We have a confirmed Premier League title champion, Barcelona and Juventus have completed their long-awaited midfielder swap and we had some drama in the FA Cup quarterfinals. It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the sport of football from the past week.
Jump to: Liverpool should relax a bit | Barca let it slip vs. Celta Vigo | Breaking down Pjanic-Arthur swap | Inter not out of Italy’s title race | Man United’s FA Cup win | Why Benzema is Real’s MVP | Bayern cruise in season finale | Lampard’s subs pay off for Chelsea | Dortmund phone it in on final day | Signs of progress for Milan | Arsenal move on in FA Cup | And finally…
Liverpool should relax a bit after clinching Premier League
On Friday, I wrote about one aspect that made Liverpool’s title stand out: the fact that, apart from arguably Alisson and Virgil Van Dijk (and both are eminently arguable), it arrived without bonafide, blue-chip superstar signings but instead relied on guys who got better once they landed at Anfield.
It’s a bit reductive, because Liverpool’s title is about much more than that. First and foremost, sports don’t exist in a vacuum. They are imbued with meaning because people care. There’s a whole generation who grew in the 1970s and 1980s, with the legend of Liverpool as one of the most dominant football clubs in the world, who now occupy positions of power in the infrastructure of football and media. And there’s a generation born after the mid-1980s who have no personal clear recollection of the last title, in 1990, but who only know of the three decades of pursuit as some Sisyphean effort.
You can’t separate the two and analyze the victory purely in football terms. No club that size — throughout their barren years, Liverpool remained one of the two biggest clubs in England — has gone that long without becoming domestic champions. The fact that it played out against the backdrop of a globalised, interconnected world only turned the screws even more.
Meeting the challenge of taking a title back to Anfield required not just footballing nous, but a strong public face to navigate the bumpy spots. Jurgen Klopp provided that, along with the right mix of confidence and humility.
The question now is what do you do for the rest of the season?
Shaka Hislop outlines the influence Jurgen Klopp has had on Liverpool players and fans during his time as manager.
Liverpool have seven games to go. There are records to be broken: gain another 15 points of a possible 21 and they’ll reach 101, surpassing Manchester City’s mark of two years ago. In the immediate, this Thursday night, there’s a trip to the Etihad to take on their closest rivals over the past two seasons.
Klopp is best placed to decide how to approach the rest of the campaign. Different players respond to different stimuli, but having been around plenty of footballers over the years, I can pretty confidently say that titles matter more than records. Records get broken, but titles — especially the ones you’ve been waiting 30 years for — remain.
Personally, I’d use the rest of the season to give those players who need a break — psychological, given the lockdown we’ve all endured, as much as mental or physical — a chance to disconnect. And I’d use these weeks to assess what I have: whether it’s figuring out what Takumi Minamino can bring to the table or getting Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott minutes on the pitch.
The 2020-21 Premier League season starts in just 75 days. It doesn’t mean you “tank” the rest of the way, or that a points record isn’t important. It does mean that, having won, you immediately start thinking about how you’re going to return to the top of the mountain.
Barca’s late-game struggles hurt them in title race
Julien Laurens stresses the importance of Antoine Griezmann and Barcelona “making it work” amid his struggles.
Barcelona’s 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo will be remembered for setting up Real Madrid’s chance to pull ahead (which they did the following day), for the chaos and tension of that last drinks break before Iago Aspas’ late equalizer and for Luis Suarez, who scored both Barca goals, deflecting attention towards manager Quique Setien. (“That’s why coaches are there, to analyze those situations.”)
But it’s worth remembering that Barca’s second straight draw comes against a side, Celta Vigo, that opted to leave out five guys (Rafinha, Filip Bradaric, Nolito, Santi Mina and Jeison Murillo) you’d normally expect to see in the starting XI. They are one spot above the drop zone and they have a classic relegation six-pointer coming up on Tuesday against Mallorca: it almost felt as if they didn’t need these points. It was exactly the opposite scenario for Barcelona.
Setien will shoulder the blame, which, in some ways, is reductive. Barca played well in the first half, with Riqui Puig running the show in midfield. What you saw at the end was an inability to manage a lead with 20 minutes to go. And — witness the Nolito chance in injury time — a real difficulty in defending in transition, which when Sergi Busquets and Frankie de Jong are replaced by Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal in your starting lineup, isn’t perhaps that surprising.
Barca are still very much in this race and, in terms of positives, the challenge for Setien is channeling what we saw in the first half. The problem is that this is a powder keg of a club right now and there is plenty to overshadow the positives. This is where the senior players in the dressing room either step up in terms of leadership to give Barca a fighting chance, or where things fizzle out.
Breaking down the Arthur, Pjanic swap deal
Sid Lowe and Julien Laurens explain the motives behind Barca’s sale of Arthur to Juventus for Miralem Pjanic.
The swap deal that will send Arthur to Juventus and Miralem Pjanic plus €12 million ($13.5m) to Barcelona is done. (There are also some performance-related bonuses in play, up to €10m ($11.2m) for Arthur and up to €5m ($6.6m) for Pjanic. There’s no mystery to the fact that this deal is as much about accounting as it is about football, especially from the Barcelona end. Both clubs are making a tidy paper profit for 2019-20 (accounts close on July 1).
You can thank the magic of amortization. Pjanic, who had a residual value of around €11.5m ($12.9m) on Juve’s books, will bring in a paper profit of around €48.5m ($54.4m), minus agent commissions and solidarity payments. We know this because Juventus are listed on the stock market and they have to disclose the terms of the deal, bringing what they call the “net positive effect” to €41.8m ($46.9m). Subtract the amortized value of Arthur (one-fifth of the fee) and Juve have generated close to €30m ($33.7) while also reducing their wage bill (since the Brazilian will earn some thirty percent less than Pjanic) and getting a younger player.
Doing the math on Arthur is slightly trickier since nearly a quarter of his original €40m fee from Gremio consists of variable amounts (https://www.fcbarcelona.com/en/football/first-team/news/714352/barca-and-gremio-reach-agreement-on-option-for-arthur-transfer ) and Barcelona don’t have the same reporting obligations as Juve, but it’s safe to say his residual value was somewhere in the €21m ($23.6m) to €25m ($28.1m) range. Assuming Pjanic gets a four-year deal, that’s a paper profit in the €18-22m range ($20.2m to $24.7m), plus, crucially, €12m ($13.5m) in cold, hard cash. (Paid over four years, but still…)
It works out for the players, too. Arthur more than doubles his salary and gets a guaranteed starting spot. Pjanic gets the beaches of Catalunya and at least another year on his contract. Both men get away from managers (Quique Setien and Maurizio Sarri) who perhaps didn’t get the best out of them.
So win-win-win-win scenario?
In terms of the books, sure. But there’s also the reality that when you attempt to shift players at certain clubs, your pool of potential destinations is tiny because their contracts are huge. If pressed to pick a winner, I’d suggest Juve got the better deal here. Yet it still feels like this deal was more about bean-counters than it was football.
Inter aren’t out of Serie A title race yet
Gab Marcotti discusses Inter and Lazio’s improbable comebacks to stay within reach of Juve in the title race.
Inter needed late, late goals to get the best of Parma and keep their flimsy hopes of catching Juventus at the top of Serie A alive. It shouldn’t be surprising. Parma are an old-school, defend-and-counter side and when they break with Gervinho, Dejan Kulusevski and Andreas Cornelius they can be devastating. Especially when they take the lead, as they did Sunday, and especially when Inter’s main creative threats, Marcelo Brozovic, Stefano Sensi and Christian Eriksen go AWOL: the former was unavailable, the latter was there in body alone.
Inter chipped away and eventually broke through Parma’s uber-low defensive block thanks to two headed goals from defenders Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni. This prompts classic glass half-full, glass half-empty talk. As I see it, Inter will always struggle against teams like this if they go behind and their creators aren’t there. That’s why the news that they’ve added Achraf Hakimi from Borussia Dortmund from next season is, potentially, a gamechanger.
Conte relies heavily on his wingbacks, which is why he also rotates them so often, but apart from Antonio Candreva (who is now 33 and has other flaws to his game) they’re more runners and crossers than creators. Hakimi can do both and he’s only 21 years old. At €45m, he’s a veritable steal.
Man United sneak into FA Cup semifinals
Craig Burley and Kasey Keller share their predictions for Man City vs. Arsenal and Chelsea vs. Man United.
You only needed to look at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s lineup on Saturday to note that the FA Cup wasn’t exactly a priority. Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial all started on the bench and all came on late in the game to turn it around against Norwich. (You would think Daniel Farke’s crew would also have other priorities, given they’re six points away from safety, but a shot at Wembley evidently matters just as much.)
The 2-1 win sets up an FA Cup semifinal against Chelsea and, just as important, keeps the morale high around Solskjaer, who hasn’t lost in 14 games. That could be critical in the run at the Champions’ League spots.
Why Benzema is Real Madrid’s MVP
Sid Lowe questions if Real Madrid count on Karim Benzema as much as Barcelona rely on Lionel Messi.
You quickly run out of superlatives when it comes to Karim Benzema. Not just because of his prodigious backheeled flick of an assist that set up Casemiro’s winner against Espanyol Sunday, but because of the journey he has been on.
Benzema made his name at Lyon as a hugely athletic and gifted central striker and, playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo for nine seasons, reinvented himself as the perfect foil. He battled through off-the-pitch controversy (some of it of his own making), seasons in which he shared the centerforward spot with Gonzalo Higuain and managers who didn’t hesitate to call him out in public. (Remember Jose Mourinho, after Higuain was injured and he had to start Benzema, saying he’d rather hunt with a “dog” than a “cat” but sometimes you have no choice?)
Ronaldo’s departure meant he had to take more of the scoring load and he did that last year, with 30 goals in all competitions. This year, even as Zinedine Zidane rotated the cast around him — we’ve seen Vinicius, Eden Hazard, Rodrygo, Gareth Bale, Isco and Lucas Vazquez all appear out wide — Benzema has been Madrid’s constant. If they win the title, he’s their Player of the Year by some distance.
Bayern finish season on a high
Bayern’s 4-0 defeat of Wolfsburg means they finish the season with 100 goals. It’s one shy of the record, but nobody will care. Not when you’ve won an astonishing 25 of your last 26 games and collect 49 of a possible 51 points in the second half of the season.
They’ll be back next week for the German Cup final against Bayer Leverkusen, of course, and then it’s a five-week break until their next competitive fixture, in the Champions League. The challenge for Hansi Flick is to find the right mix between maintaining the momentum and allowing his players to recuperate and regenerate.
Explaining Lampard’s subs vs. Leicester
Mark Ogden discusses Frank Lampard’s claim that Christian Pulisic has the ability to reach the very top.
Frank Lampard’s half-time triple substitution — removing three of his young guns, Billy Gilmour, Reece James and Mason Mount — against Leicester City in the FA Cup was straight out of the old-school Jose Mourinho playbook, particularly since each was replaced by a veteran: Mateo Kovacic, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ross Barkley.
As motivational gestures go, it was a bit of a blunt instrument, but it helped turn the game around after a first half that Lampard described as “one of the worst this season.” If it helps the youngsters regain their focus and mojo, while also reminding all the younger players in the squad that the bar will get lifted higher next year, then it will go down as a master stroke.
Because while many of these guys are clearly promising, the goodwill fans and media show towards young players they’re seeing for the first time evaporates as the seasons go by. And what’s good enough for a transition year (which, lest we forget, is what 2019-20 was supposed to be for Chelsea following the transfer ban) might not be good enough when you go back to competing for titles.
Dortmund phone it in on final weekend
I’m rather lost for words at the way Borussia Dortmund ended their season: a 4-0 defeat to Hoffenheim, who really had nothing to play for apart from padding Andrej Kramaric’s numbers (which he did, scoring four times).
I can accept a “last day of school” environment for Dortmund, but given what the club invested to mount a series challenge to Bayern this season, I would also have expected a bit more pride. I can’t imagine they would have played that way if this game hadn’t been behind closed doors and they had to stare down the Yellow Wall at full-time.
Another good win for AC Milan
Milan looked good in their 2-0 win over Roma, just as they’ve looked good since coming back from lockdown. The Europa League, once a theoretical goal, is now a practical one. And that they did it without Zlatan Ibrahimovic also suggests that the “Ibradependency” argument is a bit overblown.
Some observers, while Ralf Rangnick waits in the wings to take over, are already calling for the club to keep Stefano Pioli next season as well, trotting out the well-worn argument about “stability.” Personally, I would have thought Rangnick as director of football and Pioli on the bench would work. Pioli is a tactical chameleon, capable of dialing up just about any style of play — including Rangnick’s. But if that doesn’t happen (and it looks like it won’t) it’s also going to be because Pioli has other plans. And after this experience, you’d imagine he’ll land a decent job in Serie A…. If, indeed, he does move on.
Arsenal advance in FA Cup
Of all the sides left in the FA Cup. Arsenal need this trophy the most and when David McGoldrick equalised for Sheffield United with minutes to go, it felt as if things were going to once again crumble into dust, Gooner-style. Dani Ceballos’ winner in injury time changed the narrative, which is a good thing, because the last thing Arsenal need is more drama. They have more than enough going on, what with the weird contact renewals, Mesut Ozil’s disappearance to Mikel Arteta’s naughty step, Matteo Guendouzi freaking out and the prospect of no European football for the first time in twenty-five years.
Truth be told, I don’t think played poorly against Sheffield United. We’re still in “baby steps” mode, but Arteta is showing plenty of backbone with some of squad selection. This is an audition for next season and it’s pretty clear that if folks don’t want to be around in those circumstances, nobody is going to twist their arm.
Bas Dost scored for Eintracht Frankfurt in their 3-2 home win over Paderborn, which means they finish the Bundesliga season in the top half of the table. He finishes the season with eight goals in twenty-four Bundesliga appearances for Eintracht, of which eight came off the bench. Overall, counting his two games with Sporting last August, he notched 10 goals in thirty-one games in 2019-20.
This concludes this instalment of #BasDostWatch. It is the final #BasDostWatch of 2019-20. #BasDostWatch may or many not return in 2020-21.