What a weekend in European football! Chelsea imploded against Aston Villa and sacked their manager, Bayern Munich took the Bundesliga top spot back from Borussia Dortmund with a comprehensive win, while both Real Madrid and Barcelona cruised to big wins in LaLiga.
Arsenal and Newcastle are on the up, with Manchester United going the other way in the Premier League, while PSG fell to another disappointing defeat in Ligue 1 as their fans are starting to get restless and Serie A-leaders Napoli were hammered by AC Milan.
It's Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
Chelsea hit the reset button (again) after Aston Villa loss
Chelsea have a knack for this. It makes little sense to sack a coach just after the transfer window has closed, especially when you've spent hundreds of millions of euros at his behest over the summer, but that's what Todd Boehly & Co. did with Thomas Tuchel in September. And now, they've fired Graham Potter after a single loss (a 2-0 defeat at home to Aston Villa) immediately after an international break, meaning his eventual successor will have little training time with the team.
That, too, makes little sense. Some will rationalise it by taking Bayern Munich's justification in sacking Julian Nagelsmann and bringing in Tuchel: that they had to act now because Tuchel might be snapped up by another club. (Funny how it's always the same names.) They'll argue that Chelsea needed to move quickly to ax Potter because Nagelsmann is suddenly unemployed and may end up elsewhere.
You may be tempted by that logic, based on the fact that Chelsea's front office is filled with alumni of the Red Bull organisation such as technical director Christopher Vivell and co-sporting director Laurence Stewart, and Nagelsmann previously coached Leipzig. Except that theory falls flat when you consider the following: if Chelsea's owners thought Potter needed to go, why wait until after the Villa game to do it? Did they think he might change their minds with a victory? Did they need the validation of another defeat to pursue Nagelsmann? You'd assume no, because that would be silly. But then, with this crew, you never know.
Don't get me wrong, I think Nagelsmann is exceptional, and he'd be a great choice for Chelsea. But he'd be just as good a choice in the summer as now. And, in fact, probably a better choice. The squad right now is a badly assembled mess and it will only get worse when the loan army returns and the club need to find homes for all of them, as well as the excess Players they signed over the past few seasons.
Potter's sacking feels like a knee-jerk decision, possibly prompted by Boehly realising his team were being booed off the pitch at home. Results under Potter have been very poor (he won 12 of his 31 games in charge, and Chelsea are 11th in the Premier League table) and so too have performances. There are plenty mitigating circumstances -- from the demented way this team was put together to the fact that Potter was unaccustomed to the congested fixture list and European football, to the lack of a preseason -- but when you win less than one out of three games and have the sort of wage bill that Chelsea have, you can't expect to hang on to your job.
The owners say there's a plan, that the more-than €500 million spent (mostly on young Players, at least in January) is part of this grand project, that they have faith in their recruitment guys (Vivell, Stewart and the other co-sporting director Paul Winstanley.) Fine, they need time to work (just like Potter needed time and I'll let you decide if he had enough of it.) But now, you're at a crossroads. You've invested heavily, the summer, at best, will see a couple of starter quality guys arrive (presumably a defensive midfielder and a striker) and then it will be up to the new manager to make it work.
In those circumstances, are you likely to get a fancy, big-name manager? Or will you have to go with an up-and-comer, someone who will be more pliable, somebody who'll say "Yeah, I love what you've done with the squad, Todd, I can't wait to get to work"?
Logic would dictate the latter. But egos and perception matter and, right now, the perception is that Potter failed in part because he didn't have experience at this level. Yet an experienced "proven" guy (say Nagelsmann, Mauricio Pochettino, Luis Enrique, whoever) will need some level of assurance about the Players he wants. And that will mean more spending and more Players to offload. So, once again, Chelsea have painted themselves into a corner.
And, yeah, because hindsight is always 20/20, I can't help but ask myself: where would they be if they had not sacked Tuchel back in September? At least €25m richer, based solely on his payoff and Potter's wages. And probably no worse off in the table. And possibly much better.
How Tuchel made his mark on Bayern debut in big win over Dortmund
Alejandro Moreno reacts to Thomas Tuchel's debut as Bayern manager in the 4-2 home win over his former team Dortmund in the Bundesliga.
New manager bounce for Bayern; a bad day for Dortmund
Let's get this out of the way: Bayern's 4-2 drubbing of Borussia Dortmund, which saw them regain top spot in the Bundesliga, is not the game on which to judge whether replacing Nagelsmann with Tuchel was the right decision.
Not when Dortmund goalkeeper Gregor Kobel gifts Bayern two goals and they're 3-0 up inside of 23 minutes. Not when every bad Dortmund habit from yesteryear resurfaced on Saturday afternoon. Most importantly, not when Tuchel had all of two training sessions with his new side.
Tuchel did what managers do in these situations. Nothing fancy, get the Players to do what they know and, if you're cynical, empower the Players who got rid of the guy before you. He reverted to the 4-2-3-1, the formation most of these Players used under Hansi Flick (and which, though some have quickly forgotten, Nagelsmann used for much of his tenure), unleashed Leroy Sane down the wing and put Thomas Muller in the hole behind the striker, enabling him to be at his devastating best.
- Stream replay: Bayern Munich 4-2 Borussia Dortmund, ESPN+
Tuchel's initial impact was always going to be more mental than tactical. And, like the Hippocratic Oath, it was a case of "above all, do no harm." To be fair, there wasn't that much mental work to do. Bayern have now beaten Dortmund the last nine times they welcomed them to Munich. Players could look at the table and understand that defeat might cost them the title for the first time in a decade. Motivation was never going to be a problem.
Dortmund's flailing did the rest. Not just Kobel (he had a nightmare, but on so many occasions this season he was a difference maker so just chalk it up to a bad day), but most of the guys in yellow shirts and, heck, coach Edin Terzic too. I'm all for the high press and being aggressive, but doing it against the likes of Matthijs de Ligt and Joshua Kimmich, or Alphonso Davies, Kingsley Coman and Sane who can beat you one-on-one, is asking for trouble. Especially on the road.
Tuchel is too smart to rest on his laurels, and he's not going to think he's a genius based on this game. There are still things to figure out, starting with the formation. There's a reason Nagelsmann was endlessly tweaking it, and the issues he tried to fix won't have magically disappeared. And then there's Jamal Musiala. Simply put, he's Bayern's most important player behind Kimmich and there's no role for him in this formation ... not unless you want to drop Muller, which right now would be folly. So Tuchel will need to come up with something in the two games against Freiburg and, of course, the clash with Manchester City in the Champions League. That's where he -- and the people who sacked Nagelsmann -- are going to be judged.
As for Dortmund, the task for Terzic is to purge the demons in double quick time. No, there is no mystical force that elevates Bayern in big games. And no, there is no curse that condemns Dortmund to crumble when it matters most. This was a horrible game, prompted by mistakes from an otherwise very reliable keeper who had a shocking day. Accept it and move on.
Napoli hammered by Milan as Leao and Diaz shine
I don't think anybody saw this coming. You could maybe see Napoli losing their fourth game of the season (out of 37) at home to AC Milan because star striker Victor Osimhen was injured, because when you have a 19-point lead at the top of the Serie A table you take your foot off the gas, or because strange things happen when clubs return from an international break. But a 4-0 demolition at the Stadio Maradona? Nope, not like this.
Milan ditched the back three that had served them well for a while before fizzling out for a back four and that was critical. It gave them an extra midfielder, allowing them to match up with Napoli in the middle of the park. And while the individual quality of Milan forwards Rafael Leao and Brahim Diaz might make the highlight reels, it was the ability to neutralize Napoli's midfield that made all the difference. Sandro Tonali, Ismael Bennacer and Rade Krunic offered intensity, work rate and perceptive passing, giving Leao and Diaz the platform they needed.
As for Napoli, nobody had a good game. Not the defence; usually so reliable. Not the attack, where winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia was anonymous, and Giovanni Simeone failed to seize his chance as a starter.
Napoli need to remind themselves that they're 16 points clear with 10 games to go for a reason. (And, because some always see the glass as half empty, if Juventus' points penalty is overturned, it's still 12 points with 10 games to go, which would also make Napoli just about invulnerable.) It's a blip, keep your heads, see out the season and remember it's a fresh slate when you face Milan in the Champions League quarterfinals in just over a week.
As for Milan, this is a massive confidence boost when they needed it most. They need to play on the front foot, like they did when they won the title and the back three didn't let them do that. Keep this feeling and make sure you stay in the top four. And maybe you can take some of Sunday's performance into the Champions League with you.
Ogden: Guardiola lucky not to be charged for Liverpool taunt
Mark Ogden speaks on Pep Guardiola's touchline celebration in front of Kostas Tsimikas during Manchester City's 4-1 win over Liverpool.
Grealish powers Haaland-less Man City past limp Liverpool
Jack Grealish has emerged as a pivotal figure in this Manchester City side this season. Some might say 'It's about time!' given that he arrived in 2021 for a then-Premier League record transfer fee of £100m. But it wasn't going to be a seamless transition from Aston Villa to City -- from a mid-table side where you are not just allowed, but encouraged, to take responsibility and let your individual talent shine, to City, where you are no more gifted than many of your teammates and it's all about the collective.
I wasn't sure it was ever going to work, but Grealish is proving me wrong, with the latest example on Saturday in the 4-1 drubbing of Liverpool.
To be fair, it was all of City, especially in the second half, that put on a show. They did it without 42-goal striker Erling Haaland (who celebrated wildly in his box) and while they're obviously a better team with the Norwegian, in a game like this, against an opponent like Liverpool, Julian Alvarez's movement and link-up play probably made them even more devastating. And, if not that, prettier to watch.
Of course. there's a yin to the yang of City playing well and that's Liverpool being poor. In the second half, they had 27% of the ball while chasing the game and, after Mohamed Salah's goal in the 17th minute, they managed just a single shot the rest of the way. That's what happens when your midfield gets overrun (again), your defenders are pulled all over the place, and your forwards fade as the game goes on.
You don't expect this Liverpool team to match City for quality, but you certainly expect more in terms of intensity and drive in a game like this. If there's one thing they shouldn't be lacking at this stage it's motivation. A top-four finish is a realistic goal, it's just a little less realistic with performances like this.
Karim Benzema snags hat trick on bicycle kick
Karim Benzema tallies a first-half hat trick on the bicycle kick as Real Madrid leads 4-0.
Real Madrid hitting stride at right time after Benzema hat trick?
Real Madrid had a bumpy start against a Real Valladolid side fighting to avoid relegation, before exploding for six goals, including a Karim Benzema hat trick in the space of seven minutes. Benzema unleashed his full repertoire -- a long-range strike, a perfectly timed overhead kick, a stooping header -- and that certainly bodes well for a Madrid team who may lose out on LaLiga to Barcelona, but still have a Copa del Rey semifinal and Champions League quarterfinal to play for.
Benzema's campaign has been slowed by injury this year and though his goal totals, come the end of the year, will be in line with what he has produced for most of his career (he has 22 in 30 games), there's little question he hasn't been close to the Ballon d'Or-winning form of last season. Madrid fans will be hope that Sunday's performance will be a turning point.
Will Man United miss out on a Champions League spot?
Steve Nicol analyses Man United's top four credentials after their 2-0 loss to Newcastle in the Premier League.
Newcastle back in third as subpar Man United stutter
For all the good work Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag has achieved this season (Europa League quarterfinals, FA Cup semifinals, winning the Carabao Cup, top four in the Premier League) it's easy to forget how the club's form has been anything but steady of late. United have won three of their last six games in all competitions, but one of those victories was a 1-0 win over Real Betis in the return leg (after they went 4-1 up from the first leg) and the another was Fulham's self-destruction in the FA Cup. Other than the Betis games, they really didn't play particularly well.
This weekend, as defender Luke Shaw put it: "Newcastle wanted it more." The Magpies were also coming off a bumpy stretch, but maybe they understood the importance of the clash more than United and that's how they ended up with a 2-0 scoreline which flattered Ten Hag's men.
Mitigating factors? Sure. Casemiro's suspension weighs heavily. If Marcus Rashford doesn't wear his Superman cape and Bruno Fernandes has an off day, this team will create little, because Wout Weghorst is what he is and Antony, again, feels like a dud with stepovers. But beyond that, Newcastle just looked like a better unit. Some of that, at least on Saturday, has to be on Ten Hag and his insistence in persevering with certain Players at the expense of others.
Juventus keep marching up the table amid appeal
Those who only look at results, rather than performances, will note an obvious moment in time when Juventus turned things around. You can probably pinpoint it after the 4-3 defeat against Benfica in a "do-or-die" Champions League game back in October. Since then, Juve have won 13 of 17 Serie A games, while advancing to the Coppa Italia semifinals and Europa League quarterfinals. They are still awaiting the appeal verdict over their 15-point penalty on April 19 but, right now, even without it getting overturned, they have a shot at a top-four finish. Which is frankly staggering.
The odd thing is that there's something very "Max Allegri" about the turnaround. Juve have achieved it without, for the most part, playing particularly well. They don't look like more of a team than they did before; they have simply churned out results and got on with it. And there's merit to that.
Even more merit -- and more important for this team's future -- is how the youngsters have driven it. Against Verona on Saturday, the likes of Nicolo Fagioli, Moise Kean, Fabio Miretti and even Federico Gatti (who was crucified after some of his early performances) all did their part. Whatever happens, Juve as a club are learning that, yes, the kids can contribute too. That's one silver lining to a turbulent season.
Can Ansu Fati build on performance vs. Elche?
Craig Burley breaks down Ansu Fati's performance vs. Elche, including the impressive goal.
Barcelona backups shine in Elche hammering
Elche are last in LaLiga, so if there was a game for leaders Barcelona to mix things up, this was it. Xavi, already without Pedri, Andreas Christensen, Frenkie de Jong, Raphinha and Ousmane Dembele, took things even further. He left Alex Balde, Sergio Busquets and Franck Kessie on the bench, deploying Marcos Alonso at centre-back and Eric Garcia in central midfield. Up front, Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres joined Robert Lewandowski.
- Stream replay: Elche 0-4 Barcelona, ESPN+
- Stream LIVE: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Wednesday 4/5, 2:55 p.m. ET, ESPN+
It finished 4-0 and it could have been more, but Xavi's biggest takeaway has to be that maybe this team has more depth than some realize. Ansu, after his father publicly questioned his lack of playing time last week, scored a tremendous goal. Torres looked sharp. And, while I'm not Garcia's biggest fan at the back, he showed he can do a job in midfield.
Who knows, maybe he's Busquets' heir apparent?
Nicol: Arsenal perform like a Premier League-winning team
Steve Nicol says Arsenal's performance vs. Leeds makes them look like the future Premier League champions.
Gabriel Jesus leads Arsenal to important win
Gabriel Jesus made his first Premier League start up front since suffering a knee injury in November and, for a while, it looked as if some magical balance that Arsenal had attained in his absence had been broken. He missed a sitter and for much of the first half Leeds United gave as good as they got. But then Luke Ayling gifted the Brazilian a penalty which he converted. Then in the second half, Arsenal switched gears and pulled away en route to a 4-1 win, with Jesus completing a neat move with Leandro Trossard for his second goal.
There's no beating around the bush, Jesus is not an orthodox centre-forward. What he offers is different, but nevertheless valuable in terms of movement and pressing. On a day without Bukayo Saka (who was benched), Arsenal needed personality and leadership up front and he offered it. Another three points ensured their eight-point lead at the top remained intact and it's one less game towards the finish line. The margin to slip up and allow Manchester City to nick the title got that much smaller.
Fans restless as PSG stumble to another defeat
It's been a while since the last time Paris Saint-Germain actually played well, maybe the 3-0 away victory over Marseille in February. If games lasted 85 minutes instead of 90, and if Marseille hadn't drawn consecutive home games, then PSG would be second, three points off the top of the table. Which, given their wage bill, would be really embarrassing, as opposed to simply embarrassing, which is where they're at now.
Against Lyon, PSG lost their second consecutive home game and it followed a script we've seen before. They created some chances early and then sort of disappeared, save for a disjointed flurry of long-range efforts towards the end. In between, they gave up a penalty (which Alexandre Lacazette smacked against the post) and an avoidable goal to Bradley Barcola.
At the final whistle, PSG's Players were booed and it was hard to argue with the fans. It feels as if this team can't wait for the season to end. If it does -- as it likely will -- with another league title it will be down to the futility of the other teams as much as it will be down to their merits. PSG fans deserve better.
Lukaku has a nightmare as Inter lose third-straight Serie A game
Watch the highlights and stick to Expected Goals (xG) and you might conclude that Inter Milan were unlucky to lose at home to Fiorentina. They won the xG battle, Nicolo Barella hit the woodwork, Romelu Lukaku missed a hat trick of chances and Henrikh Mkhitaryan squandered another sitter.
You'd be wrong; Inter were poor. The passing was wayward and predictable, too often allowing Fiorentina to strike in transition. And the chances were mostly a function of individual efforts and opposition mistakes. Inter boss Simone Inzaghi has plenty to work on, but the priority is to fix a team that's crumbling mentally, first and foremost.
A word on Lukaku too. Yes, the misses were horrendous, reminiscent of some of his World Cup performances with Belgium, but he's getting on the end of the chances, which is something. A striker who never shoots on goal, won't get criticised in highlight packages. That said, at this rate, by the time he plays his way out of this funk Inter's season could be over.
Angel Correa can't be stopped on Atletico Madrid goal
Angel Correa can't be stopped as he shows off tremendous effort to put Atletico Madrid up 1-0 vs. Real Betis in the 86th minute.
Atletico take top-four step as Correa shines
Two years ago it was Angel Correa's late-season goals that pushed Atletico Madrid over the line to win the LaLiga title. He came up big again on Sunday, coming on to score a typical "street" goal, borne out of intensity and belief (and a bit of luck) and capped off with a stunning finish. Correa has only started one game in the last two months and Atletico have done fine without him, so Diego Simeone's decision to put his trust in other forwards has been vindicated. But there's something about his drive and the ability to turn a game that is hugely valuable and he showed it against Betis.
The goal may have come late, but it was very much deserved for what Atletico had shown earlier. True, Betis without midfielders Nabil Fekir and Sergio Canales are a different proposition, but credit must go to Atletico for taking the game to a direct opponent for a top-four spot and grinding away, once again powered by the magnificent Antoine Griezmann.