Liverpool, Tottenham put on a show as Klopp goes overboard
Where do you even begin when it comes to another frantic weekend in European soccer? From Liverpool‘s 4-3 win over Tottenham — and all the pitch-side drama — to Bayern Munich taking pole position again in the Bundesliga, this weekend had it all. (There was even an apology from the German FA for Borussia Dortmund after a contentious missed penalty call, which you don’t see very often.)
Elsewhere, Barcelona took another big step toward their LaLiga title, Napoli were forced to wait another few days to confirm their Serie A crown, and PSG put in another dud of a performance at home as they trudge toward the end of the Ligue 11 season. Plus Erling Haaland notched his 50th goal of the season as Man City ominously lurched ahead of Arsenal in the race for the Premier League.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Liverpool ride Anfield roller coaster over Tottenham and into fifth place, but Klopp gets himself into trouble
As entertainment goes, you couldn’t really ask for much more than what Liverpool and Tottenham offered up at Anfield.
Fifteen minutes in, Spurs were 3-0 down and folks were joking about how they’d once again need to offer traveling fans a refund. And then, improbably, they mounted a comeback. Harry Kane got one back before half-time, they hit the woodwork twice, Heung-Min Son made it 3-2, Ryan Mason chucked on the kitchen sink in terms of forwards and in the third minute of injury time, Richarlison, of all people, chose this moment to score his first league goal of the season, rediscovering his Everton roots in the process.
For a minute and half, we all believed that for the second straight game Spurs had come from several goals back to snatch a point. And then came Lucas Moura‘s ill-fated back-pass into the path of Diogo Jota, who bagged the winner, silenced the traveling fans and cued up the Anfield roar.
And those were just the goals. We also had two red cards — Oliver Skipp on Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota on Skipp — that were passed over both by referee Paul Tierney (not his finest game) as well as VAR (this bit is a bit harder to explain), Jurgen Klopp appearing to injure his hamstring on the sideline, accusing Tierney of saying something “unacceptable” to him and then later asking why Tierney doesn’t like his team. (The latter may well earn him an FA charge, too: the PGMOL refutes any suggestion that Tierney said anything unprofessional to Klopp.)
In terms of the flow of the game itself, Liverpool were comfortably on top for the first half-hour or so, before going limp — indeed, they mustered an xG of 0.23 from that point until Jota’s winner. Klopp, who was on a roll, complained afterward that at 3-0 down, Spurs didn’t properly chase the game, continuing to rely on counterattacks and set pieces to score, and that this approach made it harder for Liverpool.
Let’s chalk it up to postgame nerves because this makes little sense. If you’re 3-0 up and the other team sits back and doesn’t attack you, just play out the game and you’ll emerge 3-0 winners.
– Reaction: Liverpool’s last-gasp win ruins Spurs’ brilliant comeback
– When goal celebrations go wrong: Klopp’s injured hamstring, more
– How Premier League clubs can qualify for Europe
Diaz scored a great goal in his first start for six months given injuries, and his performance reminded you of what might have been if Liverpool had him around all season. Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s midfield foray experiment continued and while it’s definitely worth pursuing, it’s going to take time to perfect, especially in terms of covering for him when he does step into the middle of the pitch. Beyond that, Liverpool were what they’ve been much of the season: an inconsistent work in progress. The summer will be critical for them.
As for Spurs, don’t minimize the importance of the two fight-backs in the last two games. It’s easy to write off this group of players, but — and maybe it’s a legacy of that disastrous trip to Newcastle — they did show fight and grit and desire despite digging that huge hole for themselves. I’m not sure to what degree Mason can channel this into a Europa League spot (realistically all they have left to play for this season), but it’s clear this team doesn’t want to be the side we saw at St. James’ Park and is not content with simply playing out the string of games before going on holiday.
Lackluster Bayern back on top as German FA and ref apologize to Dortmund
First, the good news for Bayern fans: the 2-0 win over cellar-dwellers Hertha means they go back to the top of the Bundesliga table by a one-point margin. It wasn’t a stellar performance against a side that parked the bus, giving Bayern 82% possession, and the goals came after the hour mark — so annoyed were the home fans that there were very audible boos at half-time — but the three points matter. And sure, the play was clunky, but that will happen when you’ve had little time to work on patterns of play, are coming off a poor run and playing without a central striker. Bayern still managed 2.71 xG, which kinda suggest fans have been a bit spoiled.
The flip-side is that Borussia Dortmund are furious after their 1-1 draw with Bochum on Friday. They dominated and should have scored more, but the story is the penalty that should have been given when Danilo Soares tore into Karim Adeyemi. Referee Sascha Stegemann didn’t call it, and VAR did not urge him to intervene.
Big deal, right, as referees blow calls all the time? Just part of the game?
The twist here is that Stegemann later said he got it wrong. “My perception was that Adeyemi tries to imitate [the] contact and then falls over the Bochum defender, [but] I have to conclude that we made the wrong decision in that moment. Contrary to my perception, the contact is not made by Adeyemi, but by the defender. That should have been a penalty kick for Dortmund there.”
Kudos to Stegemann for owning the mistake and to the German FA for also issuing a statement admitting fault. (And, as a reminder of the dark place many still inhabit, he’s now under police protection after receiving death threats). It won’t give Dortmund back the two points they should have had (assuming they converted the penalty) but it’s the grownup thing to do.
The irony here is that by speaking up, he has changed the narrative. If it costs Dortmund the title, Stegemann will be a dirty word among their fans for years to come. If he’d remained silent, his would have been just one of many blunders you encounter in a long campaign.
Man City back on top of the Premier League as Haaland hits 50 for the season
How Erling Haaland made Premier League history vs. Fulham
Janusz Michallik speaks after Erling Haaland equalled the Premier League goal record in Man City’s 2-1 win.
We’ve become so accustomed to the excellence of Manchester City and Erling Haaland that you can get a bit blasé about what happened on Sunday at Craven Cottage.
City beat Fulham 2-1 and while they created plenty, they also conceded chances, and make no mistake about it: this was a hard-fought win against a well-marshalled opponent. It’s easy to point to City’s superstars and assume it’s always easy, but at this stage of the season fatigue and wear-and-tear can take their toll. This was a focused, eyes-on-the-prize performance of the sort teams that have won as much silverware as they have can produce. They now have a one-point lead with a game in hand and while many are ready to crown City right now, Pep Guardiola knows better.
– Reaction: Haaland scores his 50th goal for unstoppable Man City
– When can Man City clinch the league title?
As for Haaland, he converted a penalty that marked his 34th league goal, matching the mark set by Andy Cole and Alan Shearer for the Premier League era. And it was his 50th goal in all competitions, which is significant. In recent years, very few players not named Lionel or Cristiano have hit that mark: Robert Lewandowski did it twice, Luis Suarez once. Messi and Ronaldo did it six times, now Haaland is part of the club too. And at 22, you suspect this won’t be his last.
Barcelona trounce 10-man Betis as LaLiga title draws closer
Betis had won just one of their previous five games, so facing Barcelona at Spotify Camp Nou was always going to be a serious hurdle. Things got even tougher when, having lost Luiz Felipe to injury after 12 minutes, his substitute, Edgar Gonzalez, got himself sent off in the first half. Already 1-0 up, Barca closed out the game and rolled to a 4-0 win, with Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha scoring before the break.
Lewandowski’s goal is significant because it marks the first time he scored in consecutive league games since October. It’s easy to forget how quickly he came out of the gate this season (13 goals in his first 12 league games) before tailing off (6 in 16 since then).
– Reaction: Yamal makes history as Barca get back on track
There were also two noteworthy substations. Ousmane Dembele returned after his three-month layoff. Raphinha isn’t a bad alternative, but the mere fact that Dembele can do much of what the Brazilian does and can do it with either foot sets him apart. We also saw 15-year-old Lamine Yamal come on to become the youngest player in Barca history (and nearly score in the process), but cautionary tales are all around here. I’m not sure anybody needs to play professional football at 15.
Man United stay on track for top four with a big win over Aston Villa
Have Man United secured their spot in the top four?
Janusz Michallik reviews Manchester United’s Champions League hopes after their 1-0 win over Aston Villa.
Sunday was a “trap game” for Manchester United. Anti-Glazer protests outside and inside Old Trafford: many fans showed up 18 minutes late, one for every year of the Glazer regime. An injured first-choice defensive partnership. Memories of letting a two-goal lead at Tottenham slip in their last outing. And an opponent that had not lost in 2½ months, taking 26 of a possible 30 points along the way.
It wasn’t a classic performance, but it was a determined one and had Marcus Rashford‘s finishing been better, it would have been a more comfortable one. United were persistent, Erik Ten Hag made the right tweaks and Bruno Fernandes was there to steer in Emi Martinez’s parry.
– Reaction: Man City end Villa’s winning run despite fan protests
– Ogden: Why Man United can’t take their eyes off Liverpool in top-four race
The gap over Liverpool in fifth is seven points with a game in hand and there are five to play: they should be OK. Given what Ten Hag has been through this season, it’s not to be sniffed at.
Late-goal show as Roma, Milan share spoils and Serie A’s top-four battle heats up
It has been one of those grind-it-out, blood-and-guts seasons for Roma and Jose Mourinho. And it looked as if he was vindicated Saturday night when Tammy Abraham scored in injury time to break a 0-0 deadlock, which had seen Milan on the front foot against an injury-riddled Roma, but unable to create clear-cut chances. But hey, the fat lady had not sung yet and in the sixth minute of injury time, Alexis Saelemaekers popped up at the far post to notch the equalizer.
The result leaves the race for top four in Serie A on the proverbial knife edge with six rounds of games remaining. Roma, Milan and Inter are on 57 points while Atalanta are on 55, and it’s not as if the two teams in second and third — Lazio on 61 and Juventus on 60 — are in the clear yet either. To spice things up further, the aforementioned teams except for Lazio and Atalanta are still in European competition, just as the calendar gets more congested.
Benzema bags his third hat trick in a month as Real Madrid beat Almeria
Real Madrid are in that “neither fish nor fowl” late season stage given that they have nothing to play for in the league. That turns every game into a tightrope between avoiding injury and keeping your competitive edge ahead of the Copa del Rey final and the Champions League semifinal.
– Reaction: Benzema rewrites record books as Real bounce back
– Highlights: Benzema, Real Madrid win big (U.S. only)
It can be hard to assess games like these, whether the 4-2 win over Almeria on Saturday or the midweek defeat at Girona. Not in question, though, is the fact that Madrid are a different team with Karim Benzema (at least this version of Benzema, who was rested against Girona). He got his third hat trick in a month and has 17 league goals in the season, which puts him just two behind Lewandowski in the top scorers’ table.
The title may not be in play, but this could turn into a fascinating head-to-head between two of the best centre-forwards we’ve seen over the past decade.
Napoli’s title celebration is postponed
They were Serie A champions for all of 22 minutes until Boulaye Dia‘s late goal gave Salernitana a 1-1 draw against Napoli at the Stadio Maradona.
Stage fright? Maybe a little: Napoli had the upper hand, but not quite the cutting edge we’d seen in previous outings. Still, it took a stunner from Dia to deny them the three points.
As for the celebration, tens of thousands of fans had already gathered in the streets and squares of the city in anticipation, including many who had traveled from around the Neapolitan diaspora around the world. No matter. As one fan interviewed on TV put it: “Not a problem. We partied during the game, we’ll party again when we win it.” Which, most likely, will be this week.
PSG’s season veers into the grotesque in home loss to Lorient
OK, we’ve said it before: Paris Saint-Germain are backing their way to the Ligue 1 title, fans are angry and frustrated and there’s a listlessness about the club ever since Bayern Munich knocked them out of the Champions League. But it’s frankly infuriating to see them lose three of their past four games at the Parc des Princes: it’s almost as if they’re trying to troll their own fans.
Sunday’s loss to Lorient, who had not won on the road since New Year’s Day, was marked by three absurd moments: two favoured the visitors, one PSG. Achraf Hakimi got himself needlessly sent off for two yellow cards after 20 minutes. Kylian Mbappe scored a goal when Lorient keeper Yvon Mvogo, thinking a goal kick had been awarded, simply put the ball down on the turf, only for Mbappe to take it and stick into an empty net, like a child on the playground. And worst of all, as far as I’m concerned, PSG conceding a third goal after sending every single player up the pitch and falling victim to the simplest of big-booted clearances.
I’d be tempted to say it couldn’t get any uglier, but given the way things are going, I wouldn’t be so sure.
Juventus draw at Bologna despite playing (marginally) better
First, the good news. Juventus showed spirit and fight in this weekend’s 1-1 draw at Bologna. Manager Max Allegri put his faith in the kids (some from the start, some off the bench) and the likes of Nicolo Fagioli, Fabio Miretti, Samuel Iling-Junior and Matias Soule did not let him down. (Unlike, say, Angel Di Maria, who picked up a sudden injury when he found out he was destined for the bench.) And if Arkadiusz Milik hadn’t opted for the silliest run-up in recent memory and converted a penalty he missed, they would have had all three points.
Now the bad news. As a club, Juve traditionally care far more about results and, presumably, so does Allegri given how often he’s thrown up stinkers, won 1-0 and talked about the importance of the three points in the past.
The reality is that Juventus have won just one of their past eight in all competitions. All this while failing to score more than a single goal in a game since mid-March.
Griezmann still on fire as Atletico eye second place
Antoine Griezmann didn’t score in Atletico Madrid‘s 5-2 away win against Valladolid (a victory that was less comfortable — it was 3-2 with five minutes to go — than the score suggests). But he did just about everything else, dispensing assists, magic and confidence throughout the side. As I see it, he’s the Player of the Season in LaLiga by a country mile.
Atleti are now just two points behind second-place Real Madrid with six games to go, and the focus shifts on their chances of finishing second. I suspect it means a lot more to Atletico than it does to Real Madrid, whose campaign will be judged on how they perform in the Champions League semifinal and, to a lesser degree, whether they beat Osasuna to win the Copa del Rey.
Mess those up and nobody will care whether they finish second or third… which is why I think Atleti might just do it.
Is rotation helping “Lu-La” partnership at just the right time for Inter Milan?
Two years ago, the Lautaro Martinez–Romelu Lukaku tandem was powering Inter to the Serie A title. They were reunited this season after Lukaku’s Chelsea purgatory and were supposed to do the same, but it hasn’t quite worked out the way.
Lukaku was hampered by injuries and bad form for much of the campaign. Martinez was similarly inconsistent, especially in the spring, going nine games without scoring. But the pair had scored six of Inter’s past 10 goals, including Lautaro’s two in the 3-1 comeback win over Lazio on Sunday, which also saw Lukaku deliver two assists.
If the two are on song, Inter become a wholly different proposition, and load management may be a significant part of the turnaround.
Lautaro hasn’t started consecutive games since mid-March, Lukaku since early April. Simone Inzaghi has used his whole attacking corps and the pair have shared the starts with Joaquin Correa and Edin Dzeko, which has kept them all fresh and motivated during a very congested run.
With Inter still battling on three fronts — they’re in the Champions League semifinal, they’re in the final of the Coppa Italia and they’re chasing a top-four finish in Serie A — it’s a big call to make, but one that is paying dividends.