Welcome back to the Golazo Starting XI newsletter. Happy Monday everybody, and welcome to your international break. There's lots of soccer ahead of us over the next two weeks. There will be United States men's national team stories aplenty as they return to Concacaf Nations League action and a bunch of Europe's biggest sides look to start their next chapter. On the women's side, we're counting down to the NWSL's season kickoff this weekend and we've got Champions League quarterfinal action.
We'll get to all that this week, but before we do, we've got a pretty wild weekend to look back on. Let's get to it.
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📺 Top picks
All times U.S./Eastern.
📺 Elsewhere ...
All times U.S./Eastern.
UEFA Women's Champions League: Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal, 1:45 p.m.
UEFA Women's Champions League: Roma vs. Barcelona, 4 p.m.
⚽ The Forward Line
Barcelona are on the verge of La Liga title
It was an absolutely perfect way for El Clasico to attend. Franck Kessie scored in second-half stoppage time to put the home team up 2-1 and secure all three points. Ultimately Barcelona were the better team, outshooting Real Madrid 17-11, winning the expected goal battle 1.62 to 0.55 and pretty much carrying the play after conceding a ninth-minute own goal. The win now gives them a hammerlock on the league title. Barcelona are 12 points on Madrid with 12 games to go and Caesars Sportsbook now gives Madrid +2800 odds on coming back to win the title.
But still, Kessie? Much was made of Barcelona's extremely aggressive transfer window over the summer. And one way to understand the scattershot process of throwing money at every player that showed even the slightest inclination of wanting to come to Camp Nou is that in this Clasico Barcelona started four separate players who arrived in the summer -- the center back pairing of Jules Kounde and Andreas Christiansen and attackers Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski. But, despite Barcelona's young star Pedri missing through injury, Kessie, a summer signing after he left AC Milan as a free agent, didn't make the starting 11. He almost never does. He's only played 602 minutes this season, starting a grand total of four times.
In this match, it was long-time Barcelona stalwart Sergi Roberto and Frenkie de Jong partnering Sergio Busquets. It's hard to argue it was the wrong call, since Roberto scored Barcelona's first goal, and de Jong has started 24 domestic league matches this season, despite Barcelona trying to move him last summer to balance the books. Barcelona have a lot of good midfielders and Kessie is generally the odd one out. And yet, there he was in the box, popping up to slot home his first goal of the season to win El Clasico in the 92nd minute.
It's a perfect microcosm of the all the questions surrounding how Barcelona are currently run. Has this team needed Kessie this season? Probably not. Did Barcelona even need to win this match to win La Liga? Probably not. They'd have been sitting pretty even with a draw. Heck, is this season even a success if Barcelona wins La Liga after crashing out of the Champions League in the group stage, and getting eliminated from Europa League by Manchester United? Probably not. Much was made about exactly how far this side would have to go in Europe to financially justify all the spending last summer. If Barcelona "just" win La Liga it's not enough, even if they also take home a Copa del Rey trophy (and they take a one-goal lead against Real Madrid into the second leg of their semifinal matchup in that competition early next month).
But, Kessie scored giving Barcelona a win over Real Madrid in El Clasico. So, does the rest of it matter? Probably not. This is what Barcelona are now, a team looking to win now at all costs, and justify it later. And when you win, beating your biggest rivals, on the biggest stage in dramatic fashion, it's easy to look past the rest of the disappointments.
🔗 Midfield Link Play
Antonio Conte lashes out
It's not a fun time at Tottenham right now. On Saturday, Spurs blew a two-goal lead late on to draw with Southampton 3-3. Afterwards,. In a press conference that will be as memorable as Denny Green screaming "THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE" or Jim Mora screeching "PLAYOFFS??? WE'RE TALKING ABOUT PLAYOFFS?" Conte threw everybody and anybody under the bus.
- Conte: "They are used to it here at Tottenham. They don't play for something important. They don't want to play under pressure, under stress. It is easy in this way. Tottenham story's this for 20 years, there's the owner but they never won something. Why? I see selfish players, players that don't want to help each other and don't put their heart into this. Here we play for the badge. We play to make Tottenham fans proud of us. You need fire in your eyes."
Tell us how you really feel, Antonio. And now let's get to some links:
🔗 We've got all your El Clasico takeaways from Chuck Booth.
🔗 , writes Jonathan Johnson.
🔗 A wild Rome Derby ended with a Lazio win, , writes Francesco Porzio.
🔗 after their 15-point deduction, beating Inter 1-0.
🔗 with a penalty kick in an AC Milan loss on Saturday.
🔗 after being stretchered off for Lille with a potential concussion.
🔗 Attacking Third: With the season starting this weekend, which team has you favorite kit?
🔗 House of Champions: Fabrizio Rmoano unpacks Conte's Tottenham rant, "Some players agree with him."
🔗 In Soccer We Trust: Your favorite retired USMNTers break down the most recent roster.
🔗 And remember, all of your soccer needs -- from Champions League to Serie A to NWSL and so much more -- are available on Paramount+. 📺 You can try one month free by using the code: ADVANCE.
💰 The Back Line
💵 Best bets
All odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook and all times U.S./Eastern. SportsLine has you covered with this weekend's best bets.
- NWSL Futures: League Champions
💰 THE PICK: Washington Spirit (+1100) -- With NWSL almost upon us, let's look at some futures. Sure, the Portland Thorns are deserving favorites at only +250 with OL Reign right behind at +350. Cascadia always rules in NWSL. But, there's value further down the pack in the Spirit. This is a team only two seasons removed from winning the title with a young superstar in Trinity Rodman and a great supporting cast of characters. With Mark Parsons back for his second stint as manager Spirit are set for a bounce-back season.