Monday Musings

Juventus, Gigi Buffon and Real Madrid must close officiating can of worms

Wed, 18 Apr 2018 08:29:00 PDT

Gianluigi Buffon didn't hold back when asked about the penalty decision at the end of the match that gave Cristiano Ronaldo the opportunity to squash Juventus' comeback. How about we all take a step back and keep the hell away from that Pandora's Box? That means you, Marca, who saw fit to devote Tuesday's front page to the following concept: the accusations of pro-Real Madrid refereeing bias might hurt Zinedine Zidane's team against Bayern Munich. And you, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, who accused UEFA head of refereeing Pierluigi Collina (who happens to be Italian) of being so obsessed with appearing transparent and unbiased that he ends up penalizing...

Pep Guardiola vindicated for doing things differently with Man City

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 09:36:00 PDT

The FC crew delve into Man City's evolution during Pep Guardiola's second season in charge and debate whether winning the Premier League put his critics to bed. "Another Way of Winning" is one of several biographies written about Pep Guardiola and, over the weekend, it became a realized prophecy in the Premier League, as the Catalan manager claimed his first title. And Manchester City didn't just win. They won big and, in some ways, bigger than any other team in the history of English football. With five games remaining, they are on pace to set a new top-flight mark for points (95 is the record; they have 87) and wins (30; 28). Plus, they're on track to...

Roma rewarded for dreaming big as Di Francesco masterminds Barca downfall

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 12:50:00 PDT

ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti explains why Roma's comeback is one of their greatest moments in Europe, while the FC crew delve into where things went wrong for Barcelona. And to think that some Roma fans wanted them to tank... On Monday, the talk in some quarters -- particularly among the local radio stations that provide the soundtrack to any taxi ride in the Eternal City -- was that Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco should play the long game. The club were obviously not going to come back from a 4-1 deficit against Barcelona in their Champions League second leg, so why not conserve their energy for Sunday's Serie A derby against Lazio? It made sense, didn't it? Beating...

Manchester's Jekyll and Hyde derby, Real play it safe, Bayern's title joy

Mon, 9 Apr 2018 06:49:00 PDT

It was about as Jekyll and Hyde as you get in the modern game. At half-time, Manchester United were 2-0 down away to Manchester City, they'd touched the ball just once in the opposing area and they were probably wondering the best way to escape the Etihad at the final whistle so as to miss the title celebrations. Then came some talk from Jose Mourinho about how they wouldn't want to look like "clowns" and then, the second half and the three-goal blitz in the space of 16 minutes that sunk City...

Chelsea undone by mature Spurs, Juve's in-game changes, Messi magic

Mon, 2 Apr 2018 08:39:00 PDT

The ESPN FC guys look ahead to the Champions League quarterfinal first leg between Liverpool and Manchester City. The one major question mark left in the Premier League season -- other than relegation -- was effectively answered when Tottenham won 3-1 at Chelsea to tighten their grip on fourth place. Chelsea, in fifth, are eight points back with seven games left and trail Liverpool, who have played one more game, by 10. It's not impossible that the reigning champions claim a Champions League place, but it's hugely unlikely. The game turned in a most classic way: A goal just before half-time. Chelsea scored...

Exclusive: FIFA president Gianni Infantino talks about how he's trying to clean up football

Thu, 29 Mar 2018 08:05:00 PDT

FIFA president Gianni Infantino tells Gab Marcotti about his hopes that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups change negative perceptions of Russia and Qatar. Few organizations have been as tarnished by the avalanche of dreck and downright criminality as FIFA, which has become the sport's most (in)famous four-letter word. That stench of corruption hung heavy in the air when Gianni Infantino was elected FIFA president on Feb. 26, 2016 and it's still there today. Indeed, cleaning up football was a theme that ran throughout an hour-long conversation I had with Infantino at FIFA headquarters in Zurich last month. "It has been the most difficult part of my...

World Cup fine-tuning, Tuchel's job search, Ibrahimovic-Sweden saga

Mon, 26 Mar 2018 07:48:00 PDT

The FC crew debate the necessity of the March international break, weighing the positives for national team coaches ahead of the World Cup against the risks it poses for club teams. The good news? It's Monday. And that means we've got five days until meaningful football returns. It will do so with a bang: Manchester City travel to Everton, Sevilla host Barcelona, Juventus take on Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco meet in the French League Cup final and there's the Bundesliga's answer to El Clasico: Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund. How's that for a pick-me-up? Let's be clear: This is not a knock on international football. As a long domestic season comes to an end with...

Why Mourinho criticizes his Man Utd stars, Ronaldo's form, super Salah

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 10:03:00 PDT

Manchester United's 2-0 win in the FA Cup quarterfinal against Brighton was overshadowed, again, by Jose Mourinho's postmatch comments, which saw him slam his team and call out some players (Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia) by name while dropping big clues -- "defenders who need 10 or 12 passes to move the ball between the lines, attackers who hide" -- that he was displeased with others. When Mourinho speaks -- and it's been this way throughout his career -- you're often left with a doubt: does...

Why Barcelona's march for a treble is nothing short of amazing

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 08:11:00 PDT

I have a longtime Barca-watching friend who likes to sniff and say that this is the worst Barcelona team in a decade. The natural reaction to such a statement is to throw facts and numbers back in his face. Barcelona are first in La Liga with 72 points from 28 games. Only twice in the past 10 years have they accumulated more points at this stage (in 2012-13 and 2010-11), and in that time frame, they've averaged 67 points at this juncture. They are undefeated in La Liga and other than a Copa del...

Mourinho gets it right vs. Liverpool, pitch invasion chaos, Napoli slip

Mon, 12 Mar 2018 09:54:00 PDT

Sometimes, there's a simplicity to good management. Sometimes it's about picking the right guys at the right time and executing the right plan. That's being pragmatic, and while the modern game often looks down its nose at it, Jose Mourinho does not. Hosting Liverpool on Saturday, Mourinho took some steps that, with hindsight, appear basic but would make all the difference. He switched Alexis Sanchez into a central position, where he had the option to run behind the Liverpool defence when in...

Time for Antonio Conte to buckle down, Barca down Atletico

Mon, 5 Mar 2018 07:17:00 PST

There are valid criticisms of Antonio Conte after Chelsea's 1-0 defeat at Manchester City, and there are less valid ones. Let's start with the latter. Chelsea sat deep for much of the game, letting Manchester City have the ball and prompting some to call it "anti-football." It certainly was negative, and what made little sense to many is that you would be so passive even at a goal down, as illustrated by this sequence. It certainly wasn't fun to watch, and it took pragmatism to an extreme. Not...

Death of Fiorentina's Davide Astori is a tragic reminder of life's fragility

Sun, 4 Mar 2018 10:05:00 PST

ESPN FC's Gabriele Marcotti discusses the reaction to the death of Fiorentina captain Davide Astori across the footballing world. The light went out in Davide Astori's hotel room just after 11:30 p.m. on Saturday. To that point, it had been as ordinary and unremarkable an evening as any in the life of a professional footballer playing away from home. Arrive at a generic business hotel on the outskirts of town. Unpack what little one brings for a single night on the road. Have some team meetings, a team dinner. Go back to the room -- as team captain and one of the older players, there's no roommate -- and set up the PlayStation....

Injured Neymar in the middle of PSG vs. Brazil battle as World Cup looms

Tue, 27 Feb 2018 09:52:00 PST

PSG's Unai Emery says a decision hasn't been made on whether Neymar will undergo surgery on his fractured foot. When Neymar limped off after injuring his right leg during Paris Saint-Germain's 3-0 victory over Marseille on Sunday, it didn't look good. On Monday night, the club confirmed the first diagnoses -- an ankle sprain and a hairline metatarsal fracture -- and they have led to several possible scenarios, ranging from the world's most expensive player being fit to face Real Madrid in the Champions League round-of-16 second leg next Tuesday to the Brazilian international forward missing the World Cup. Here's...

Man United pass Chelsea test, unselfish Ronaldo, Neymar hurt

Mon, 26 Feb 2018 08:21:00 PST

The FC crew praise Cristiano Ronaldo for his leadership, particularly with Karim Benzema, as Real Madrid's captain in their win over Alaves. Steve Nicol and Alejandro Moreno assess Arsenal's tactical breakdowns in their Carabao Cup final loss to Manchester City, which they say hardly felt like a final. Steve Nicol questions some of the choices of his fellow voters for the Premier League best XI in Week 28, but admits picking his team was a challenge. The stakes were high. Defeat at home to Chelsea would have left Manchester United behind Liverpool and joint-third in the Premier League, with Tottenham Hotspur one point behind. Coming off the back of an away draw at Sevilla in which they managed a single shot on goal -- and, more broadly, a month in which they lost to Tottenham and Newcastle -- it would have raised further question marks, ratcheted up the rumour of disquiet and brought the knives out. Instead, Jose Mourinho's United navigated...

Conte's tactics vs. Barcelona speak volumes about what Chelsea need

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 07:59:00 PST

The FC panel answer your tweets on how Chelsea should line up in their second leg at Barcelona, if Tottenham or Chelsea looked more impressive in their UCL first legs and more. Steve Nicol and Ross Dyer preview Chelsea's upcoming tough run of fixtures and how it will set them up for the rest of the season. Antonio Conte said last night that his team had been "close to perfect" against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. "We made one mistake and we paid dearly for it," he added, referring to Andreas Christensen's errant square pass across the penalty area that led to Lionel Messi's equalizer. That Barcelona equalized was merely the umpteenth reminder that in a low-scoring sport, mistakes in certain areas can be punished, but there's rarely a single factor to it. Christensen bears the brunt of the responsibility,...

Real still have issues despite win, VAR debate for Man United, more

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 07:25:00 PST

More than most games they'll play this season, Real Madrid's 5-3, come-from-behind victory over Real Betis lends itself to different readings depending on your point of view. Compared to the win over Paris Saint-Germain, Zinedine Zidane opted to drop Isco and Karim Benzema and instead unleashed Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez down the wings, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale as forwards. Those of us who think Madrid need a proper, blue-collar central striker for this team to work may have...

Man United still on track despite defeat, Real rout Sociedad, more

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 08:05:00 PST

The ESPN FC panel answer your tweets on Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho's time at Manchester United. Plus, what's Barcelona's best formation with the addition of Philippe Coutinho? Following Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Newcastle, Jose Mourinho said that it was one of those days when even if Manchester United had played another 10 hours they would not have scored. Maybe so. They created four clear-cut chances and didn't put them away in part because they weren't as clinical as they could have been, in part because Martin Dubravka had a monster game in the home goal. But that doesn't change the fact that Newcastle had chances too, mainly because United had serious issues in midfield...

Real get a confidence boost, woe for Liverpool, Coutinho struggles

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 07:37:00 PST

The FC crew assess the impact Real Madrid's "BBC" trio of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo had on the club's win over Valencia in their first start together in 280 days. Sometimes, when you're looking to rebuild confidence and regain mojo, victories like these can be more beneficial than one-sided thumpings. Sometimes, being fortunate (which they were) and being reminded that they're more talented than the opposition (which they are) can be worth more than a convincing performance when it comes to self-belief. Real Madrid's 4-1 win away to third-place Valencia shouldn't fool you. They took a 2-0 lead through two penalties, converted by Cristiano Ronaldo and...

Thoughts on Sanchez, Mkhitaryan deal: Who's getting the best of it?

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 10:23:00 PST

With the Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap confirmed, Craig Burley and Alexis Nunes break down the deal from both sides. ESPN FC's Rob Dawson and Mark Ogden assess what Alexis Sanchez has to offer after sealing his move to Man United. Alexis Sanchez has finally left Arsenal but rather than going to Manchester City, he ended up at Manchester United. As part of that deal, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has left Old Trafford for a chance to reignite his career at Arsenal. What should we make of the most complicated transfer in the January window? Here are seven thoughts. 1. Sanchez is an instant upgrade for United He's a better player than anyone at Old Trafford not named Paul Pogba or David De Gea. That much is clear. His style of...

Real's big win buys Zidane time, Martial's future, PSG rocked by Lyon

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 09:13:00 PST

Despite hitting Deportivo for seven, Paul Mariner delves into the weaknesses that could still come back to bite Real Madrid moving forward. It was only Deportivo La Coruna, a team in the relegation zone that had collected one point in the past four matches. But it still mattered. Real Madrid's 7-1 victory Sunday doesn't make all their problems disappear but it stops the situation getting worse after two consecutive home defeats. And it offers some clues about what Zinedine Zidane's fixes might be. The obvious change from the previous week's defeat against Villarreal was the return to a 4-3-3 formation. Playing Isco behind Gareth Bale...

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