Welcome to the briefing. It will be held every Monday during this season. The Athletic So, here are the three biggest questions that will likely arise from this weekend's football.
This was a weekend in which Liverpool found their groove back, Manchester United won again, Tottenham came up late again and Ivory Coast beat Nigeria in the final to wrap up an extraordinary African Cup of Nations.
Here's how Arsenal show they don't necessarily need a 'proper' centre-forward, why Bayer Leverkusen's win over Bayern Munich could make Xabi Alonso suitable for Liverpool We discuss whether this shows that there is, and who is the best player in the world. It's been a long time since I last spoke English…It's been a long time.
Are Arsenal showing why they don't need a traditional centre-forward?
You won't find anyone within minutes suggesting that Arsenal need a proper centre-forward.
That happened in the first half of Sunday's win over West Ham. After a cross that no one could meet flew into the six-yard box, Sky Sports co-commentator Alan Smith tried to make his oft-repeated point before making his oft-repeated point: I sighed, exhausted from everything I had been through.
This is not a point without merit at all. A good goal scorer can get you out of a tight spot, erase your game when you make a bad play, or steal points you might not have deserved. If Arsenal can sign, say, Ivan Toney for a decent price in the summer, this is not an argument that they shouldn't do it.
Which club should aim to sign Ivan Toney this summer?
But for now, Arsenal are proving they don't need a 'killer' centre-forward to score goals. They played four games in the 2024 Premier League and scored 16 points. Only one of those, Gabriel Jesus' goal against Nottingham Forest, came from a 'proper' centre-forward.
Arsenal's problem early in the season was not necessarily that they lacked enough key strikers and were missing out on chances, but rather that their other sources of scoring had dried up. Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli combined to score 44 goals in the Premier League last season. However, this season there were only 12 by the end of the year.
Odegaard hasn't quite found his shooting boots yet, but between Martinelli and Saka they've had seven shots in the last four games, with Saka's second against West Ham showing him back to his best. It may be a sign of that. It's a typical Saka attack, a cut-in. He takes a shot from the right and it goes into the net.
They have scored many goals from set pieces this season as well. William Saliba and Gabriel's headers against West Ham were the 15th and 16th goals from dead balls this season (excluding penalties), three points more than any other goal in the 2023-24 season. many. That's already one more than he achieved all of last season.
Arsenal don't have a number 9 to hang their hat on, but they make that pointless by finding so many other ways to score goals.
There are caveats to this. West Ham were pathetic in almost every aspect of Sunday's game, and Arsenal's failure to score more points was frustrating. Two of the other opponents in this four-game series were Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace. Even Liverpool, the best team to play in 2024, didn't play last weekend.
And it probably won't be enough to finish ahead of Manchester City, whose 12th win in their last 13 games against Everton on Saturday makes things very ominous.
But they are proving once again that there are ways to score goals that don't rely solely on one centre-forward.
Does Leverkusen's defeat of Bayern show why Alonso is the perfect fit for Liverpool?
Bayer Leverkusen fans may be quite irritated by the idea that their free-spirited title tilt is being viewed through the prism of Xabi Alonso auditioning for bigger things. do not have. They would have been as irritated as anyone by the timing of Jurgen Klopp's sudden announcement that he was leaving Liverpool. out of fear that the inevitable speculation will harm them.
It turns out I didn't need to worry. The rest of the world would be wise to be a little wary before getting excited about the possibility of someone else winning the Bundesliga. Because we've been here before with teams that looked like they had a huge lead over Bayern Munich. But looking at Leverkusen's win and their performance over the weekend, it's hard not to be excited.
Bayern are hopeless and even Harry Kane, who is mulling the prospect of leaving Tottenham Hotspur in search of an assured trophy and possibly ending the season empty-handed, could not save Bayern from humiliation. .
It wasn't just the 3-0 victory that was impressive from Leverkusen's point of view. Perhaps even that dominant football, perhaps not even the fact that they achieved it without Victor Bonifati, who played in 15 games and scored 10 goals in the first match. I got injured a month ago after half the season. However, the goalscorer's identity provided further evidence that Alonso could be the real deal and that he could be a good fit for Liverpool.
Those three scorers were defender Josip Stanisic on loan from Bayern, resulting in one of the most awkward non-celebrations I've ever seen. Left-back Alex Grimaldo was signed on a free transfer from Benfica in the summer. And right-back Jeremy Frimpong joined from Celtic in 2021 for a relatively modest fee of £11 million.
This team isn't exactly a collection of players with a brave chance of running away for a lifetime, but Alonso is far from a superstar and clearly outclasses the established giants. He succeeded in bringing together a group of players. . It's not quite the same situation as Liverpool, but it's not far off.
It is often assumed that Alonso has been linked with Liverpool solely because of his history with the club, but games like this show that he could be the best candidate not only emotionally but also objectively. It shows.
Is English the best player in the world?
It is usually not a good idea to disagree with Carlo Ancelotti.
Anything really. But especially soccer. So when he declared this weekend that Vinicius Junior was the best player in the world, he would probably be in pretty bad shape to contradict him.
However, we offer a two-word rebuttal to the Real Madrid coach. Jude Bellingham is probably familiar with this argument.
On Saturday night, Real staged a fairy-tale victory, completely defeating brave upstarts Girona and taking a five-point lead at the top of La Liga. And the two central figures in that flattening were Bellingham and Vinicius Junior, with the Brazilian scoring a surprising opener before setting up his colleague's brace. The first goal required the kind of quick feet and calm finishing we've seen so many times this season from the Englishman.
Perhaps it would be reckless to choose between the two. Perhaps it doesn't matter who is the “best”. But Bellingham is at least in the headlines, which from a parochial point of view is incredibly good news for the England team.
When was the last time an Englishman was the best player in the world? No English player has ever won the FIFA World Player of the Year award or its successor, the FIFA Best Men's Player Award. The last time an English player won the Ballon d'Or was Michael Owen in 2001, but it was still a bit of a shock. Kevin Keegan won the award twice in the 1970s, as did Bobby Charlton, but that was during Pele's time, when the award was given to Europe's best player.
Away from awards, for a brief period around the turn of the century you could make an argument in defense of David Beckham. Wayne Rooney was at his peak when Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were establishing a duopoly. Harry Kane, despite all his goals and other excellences, has never been among the absolute world elite.
Add to that the extraordinary form of Declan Rice, who looks like an incredible £105m bargain every week, and whether or not Bellingham is actually the 'best', England's midfield is Appears to be in extremely good condition.
- This round of Premier League action ended on a note of warmth and warmth on Monday night as besieged Chelsea took on fellow besieged Crystal Palace. It could be a pretty dark night in south London.
- Dust off Priest Zadok, pull out Alexander Ceferin's face mask, buy a keg of Heineken with Mastercard, and pick it up via FedEx while you fire up your PlayStation. The Champions League is back. UEFA loves us all, so they limit matches. Four of his last-16 matchups will take place this week, with his remaining four matches taking place next week.
- It all starts on Tuesday with Manchester City traveling to Copenhagen and RB Leipzig hosting Real Madrid in Germany.
- And on Wednesday, Real Sociedad will be a newcomer to the finals as they play at this stage of the tournament for the first time since 2004. They will play against PSG. While in Italy, crisis club Bayern Munich will face Lazio.
- The Europa League and Conference League play-offs will be held on Thursday, with the eliminated teams facing the second-place team in the group stage for a place in the knockout stages. The choices will probably be Feyenoord vs. Roma in Europe, and Ajax vs. Bodo/Glimt in the conference, but there's no doubt that something spicy will happen.
- Speaking of spicy, Friday night's Women's Super League (WSL) clash between top two sides Chelsea and Manchester City will end the week with a lively and nostalgic match. It's a win for Chelsea, as she has a three-point lead over her rivals.This won't clinch the title, but it will go quite a long way to ensuring they win the trophy at the end of Emma Hayes' farewell tour. Probably.
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(Top photo: Getty Images)