Is there anything to do in football this weekend? Apart from the Super League announcement – with the Q&A being handed out – yes, we had a lot of action on the pitch. Man City failed to beat Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, while Tottenham sacked Jose Mourinho following Super League news. The trophy also went to Barcelona, where Lionel Messi led the embattled club to Copa del Rey glory.
It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti looks back at the highlights of the final weekend of international football in Europe.
Jump to: The Magic Bull Messi | Why Spurs sacked Mourinho | Man City abandon their quest for the quadruple crown | Bayern, the drama of the Flick
Messi shines as Barcelona qualify for Copa del Rey
Messi was outstanding and helped Barcelona win their seventh Copa del Rey since 2008-09. Fran Santiago/Getty Images
It is common knowledge that Barcelona are in tiki-taka mode, with a dominant ball possession of over 60% per game. When they score a goal, the spontaneous reaction is praise. But if they don’t, they’d be crazy not to try to get the pass in the back of the net.
In Barcelona’s Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao, Ronald Koeman’s side won 4-0 in the first half without scoring, and regained the lead after the break. And indeed, this property represents two sides of the same coin.
Against a Bilbao team that sat deep and left too much space, Barca chose to keep the ball, move, probe, test and ultimately exhaust their opponents – mentally and physically. That’s what this style of play is all about. After the break they scored four times and could have made it seven or eight, had it not been for a couple of brilliant saves by Unai Simon. This is mainly due to the fact that the opponent suffered psychological damage in the first half, even though no goals were scored.
And then there was Lionel Messi. He packed two things, his first object of beauty. It’s one of those classic runs where he plays a one-two with a teammate (Frankie De Jong this time) with exceptional accuracy, accelerates into space and buries the ball under him. His second goal was scored by his former partner Jordy Alba.
Results elsewhere mean that Koeman is now a game behind and five points behind in the La Liga title race, but otherwise he has a team that, while far from perfect, is confident and brimming with self-belief. Even Antoine Griezmann, drafted in as a centre-forward alongside Messi, a role he would not be able to play, opened the scoring well, while De Jong reminded us why he remains one of the best all-rounders in the game.
Mourinho never felt natural at Tottenham …. especially without thefans.
Julien Lawrence believes Jose Mourinho has no place at the big clubs after his time at Spurs.
It can’t be easy to say goodbye to your coach a week before your first cup final in six years and still have a chance at a European championship (maybe even the Champions League). So it’s hard to accept that Jose Mourinho is no longer the manager of Tottenham Hotspur if you only look at the results – especially when they were still top of the Premier League in mid-December.
Is it just that – like maybe at Chelsea when they replaced Frank Lampard with Thomas Tuchel – they made sure Mourinho didn’t finish in the top four and they can continue like that?
– Tottenham Fire boss Jose Mourinho
Maybe, but that would mean they would have to get replacements like Chelsea did with Tuchel. It must have been someone from work, and since we heard no sound, he must have moved quickly and quietly. Given that the bookies’ favourites to succeed Mourinho (Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann, Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers) are beneficiaries, such a scenario seems unlikely.
Rather, you feel that the situation has become explosive on a personal level as well. Not only has the team regressed in terms of results and performances, but Mourinho’s behaviour seemed to fall apart over the course of the season. All the great enthusiasm he showed in his welcome video when he arrived at the club – he spoke of the training ground as the best in the world – and in the first few months as they finished the 2019-20 season on a high, has been replaced by the gaunt look of a man who would work in a coal mine.
It is also true that there may have been cracks in personal relationships with some team members. It’s a familiar pattern when a manager is sacked, especially at a big club, when stories suddenly emerge to help justify his departure. They may be true; they may be exaggerated or self-serving. The move comes after Mourinho has already been sacked by Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid. Expect that to be the case here as well.
Julien Lawrence believes the entire Tottenham dressing room turned against Jose Mourinho, leading to his dismissal.
Mourinho never thought he was a good fit for Spurs. If he has had success in the past, it was usually through effectively managing big players with big personalities. He often achieved this by creating a siege mentality and sometimes by confronting the club, but always – when he succeeded – with the support of the fans.
But Tottenham didn’t have big, loud stars. (Not that they don’t have good players, but players like Harry Kane and Heung Min Son just have a different personality than, say, John Terry). They also didn’t have large sums of money available to secure them like some of his previous clubs. As for clashes with club management, few who clashed with Daniel Levy have lived to tell the tale.
And the fans? Well, it’s hard to build a contact field when there’s no one behind you. Maybe that had an impact too, especially with the new stadium.
And you wonder what will happen next. Mourinho has burned bridges at every club he has been at except Porto and Inter. Portugal is a logical choice on paper according to Fernando Santos and he has shown interest in the past. There is also a generation of very talented players to work with. (On the other hand, there is the aging Cristiano Ronaldo, and the two have often not gotten along in the past).
Where he goes next – and yes, I said that when he was sacked by Chelsea for the second time and sacked by Manchester United – depends a lot on what he learns from his recent experiences. We often learn more from defeats than victories. This is probably his best chance to get back into the spotlight.
quad will not be broadcast…. not this year, at least not.
Shaka Hislop was baffled by Zack Steffen’s position on Chelsea’s winning goal against Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola didn’t like hearing about the back four in 2021, especially as he knows it doesn’t take much to knock you off course in knockout matches. There’s no doubt he likes you. Saturday’s 1-0 semi-final loss to Chelsea means he may have to settle for a hat-trick (maybe), a double-double (maybe) or just his third Premier League title in four years.
It wasn’t really an entertaining match. Chelsea defended well, as Tuchel’s team has been doing lately, except that Timo Werner took the lead and Hakim Ziyeh was on the bench. Hail Chelsea, we know they can get results that way. The fact that they haven’t created much, other than a transition, doesn’t matter much because they’re not rated by City (at least not yet).
– Ogden: Guardiola was right about the quadruple impossibility
But it is worth noting that Guardiola has made eight changes since midweek. Of course, the schedule is overloaded, with another game on Wednesday (Aston Villa in the league), followed by the Carabao Cup final at the weekend and the first Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain. Still, eight rotations is a lot, and unless you have blind (and frankly unfounded) confidence in your team’s ability to maintain chemistry and quality, even if the XI is a revolving door, that says more than the standard rotation. After all, it was an FA Cup semi-final, and unlike the League Cup, Champions Cup, Liga and Bundesliga crowns, DFB-Pokal and Copas del Rey, it only has one in it.
I suspect the changes in collectors had more to do with City picking up steam in recent weeks and perhaps shocking the team a bit. In their last three games, they had to win in injury time against Borussia Dortmund, lost to Leeds and scored against Dortmund in the Champions League quarter-finals, taking advantage of some key refereeing decisions. They didn’t necessarily play badly, but the execution wasn’t there. And against Chelsea he was not there either.
But there is no reason to worry. In the end, we can say that now only three games are important: the League Cup final and the two semi-finals against PSG. (Plus the Champions League final, of course, if they get there.) So if Pep learned anything from the City match, go for it. Otherwise, the only conclusion is that there will be no quadruple.
Bayern – character towards Wolfsburg…. and a little angry towards the Flick.
Jan Aage Fjortoft praises Bayern Munich’s ability to score goals without their captain Robert Lewandowski.
Bayern Munich’s 3-2 victory over Wolfsburg was somewhat overshadowed by what happened after the game: Coach Hansi Flick announced his intention to leave at the end of the season. It shouldn’t have happened, because a win against third-placed Wolfsburg, like a few days after they were knocked out of the Champions League against PSG, was already quite something. The return to seven points in the Bundesliga after a goalless draw at Leipzig on Friday confirmed the team’s ability to bounce back (yes, that word) and reminded us what a gem they have in Jamal Musiala. It wasn’t just the two goals he scored, but the way he controlled Bayern’s midfield and the intelligence with which he followed up the action. It’s easy to forget that he turned 18 two months ago.
But back to Flick, who has publicly confirmed that he wants to move on. Bayern have revealed in a statement that they have agreed with their manager to accept his departure after the game against Mainz on the 24th. April, and that FC Bayern do not agree with Hansi Flick’s unilateral messages and will negotiate further after the game against Mainz, agreed.
Not exactly warm for the man who helped deliver the Treble last year, is it?
The simplest reading is that Byrne is apparently unhappy with Flick’s decision to release him from his contract in June. That’s it. But the reality is that no club will keep a manager against his will – unless they pay him to sit back and do nothing. Flick isn’t out to make a lot of money either, otherwise he wouldn’t have gone to Germany. Then why do you treat him like a child who talks out of turn?