Did anything happen in soccer this weekend? Besides the announcement of a Super League — with a Q&A breaking it down — yes, we had plenty of on-pitch action too. Man City’s quadruple quest was crushed at Wembley by Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinal, while Tottenham followed the Super League news by firing Jose Mourinho. There was also a trophy for Barcelona as Lionel Messi led the “crisis” club to Copa del Rey glory.
It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football from the past weekend of internationals in Europe.
Jump to: Messi’s Copa magic | Why Spurs fired Mourinho | Man City’s quashed quadruple quest | Bayern, Flick drama
Messi shines as Barcelona pass their way to the Copa del Rey
Messi was superb in helping clinch Barcelona’s seventh Copa del Rey since 2008-09. Fran Santiago/Getty Images
There’s a pretty familiar trope when Barcelona are in what we used to call “Tiki-Taka” mode and are racking up possession dominance north of 60 percent per game. If they score, the knee-jerk reaction is to praise. But if they don’t, they’re fools for “trying to pass it into the back of the net” and “not having a go.”
Barcelona’s Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao looked to be heading towards the latter in a scoreless first half, before reverting to the former after the break as Ronald Koeman’s crew rolled to a 4-0 victory. And, in fact, that possession represents two sides of the same coin.
Against a Bilbao team that sat very deep and congested the space, Barca chose to keep the ball, to move it, probe, test and ultimately exhaust — mentally and physically — the opposition. That’s the point of this style of play. They scored four goals after the break, and could have had seven or eight if not for some brilliant Unai Simon saves, and a lot of it had to do with the damage done to the opposition in the first half, psychologically if not in terms of goals.
Oh, and then there was Lionel Messi. He bagged two, his first a thing of beauty. It came from one of those vintage runs where he plays a one-two with a teammate (this time, Frenkie De Jong) with uncanny precision, accelerates into space and buries it. His second was courtesy of his old partner in sublime, Jordi Alba.
Results elsewhere mean Koeman now has a game in hand and a five-point deficit to make up in La Liga’s title race, but more than that, he has a side that, while far from perfect, is clicking and brimming with confidence. Even Antoine Griezmann — who lined up as a center-forward alongside Messi, a role he was supposedly unable to play — looked good in opening the scoring, while De Jong reminded us just why he remains one of the best all-rounders in the game.
Mourinho never felt like a natural fit at Tottenham… especially with no fans
Julien Laurens believes Jose Mourinho is no longer a viable choice for top clubs after his time at Spurs.
You know things have to be pretty bad when you part ways with a manager a week before your first cup final in six years and with a shot at European football (maybe even a Champions League place) still in the balance. That’s why it’s hard to accept that Jose Mourinho is no longer Tottenham Hotspur manager simply based on results — especially when, as late as mid-December, this team were top of the Premier League.
Was is it simply the case — as might have happened with Chelsea when they replaced Frank Lampard with Thomas Tuchel — that they became convinced Mourinho wasn’t going to deliver a top four finish and so you might as well move on now?
– Tottenham fire manager Jose Mourinho
Possibly, but that would mean they have their replacement lined up, as Chelsea did with Tuchel. It would need to be somebody out of work and given that we haven’t heard a peep, they would have had to have moved swiftly and quietly. Given the bookies’ favourites to replace Mourinho (RB Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann, Leicester City’s Brendan Rodgers) are both gainfully employed, that scenario appears unlikely.
Rather, you get the sense that the situation had simply become unsustainable on a personal level as well. It’s not just that the team appeared to regress both in terms of results and performance; it’s the way Mourinho’s own demeanour seemed to decay as the season wound on. All that wide-eyed enthusiasm he displayed in his welcome video when he joined the club — he talked about how the training ground was “the best in the world” — and in his early months, when they finished the 2019-20 season on a high, was replaced by the haggard look of a guy who was going to work down a coal pit.
It’s true as well that there may have been breakdowns in personal relationships with certain members of the squad. There’s a familiar pattern when a manager is let go, particularly at a top club, whereby stories suddenly appear to help justify his departure. They may be true; they may be exaggerated or self-serving. It happened after Mourinho was let go by Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid before that. Expect it to happen here as well.
Julien Laurens believes the whole of Tottenham’s dressing room turned on Jose Mourinho resulting in his sacking.
Mourinho never quite felt like a rational fit for Spurs. Where he’s had success in the past, it has usually come with effectively managing big players with big players and big personalities. (Big salaries, too.) Often he did it by creating a siege mentality and sometimes by clashing with the club, but always — when he was successful — with fan support.
Yet Tottenham didn’t have the big, vocal star personalities. (Not that they don’t have great players; it’s more that the likes of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son simply have different personalities than, say, John Terry.) Nor did they have the vast sums to secure them, like some of his previous clubs. And as far as clashing with club management, few have taken on Daniel Levy and lived to tell the tale, so that was never going to happen.
As for the fans? Well, it’s hard to build a rapport pitch-side when there’s nobody in the seats behind you. Maybe this had an impact too, particularly in the new stadium.
And so you wonder what happens next. Mourinho has burned bridges at every club he’s been at, bar Porto and Inter. Portugal, after Fernando Santos, makes sense on paper, and he has expressed an interest in the past. There’s also a very talented generation of players with whom to work. (On the other hand, there’s also an aging Cristiano Ronaldo, and the two often haven’t seen eye-to-eye in the past.)
Wherever he goes next — and yes, I said this when he was sacked from Chelsea the second time and sacked from Manchester United — a lot depend on what lessons he has learned from his recent experiences. You often learn more from defeats than from victories. It’s likely his best chance to get back into the limelight.
The quadruple will not be televised… not this year, anyway
Shaka Hislop is befuddled by Zack Steffen’s positioning on Chelsea’s winning goal vs. Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola didn’t like hearing talk of a Quadruple in 2021 mainly because he knows that in knockout competitions, it takes very little to throw you off. No doubt you feel for him. Saturday’s 1-0 FA Cup semifinal defeat to Chelsea means he may have to settle for a Treble (possibly), a Double (probably) or just his third Premier League title in four years.
It wasn’t a particularly entertaining game. Chelsea defended stoutly, as is Tuchel’s wont these days, and the difference was a run by Timo Werner and a stretch by Hakim Ziyech. Kudos to Chelsea; we know they can get results this way. That they created little except in transition doesn’t matter too much as they’re not being judged against City’s standard (not yet, anyway).
– Ogden: Guardiola was right about quadruple impossibility
But it was noteworthy that Guardiola made eight changes from midweek. Sure, the fixture list is congested, he has another game on Wednesday (Aston Villa in the league), followed by the Carabao Cup final at the weekend and the first leg of the Champions League semifinal against Paris St Germain after that. Still, eight changes is a lot and unless you have blind (and, frankly, unjustified) faith in your team’s ability to retain chemistry and quality even when your XI is a revolving door, it speaks to more than standard rotation. After all, this was an FA Cup semifinal and unlike League Cups, Premier League titles, Champions Leagues, Liga and Bundesliga crowns, DFB-Pokals and Copas del Rey, he only has one of those at home.
I suspect the manifold changes had more to do with City’s run of form in recent weeks and maybe wanting to send a bit of a shock to his crew. Over their past three games, they needed an injury-time winner against Borussia Dortmund, they lost to Leeds United and they went a goal down to Dortmund in the return leg of the Champions League quarterfinal, enjoying the benefits of some big refereeing calls along the way. They didn’t necessarily play poorly, but the execution wasn’t there. It wasn’t really there against Chelsea, either.
It’s not a reason to worry, though. After all, you can make the point that from here on out, there are just three games that matter: the League Cup final and the two semis against PSG. (Plus, of course, the Champions League final if they make it.) So if Pep learned something from the City game, more power to him. Otherwise, the only upshot is that there will be no Quadruple.
Bayern show character towards Wolfsburg… and a bit of nasty towards Flick
Jan Aage Fjortoft praises Bayern Munich’s ability to score goals without their leader Robert Lewandowski.
Bayern Munich’s 3-2 win over Wolfsburg was somewhat overshadowed by what happened post-match, when coach Hansi Flick went off-message and said he would like to leave at the end of the season. It really shouldn’t have been, because the win over third-placed Wolfsburg — coming as it did just a few days after elimination from the Champions League against PSG — was a big deal. It took their Bundesliga lead back up to seven points after Leipzig’s scoreless draw Friday, it confirmed the side’s perennial bounce-back-ability (yeah, that’s a word) and it reminded us what a gem they have in Jamal Musiala. It wasn’t just the two goals he scored, but the way he took responsibility in Bayern’s midfield and the intelligence with which he tracked back. It’s easy to forget that he only turned 18 two months ago.
But back to Flick, who confirmed in public his intention to move on. (The smart money is on him taking the Germany job, post-Euros.) Bayern issued the tersest of statements, saying that they had agreed with their manager that they would broach the subject of his departure after the game with Mainz on April 24, and that “FC Bayern disapproves of the unilateral communications issued by Hansi Flick and will continue talks after the match at Mainz, agreed.”
Not quite warm and fuzzy towards the guy who helped deliver the Treble last year, was it?
The most straightforward reading is that Bayern resent what appears to be an attempt by Flick to get them to release him from his contract in June. Fine. But the reality is that no club is going to keep a manager against his will — not unless they’re going to pay him to sit around and do nothing. It’s not as if Flick is looking for a big pay-out either: if he was, he wouldn’t be going to the Germany job. So why treat him like a little kid who is talking out of turn?