The more you watch the beautiful game; the more you are thrilled with the actions, occurrences and activities. Football is an ever unfolding sport; has its highs and lows; never stands still, records are created and broken; feats are achieved and the unthinkable happens. They say Lightening never strikes at the spot twice; but the beautiful sport of football always finds a way to disprove all forms of logic; whether the philosophers like it or not.
The last two nights have just been explosive in the absence of a better word or adjective; teams have arrived from a first leg deficit that seemed insurmountable; another set knew all was lost and just needed to show up to ensure the formalities are duly concluded and finally two hung in the balance with a potential for banana peels; here are the lessons learnt from Tuesday and Wednesday’s action in the most prestigious Club competition on planet Earth.
Arsenal are well; still Arsenal
Lets first make a comparison of Arsenal and Bayern Munich’s Line up; will any Arsenal player make it into Bavarian’s starting eleven? Maybe only Sanchez and Koscielny can squeeze themselves into that eleven; if you flip the script; almost all of Bayern’s eleven would start in the Arsenal team bar; Rafinha who started for the absent Phillip Lahm. So the first thing we need to consider is that Arsenal are just not good enough to play at this level and it is critical that something has to change for such a big and well supported team to be taken seriously either domestically and on continent.
The two games clearly illustrate how pivotal Laurent Koscielny is to the Arsenal set up; in the first leg he limped off injured with the game at 1-1; next thing you knew Arsenal collapsed. Fast forward to the second leg at the Emirates; same thing happened; the French defender gets sent off and immediately it was curtains for the Gunners. How does such a big club implode just at the absence of one player? Does this happen to other top clubs? I make bold to say no; Arsenal were piss poor in both legs and it was very painful to watch even for neutrals.
Winning whilst playing badly
Some three odd weeks ago; a team from Naples visited the Champions League trophy Capital with a view of dismantling the established order. Maurizio Sarri’s team have built a reputation of been potentially the best attacking side in Europe at the moment and it didn’t take long for Napoli to justify this notion with a quick, early goal to stun the Bernabeu into silence; but as we all know Real Madrid are a different animal these days. Unlike in times past; this Madrid team under Zidane have found a way to winning matches without playing well. They buckled down to find three goals to hand them a two goal margin to take to the second leg at the San Paolo; all these done without Cristano Ronaldo on the score sheet.
In the second leg; more like the same script as it ended with the same scoreline; Real went behind to an in form Dries Mertens goal and it all seemed Sarri was on the verge of doing the unthinkable, knock out the most successful team in the competition’s history. 1-0 at the break; game there for the taking; both teams hit the post in the first half; but Napoli were the better side with more chances created and missed; two set pieces later in the second half and it was curtains; the shoulders dropped instantly; the San Paolo stunned to silence. Real Madrid hadn’t played well; Napoli made life difficult for them on the ball; but Zidane’s side found a way; took the few chances created as Morata wrapped things up with a neat finish; its back to the drawing board for Sarri and Napoli; they have the ingredients of a team that can win things; Diawara looks a shrewd acquisition, add a combative midfielder and a much more mobile Center back to compliment Koulibaly; they could be on their way.
If at first you don’t succeed; try, try and try again
Pierre Eric Aubameyang missed a tone of chances to last three games in the first leg away to Benfica at the Estadio da Luz; it was quite horrible to watch as he missed chance after chance after chance; so bad that he even missed a penalty. The question you would ask is what else did Dortmund have to do to get an away goal after such a dominant performance. As they always say it only takes one chance to make the difference; Benfica did exactly that to take a one goal lead to Signal Iduna Park; a slim advantage, it was all they had that they could build on to potentially cause an upset in Germany.
This time around it was an Aubameyang whose goal scoring instincts were spot on; finishing with a hat-trick to prove doubters wrong. It was a solid and commanding performance from the home side as they went on rampage; playing an interesting 5-3-2 formation with Durm and Schmelzer providing the width and Pulisic playing up top along side Aubameyang.
Impossible is Nothing
I believe this is an Adidas slogan; but a Nike kitted team just pulled a full grown rabbit out of a hat in unbelievable fashion. In Paris on Valentine’s day; Barcelona seemed dead and buried, but it took International Women’s day for the Catalan’s to stage a rebirth of epic proportions. It was not a vintage, clinical, electric Barcelona performance as the Parisians made it difficult for that to happen; but it was a performance that demonstrated Luis Enrique’s full imprint on this team and how well he has varied the way this team plays; this I always give him credit for; Barcelona are so direct; its unbelievable.
There wasn’t any goal that had genius written all over it; bar probably the Neymar free kick. This were goals you would probably see on a wet windy night at Stoke’s Bet 365 stadium. Enrique showed that he learnt certain lessons from the first leg; going with a back three was the first sign to enable Barcelona pass through PSG’s rather effective press from the first leg. I felt it was a little strange having Messi in the Hole considering how torrid a time he had every time he touched the ball. Playing him in the hole enabled Barcelona to have to advanced, wide midfield outlets to pass the ball to in Rafinha and Neymar as they sort to nullify the high pressing PSG style. PSG pressed with three players all through; so Andre Ter Stegen provided himself as an alternative with Neymar and Rafinha dropping into Center Circle by-line to receive the ball as the Catalans sort to build from the back.
Now what was strange to me was PSG’s reluctance to stay true to the ethos of what was extremely successful in the first leg and that was use of the ball; every time they used the ball well and played in intricate, patient triangles they created chances; however, for most of the game they were very sloppy with the ball; Veratti and Rabiot would have to hold their hands up here to take responsibility. The non inclusion of Di Maria was a huge surprise, it however seemed part of the game plan as he came on to good effect for PSG to score and he troubled Barcelona every time he had the ball. Game management was poor from PSG; they conceded three goals in the last six minutes of the match; Barcelona had no right to get back into the game the moment the Parisians scored that priceless away goal.
Unai Emery must be kicking himself; he will have nightmares of this game for weeks; it is instances like this that show he still has a bit to go in been considered a top notch manager. All his substitutions looked well thought out; Aurier coming on was to ensure they double teamed Neymar as his influence grew in the game; Krychowiak’s was meaningless as his height and presence didn’t stop them conceding from a ball into the box; Poor, Poor PSG.
Luis Enrique has done a fine job with this Barcelona side in his three years in charge; yes his transfer business generally has not been stellar, you cannot take away his input and imprint on this Barcelona side and it is ludicrous to say he doesn’t affect nor effect anything in this team.