It was another great weekend of football. Erling Haaland’s heroism helped Borussia Dortmund beat RB Leipzig and keep the Bundesliga alive, Barcelona and Juventus continued their winning streak (although both teams still have glaring problems), and Milan’s Serie A form was maintained even when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was on top form.

Elsewhere, there was much to be said for Manchester City, Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal after their FA Cup wins, with Bayern Munich looking vulnerable and Schalke 04 avoiding new lows.

– ESPN FC daily broadcast on ESPN+ (US only)
– ESPN+ Watch Guide: Bundesliga, Serie A, MLS, FA Cup and above

It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to last week’s football highlights.

Indent: Super Haaland | Barca’s rebirth | Reflexes make a mistake | Juve still in disarray | Bernardo’s key to Man City? | Leo leads Milan | Danger, a real blow | Chelsea lessons | Inter’s early work | Arsenal’s VAR | Bayern’s weak defence | Man United’s reserves | Atalanta, Papua problems | Schalke 04 avoids the record | And finally …

Haland’s second half keeps Dortmund in the race for the Bundesliga

Bayern lost 3-2 to Borussia Monchengladbach on Friday night. Saturday’s clash between Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund saw Julian Nagelsmann’s men take the lead. It was also a chance for a neutral fan to see two of Europe’s most interesting teams (on paper), although the first 45 minutes were unusually dull. Dortmund had their big guns, although they played conservatively as if they were afraid of another defeat. Leipzig looked sloppy and messy for all their footwork.

– The first big year in Dortmund,.

Then there was a break and another Dortmund and especially another Erling Haaland. The Norwegian prodigy witnessed Jadon Sancho’s goal, scored a rare header, hit the crossbar and then scored his third goal in a 3-1 victory. He now has 19 goals in 16 appearances this season, and yes guys, he won’t turn 21 until July. You’re having trouble finding a weak spot: Rhythm, technical ability, strength, finishing, awareness, decision-making…. he has them all. You can also introduce a character into the game.

Dyot Upamekano handled him relatively comfortably for most of the first half, but that did nothing for Haaland’s confidence. And that mini-slam against him – that he needs to score more goals for a guy as big and strong as he is – may soon be a thing of the past if the header he used to deceive Marcel Halstenberg is a sign that there’s more to come.

Error! The file name is not specified. Sensational effort Haaland, Saturday against Leipzig, not only keeps Dortmund in the title race, but also shows what an impressive player he is becoming at the age of 20. Jan Voytas / Photo Alliance via Getty Images

Haaland made headlines, but Sancho and Marco Reus also flourished, forming a trio with Gio Reina that is more sensitive than anything associated with Julian Brandt. Edin Terzic probably made a mistake in his approach – it’s assumed his plan wasn’t to stink for 45 minutes, have a lull in Leipzig and strike after the break – but the fact that he corrected him after the break is important. In the long term, however, Axel Witsel’s injury (Achilles tendon tear) is a hard blow. Emre Can can certainly plug a hole in the middle of the park, but after that you’re pretty thin.

What about Leipzig? Reminder: The team was without Conrad Laimer, Ibrahima Konate, Christopher Nkunku, Kevin Kampl and their new signing Dominic Szoboslaj. Yes, they are deep and talented, and Nagelsmann always likes to mix things up, but that keeps him away from his decisions. Don’t count them in the title, at least not yet.

And for God’s sake, don’t ignore Dortmund either. The gap is five points with 19 games to go, but with Bayern’s ups and downs and number of goals yet to be scored, the race is far from over.

Barca’s rebirth by talent is not a plan, but still makes a difference.

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Ale Moreno asked about Barcelona’s extraordinary victory: Why doesn’t it happen more often at barca?

Whisper it, but Barcelona have three wins after a 4-0 victory over Granada. Lionel Messi scored his first free kick in over 70 attempts (although his second goal was even more impressive) and returned to the top of the league’s scorecards. Antoine Griezmann also scored twice for the first time since 2019 and seemed especially lively and confident. Pedri was always so primary and Ousmane Dembele confirmed that when he is in form, he is one of the best wingers.

– Barca exams: Messi, Griezmann 9/10 to win

Is the crisis over? No, and this won’t stop until we have a presidential election (scheduled for January 24), a clear vision for the direction of this club, some financial health and a decision on Messi’s future. And this is a team that will continue to have big question marks on defense. Samuel Umtiti made his first appearance of the season – and lasted 90 minutes! — but it will be some time before someone declares it appropriate and productive. Oscar Mingeza has yet to prove that he is not a viable understudy at this level.

Koeman’s 4-2 chaos formation is not yet convincing as a long-term solution, but the freedom it gives Messi and Griezmann especially puts them in situations where they can showcase their individual talents. And if Messi shows up and spends a day like he did on Saturday, things will be much better.

Make no mistake, Koeman always fights fire with fire. It is not at all clear that this is also a decision on the page. But Barca are now third and Messi is playing the way he does. These things are important at a delicate time like this.

Oliver Refresh Input: Why can we get more?

Premier League referee Michael Oliver admitted last weekend that he should have played Jordan Pickford instead of Virgil Van Dijk in the Merseyside derby. He argued that the complex nature of the incident – assessing whether Van Dijk was offside, whether it was a penalty and, of course, whether Pickford deserved another penalty – merited further consideration.

– Dark: Unknown heroes for the 20 teams PL

Haaland keeps Dortmund in Bundesliga race, Barcelona’s revival, ref admits he got Pickford call wrong

Read the latest news and reactions from Gabriele Marcotti, Senior Editor of ESPN FC.

All of us, including me, haven’t thought about everything we need to do, he said. We were too busy moving forward step by step instead of thinking about the larger process that takes into account the challenge, not just the fact that it can’t be a punishment.

Oliver also admitted that the lack of response from the players on the field may have influenced his decision. He was honest, but he didn’t do himself any favors: It is an open invitation to players to try to influence the Game Master.

It’s refreshing to hear the arbitrator publicly admit his mistakes. They’re human, they do the best they can. Some are better than others, just as some players are better than others. There’s nothing wrong with admitting your mistakes. I think the reason we don’t see it more often is that the fans and the media aren’t ready for it.

Juve’s alignment problems despite three consecutive wins

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Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens don’t want Juventus to find their form.

The good news is that Juventus have won three Serie A games in a row for the first time since the arrival of Andrea Pirlo. And if they win their game against Napoli – which is far from a given, but still – they will move up to third in the standings. But the 3-1 win over Sassuolo highlighted the many problems the team still faces, starting with a midfielder who is too slow and unimaginative to make possession work. Add to that a terrible night for Leo Bonucci (he risked an early exit and was caught in an uncomfortable position too often), the injuries to Weston McKenney and Paulo Dybala, and the road ahead remains bumpy.

The fact that Juve were unable to win despite second half advantage speaks volumes about the gap between them and their goal. With the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo, who lacked courage, they didn’t create much. Even the two goals in the second half – one from Danilo’s long-range shot and the other from an individual effort in stoppage time – were not the result of better play, but simply the presence of the best players.

Make no mistake: It’s still a construction site.

Bernardo Silva could be the key to Maine City in section.

Bernardo Silva scored twice in Manchester City’s embarrassing 3-0 FA Cup win over Birmingham City at the weekend. His first thing is a technical beauty, twisting and bending his body to produce a punch as clean as you’ll never see it.

Panic Index: Should we be worried about Maine baseball uniforms?

Other City players have rightly made headlines in recent seasons, from Kevin De Bruyne to Raheem Sterling, from Sergio Aguero to another David Silva who has since left. Although the Portuguese midfielder has had a slow start to the season, his versatility could prove crucial to City’s title challenge. He’s not the only player who can occupy almost any position in midfield (with the exception of Rodri’s) or on the wing, but he does so with a tactical awareness and pace that some of his teammates lack.

Although Silva is not the most gifted member of this team, his intelligence allows him to interpret the role in different ways, allowing Pep Guardiola to adjust his system without changing the formation.

Leo is the leader of Milan

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Milan, Inter, Juve or the joker? Gab Marcotti and Matteo Bonetti share the Scadetto Serie A race.

Milan exacted revenge on Juventus with a comfortable 2-0 win over Torino, bringing back Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the second half. Inter drew 2-2 at Roma on Sunday and the Rossoneri’s Serie A lead is now three points.

Rafael Leao’s impeccable performance was also heard there. The public perception among Serie A observers is that Leao, although he played very well, is not a centre forward. Я ? I hate labels. He’s not in the spotlight if your prototype is Ibrahimovic. That’s all I’m saying. Some are. But football is football, and he has the skills to play forward as effectively as he does up front. For a team as eager to press as Milan, Leao could be even better than Ibra. (Not the best player, he fits better).

Imagine the defenders who have Ibrahimovic in goal for about an hour and are suddenly confronted with Leo’s cunning and speed. It’s not funny.

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Eden Hazard had a rare debut at Real Madrid, but Ale Moreno says he has become a shadow of his former self since his arrival.

There’s not much to learn from Real’s unremarkable draw at Osasuna, except that with freezing conditions and a piece of ice on the pitch, you’re unlikely to see great football. Zinedine Zidane went on to say that the match should never have taken place – due to heavy snowfall in that part of Spain, the team did not arrive on the day of the match until after midnight, after a four-hour wait on the runway in Madrid – and in a year without pandemics and traffic jams, he might have been right.

– Low: Will Sergio Ramos stay at Real Madrid?

Coincidentally, the conditions were just as bad for both teams, so that’s not a good excuse. Eden Hazard came on for the first time since November, and with the return it’s clear it wasn’t a game for him. (He shouldn’t have been on the pitch for 15 minutes either.) Against an opponent who, understandably, sat deep and defensively, it was always going to be difficult to create chances, but apart from one for Marco Asensio, Madrid created very few.

La Liga’s lead is one point, but the cancellation of Atletico Madrid means Diego Simeone’s side now have three games in hand, meaning they could theoretically go ten points clear at the top.

Did we learn much about Werner, Havertz and Chelsea in the FA Cup?

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Janusz Michalik believes Timo Werner’s performance is no guarantee of a starting place, despite his goal against Morecambe.

Chelsea eliminated Morecambe (fourth division) in the third round of the FA Cup. The 4-0 victory was meant to be a practice to get Timo Werner and Kai Havertz back on their feet. Werner has been doing it since the 7th. Havertz has not scored in any competition for Chelsea since November – a period of almost 800 minutes – while the club’s record-breaking Havertz has only been in the starting eleven once since mid-December. And I haven’t played lately.

Both scored on Sunday and that certainly helps their confidence. But it’s not clear exactly what we learned from this exercise, and not just because of the quality (or lack thereof) of the Blues League 2 opponents. Werner has played in the frontline, and if there’s one thing that should be clear by now, Chelsea are better – and more reasonable – with a real centre-forward like Tammy Abraham or Olivier Giroud in the lead.

Havertz also played in a midfield trio with Mason Mount. It’s good against Morecambe if Chelsea have the most balls. Is this something you want to experience when there is more defense and positional play? I’m not sure.

Inter avoid disaster but time to work Story

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The Gab and Jules FC ESPN podcast presents the 2-2 draw between Inter and Roma since Sunday.

Inter’s 2-2 draw with Roma is not the kind of disaster some people consider a disaster. Sure, it left them three points behind in the first, and yes, they conceded a late equalizer. But they did play Roma, who are third on the board, not puppets. Paulo Fonseca is undoubtedly the best match manager in Serie A, and it shows. Trailing 2-1, he continued to pressure Inter, forcing them to defend much deeper than they wanted (as Antonio Conte himself admitted after the game).

More importantly, two straight defeats against a powder keg club like Inter – especially during the transfer window – are a recipe for disaster. Antonio Conte sticks to his statement that the team played well (which they did sporadically) and points out that they should have defended better towards the end of the game, but fell victim to the usual restlessness and fear of failure.

Besides, ridding Inter of that fear is exactly what he’s been trying to do for the past 18 months (which is why he’s by far the highest paid manager in Serie A). It’s something he needs to work on. Plus, it always feels like we beat a team thanks to individual players (usually Romelu Lukaku, sometimes Lautaro Martinez or Ahraf Hakimi scoring the big goal) rather than teams. Now that he has no European distractions, Conte should have plenty of time to work on them.

Smith Rowe, Arsenal can thank the VAR (and you too)

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Craig Burley responds to criticism of the VAR decision in Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Newcastle.

Arsenal beat Newcastle United 2-0 after extra time in the third round of the FA Cup, but that would never have happened without VAR.

– Ollie: Smith Rowe lives up to Arteta’s belief in young stars

Referee Chris Kavanagh showed a red card to Emile Smith Rowe, who was injured during Sean Longstaff’s departure. Maybe it was Longstaff screaming like a kid finding a spider on a pillow, or maybe it was the way he rolled over and squeezed his leg that triggered the immediate reaction. Anyway, it was a mistake. VAR Andre Marriner asked Kavanagh to check again and the referee downgraded him to yellow. Smith Rowe scored the decisive goal in stoppage time before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added a late goal.

Maybe Arsenal still win with ten men? Sure, but Smith Rowe wouldn’t have scored, and the game could have taken a very different – and completely unfair – turn.

Whatever the critics of VAR say – and I can respect those who are philosophically opposed to it – it is clear that the number of gross errors of judgement has decreased since VAR was introduced.

Bayern Munich is not defending what it used to.

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Gab Marcotti points out that Bayern have only kept a clean sheet once in 15 games, which is a sign of real weakness.

Bayern didn’t lose to Gladbach on Friday night because they didn’t play as well as usual or because their opponents were inevitably much better. Because, as is often the case with Bayern – even when they are bad – they create a lot of chances and because they have the best players, they usually finish them.

The key word here, without taking anything away from Marco Rose’s people, is generally that when Bayern play at this level – which is not a good level by their standards – they sometimes lose points. That’s why the Bundesliga remains open, and if you think Bayern have a mystical hold on the title, you’re wrong.

Haaland keeps Dortmund in Bundesliga race, Barcelona’s revival, ref admits he got Pickford call wrong

The German First Division on ESPN+. Can FC Bayern Munich stay on top, or will Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig take over?
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One statistic stands out for me. Bayern have only kept a clean sheet once in their last 15 games in all competitions. This is partly down to individuals – Manuel Neuer wasn’t himself, Benjamin Pavard was poor, Alfonso Davies doesn’t seem to have fully recovered, the suspension of David Alaba’s contract weighs heavily – and partly down to the system: Neither the dry cleaning nor the midfielder (injuries didn’t help) were that effective.

This is something Hansi Flick needs to fix. The number of times you can see your opponent’s goals and get away with it is limited.

Man United’s reserves have no chance of impressing.

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Craig Burley and Shaka Hislop questioned whether big clubs like ManUnited should be participating in the FA Cup so soon.

The FA Cup clash between Manchester United and Watford at Old Trafford gave a glimpse of some second division players. It is clear that this match is not a priority for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, nor for Watford boss Xisco, who has made eight changes of his own. (In fact, four of his 11 regulars didn’t start in either league this season.)

– Dawson: Van de Beek pleads for Man United.

Scott McTominay, who gave United the lead for the first time, scored early on and from then on it was mainly a question of who would qualify for the Solskjaer rotation. Can Brandon Williams, a natural right winger so often used on the left side, be a real offensive alternative to Aaron Van Bissack? Can Axel Tuanzebe or Eric Bailey challenge Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire? What about Donnie Van De Beek? Will Jesse Lingard or Daniel James ever come back from the cold?

None of this shows that Solskjaer lacks rhythm in the way he manages his reserves. Perhaps it was the circumstances of the game – although, given that many of Watford’s players were in the same boat, they had hoped for a more competitive game – or perhaps the gap between them and the current core of 13 or 14 players was simply too great. Either way, don’t expect many of these guys (with the obvious exception of McTominay, Mason Greenwood and a few other regulars) to be in the top eleven anytime soon.

Papa Gomez returns as Atalanta starts without him.

Josip Ilicic stole the show at Atalanta by beating Bevenvento 4-1 to maintain his place in the Serie A top four. They’ve scored 18 goals in their last five games, suggesting they haven’t lost a goal in attack since last year. However, they lost Papa Gomez, who was arguably their best player of the last two seasons.

Gomez struggled to impress Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini and has not played since mid-December. The club will try to get him through this month’s transfer window and Gasperini has reiterated that Gomez is no longer suited to this tactic, to which he has responded with a series of Instagram posts showing his handling of the ball.

In any case, it’s a sad end after showing great heroism during his six and a half seasons at the club. Atalanta have said they will not let him go to a Serie A club. At 32, he may not have a long career ahead of him, but there are plenty of teams in Europe where he could make an immediate impact.

Schalke avoids historic record…. but the worst is yet to come –.

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Jürgen Klinsmann praises Matthew Hoppe after the American teenager’s heroic hat-trick for Schalke.

You’ve probably heard about Schalke’s winning streak and how they beat Tasmania in Berlin in the 31st round in 1966. Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Hoffenheim means they have one player down, 30, and they can thank their opponents for their inability to defend counter-attacks and a hat-trick from young American Matthew Hopp, who was making just his third Premier League appearance.

This is a reprieve for Schalke, who also move away from the bottom, one point ahead of Mainz. The relegation point (currently held by Cologne) is four points, so relegation is by no means guaranteed, not least because his team is no worse for the player than many teams around him. But financially the club was already in bad shape before the pandemic and the last ten months have only made it worse. Resolving – and charging, at a lower cost – may not be such a bad thing.

And finally…

Bas Dost made his club debut for Brugge in the 2-1 win away to Sint-Truiden. He now has a goal in a Belgian championship and scores 15 league goals. If you count his time at Eintracht Frankfurt, he scored six goals in 15 games.

That’s what this part of #BasDostWatch concludes.

 

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