It’s not every time a football-filled month like April comes around. Featuring derbies in England, Italy, Germany, Spain, Scotland, April 2017 is a football lover’s dream come true.
Icing on the cake? Champions League football sandwiched somewhere in between the already-hectic football schedule.
The reunion between Ancelotti and Real Madrid, the clash between Barcelona and Juventus, free-scoring Monaco against Borussia Dortmund and lucky Atletico up against English champions, Leicester City.
Mouth-watering clashes, and I was already looking forward to all the action (sure you were too). Now that the first leg has been played, what events caught my attention?
Did history repeat itself? Were there surprises, disappointments? Who went into hiding while the stars shone? Here’s what I learnt after the first leg of the 2016/2017 UEFA Champions League quarter finals
1. The Case for Video Technology
I had to start with the controversial one, right? Well, since time immemorial, terrible refereeing decisions have always reared their ugly heads with each match-day.
And this UCL knockout stage round was not an exception.
Case 1: In the game between Atletico Madrid and Leicester City, Albrighton tripped Griezmann while trying to defend against Atletico’s counter attack. But, the Frenchman, running at full speed, fell inside the box.
And a penalty was awarded to the Spanish side.
Griezmann stepped up and scored. That goal was the only goal of the game.
Case 2: In Munich, Bayern Munich were having an awesome first half and were putting Real Madrid to the sword. In the midst of the frenzy, Ribery collected the ball in the opposition’s 18-yard box, tried to squeeze the ball past the wall of defenders and the ball controversially hit Nacho somewhere between his neck, shoulder and his arm.
The referee, thinking the ball had hit the arm of the defender, awarded a penalty to the Bavarians, even when it seemed his assistant beside the goalpost thought otherwise.
Replays suggested that the ball had hit Nacho’s shoulder. By this time, a penalty had already been awarded, with Arturo Vidal stepping up to it.
Fortunately or not, the Chilean blazed the spot-kick over the bar and sent the ball on a space mission (Zaza must have been applauding).
Case 3: Have I mentioned Mbappe’s first goal against Borussia Dortmund which he scored while in an offside position?
Yes, these referees are only human. Yes, they can’t see it all every time. And yes, maybe it’s high time for technology to become a part of football via video technology.
While there’s the argument against technology’s encroachment into football, it seems only video technology can ensure a game ends all fair and square, instead of teams benefiting from human errors.
Technology may take all the fun away. But, imagine for a minute, that you are a PSG fan. Now imagine if video technology was used on that fateful night inside the Camp Nou. You think Barcelona would have still qualified instead of your team?
2. Newcomers Can Only Go as Far as Experience Lets Them
I totally have nothing against newcomers stepping in and giving every other club a run for their money. It’s a good thing for football.
But, one way or the other, the gaping hole left by lack of experience, will always find a way to show itself off. And that was what happened at the Vincente Calderon when the Foxes visited Diego Simeone’s men.
For the first 30 minutes of the game, Leicester City were forced to play in their own half, no thanks to consistent pressing from Atletico Madrid. Vardy, Albrighton were both silenced. Okazaki was bullied with each duel he tried to win.
The English champions looked pretty shaken. Being debutants, it was good to see them come this far. Better still, they lost by a respectable scoreline. But, their inexperience on the night was glaring. They were overwhelmed.
3. Tactical Talk
I think the most exciting game of this round was the clash inside the Westfalenstadion, followed closely by the one in Turin and the titanic bout in Munich. We all know how “exciting” the match in Madrid turned out to be.
How about the tactics employed by the managers on both nights?
Carlo Ancelotti had his Bayern side well set up against Real Madrid from the word go. For the entire 1st half, Thiago and Vidal completely bossed the middle of the park. They dictated the pace of the game and single-handedly left Kroos, Modric and Casemiro out in the cold.
Thiago’s unpredictable passes were always finding one Bayern player or the other. Arturo Vidal was too busy breaking up Madrid’s play, intercepting passes and back-tracking. Despite sending his spot kick well over the bar, he managed to cover almost every blade of grass and even scored the opening goal.
Zidane, noticing how helpless his side were against these two, started the second half with more wide play. Marcelo got involved more and cross-ins became the order of the day.
And that’s how Real Madrid scored 4 goals (two ruled out for being scored from offside positions), and racked up 9 goal attempts in the first 29 minutes of the 2nd half after they could only manage 7 in the entire first 45.
While I’m hoping there’s no repeat comeback performance at the Nou Camp next week, let me quickly chip this in: the game between BVB and Monaco was a crime against humanity.
Sounds harsh? Maybe because it sounds like the bitter truth. Why force players to play a game just under 24 hours after being involved in a bomb attack? It’s not right, on all levels!
It’s understandable that money must be made and rules followed. But, can we also consider the fact that these players are human, not robots or machines?
Football is important alright. But, there are other things more important.
That being said, I eagerly anticipate the return legs of all these fixtures. I’m sure you can’t wait too. Who do you think will make it through? Or do you think any club has done enough already to qualify?
Share your thoughts with me in the comments section. I’ll love to hear from you.
P.S: The shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year has been released. Have you seen it? While there were only six names on the list, some names were deemed not good enough to make the list.
Let me ask you: What do you think? With Hazard, Kante, Ibrahimovic, Lukaku, Sanchez, and Kane making the shortlist, who do you think will be crowned player of the year?
Leave a comment (or two or more if you like) and let me know what you think.