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The Briefing: Are Arsenal in control of title race? Should Bayern sack Tuchel now?

Follow live coverage of Arsenal vs Bayern Munich in the Champions League today

Welcome to The Briefing, where every Monday during this season The Athletic will discuss three of the biggest questions to arise from the weekend’s football.

This was the weekend when Manchester City came from behind to beat Crystal Palace, Chelsea showed yet another way to be bad after throwing away a win at Sheffield United and there were some good results for some of the other strugglers.

Here, we will ask if this weekend showed us where the Premier League title will be won, whether Bayern should take drastic action before their season truly loses all meaning, and whether you have ever seen a more remarkable season than this one in Turkey…

Is the supercomputer right about Arsenal and Liverpool?

The Opta ‘supercomputer’ now has Manchester City as favourites for the title, giving them a 39.7 per cent chance of prevailing, with Liverpool now down to 31.3 per cent and Arsenal on 29 per cent.

It’s such an exciting race that these things change weekly and opinions will be heavily influenced by recency bias.

But just as they have been in the last couple of months, Arsenal looked the most impressive of the three this weekend. They kept another clean sheet and scored another clutch of excellent goals, but the most notable part was how in control they were.

Their opponents Brighton haven’t lost at home in the league since August. Liverpool, Newcastle and Tottenham have all gone to the Amex and not managed a victory. But Arsenal controlled this game and were almost in third gear as they won 3-0.

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Arsenal eased past Brighton (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

It showed how far this team has come from last season: then, they had a madcap edge to them and often relied on incredible late goals, most notably against Bournemouth. In recent weeks, they have looked much more controlled: since the turn of the year they have won 10 of their 11 games, conceding just four times and they haven’t been behind for a single minute in that time.

If this weekend showed why Arsenal will win the title, did it also show why Liverpool won’t?

They should have killed Manchester United off in the first half of their game on Sunday, just as they should have killed them off in the FA Cup game between the two a few weeks ago, and for that matter just as they should have done in the other league game, at Anfield in December.

Their profligacy will have been obvious to anyone who watched the game, but to reiterate it with a few stats: at half-time the shot count was 0-15 in Liverpool’s favour; by full-time that count was nine to 28; the xG was 0.71 vs 3.59.

It’s not just their failure to score goals that could be a problem, but their tendency to concede them too: they have only kept one clean sheet in the last 10 league games: for comparison in that time, City have four and Arsenal six. While the two they conceded against United were both brilliant finishes, the first came from a careless mistake by Jarell Quansah, and Jurgen Klopp was livid with the way they allowed Kobbie Mainoo to score the second.

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Liverpool were wasteful at Old Trafford (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

In short, you might be able to get away with passing up so many goalscoring chances if you’re watertight when it comes to conceding. Liverpool are still very good at both ends of the pitch, but in a race like this, very good might not quite be enough.

This could all change in the next games. Even with the help of a ‘supercomputer’, it’s very difficult to split these three teams. But when all is decided come May, these could be the key factors.

The Premier League run-in 

Should Bayern take drastic action?

There’s an element of pointlessness to reading anything into Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga results between now and the end of the season. The only tangible thing that really rests on them is how soon Bayer Leverkusen’s title win will be confirmed.

Even so, their defeat to Heidenheim on Saturday, somehow contriving to lose 3-2 after being 2-0 up at half-time, is an illustration of what a mess they are in. And while domestic issues might not matter anymore, the Champions League most certainly does, with their quarter-final against Arsenal looming on Tuesday. It’s the only thing they have left, in fact, to rescue this season from being an absolute disaster.

Sporting director Max Eberl’s main job at the moment is looking for a successor to take over from Thomas Tuchel in the summer, but he wasn’t in the mood to discuss that this weekend.

“I don’t give a shit about the search for a coach,” he said after the game. “Now it’s all about the game on Tuesday. We’ll face a team that, with all due respect to Heidenheim, is a class above them in terms of the way they play football.

“We really have to make a proper turnaround so that we don’t get a slap to the face.”

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Tuchel is due to leave Bayern at the end of the season (Stefan Matzke – sampics/Corbis via Getty Images)

The question is though: are those two things linked? Should his search for a new coach be brought forward a few months?

It might seem like a desperation move, but things seem to be so big of a mess in Munich that there is a genuine case for getting rid of Tuchel now, in the manner that Chelsea did in 2012. It was a little earlier in the season that they sacked Andre Villas-Boas, but it was under similar circumstances: the manager had become so toxic that essentially anyone was better than him. With the greatest of respect to Roberto Di Matteo, he wasn’t in anyone’s long-term plans before Villas-Boas went: he was a short-term solution that worked out better than anyone expected.

Could something similar work for Bayern? There appears to be no immediate prospect of them actually making a change, but are they at the stage where it doesn’t really matter who is in charge for the games against Arsenal, as long as it isn’t Tuchel?



How do you know if a football manager is actually good at their job?

Is this a new low for a crazy season in Turkey?

It tells you something about the season in Turkish football, that a referee being punched in the head by a club president on the pitch might not be the craziest thing that has happened.

Sunday evening saw remarkable scenes in Sanliurfa, in the south of the country, as Galatasaray and Fenerbahce met in the Turkish Super Cup, a game rearranged from December when it was due to have been played in Riyadh. On that occasion it was postponed hours before the scheduled kick-off because the Saudi organisers refused to let both teams wear t-shirts and carry banners honouring Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

The game didn’t go ahead this time, either. Fenerbahce, who started with a team of under-19s players, walked off after a minute of play (but not before Mauro Icardi had given Galatasaray the lead) and the game was thus abandoned. The Galatasaray players then essentially had a kick around, an intra-squad training game so that anyone who had made the nearly 600-mile trip could at least watch some football.

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Fenerbahce’s under-19s took to the field in the Turkish Super Cup final (Serhat Cagdas/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Why did this happen? Essentially this was a protest by Fenerbahce, who last week held a vote among their members about whether to take action against the Turkish football authorities — up to and including leaving the Super Lig — because of what they believe is unfair treatment against them.

Their grievances are wide and varied and stretch as far back as 2006, as we explained last week, but their objections include the scheduling of this game, four days before Fenerbahce play Olympiacos in the Europa Conference League. In a statement, they said they boycotted the Super Cup to “defend the truth”.

More seriously, Fenerbahce are upset about the game against Trabzonspor a few weeks ago, when fans invaded the pitch at full-time and attacked their players (some of whom fought back): 13 people have been arrested in connection with it, but it all adds to the sense from them that someone, somewhere, for some reason, is acting against them.

Why? Who knows. But this was just another instalment in an extraordinary season in Turkish football.


  • Europe: home of a dizzying range of cheeses, cheap rail networks and the Champions League. It’s back this week, and boy is it juicy. It’s perhaps juiciest on Tuesday, when Arsenal can truly slay those ghosts from the past if they can get past a beleaguered Bayern, while Manchester City travel to Madrid for the latest in their battle of the juggernauts with Real.
  • Then on Wednesday, the slightly less exciting but still diverting prospect of the ‘in the shadow of superclubs’ clasico Atletico Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund, and also the ‘never liked Neymar anyway’ derby, Paris Saint-Germain vs Barcelona.
  • The Europa League is reaching the pointy end too: Thursday sees some bangers for your consideration: the full line-up is Milan vs Roma, Benfica vs Marseille, Bayer Leverkusen vs West Ham, and Liverpool vs Atalanta.
  • Then don’t you dare forget about the Conference League: Olympiacos vs Fenerbahce should be spicy and, from an English perspective, Aston Villa hold the flame here, as they face Lille.
  • This midweek also sees the latest instalments of the helter skelter Championship title race: to mark your card, Leicester travel to Millwall and Leeds host Sunderland on Tuesday, while on Wednesday Ipswich will try to bounce back from their defeat to Norwich at the weekend against Watford.
  • Finally, we did say this last week, but we do expect Everton to know the outcome of this season’s second PSR charge at some point in the coming days.

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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