Zidane rants after Real win, Premier League starts Black Lives Matter discussion, Ronaldo poor for Juve
Another week has come and gone, with one high-profile transfer nearing its conclusion, the Bundesliga title fight looking all but over, the Black Lives Matter movement receiving more support and much more. It's Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the sport of football from the past week.
Jump to: Zidane angry after win | Premier League invites scrutiny | Disgraced FIFA chief goes on record again | Bayern rotate, get closer to title | Takeaways from Barca's big win | Ronaldo struggles for Juve | Praise for Rashford | Haaland rescues Dortmund again | How Napoli reached Coppa Italia final | PSG planning “creative” transfers
Should Zidane have ranted after Real win?
Carlo Ancelotti once told me that Zinedine Zidane doesn't talk much, but when he does speak, folks listen. So you wonder how Real Madrid would have reacted after he tore into his players after their 3-1 win over Eibar on Sunday. Real Madrid scored straight away through Toni Kroos, raced to a 3-0 lead at half-time and then visibly took their foot off the gas after the break, conceding a goal while their opponents also hit the woodwork.
You wonder if this is a case of misdirection or overreaction on Zidane's part. When you come back after three months of isolation following the coronavirus outbreak, you're in uncharted territory, and at 3-0, at halftime, at home — even if it is their chocolate box-sized home at Valdebebas, the club's training facilities — you're bound to feel you're home free with that score.
Eden Hazard looked sharp and promises to be a real value-add down the stretch: the pandemic is giving him a second chance he might not have otherwise had this campaign. Sergio Ramos scored and supplied a lung-busting run for the second goal, as well as a delightful mountain man beard that I hope he won't shave off until he retires. We got to see Ferland Mendy at right-back in the second half and Marcelo score a peach of a goal down the left. And four substitutes before the hour mark, which is exactly what you want to see in terms of load management.
It's true that Real Madrid didn't create as many chances as might be expected, but they converted the ones they got. And the combination of heat and lack of match fitness did the rest after the break. This is a marathon at this stage, not a series of sprints. If they're going to stay on Barcelona's tail and wait for a mistake at the top of La Liga — Real are just two points behind with 10 games left — load management will matter.
Premier League invites chance for honest conversation
Jan Aage Fjortoft explains why Man United will finish ahead of Tottenham in one of the coveted UCL spots.
When the Premier League returns on Wednesday, players will wear shirts emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” on the back in place of their names. The move comes at the behest of club captains who wanted to show their solidarity with the movement.
Former Man United and England player turned pundit Gary Neville said “forget campaigns, forget words, it has to be actions.” He pointed out that the “the idea of having a Kick It Out T-shirt on once a season as a football players, doing a picture in front of a flag and then going training and basically not seeing it again for another 12 months is not enough.”
I get where he's coming from. Having a message printed on a shirt that everybody wears makes for good PR, but it will never be as powerful as players individually or as a group owning taking a stand, independent of their employers. Marcelo taking a knee after scoring for Real Madrid or the individual protests in the Bundesliga will have more significance.
On the other hand, this is a chance to hold Premier League clubs to account. It's a chance to tell them: “OK, you put this slogan on your shirts, what exactly are you doing about it? Are you making an active effort to give black and ethnic minority folks a pathway into the game post-retirement? Are you doing enough to ensure that players of color in particular don't face prejudice and racist abuse in the workplace?”
By putting that message on players' shirts — just as with the anti-racism messaging in Serie A and elsewhere — clubs and leagues are inviting scrutiny. So let's scrutinize them, and make sure they're not simply jumping on another lip-service bandwagon.
Blatter still thinks he did little wrong
The number of ongoing investigations against former FIFA president Sepp Blatter is back up to two after Swiss prosecutors confirmed they were looking into a $1 million, interest-free loan FIFA gave the Trinidad and Tobago FA back in 2010. (A few months later, that loan was magically transformed into a subsidy). Previously, the Swiss attorney general had dropped another case against Blatter, for mishandling Caribbean World Cup TV rights. He still has a case pending for the $2m payment to former UEFA boss Michel Platini.
Blatter gave an interview to soccer magazine The Blizzard where he outlined how the French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Platini to back Qatar, instead of the United States, to host 2022 World Cup. Without that intervention, Blatter claims, the U.S. would have won the right to host the 2022 tournament, and, more importantly (at least from his perspective), a chain of events that saw the U.S. Department of Justice take a sudden interest in FIFA matters which ultimately resulted in Blatter's downfall, would never have occurred.
It's a “World According to Sepp”-type reconstruction. Take it for what it is. The interview reveals that either Blatter is 100% convinced that he's the victim of a vast conspiracy, or he'd love for you to believe that he is.
This quote about how he wants history to remember him also speaks volumes: “I am not a thief. I want to leave this world known as the man who brought football to the level it is at internationally. And that I helped make football a sociocultural product. I want the world to acknowledge that I deserved a better departure from FIFA. That I gave to FIFA, rather than took from it.”
I'm not sure he'll get his wish.
Bayern rotate but lose little power as they close on title
Jan Aage Fjortoft says there's a “harmony” around Bayern he hasn't seen since they won the treble in 2013.
With Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski suspended, Hansi Flick mixed things up against Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday, resting Alphonso Davies and Kingsley Coman and giving Mickael Cuisance and Joshua Zirkzee the nod instead. When you consider that Thiago Alcantara, Corentin Tolisso and Niklas Sule were also unavailable (not to mention Philippe Coutinho), it goes some way to underscoring just how deep and dominant they are that they emerged as 2-1 winners against a side well in the hunt for a top-four finish.
Gladbach, already without Alassane Plea, lost Marcus Thuram early to injury, and the match lost steam. The winner came near the end courtesy of Leon Goretzka, who is playing at a level not seen since his move from Schalke. A point in midweek against Werder will guarantee Hansi Flick his first title.
Barcelona look the part vs. Mallorca
Craig Burley says Real Madrid have to be on their A-game after Barcelona's blowout win vs. Mallorca.
Barcelona pummelled Mallorca 4-0 on Saturday, with Lionel Messi delivering two assists and scoring a goal that takes his league total to 20 for the 12th consecutive season. Without wanting to disrespect Martin Braithwaite, it's not really fair to judge how they look until Luis Suarez returns to the starting lineup — after five months out, he came on for the last half-hour this weekend — but there were more than enough positive takeaways.
Arturo Vidal breaking from midfield is still a force on his day, while Frenkie de Jong‘s understanding with Sergio Busquets continues to grow. And clean-shaven Messi looks as dangerous as bearded Messi. Antoine Griezmann still has to find his niche in this side, but this wasn't necessarily the game in which to do it.
Ronaldo looks bad as Juve limp into Coppa Italia final
Steve Nicol critiques Cristiano Ronaldo's performance in Juventus' 0-0 draw vs. AC Milan in Coppa Italia.
Juventus' 0-0 draw at home to Milan in the second leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal earns them a pass to the final, but they offered little in terms of performance. That includes Cristiano Ronaldo.
It's not so much the penalty that could have reshaped the game, it's the fact that he struggled at center-forward, with Paulo Dybala to his right and Douglas Costa to his left. Simply put, he has many traits of a central striker, but what he's not going to do — and what, at 35 years of age, you don't want him to do because it's a waste of his talents — is tie up the opposing center-backs and carve out space for his wingers.
Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and a host of other guests every day as football plots a path through the coronavirus crisis. Stream on ESPN+ (U.S. only).
In Maurizio Sarri's 4-3-3 formation, Juve are better off with Paulo Dybala through the middle revisiting his false nine role or, indeed, Gonzalo Higuain (who, not yet match-fit, was in the stands on his phone, as many Juve fans posted out). But that's not even Sarri's biggest concern right now.
The midfield, Rodrigo Bentancur apart, simply didn't work. You can give Blaise Matuidi, behind on his fitness, a pass. But Miralem Pjanic was a shadow of himself, Adrien Rabiot produced little but chaos and Sami Khedira looked like what he is: a 33-year-old who has started two league games in the past nine months.
Praise for Marcus Rashford
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford explains his letter to parliament, seeking meals for vulnerable children.
Marcus Rashford took it upon himself to write an open letter to members of the British parliament asking them to extend school lunch vouchers to underprivileged kids over the summer. He noted that, not that long ago, he was one of those kids who relied on getting fed at school, and he hasn't forgotten.
When it comes to charity and taking a stand, footballers span the whole spectrum, just like civilians. Some do nothing. Some simply cut checks quietly. And some, like Rashford, donate not just money but those other precious commodities — time and visibility — to effect positive change.
Not everybody likes the publicity and some simply choose to do things quietly. But those who are comfortable with it and are willing to speak out like Rashford can make a world of difference. At just 22 years of age, he's already more of a role model as a man than he is as a footballer.
Haaland to Dortmund's rescue again
Shaka Hislop heaps praise on “world class” Erling Haaland after notching his 11th Bundesliga goal.
With the score deadlocked at nil-nil against Fortuna Dusseldorf deep into injury time, Borussia Dortmund desperately needed to find a winner to keep their title hopes alive for another few days. So who should step up but the man-child, Erling Haaland?
He had missed the past two games and had come off the bench against Dusseldorf with half an hour to go. But there he was, rising to meet the ball and guide it into the back of the net with a last-gasp header, which was more about precision than power. The scary thing is some have questioned his aerial ability and lack of headed goals (and, to be fair, there haven't been many). If Haaland masters this part of the game as well, things are going to look rather bleak for defenders everywhere.
Napoli's simple approach works as they book Coppa Italia final spot
Gab Marcotti lauds Christian Eriksen's performance for Inter, but says Napoli's defense was the difference.
Rino Gattuso's Napoli edged into the Coppa Italia final after a 1-1 home draw with Inter. Over the two legs, Inter were the better side, but when your front pair is as out of sync as Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku looked Saturday night, you'll always struggle. Credit Kalidou Koulibaly and Nikola Maksimovic, who were heroic at the back, but credit also Gattuso's simple, but effective game play of congesting space and hitting on the break.
Antonio Conte said he felt his team played well, and apart from the front two, they did. Christian Eriksen, deployed in the hole in a 3-4-1-2 formation, showed what he can offer if trusted with the keys to the team. The fact that he lost the foot race with Lorenzo Insigne for the Napoli equalizer is still his responsibility, but it would have never happened without quick thinking from David Ospina and laser-like accuracy.
Folks will blame the interest from Barcelona for Martinez's ineffectual performance, but let's not jump to such conclusions: he's entitled to simply have a bad day. The tricky part for Inter is that they're effectively out of the title race and unlikely to miss out on the Champions League. Third place can become a comfort zone. You can be sure Conte will do everything in his power to ensure that doesn't happen.
PSG preparing for “creative” transfer business
Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo said that money is going to be tight for the foreseeable future and thus PSG will need to get “creative” in the transfer market. He also confirmed what we already knew: that Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva won't be back.
That alone lops more than €50 million ($56m) off the wage bill. And while part of that will go to fund Mauro Icardi‘s arrival and while the pandemic will hurt them, especially with the cancellation of the league in France, I'm not sure the situation is as dire as some suggest.
If by creativity, he means exploiting the absurdly rich pool of talent in the Paris area — something PSG probably haven't done as well as they might have — then it's sure to pay dividends down the road. The fact that Presnel Kimpembe is the only homegrown PSG player to have seen significant playing time this season, when the French capital is a hotbed of gifted youngsters, tells you there's some low-hanging fruit there.
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