Another week has come and gone, with one high-profile transfer nearing its conclusion, the Bundesliga title fight looking all but over, the Black Lives Matter movement receiving more support and much more. It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the sport of football from the past week.
Jump to: Liverpool’s Werner loss is Chelsea’s gain | Bayern crush hopes of title fight | Clubs lack courage of Kaepernick | Can’s experience saves Dortmund | Clubs’ self-interest apparent in restart plans | Upamecano’s teachable moment
Liverpool’s Werner loss is Chelsea’s gain
Timo Werner‘s move to Chelsea has yet to be finalized, but it would be the London club’s second big signing before the season has even finished, following the capture of Hakim Ziyech from Ajax. The fact that Werner will end up at Stamford Bridge rather than Anfield comes as a shock, given the long — and public — flirtation between the RB Leipzig striker and Jurgen Klopp, as well as the relatively manageable fee of €60 million (£53.5m/$67.8m). That’s a very reasonable amount for a versatile, speedy forward who only turned 24 in March and has averaged nearly 19 goals a season in the past four years in the Bundesliga.
On paper, he’s a natural fit for Chelsea. He offers an alternative to Tammy Abraham at center-forward or he can line up out wide and come inside. Should Frank Lampard want to mimic the setup at Leipzig, he can put his new signing in a front two, with Abraham playing a similar role to Yussuf Poulsen.
Werner’s arrival means that even if Willian and Pedro move on as expected, Chelsea still have plenty of options in wide positions with Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount, Ziyech and Werner himself. Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud‘s contract extension means the London club have another big-man option when required.
Chelsea had long been looking for someone to share the scoring load with Abraham, and Werner can certainly do that. The roughly €100m-plus spent on Werner and Ziyech is a hefty investment — and there’s probably more to come in their defense — but equally, Chelsea have plenty of saleable assets, particularly in midfield. The return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek to a group that already includes N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Ross Barkley, Mateo Kovacic and Billy Gilmour, plus Mount and Ziyech as attacking midfield options in a potential 4-2-3-1, suggests one or two guys will move on in that department.
So why didn’t Liverpool pull the trigger?
Klopp, speaking to Sky Germany, trotted out the party line, saying the financial climate made such an expense impossible: “All clubs are losing money… How do I discuss with the players about things like salary waivers and on the other hand buy a player for £50m or £60m? … If you want to take it seriously and run a normal business, you depend on income, and we have no idea how much the club will earn, especially because we don’t know when we can start playing in front of spectators again.”
Maybe so, but Liverpool recorded a profit of £29m ($36.7m) in 2018-19 and £101m ($128m) the year before. And while the 2019-20 numbers obviously aren’t in yet, they did make a £28m ($35.5m) profit over the two windows, while their imminent first title in 30 years guarantees they’ll earn more than every other Premier League side in TV income.
Sure, maybe they budgeted to go further in the Champions League this year (they were knocked out by Atletico Madrid in the round of 16) and yes, they’ve extended a number of contracts, which means a rise in wages. And, of course, playing behind closed doors, as Klopp points out, means a decrease in revenue. But Liverpool’s matchday income was around £84m ($106.5m) last season. Even assuming no fans are allowed back until March (and that has to be a worst-case scenario given that some countries, like Spain, are already talking about allowing fans back next month, albeit in a reduced capacity, let alone next season), that’s maybe a 15% hit in revenue.
Given their success elsewhere, was there really no way to find the Werner money?
This idea, peddled by some, that such an outlay on a “fourth-choice” forward (considering Werner would initially back up Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino) could not be justified doesn’t really hold water either. First off, Werner wouldn’t be “fourth-choice” — he’d be the first option to back up all three. Plus, all three will be 28 by the time next season starts, and all three have contracts that expire in 2023.
Werner would, effectively, have become part of a rotation, helping reduce their minutes and prolong their careers, and he’d be ready to step in to the starting lineup if and when Liverpool decided to move one of the three on. Given that right now their options are Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino and possibly Harry Wilson, you’d think they’ll want to shop in the forward department once the window opens. Which, presumably, was why Klopp was so enamoured with him in the first place.
You can’t help but feel that this was an order that came from the bean counters at Fenway Sports Group. But based on the numbers available, unless there’s something we don’t know, it doesn’t make much sense. And Liverpool’s loss here is very much Chelsea’s gain.
Bayern crush hopes of Bundesliga title fight
We were probably deluding ourselves. At least I was. With Bayern Munich yet to play Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach — two teams that had beaten them earlier this year — I made the mistake of holding out hope of a stumble just so we could have a close finish in the Bundesliga. I should have known better when the Leverkusen lineup came in: no Kai Havertz (OK, he missed the reverse fixture too) and, especially, Leon Bailey and Nadiem Amiri as wing-backs (that was pure Peter Bosz and it cost Leverkusen dearly).
I guess the idea was that the pair would help pin back Bayern’s wingers. Instead, they turned into revolving doors against the likes of Alphonso Davies, Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry, leaving Leverkusen’s back line woefully exposed. And as the game wore on, things only got worse.
This sort of stuff is why Bosz continues to confound. It’s not outside-the-box thinking. It’s lock-yourself-inside-a-box-and-have-somebody-throw-you-over-the-edge-of-a-cliff-into-a-shark-infested-ocean thinking.
Frank Leboeuf explains why Thomas Muller’s unselfishness is key to Bayern Munich’s success.
Bayern were unruffled even after Lucas Alario beat the offside trap to send them a goal down. By half-time, Hansi Flick’s crew were 3-1 up with ease. And while Leverkusen were complicit (witness Lukas Hradecky‘s soapy hands on the second and the team’s collective snooze on the third), take nothing away from Bayern. Robert Lewandowski made it an even 30 goals on the season, Leon Goretzka monstered the midfield and Thomas Mueller set a new Bundesliga record with his 20th assist of the campaign, which is pretty remarkable and a testament to how he has been rejuvenated and reinvented as a provider. There are moments when, even technically, he looks like a different player (witness his exquisite scoop pass that led to the early Lewandowski chance).
Sure, Germany have a ton of attacking talent and Joachim Low is looking to the future, but it beggars belief that there is no room for Muller on this form in the national side.
Bundesliga clubs lack courage of Kaepernick
Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and Hertha Berlin were among Bundesliga teams who dropped to one knee ahead of their games this past weekend. Bayern wore T-shirts in support of Black Lives Matter while at Dortmund, Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi bore the message “No Justice, No Peace.” (Over in Greece, Panathinaikos and AEK Athens also took a knee in unison as the Super League Greece returned to action.)
Shaka Hislop praises Weston McKennie for emerging as a leader while football’s governing bodies have stumbled.
First off, an entire football team taking a knee isn’t a bunch of like-minded adults opting to take a stand of their own accord. It’s a unit — a set of employees who as a group embrace the idea. We shouldn’t make assumptions that their participation — whether in terms of understanding, empathy or outrage — is going to be the same throughout. A bit like the wearing of “No to racism” T-shirts and messaging that have become de rigueur at many football games, there’s a risk that it becomes simply part of the job for some.
So while it’s an impressive visual, we ought to remind ourselves that absent follow-through, education and action, it’s just going through the motions. The players themselves, of course, are limited in what they can do, but the folks above them — the clubs and leagues who sanctioned this and embraced it — have a responsibility here to which they need to be held.
Finally, let’s remind ourselves of how the “taking a knee” movement started and how it has now been mainstreamed. Colin Kaepernick, the first high-profile athlete to do it, put his career, image and earnings in jeopardy when he did it. Sancho, Hakimi, Weston McKennie and Marcus Thuram, while not having as much at stake, also went out on a limb with their protests a week ago. An entire team taking a knee with the support of their employer and their league, while still visually potent, will never have the same power nor take the same courage.
Can’s experiences saves Dortmund
Emre Can came up big to score the goal that sunk Hertha Berlin and gave Borussia Dortmund a 1-0 win that keeps them second in the Bundesliga table. Again, there was no Erling Haaland, and again we saw some of the difficulties you encounter when you go from having a large Norwegian center-forward to no center-forward at all.
Hertha are enjoying a purple patch under Bruno Labbadia, and it took Dortmund a long time to break them down. In times like these, Can’s experience is a difference maker at both ends, as he showed deputizing at the back for the injured Mats Hummels.
Clubs’ self-interest apparent in restart plans
The Italian FA’s decision to institute a Plan B (playoffs, if time allows) and a Plan C (an algorithm taking into account points, games played and schedule strength) should the pandemic intensify, forcing football to stop again, was passed Monday despite objections from the Serie A clubs. Italy‘s top flight had put forward an alternative system, in which simple points per game would be used to determine league positions, but teams would only go down — and the title would only be awarded — if matters were already mathematically decided.
Clubs moaned about the FA bullying the league into the decision and gazed enviously at the Premier League’s independence from the Football Association in England. But, in truth, it smacks of turkeys not voting for Christmas. Not relegating teams makes a mockery of sporting merit, which is a fundamental part of the pyramid system. Their stance feels like one purely of self-interest.
Upamecano’s teachable moment
Dayot Upamecano‘s second yellow for kicking the ball away in frustration against Paderborn instantly gets classed in the “bonehead” category of sendings-off. Leipzig were 1-0 up and cruising when he was given his marching orders late in the first half. They ended up conceding an injury-time equaliser that stopped them from pulling clear of Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen in the hunt for Champions League places.
Regular readers will know I’m a huge Upamecano fan. He’s not just a phenomenal athlete, he reads the game very well and plays with an intelligence and a maturity rarely seen in young central defenders. But, yeah, this was foolish. Call it a teachable moment.