Gab Marcotti is here to recap a busy, dramatic weekend in soccer. Welcome to Monday Musings.
Jump to: Arsenal's errors at Liverpool | Real still a mess | Spurs' Eriksen problem | Refs wreck Fiorentina vs. Napoli? | PSG need Neymar | More Man United woe | Mihajlovic is inspiring | Lewandowski carries Bayern | Griezmann the hero for Barca | Business as usual for Juve | Milan's epic fail
What Arsenal got wrong vs. Liverpool
Unai Emery's resume is what will likely get him a pass for what Arsenal fans saw on Saturday. A decade at the highest level with Valencia, Seville and Paris Saint-Germain, often succeeding because of his tactical nous and his ability to read opponents and exploit their weaknesses, means that you want to give the benefit of the doubt. But having watched the approach to Liverpool away at Anfield, it's a tough thing to do.
It's not just the midfield diamond that ceded the flanks to Jurgen Klopp's crew (who, for those not paying attention, have two pretty darn good providers in Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold). Nor was it the decision to try to keep possession without Lucas Torreira, your second-best passer. Nor was it the insistence on playing out from the back against arguably the best high-press team in the Premier League, just a week after another high-press team, Burnley, had given them fits. And, for that matter, neither was it the reluctance to occasionally mix in the long ball (the two times they did it, it worked well) when you have speedy forwards like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe.
It's that it's really difficult to figure out what pathway Emery sees towards success at Arsenal.
There's nothing wrong with adding Dani Ceballos for a season in midfield, but if you're trying to build something, do you really want everything to hinge so heavily around a guy who's there on loan? And given that it's hard to find a natural home for Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the setups he has used this season, is it really wise to write them off at this stage?
Arsenal finished two points away from third place last season in Emery's first Premier League campaign. They may well hit the target this season, or come close to it, but that has more to do with issues elsewhere. The real goal has to be reducing the 27 points that separated them from Liverpool in second. It's not clear at all that Saturday did that.
As for the European champions, they played with big-game vitality and intensity as Klopp opted to turn in one of his extreme high-press performances. I'm not sure how often we'll see that from him this season. It's extremely taxing on the front men and the midfielders, which is why, incidentally, you should expect more rotation in the middle of the park this year. Not to mention the fact that you're always vulnerable to the ball over the top or teams with enough quality to break the press wide open.
All that said, in one-offs and for shorter spurts during games, it remains a devastating weapon.
Real Madrid still a mess
Against Valladolid, Real Madrid managed to field not just an entire XI without newcomers, but also one where every outfield player was on the club's books since at least 2014. Sure, Eden Hazard is injured (and you assume they'll make room for him when fit) but apart from two Luka Jovic substitute appearances, we haven't seen any of the four new signings. Instead, we're seeing plenty of James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale, two guys with giant "For Sale" tags around their necks for most of the summer.
Zinedine Zidane is doing things his way, and to be fair, the Pep Guardiola-style 4-1-4-1 we saw in the first half Saturday is worth revisiting. Less impressive was the late collapse that left two points on the table. And the fact that Valladolid's equaliser was scored by a guy named Guardiola (Sergi, no relation, although he was once on Barca's books), makes it hurt a little bit more.
I made this point before but it's worth making again: no clean sheets and two points dropped after two games does not mean Real Madrid absolutely need to sign Neymar. Their four new signings have played a total of 34 minutes, and they're already stacked in Neymar's position. (What's more, Zidane is getting those guys on the pitch.)
There may be a price/package at which Neymar makes sense, but most likely, there isn't.
Tottenham's Eriksen problem
Tottenham knew what they were getting when Newcastle United rolled into town. They were taking on an embattled veteran manager who had lost his first two games and was getting criticised locally. No prizes for guessing what Steve Bruce was going to do: sit deep with a virtual 7-2-1 formation and pray for the best.
Mauricio Pochettino's negativity over Eriksen and his contractual situation -- he recently called it "difficult" and said he "didn't know" if the Dane had played his last game for the club -- is understandable to some degree, and you can find some sympathy too. But equally, that's not a reason to bench him or, for that matter, Jan Vertonghen, the guy who was (and maybe still is?) Tottenham's vice-captain until last season.
You can blame the media for many things but there are legitimate questions to answer about the club's strategy and the degree of freedom which Pochettino has -- or maybe doesn't have -- as manager.
Refs ruin Fiorentina vs. Napoli?
After the wild Magic Mountain ride that was Napoli's 4-3 win away to Fiorentina in Serie A's curtain-raiser, the last thing you want to do is talk referees. But that crew, particularly with the penalty Dries Mertens "won," leaves little choice.
You can understand the mistake in awarding it -- referees are human and Davide Massa isn't just human, he's not particularly good either -- it's harder to accept why VAR didn't ask him to take another look. The whole crew is likely to sit out the next round (and Mertens, reportedly, could face retrospective punishment), which is encouraging.
On the pitch, Fiorentina's young ones (who later made way for the golden oldies, Franck Ribery and Kevin-Prince Boateng) were fun to watch and played without fear. It will be a transition season, but the future is bright. As for Napoli, the Smurf Squad did its thing and with Arkadiusz Milik and Hirving "Chucky" Lozano added to the mix, this is a side that can beat you many different ways.
PSG might need Neymar after all
Last season it was the teeny, tiny senior squad: a direct result of financial fair play. This year, Paris Saint-Germain have more bodies, but they're dealing with injuries. Against Toulouse they lost Edinson Cavani, Abdou Diallo and Kylian Mbappe in one fell swoop, which rather muted the celebrations for their 4-0 win.
None of the injuries looked season-ending, God forbid, and we'll get an update soon, but with Neymar out of the squad pending the final days of the transfer window, it's looking like an uphill ride for Thomas Tuchel. What does appear clear (despite the naysayers) is that if the transfer deadline comes and goes and Neymar is still there, he'll be a professional and quickly slip back into the lineup. For Tuchel, that won't come soon enough.
What does Solskjaer want Man United to be?
Aside for a few episodes -- think the Marcus Rashford missed spot-kick, some strong penalty appeals -- Manchester United could easily have beaten Crystal Palace. And while they weren't stellar, they didn't play particularly badly either. But they remain a frustratingly one-dimensional team: fine on the counterattack and toothless with the ball, unless Paul Pogba invents something or Rashford picks out that little pass for Anthony Martial that seemingly nobody can cope with.
That's what is disconcerting here. We know Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can do that reasonably well, but what else can he do? Is there an alternative way of playing -- one that actually works -- that he can turn to? That bit isn't clear at all.
It's not just about personnel (although it's pretty clear he would have liked a few more signings) which, to some degree, is out of his control. It's about what he can affect: the way United play and right now, it seems to be in transition only. That has to change if they're going to finish top four.
Mihajlovic is inspiring
Six weeks after telling the world he was battling a severe form of leukemia, Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic slipped out of the hospital and took his place on the sideline for his team's opening fixture, a 1-1 draw at Verona. Doctors had initially advised against it but relented when they saw his mind was made up. And anyone who has followed his career as a manager and a player will tell you that once he's determined to do something, there's no stopping him.
The players themselves only found out a few hours before kickoff. He wore a baseball cap and a large bandage on his neck. He was gaunt and had clearly lost a lot of weight. It obviously was a struggle, but in case you hadn't noticed, whatever else Mihajlovic is, this man is a warrior. He'll fight cancer the way he lived his life: no retreat and no surrender.
Lewandowski keeps carrying Bayern
Robert Lewandowski's hat trick overshadowed Philippe Coutinho's debut (he came on as a substitute) on Saturday in Bayern's 3-0 win over Schalke, and it's as good a time as any to remind ourselves of his everyday brilliance. He has scored every single Bayern goal this season. He has 197 in 246 appearances in all competitions, and since 2010, he has missed just 16 league games for Bayern and Borussia Dortmund.
Appearing on the Gab + Jules podcast last week, Jan Aage Fjortoft said "they must go to church every day in Munich praying he doesn't get injured." He's right. He carries the can on his own up front, and for most of his tenure, he's had no credible back-up.
It's not surprising, then, that Bayern are about to extend his contract by another two seasons, taking him up to 2023. When you've been that consistent for that long, doing otherwise would be madness.
Griezmann proves himself for Barca
With Lionel Messi, Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez unavailable, Ernesto Valverde conjured up a new front three for the visit of Real Betis Sunday night. Alongside Antoine Griezmann were Rafinha (who had played once since November 2018) and Carles Perez, who had played 35 minutes of top-flight football in his entire career. (He was later replaced by Ansu Fati, who is only the second-youngest debutant in the club's history.)
Having gone a goal down, they stormed back to win 5-2, and a lot of the credit has to go to Griezmann. It wasn't just his two goals: it was the leadership, drive and personality he gave the side (evidently qualities seared into his DNA after years with Diego Simeone), which, at times, had you forgetting that you-know-who wasn't there. Critics will fault Rubi's top-heavy Betis side for failing to manage the lead but the way Barca's second half unfolded, there was no containing them.
As with Real Madrid, they'll want to think long and hard about whether they really need/want Neymar...
Business as usual for Juventus
There wasn't much new or interesting in Juve's seasonal debut, a 1-0 win over Parma. None of the new signings started, and, in fact, the new manager Maurizio Sarri, battling pneumonia, wasn't there either. Leading the line was Gonzalo Higuain, who resurrected his old Real Madrid partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Might he end up doing so all season long for Juve? It's increasingly looking that way, if only by default. Of the club's three potential center forwards, he's the least likely to leave, and he's the one who knows Sarri best.
Milan get a little too creative
Milan boss Marco Giampaolo said that his formation didn't work in the opening day 1-0 defeat to Udinese. Kudos for honesty, even though he did sound like Captain Obvious after a game that saw his team fail to record a shot on target and his center forward, Krzysztof Piatek, get just 18 touches.
Giampaolo is an "outside-the-box" type of guy who likes to get creative, so he's entitled to be unconventional. But playing a midfield three of Fabio Borini, Hakan Calhanoglu and Lucas Paqueta plus Suso in the hole behind the Piatek-Samu Castillejo partnership is waaaaayyyy outside the box.
It's simply lining up without recognised central midfielders. To paraphrase Billy Joel, do that and you walk away a fool or a king. He was no king on Sunday.