TOTOCC News Barca secure Xavi’s first trophy as manager: Weekend Review

Barca secure Xavi’s first trophy as manager: Weekend Review

Another weekend of European football is in the books and, once again, there is drama everywhere you look. Barcelona have lifted the Spanish Supercopa, humiliating Real Madrid in the process, while Arsenal, Manchester United and Napoli all secured statement wins.

ESPN correspondents Julien Laurens, James Tyler, Rob Dawson, Alex Kirkland and Sam Marsden break down the big stuff you need to know about the weekend.

Jump to: Talking points | Best goals | Teams in trouble | MVP of the Weekend


Talking points

Xavi wins first Barca trophy

Clasicos often draw drastic conclusions and Sunday’s Spanish Supercopa final in Saudi Arabia was no different as Barcelona brushed Real Madrid aside. Barca are back on track after Gavi inspired them to the first trophy of Xavi Hernandez’s management era, while questions will be asked of Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid following their bumbling return from the World Cup break.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Barca were good value for their 3-1 win at the King Fahd stadium. Gavi — still 18, remember — scored one and made goals for Robert Lewandowski and Pedri as Barca took apart Madrid, who replied through a late Karim Benzema consolation. The performance was good and, beyond the significance of a first piece of silverware in almost two years, will inspire belief that sustained success can return under Xavi with a young squad hungry for more trophies.

As for Madrid, they did not look like the reigning LaLiga and European champions during an error-strewn display. Coach Ancelotti did not like the suggestion his side were humiliated by Barca but did concede to having concerns about form. Madrid scraped past Valencia on penalties in the semifinal and lost to Villarreal last weekend to drop three points behind Barca at the top of the league. In just over a month, they travel to Liverpool in the Champions League. — Marsden

Real Sociedad claim Basque bragging rights

The noisiest game in Spanish football this weekend wasn’t the Supercopa final in Riyadh. It was 1800 miles north-west, as Real Sociedad beat Athletic Club 3-1 in a raucous Basque Derby to consolidate their position as the third-best team in the country right now. La Real have won 19 of their 26 games this season between LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Europa League. It’s the best start to a campaign in their history. And that’s despite losing Alex Isak to Newcastle for a club record €70 million fee before the season started and then seeing his replacement, Umar Sadiq, ruled out with a cruciate ligament injury.

This La Real team is full of gifted players. Midfielders Mikel Merino and Brais Mendez are having outstanding seasons and star forward Mikel Oyarzabal will only get better now he’s back from a cruciate injury of his own. But Saturday’s derby win at the Reale Arena was inspired by flying winger Take Kubo.

– Lowe: Athletic vs. La Real is a special derby

Kubo is yet to live up to the hype he generated as a kid at Barcelona and then Real Madrid, but this performance suggested he’s getting there. The 21-year-old scored La Real’s second goal — collecting David Silva’s clever pass, nutmegging defender Dani Vivian and finishing coolly past keeper Unai Simon — and won the controversial second-half penalty which Oyarzabal converted to cement the three points.

Athletic Club are having a pretty good season themselves under Ernesto Valverde, but there’s no question La Real are the best team in the Basque Country. Third in LaLiga and comfortably ahead of chasing pack Villarreal, Real Betis and Atletico Madrid, it would now take quite a late-season slump for them to miss out on Champions League qualification. — Kirkland

Ten Hag can’t keep Man Utd under the radar forever

Are Manchester United in the title race? The Premier League table, which shows United just one point behind Manchester City, suggests they are but coach Erik ten Hag insists he’s not thinking about a challenge. Despite Arsenal’s lead at the top, Man City are still favourites to win their fifth title in the last five years according to the bookmakers but if that’s the case, then United have to be considered genuine challengers.

Ten Hag has three of the best defensive players in the league in Casemiro, Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez but there is a question mark about whether the Dutchman has enough goals in his squad.

Marcus Rashford is in the form of his life and new loan signing Wout Weghorst could make his debut against Crystal Palace on Wednesday but Cristiano Ronaldo has left, Jadon Sancho is training on his own and Anthony Martial is injured again.

United have got Palace at Selhurst Park next and then Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday and if Rashford can continue his scoring run and United can extend their winning run, Ten Hag won’t be able to play down their title chances much longer. — Dawson

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FC crew react to ‘ridiculous’ offside decision in Manchester derby

Craig Burley and Luis Miguel Echegaray discuss Man United’s controversial equaliser vs. Man City.

It’s now or never for impressive Napoli

Is this finally the season? After a 33-year wait, is this finally the year when Napoli finally becomes champions of Italy again? Their demolition of Juventus on Friday proved once again how much they are the real deal this campaign.

Against a team on an eight-game, eight-clean sheet winning run, Victor Osimhen & Co showed why this is now or never for the Partenopei. They humiliated Juve: outplaying them, outsmarting them and, even if Max Allegri’s side had players missing, showing that no one can compete with the Napolitans.

Who can stop them? Internazionale inflicted them their only defeat of the season a couple of weeks ago but are not consistent enough. Milan are strong but have dropped too many points against small teams (Torino, Cremonese, Lecce), Juventus are not good enough collectively, while Lazio or Roma are not good enough full stop.

Luciano Spaletti will have to keep everybody fit and with their feet on the ground too. But he knows that on top of their lead and current level, they will also host all the big teams (Inter, Milan, Roma and Lazio) in the second half of the season. Since Diego Maradona took them to their only two domestic titles (1987 and 1990), they have never been so close to adding a third. — Laurens


Goals

PSG lose again, so why not talk about the goal that beat them?

Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at Rennes is Paris Saint-Germain’s second in three games since the turn of the new year, and it showed that for all the Parisians’ star power, their defense could continue to doom them in big games, especially when we hit the business end of the Champions League. It was a simple, devastating goal full of class from the home side and poor decision-making from PSG.

Defender Arthur Theate had the ball in a harmless position wide on the left but played a clever angled pass for full-back Adrien Truffert, who had snuck in behind Achraf Hakimi down the left flank. After skipping inside Hakimi’s half-hearted challenge, Truffert had oceans of time and space to pick a square pass for Rennes captain Hamari Traore, who’d drifted unmarked into the box. With several PSG defenders playing statue, Traore had time to sweep a low show beyond Gigi Donnarumma from 12 yards out. Easy as you like, really, but the kind of goal you’re not supposed to score against a loaded side like PSG. Maybe Ligue 1 will have a title race after all. — Tyler

An overture for Odegaard

Arsenal’s rather comfortable 2-0 win over Tottenham in Sunday’s North London Derby not only why the Gunners are now a firm favorite to win the Premier League this season, but Martin Odegaard’s goal showed why he’s one of the best players in the English top-flight right now. After benefiting from some typical calamity by Hugo Lloris that gave Arsenal an early 1-0 lead, there was nothing lucky about Odegaard’s finish to double the advantage.

After a William Saliba clearance was controlled in midfield by Thomas Partey and shunted out wide to Bukayo Saka, within seconds the Gunners were bearing down on the softest part of Spurs defense and Odegaard, having drifted into space at the top of the box, received Saka’s pass and thumped a low finish beyond Lloris from 20+ yards out to silence a disgruntled Tottenham crowd. Silken, forceful and inevitable: it really might be Arsenal’s year after all. — Tyler

Joselu and Enes Unal (Espanyol and Getafe)

Two of the best goals you see this weekend came in the same game, so why pick one when you can choose them both?

Just one minute separated in Joselu’s strike for Espanyol and Enes Unal’s equaliser for Getafe in a brilliant opening seven minutes at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez.

Joselu took his tally to 11 for the season with a sublime effort from just inside the Getafe half. Spotting goalkeeper David Soria off his line, he tried his luck from 50 yards, striking the ball perfectly to give his side an early lead. The lead didn’t last long, though. Turkish forward Unal rifled in a brilliant leveller from wide on the left, almost ripping the net with the power of his shot.

As for the game, it was never going to get better than that for the neutral, although it did for Espanyol. Javi Puado’s winning goal earned them a big three points at the bottom of the table. — Marsden


Teams in trouble

Lyon in complete disarray

The numbers are scary. After yet another defeat, on Saturday evening at home against second from bottom Strasbourg, Lyon have now lost eight of their last 14 league matches for only three wins and three draws. It’s a terrible run which leaves them in 8th place in the table, 17 points behind Marseille in 3rd and in the last Champions League spot too.

In his nine games in charge since replacing Peter Bosz back in October, Laurent Blanc has the worst record of any Lyon manager in over 30 years. And Lyon have their lowest points at this stage of the season in 25 years.

To add to the poor result, the game happened in front of the new owner, US businessman John Textor, who must have been wondering why he spent €800m to buy this club. To be fair, l’OL actually played quite well and their xG of 3.23 for just one goal scored in the end shows it. But nothing is going their way and their bad run is showing their limits and issues, especially defensively.

At the end, the Lyon ultras went mad and tried to invade the pitch to protest, they insulted the players and they showed a big banner with a goat on it. In French, a goat is a “chevre” and a chevre is what you call a bad football player in France. The atmosphere is very toxic now around the team and rightly so. Lyon will need something special on and off the pitch to turn things around. — Laurens

Liverpool are lost in the wilderness

“They were just struggling with key injuries,” fans told themselves. “They’ll get it sorted after the World Cup given that only a handful of players received national team call-ups and Jurgen Klopp can get them in shape again.” And yet, after back-to-back wins to close out 2022, they have looked absolutely dreadful in January, conceding six times and scoring once in defeats at Brentford and Brighton. The arrival of Cody Gakpo has been a solution without a problem, the midfield somehow remains both stodgy and sieve-like, and a defense that always felt like it was flirting with disaster is now an actual disaster.

With Chelsea, Wolves (whom they’re facing in an FA Cup third-round replay after a 2-2 draw) and Everton up next in the league and two weeks remaining in the January transfer window, there’s absolutely no remaining margin for error if they’re to creep into the top four by season’s end. Considering they’re 10 points back from Man United, who look effervescent and organized by comparison, there’s little to suggest the Reds have the capacity to fight back. It’s a sudden fall from grace for a team that had been one of the best on the continent in recent seasons. FiveThirtyEight still gives the Reds a 34% chance of qualifying for the Champions League, but it’s only a matter of time until the data catches up with what we’re seeing on the pitch. — Tyler


Weekend MVP

Ward-Prowse single-handedly keeping Saints in the fight

James Ward-Prowse is closing in on 400 first-team appearances for Southampton, but he’ll always have reason to remember his trip to Everton in January 2023.

The England midfielder scored twice at Goodison Park, including a stunning trademark free kick, to help Southampton to a crucial 2-1 win in their battle against relegation. Southampton are still bottom of the table but their first league win since October means they are back in touch with the teams at the bottom and they’re now just two points off Leeds United in 14th.

New manager Nathan Jones has led Southampton to three straight wins, including victory over Manchester City in the Carabao Cup, and with players like Ward-Prowse in the team, he’s got a chance of keeping them up. – Dawson



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