Man City-Spurs drama, Barca brush past Atletico Madrid, more: Marcotti recaps the weekend

Published on: 05 December 2023

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It's been another fun weekend in Europe's top leagues this weekend, so let's review. Manchester City's 3-3 draw with Tottenham provided goals and high drama, while Barcelona's impressive win over Atletico Madrid will help ease a lot of the pressure on Xavi after some rocky results. Inter Milan brushed Napoli aside to continue their push to reclaim Serie A, and Newcastle United made embarrassingly light work of Manchester United to position themselves for another top-four finish.

Elsewhere, there was plenty to discuss when it comes to Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Bayer Leverkusen -- they've finally dropped points! -- and LaLiga's joint leaders, Girona.

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It's Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.

There's much more to discuss about Man City vs. Tottenham than Simon Hooper's egregious error

The enduring photo of this game is Erling Haaland, hands in his loosed hair, scrunching his face up like Shrek as he vents his frustration at referee Simon Hooper. So yeah, we need to start there, because that was the call that could well have determined the outcome of this game, though there are plenty more talking points.

Man City's draw with Tottenham will be remembered mostly for the referee drama, but there was a lot to unpack from this game beyond the late controversy. Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

With Dejan Kulusevski having just equalized to make it 3-3 between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, City won possession and went on the break. Emerson Royal fouled Haaland just inside the Spurs' half, but the big Norwegian got straight back up and hit the ball into space for Jack Grealish to run on to. You can't say for sure whether he would have beaten Guglielmo Vicario for the winner, but from that position, you wouldn't bet against it.

Except Hooper, who had initially appeared to signal that he was granting the advantage to City, suddenly blew his whistle and called the play back for the foul. Now, advantage isn't a black-and-white law of the game -- it's something to grant at the referee's discretion if he or she believes the team that suffered the foul somehow gained an advantage. If Hooper had blown for the foul straight away after Haaland went down, City might have grumbled a bit, but it wouldn't have been an issue. A referee is not obliged to play advantage. But his actions led everyone to believe he had granted advantage, only for him to then blow the whistle.

It's been a bumpy season for match officials in the Premier League, but two things set this one apart. The first is that there was no way to fix it, not even by breaking protocol, which is how you could have fixed the Luis Díaz disallowed goal situation in the Tottenham vs. Liverpool game in September.) The second is that it's so extreme, you can't categorise it as a technical error, but simply as one of those inexplicable "freezes" that, occasionally, can happen to anyone. It's difficult to understand what he was thinking.

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The only potential explanation I heard was that he initially believed City had the advantage, but then realized they didn't -- maybe because he somehow didn't see Grealish -- and tried to correct himself by giving them the free kick. The problem with that theory is that if this was the case, and there were no City players chasing Haaland's ball, why did he think the entire Tottenham defence was springing towards their own goal?

Chalk it up to a mental error and move on. Against a severely depleted Spurs side with fullbacks playing in central defence, City will feel these were two points dropped, though not just because of the Hooper incident. Haaland missed a sitter, City hit the woodwork twice and Bernardo Silva forced a minor miracle out of Vicario.

Yet equally, City's defending left something to be desired, too. Conceding a goal on the counter after a corner kick in your favour is one of the game's cardinal sins, and that's what happened for Heung Min Son's opener. (Éderson could have done better, too.) Nathan Aké, who spent most of his career at centre-back, wasn't impeccable on Kulusevski's equaliser either. They've conceded 10 goals in their past four games in all competitions. Yes, they can (and probably will) outscore most opponents, but for a perfectionist like Pep Guardiola, this is something that needs to be fixed.

play1:01Hutchison worried by Manchester City's defensive record

Don Hutchison thinks it's a worrying sign that Manchester City have been conceding so many goals lately.

As for Tottenham, with so many players out it's hard to draw conclusions, other than the fact that Ange Postecoglou is committed to his brand of football. Some may consider it too high-risk, but the fact is they're two points out of fourth place and are generating some serious buzz from the fans after losing Harry Kane in August.

Two heroes -- one likely, one less so -- power Barca to convincing win over Atletico

You have to go back a long way to find the last bona fide top performance from Barcelona. And heading into Sunday's clash against in-form Atletico Madrid without Gavi and Marc-André ter Stegen, there was every reason to think they might struggle again. Except they didn't. In fact, but for some poor finishing (Robert Lewandowski's rough patch isn't over), they might have scored three or four.

Understandably, the headlines will go to two men, Iñaki Peña and João Félix. The former, filling in between the sticks, made massive saves from two Atletico subs (Memphis Depay's free kick and Ángel Correa's late finish), preserving a win that Barcelona deserved, but which ended up hanging in the balance until the final minutes.

For the latter, it was written in the stars that he'd be the centre of attention given the acrimonious way he left the club in the summer and the spat with Diego Simeone. Joao Felix doubled down pregame with some of his comments -- or, at least, that's how many took them -- and he delivered on the pitch, scoring the only goal and then rubbing it in to the visiting Atleti fans. In terms of making his loan move permanent, he couldn't have done much more to ingratiate himself with the Barca faithful.

As for Atleti, it felt like this was one of the games where Diego Simeone got his initial XI wrong and in fact, they played better after his triple substitution at half-time -- especially with Samu Lino coming on -- and double switch 20 minutes later. They have a game in hand and can draw level with Barca in third place, but it's still a bloody nose given the sort of form they had shown in the past month or so.

Inter roll past Napoli and Mazzarri sulks, acting like a baby

There's some symbolism to the would-be champions beating the incumbent champions on the road, and it's not lost on anyone. Inter beat Napoli 3-0 on the road, and while they weren't necessarily three goals better than the opposition, they showed again what makes them so tough. They poked and prodded for much of the first half and then picked their spots, scoring two great goals via Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Nicolo' Barella, then adding a third late.

By the end, the Expected Goals favored Inter 2.59 to 0.79, which makes Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri's decision not to speak to the media after the game -- reportedly because he was unhappy with the officiating -- all the more ridiculous. Yes, there was a foul in the buildup to the opening goal, but it was a long way away and a long time before the shot was taken. And if Victor Osimhen had stayed on his feet rather than tumbling after the minimal contact with Francesco Acerbi, it would have been a better decision than trying to win a soft penalty.

Mazzarri has been in charge for less than three weeks, and he's already acting like a baby.

Newcastle look like everything Man United are not right nowplay1:36Marcotti: There is a serious problem with Man United's frontline

Gab Marcotti & Don Hutchison debate what's going wrong at Man United after their loss vs. Newcastle.

You want to give Erik ten Hag the benefit of the doubt. He has a ton of injuries (eight) to his first-team squad, he had to endure a tough midweek away game while facing elimination from the Champions League (away to Galatasaray), and this is only his second full season as a manager with his team, having guided his team into the top four last year.

And then you remind yourself that Eddie Howe also has even more players unavailable (10), faced an even tougher midweek away game while staring elimination in the face (away to Paris Saint-Germain) and is also in only his second full season as a manager with his team, having guided his team into the top four last year.

So when you look at it in that light the one-sided battering -- it was only 1-0, but could have been more -- that Ten Hag's crew took away to Newcastle becomes even harder to defend. The visitors looked listless, especially the front three of Anthony Martial, Alejandro Garnacho and Marcus Rashford, and particularly in possession. And until eight minutes from time, they put together a cumulative xG of 0.17 (to Newcastle's 2.54).

For Newcastle to muster such a performance after that draining game in Paris is remarkable and speaks to the work Howe is doing. United may have better players -- well, better-paid players anyway -- but performances like this one leave you wondering why Ten Hag's message is getting through. (Unless, of course, it is getting through and it's just the wrong message right now...)

Arsenal extend their lead at top of Premier League ... but also learn a valuable lessonplay0:52Have Arsenal rediscovered their form from last season?

Don Hutchison believes Arsenal have rediscovered their attacking prowess after their 2-1 win over Wolves.

First, the good news. Arsenal were impressive against Wolves, racing to a 2-0 lead in the first 15 minutes and creating plenty of chances to add to it, like they did in midweek against Lens in the Champions League. Now, the bad news: they got sloppy in the final minutes, conceded a goal to Matheus Cunha and had to play to the end knowing that a single incident -- a mistake, a refereeing blunder, a moment of genius from an opponent -- could have cost them two points. And it didn't need to be that way.

Except I'm not sure it's "bad news" -- let's call it a "teachable moment." I'm pretty confident that's how Mikel Arteta will treat it: as a reminder that they need to turn their dominance into goals (duh), but more importantly, that they need to stay concentrated until the very end. Liverpool and Manchester City are on their tails, and this league title may come down to who makes the fewest unforced errors.

Injury-hit Real Madrid roll past Granada as Brahim Díaz strikes againLIVE ON ESPN+ (SELECTED GAMES)

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WEDNESDAY, DEC. 6 (all times ET)
• Real Sociedad vs. Andraxt (10 a.m.)
• Bayer Leverkusen vs. Paderborn (12 p.m.)
• Stuttgart vs. BVB Dortmund (2:30 p.m.)
• Royal Antwerp vs. Charleroi (2:30 p.m.)

THURSDAY, DEC. 7 (all times ET)
• PSV vs. Heerenveen (1 p.m.)
• Anderlecht vs. Standard Liege (2:30 p.m.)
• Feyenoord vs. Volendam (3 p.m.)

FRIDAY, DEC. 8 (all times ET)
• Coventry City vs. Birmingham City (3 p.m.)
• Getafe vs. Valencia (3 p.m.)
• Espanyol vs. Zaragoza (3 p.m.)

SATURDAY, DEC. 9 (all times ET)
• Sunderland vs. West Brom Albion (7 a.m.)
• Eintracht vs. Bayern Munich (9 a.m.)
• Real Betis vs. Real Madrid (10 a.m.)
• Ajax vs. Sparta Rotterdam (1 p.m.)

With eight senior players unavailable, Carlo Ancelotti had to get creative for the visit of Granada. We saw a variation of the 4-4-2 formation, with Jude Bellingham and Brahim Diaz starting wide behind Rodrygo and Joselu. It's certainly not Bellingham's natural role, but fortunately football isn't a static sport and when you have the luxury of 71% possession, you can kinda go where you like for most of the game.

Real Madrid's win was never really in doubt -- there's a reason Granada are in the relegation zone and have just changed managers -- and it was one-way traffic. But if you're a Madrid fan, it's good to see Brahim Diaz step up with his third goal of the season. He's versatile and offers quality in the final third, which is where Real are a little light in terms of numbers. Oh, and the purists also got to see a collector's item of an assist from Toni Kroos for Diaz's goal.

Bayer Leverkusen drop points for the first time since September

It had to happen at some point and after 14 consecutive wins in all competitions, it did on Sunday, as Borussia Dortmund held Bayer Leverkusen to a 1-1 draw. The result means Bayern Munich can draw level if they win the game in hand they now have, since their match on Saturday was postponed due to heavy snowfall.

- Highlights: Leverkusen, Dortmund play to a draw (U.S.)

But if you're manager Xabi Alonso, you shouldn't panic. Leverkusen dominated the game against an opponent still on a high after their big win in Milan midweek. Borussia Dortmund scored the early goal and then played for a counter that never really came, given how dominant Leverkusen were. The equaliser only came 10 minutes from time through Victor Boniface, but the home side were on top throughout. Yeah, it's two points dropped, but the performance hasn't -- at all -- and that's encouraging going forward.

Strikers misfire, so others pick up slack in Liverpool's comeback win vs. Fulhamplay1:47Michallik: Liverpool did the job, but there's concerning issues

Janusz Michallik analyses Liverpool's performance in their breathtaking 4-3 comeback win vs. Fulham.

When you're a goal down with eight minutes left and come back to win, you get a psychological bounce that's probably greater than if you go 4-1 up and end at 4-3. Liverpool's grit helped them preserve their perfect home record in the 4-3 win against Fulham, but so did the fact that on a day when the forwards were either profligate or quiet, the rest of the side chipped in.

Alexis Mac Allister, Wataru Endo and Trent-Alexander Arnold (two) provided the goals the front three could not, and that builds confidence and self-belief. Was it chaotic? Sure, but Liverpool seem comfortable with chaos, especially at Anfield.

On the flip side, there were some uncharacteristically poor misses from Luis Diaz, Mohamed Salah and Darwin Núñez, while tactically, Marco Silva's Fulham frustrated the home side for long stretches of the game. Klopp said his team had been a "bit dumb" in dealing with Fulham, especially in terms of controlling the middle of the park. These are things to work on if you want to climb to the next rung of the ladder, but the good news is that the next rung of the ladder is first place in the Premier League.

Pulisic wonder goal leads Milan bounce-back, and Jovic scores (yes, really)

This weekend's visit of Frosinone was very much a trap game for Milan, following their home thumping at the hands of Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. The visitors are young, motivated and mid-table, the list of unavailable Milan stars is still a mile long (Theo Hernández had to play center-back, 15-year-old Francesco Camarda came off the bench and Luka Jovic started up front, which says it all) and the prospect of Champions League elimination -- coupled with a scathing interview released by resident legend, and former club executive, Paolo Maldini -- had everyone rattled.

It was left to Jovic, the unloved former phenom, to open the scoring and to Christian Pulisic with a gorgeous run to secure the game on an icy night at San Siro en route to a 3-1 win.

Pulisic is growing nicely, especially down the left wing in Rafael Leão's absence. If he can maintain his output once Leao returns (and he switches back to the right), he can be a major value-added to this Milan side. Meanwhile Jovic had perhaps his best game (he also assisted on the third goal) and while we've seen enough false dawns in his career, which basically nose-dived since joining Real Madrid in 2020 for a €60m fee, it goes without saying that if he can take quality minutes from Olivier Giroud, Milan will be far better off.

10-man Chelsea hang on to beat Brighton, but discipline still an issueplay1:38Michallik: There's nothing special about this Chelsea team

Janusz Michallik reacts to 10-man Chelsea's lacklustre 3-2 win against Brighton.

It looked all downhill for Chelsea at home to Brighton as they raced to a 2-0 lead. What they needed like a hole in the head was going down to 10 men, but that's what happened when Conor Gallagher -- playing captain for the day -- collected his second yellow for a needless foul on Billy Gilmour. It's the fine line between the intensity that Mauricio Pochettino preaches and the rashness that can cost you dearly, and you expect Gallagher to stay on the right side of it.

Chelsea went 3-1 up despite being down a man when Mykhaylo Mudryk won a VAR-assisted penalty on the counter. It felt like a gift, and it was. Brighton pulled one back late, but it wasn't enough.

Positives for Chelsea other than the win? Compared to this stage last season, they have two fewer points, which isn't that big a deal when you consider how much the squad was overhauled in the summer. You also start seeing the identity and style Pochettino wants to foster, though some players -- Nico Jackson, Moisés Caicedo and Levi Colwill spring to mind -- aren't yet where you presume he'd want them to be. But without the discipline -- they have the most yellows and second most reds in the league -- it's going to take a long time to get where they want to be.

Donnarumma red card brings out blue-collar Paris Saint-Germain

Gianluigi Donnarumma's red card after just 10 minutes of PSG's trip to Le Havre can comfortably get classed in the "foolish" rather than "malicious" category. He hesitated, perhaps thrown because he expected Le Havre's Casimir to be flagged offside and then, when he put his big boot through the ball, it wasn't there and he caught Casimir instead.


Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and others to bring you the latest highlights and debate the biggest storylines. Stream on ESPN+ (U.S. only).

Arnau Tenas came on between the sticks and PSG were left to play 80 minutes with 10 men on the road against a mid-table opponent. Not a great place to be. Kylian Mbappé delivered a wonder strike to put them ahead and, for the rest of the match, they hung on -- Le Havre had 60% possession with 22 shots on goal -- as the stand-in keeper made a number of big saves before Vitinha's looping long range shot made it 2-0. Coming as it did after the home draw with Newcastle in the Champions League, it could have been much worse.

Donnarumma, already facing criticism for the error in midweek that led to Alexander Isak's goal, is in a tough spot, especially given Tenas' performance and the fact that Keylor Navas (still lurking around the Parc des Princes) is close to fitness.

It's yet another comeback win for Girona, who just won't go away ...

A few weeks ago, I wondered how Girona would fare once they started facing more teams in the top half of the table. Well, so far, so good. They drew with Athletic Bilbao last Monday and on Saturday, they came from behind to beat a dogged Valencia.

This time, Míchel's script didn't quite work and, despite dominating the ball, they went down to a Hugo Duro counterattack. No matter. He turned to the bench, called upon Yan Couto and cult hero Christian Stuani, and the pair got the job done. The former set up Stuani equaliser eight minutes from time and his cross led to the own goal -- with Stuani involved -- that sealed the 2-1 win.

Girona remain level with Real Madrid at the top of the table and yeah, I'm still highly skeptical that they'll be there. Then again, I was also highly skeptical about Leicester City in 2015-16, and we know how that turned out. Either way, we'll get a better sense when they face off against Barcelona next week.