they either score enough early -- like squirrels saving nuts for the winter -- that it won't matter, or they will always be vulnerable late.
Dropping points at Sociedad no surprise for Barca
Real Sociedad (two wins in their past six) had been slowing down, but Barcelona's trip to the Anoeta was always going to be tricky. On a day when neither Lionel Messi nor Marc-Andre ter Stegen was superhuman (but Igor Zubeldia was) and a couple officiating decisions could have gone the other way, a 2-2 draw is anything but a bad result. Chuck in Antoine Griezmann's third goal in five games and the fact that Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique already have their Clasico faces on, and the glass is half-full.
- Barca ratings: Griezmann dazzles, Pique 8/10
As for La Real, Mårtin Odegaard and Mikel Oyarzabal continue to shine. The former, of course, is on loan from Real Madrid and the latter has already been linked to a number of moves. It's the cruel reality of modern football that everybody who does well, apart from the very wealthiest, is in danger of being gutted year after year. So enjoy it while you can.
Mourinho is making it happen for Tottenham
The "Jose Mourinho" effect continues in the Premier League. Since taking over Spurs, they've risen nine places in the table and the gap between them and the Champions League spots has shrunk from 11 points to just three. Sunday's 2-1 win away to Wolves with Jan Vertonghen's last-minute heroics may have been a touch fortunate, but he's winning the broader narrative. And if he wins next weekend against Chelsea as well, then he'll be back in the top four, his natural habitat.
- Spurs ratings: Moura 8/10 in lucky late win
What strikes you about this Mourinho side is that how "un-Mourinho" it is, and not for lack of trying. They've kept one clean sheet in all competitions while giving up nearly two goals a game. Even putting Vertonghen at left-back and tinkering with the midfield hasn't changed that. The challenge is maintain the attacking output of the likes of Heung-Min Son, Dele Alli and Harry Kane while solidifying the back line.
Juve back atop Serie A despite midfield mess
Juventus are back at the top of Serie A, level on points with Inter, following their 3-1 demolition of Udinese. Maurizio Sarri played Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo together, and all three sparkled. Ronaldo bagged two goals -- he's now reached double figures in 16 consecutive seasons -- and Higuain served up a particularly delightful assist, but it was Dybala who stole the show.
You can't help but wonder why those three can't play together more often, since Juventus are averaging a goal every 20 minutes when they're up front. Sarri is evidently working on that option (we saw it against Bayer Leverkusen as well), but the impression is that you can only do that once you sort out the midfield. And right now, there's a messy rotating cast of characters in the middle of the park.
Coutinho, Bayern thrash helpless Bremen
Was this the game in which Philippe Coutinho regained his mojo in Bavaria? The Brazilian playmaker followed up his good performance against Tottenham in midweek with an individual masterclass on Saturday, notching a hat trick and three assists in the 6-1 demolition of Werder Bremen. He needs to continue making it work from a wide position like the one he's been playing because his days in the hole appear to be over under Hansi Flick -- and rightly so.
The big win had more to do with Bremen's (many) deficiencies than Bayern's merits. In fact, there were plenty of concerns in the first half, particularly at the back with Jerome Boateng. With Niklas Sule out for the season and Lucas Hernandez unlikely to be back until mid-February, Bayern may need to act in the January market.
Napoli lose but don't write Gattuso off yet
I wrote about why Carlo Ancelotti is no longer the Napoli boss and how football is only part of the story. Well, the score was only part of the story in Napoli's first match under his replacement, Rino Gattuso. They lost 2-1 at home to Parma, thanks to Gervinho's injury-time winner, and got booed off the pitch.
Napoli did more than enough to get a result in terms of chances and effort despite Gattuso's decision to start Lorenzo Insigne (who was terrible). It almost felt as if Gattuso was giving the Napoli skipper enough rope to hang himself. This is the sort of defeat that comes along when you overdo it, when you try so hard to win that you lose sight of basics. Gattuso is obviously a downgrade, but there is enough talent there to turn things around. Don't write him off after 90 minutes.
Liverpool's mind-boggling unbeaten league run continues
Liverpool departed for the Club World Cup in Qatar having won 26 of their past 27 Premier League matches, which is simply mind-boggling. Saturday's 2-0 victory over Watford saw them pace themselves for much of the match before pulling away, which is exactly what you want to see if you're Jurgen Klopp: every ounce of energy counts going forward.
That got me thinking of who Klopp's least-replaceable player is. Virgil Van Dijk would have been the automatic answer until recently, but now I'm not so sure. I'm tempted to lean toward Trent Alexander-Arnold, at least against other top sides. You might make a case for Sadio Mane or Roberto Firmino or possibly Fabinho as well.
Gladbach tiring out in title race?
Borussia Moenchengladbach's 2-1 defeat at Wolfsburg cost them the top of the Bundesliga. It also showed some of the (more than understandable) limits of a young side that's been going at full throttle all season.
Wolfsburg hadn't won at home since early October but created plenty against Marco Rose's crew. This is the stage when the legs are heavier and the mind gets a little cloudier. How they react to this in the two games left before the winter break will tell us plenty about whether they can really challenge for the title.
Chelsea caught out by Bournemouth
Bournemouth had lost five straight Premier League games and were riddled with injury when they traveled to Stamford Bridge on Saturday, so the fact that they emerged with three points via a late 1-0 win ought to be a serious concern to Frank Lampard. Against an opponent that sat and looked to hit on the counter, Chelsea created a lot less than you would have expected. You're bound to have ups and downs with younger players, but this might be a time for Lampard to rotate a bit more, perhaps bringing back Pedro or giving Callum Hudson-Odoi, who hasn't started a Premier League game in nearly two months, a run in the side. (Imagine if that happened under last year's manager ...)
One more point about VAR. Dan Gosling's winner was struck off for offside before being correctly overturned. Without that decision, they would have been two points above the drop zone, with one victory since September. Chew on that the next time you hear moaning about VAR and spontaneous celebrations and "not knowing what's going on" and all that tripe.
Leipzig getting the most out of Schick
Leipzig's 3-0 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf was nowhere near as comfortable as it should have been, but the pattern is holding. They scored plenty and, an added bonus, kept their first clean sheet since early November.
Julian Nagelsmann is also getting a contribution from Patrik Schick, who has started each of the past three games and scored twice. Schick has an unusual skill set and while in the past two seasons has failed to produce (five league goals over two years), he's still just 23. If Nagelsmann can unlock his potential, he's an added alternative to Yussuf Poulsen and Timo Werner up front, something that could prove key down the stretch.
Should Rayo vs. Albacete have been abandoned?
It was the first time that a match in Spain's top two divisions was abandoned for abusive chanting, and it likely wasn't what you might have expected. The referee in Rayo Vallecano vs. Albacete applied the protocol after the home fans directed heavy abuse at the visiting Ukrainian striker Roman Zozulya, suspending the game after half an hour. Then, at half-time, Albacete refused to come out for the second half. But here's the twist. Zozulya wasn't being racially abused: he was being called a "Nazi" by the left-leaning Rayo fans.
There's a backstory here. Zozulya has long denied being a Nazi sympathizer, although photographs circulating on the internet appear to show a certain proclivity for far-right symbols. Two years ago he joined Rayo on loan only for the fans to rise up in protest, eventually forcing him to sit out half a season.
The key element here though is the abuse. The protocol is reserved for racist, homophobic, religious or sectarian insults. Those aren't things you choose, unlike your political views. We'll find out more once the Spanish FA complete their investigation, but backing a walkout over this sets an important precedent and, potentially, a massive can of worms.
Awful news for resurgent Depay
The way Memphis Depay turned things around at Lyon after struggling so badly at Manchester United has been one of the game's feel-good stories. He was enjoying a monster season for an otherwise struggling team, carrying them into the Champions League knockout phases and was already up to 14 goals in 18 outings this campaign. He was set to spearhead the Dutch attack at Euro 2020, but that seems incredibly unlikely now after the anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered on Saturday. Ronald Koeman will need to pull something out of his hat if they are to make a run.