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Arsenal won but Mourinho becomes the big story, Real's "B Team," more

Jamie Redknapp, speaking early in the second half, described Arsenal's 2-0 clash with Manchester United on Sunday as "putrid." That may have been a bit over the top from the ex-pro turned analyst, but the match was a surreal spectacle, particularly when compared to past clashes between these two sides (not to mention these two managers).

Part of it was their respective league positions. Part of it was the fact that you had one team that's not particularly good taking on another team whose manager went out of his way to downplay the match by announcing no fewer than eight changes. And part of it may have just been that you get games like these, played at a walking pace and filled with mistakes, at this stage of the campaign.

Arsenal took the three points thanks to a Granit Xhaka shot that deflected past David De Gea and a Danny Welbeck header. Crazy as it may sound to some -- and, perhaps, fodder for "fourth-place trophy" jokes to others -- it keeps the Gunners' hopes of finishing the Champions League places alive. They'll need to run the table (or close to it) in their four remaining games and hope that Manchester City and/or Liverpool slip up, but neither scenario is entirely unthinkable.

Once again, though, the story was Jose Mourinho, and the media essentially keyed in on two things.

One was that he made eight changes from the side that won away to Celta Vigo in the Europa League semifinal first leg, leaving little doubt where his priorities lie. And, in fact, he went so far as to say that he would have made even more if he could. You can throw your hands in the air and despair over somebody prioritising the Europa League (!) over the Premier League. But even bacteria that live under rocks know by this stage that winning the Europa League gives you access to the Champions League -- and that is Mourinho's objective.

Jose Mourinho was surprisingly passive after Sunday's defeat but still found room to jab at his rival, Arsene Wenger.

You can point to the fact that even with all the changes, there was a ton of quality in the United squad, and they should have done better. (Just please don't use the old metric where you add up the transfer fees paid: it's idiotic if only because Zlatan Ibrahimovic would count as a big fat "zero," as would any youth team product.) That's probably true, but when you cobble together a bunch of guys returning from injury with others who simply play poorly (Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan come to mind) on the day and then go a goal down away from home, there's only so much you can expect.

The more interesting point is the message Mourinho sends: he's not confident, at this stage of the season, that he can put out his best possible team away to Arsenal (with a top-four spot to chase) while also putting out a team capable of defending a 1-0 lead at home against a mid-table Spanish team four days later.

Debate the injuries and form all you like -- unless you're on Manchester United's medical staff, you won't have a complete picture anyway, so it's rather futile -- as well as whose "fault" it might be. (Mourinho would probably remind them that he inherited most of this squad.)

What is remarkable, and a distinct departure from the Mourinho of years past, is that he'd feel compelled to make a choice like this as opposed to going for all targets at the risk of missing out.

The other Mourinho wrinkle -- this one, though, a lot more familiar -- were his remarks about the opposition.

"This is the first time I have seen the Arsenal fans happy," he said. "I left Highbury, and they were crying; I left the Emirates, and they were crying. Today they had their scarves out, and they were singing. Arsenal fans are happy, and I'm happy for them.

"They are a big club. Do not think I am happy they are not winning trophies."

At least that part of the Mourinho routine was reassuringly familiar.

Real's B-team get it done again

Zinedine Zidane turned to the B-team against Granada on Sunday, and they accomplished their mission with ease, going 4-0 up by half-time. Sergio Ramos and Casemiro were the only holdovers from the Champions League drubbing of Atletico Madrid -- we even got to see Fabio Coentrao playing 90 minutes in a Real shirt for the first time in two years -- and two goals each from James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata sealed things early.

The circumstances (second-string XI, away hammering) were the kind that will no doubt prompt some to crack the usual jokes about the relative weakness of the lower reaches of La Liga. Suffice it to say that you don't get to play Granada, who have taken one point from their past 11 games, every week. And that the XI that Zidane put out would probably qualify for the Champions League in most European leagues.

Indeed, here's a fun fact for you. Real Madrid's BBC (Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo) are averaging a goal every 150 minutes this season between them. The second-string (Alvaro Morata, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez) have one every 190 minutes. Take penalties out of the mix, and it's 181 for the BBC and 190 for the understudies.

Tottenham aren't chokers this season

How about we ditch the "Tottenham are bottlers" narrative for a while?

Whatever residual title hopes they might have had all but evaporated on Friday night away to West Ham, and truth be told, they did not play particularly well, especially at the back. But they won nine straight just to turn this into something resembling a two-horse race. In a season when every other supposedly big side other than Chelsea faltered, they mounted the most credible challenge against bigger, better-resourced opponents.

Call last season a "bottle job" if you must. They collapsed when they should have been putting pressure on Leicester and slipped to third. But not the 2016-17 campaign. Even if they lose their final three games, this is a season of which to be proud. It's also one on which to build.

Is Unai Emery staying at PSG?

With the title race out of their hands (they are three points behind Monaco and have played one more game), Paris Saint-Germain did the best they could. They beat what was in front of them -- on this occasion, it was Bastia -- as comprehensively as they could, winning 5-0. With Monaco romping to a 3-0 win away to Nancy, PSG are left exactly where they were before: hoping the opposition will somehow self-destruct.

The word out of Paris is that Unai Emery will stick around as long as they don't drop to third place and they win their second domestic cup of the season. (They're in the French Cup final against Angers.) At least that's what some French media are reporting; I have no idea whether that's accurate, but it would seem obvious that deciding your manager's future based on whether you finish second or third isn't exactly progressive thinking. Particularly because it depends not just on PSG doing well but also on Nice dropping points.

You keep or fire a manager based on whether you think you're progressing and how well you think you'll do next season, not on where you finish in the table.

Why didn't Spalletti bring Totti on?

Luciano Spalletti should have been basking in the afterglow of a big 4-1 away win against Milan at the San Siro. It was a victory that kept Roma in second place and cut Juventus' lead at the top to seven points (and it would have been six if not for a dramatic late, late Gonzalo Higuain strike -- his 32nd of the campaign -- to share the spoils in the derby against Torino). With a head-to-head clash coming up next weekend, at the very least it presented the opportunity to delay Juve's title celebrations.

Instead, he faced a barrage of questions about the fact that he elected not to send Francesco Totti -- who is retiring at the end of the season after a quarter century in Roma's first team -- on for the last few minutes of a game he had already won. Particularly since the whole crowd, including Milan supporters, who displayed a banner paying homage to their great rival, was urging him to send him on.

I get where Spalletti is coming from. There were six minutes left, and Roma were 3-1 up when he made his final substitution. Spalletti said he couldn't risk it. And frankly, while it would have been neat to say you witnessed Totti's last steps on the San Siro pitch, Roma have a runner-up spot to secure.

Besides, if you want to remember Totti, you want to remember him in his prime (which lasted an exceptionally long time) and not as some late-game charity case.

Man City's winning return to 'basics'

Pep Guardiola likely won't tell us, but you can't help but wonder if the far more conventional-looking Manchester City we've seen in the past few weeks is a sign of a rethink or simply a temporary solution while he reloads in the summer.

Against Crystal Palace, we saw a 4-1-4-1 scheme that felt distinctly off-the-rack. Centre-backs doing what centre-backs do. A centre-forward moving like a centre-forward. Goals scored on set pieces by the big fellas at the back. And they won 5-0, albeit against a side that played Martin Kelly, Jeffrey Schlupp and Joel Ward as central defenders. (If you're unfamiliar with their work, that's two right-backs and a left-winger.)

This version of City isn't particularly fancy or sophisticated from a tactical point of view, but it is yielding results. And it takes the fact that Man City have a tremendous edge in quality against most opponents and makes it count.

RB Leipzig's success creates a minor problem

RB Leipzig clinched an automatic spot in the Champions League next season with a resounding 4-1 away win at Hertha Berlin. It's been a remarkable ride for Ralf Rangnick's crew, newly promoted to the top flight. Yes, they enjoy extraordinary financial backing (their net spend was two-and-a-half times that of Bayern Munich last summer), and so much about them is a real turnoff to supporters.

But if you can ignore the flouting of the rules, the corporate overkill and the ugly, ubiquitous logo, beneath it all there's a side who play exciting, well-drilled football and who never flagged in their pursuit of the top of the table. That's a credit to Rangnick, the other Ralph (Hasenhuttl) and the players.

That said, with RB Salzburg having all but sewn up the title in Austria -- they're 12 points clear and have a 29-goal edge in goal difference with four games to go -- there's a hurdle on the horizon. UEFA rules state fairly clearly that two clubs owned by or heavily reliant on the same folks cannot enter the same competition. Article 5 pretty much says that, except with more legalese.

It may end up being a moot point if Salzburg continue their streak of getting knocked out in the Champions League playoffs. But the point is that they shouldn't even be allowed that far. The owners of Leipzig and Salzburg have made a mockery of the regulations before, but this is one area where UEFA really ought to take a stand.

Barca are doing everything they can

Barcelona kept pace with Real Madrid in La Liga this weekend by overcoming Villarreal 4-1. Don't let the score line fool you: this was potentially a tricky game given that Villarreal still had an outside shot at a Champions League place and had won three in a row, including an away win to Atletico Madrid.

It was also one of those games that sort of left you wondering what might have been this year. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all got on the score sheet, and while there might not have been a three-goal difference between the two sides, Barca undeniably deserved a win.

Barca don't control their destiny here: they have to win out and pray that Real Madrid get less than seven points in their final three matches. None of them are gimmes -- Sevilla at home, Malaga and Celta away -- but then neither are Barcelona's remaining fixtures (a trip to Las Palmas and Eibar at the Camp Nou on the final week of the season).

Still, for all the criticism he has endured from some quarters, Luis Enrique can still end the season on a high note even if his side finish second.

Forster right to 'ice' Milner

Talk about teams going flat late in the season. Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw at Anfield by a Southampton side that (on paper, at least) had little to play for but pride. Along the way, James Milner had a penalty saved by Fraser Forster, his first miss since 2009.

At the risk of making too much of this, one thing stood out for me. The penalty itself took ages to be taken, as various Southampton players argued with the match official. Milner stood there, iced, on the penalty spot. Forster, who is nearly a foot taller than Milner, wandered over, loomed above his opponent, exchanged words and generally tried to rattle him.

I don't have a problem with Forster's gamesmanship: It's what players are told to do, and they'll push it as far as they can, risking a booking in the process. What struck me as odd, though, was how alone Milner was out there. Not a single Liverpool player came over to back him up or usher Forster away. I won't suggest it made a difference to Milner's penalty, which Forster did well to save, but I can't imagine it happening back in the day when the likes of Jamie Carragher, Steve McMahon or Graeme Souness played for the club.

Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.


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