“We have been royally treated this week in the UEFA Champions League”
– Match Commentator of the Real Madrid vs Napoli game.
Nothing could be truer than that statement. In just two days, the pain of the absence of Europe’s ‘Premier Football Competition’ was swept away by amazing contests, beautiful goals and shocking results (Hello Paris).
The stage had already been set, since last year, for exciting clashes between Europe’s best. Of course I looked forward, mouth-wateringly, to the encounter in France and the one in Spain the moment the draws were made.
But I got more than what I bargained for this week – and I’m sure I’m not alone on this boat!
After just two nights in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash, Barcelona are already four goals behind, a certain English team shipped in 5 in Germany and the current holders had to wiggle their way past Napoli.
How about a bigger picture?
1. From Paris… With Love
PSG vs Barcelona, in recent times, has always been a tight contest. It has never been an affair that was too one-sided.
In one corner of the ring, you’ll usually haven’t the French, busy trying to stamp their authority in European football. In the other corner, the Catalan giants, looking to further assert their European authority.
So, you can understand why it’s almost always the classic case of a game “kinda too close to call” whenever these two entities meet. But, the meeting between PSG and Barcelona on Valentine’s Day, in Paris, wasn’t one too close to call. IT WAS A ONE-SIDED AFFAIR!
You are forgiven if you thought Barça’s MSN gang ran riot and terrorized their French hostages on the night because that’s what they know how to do best. On this fateful night, it was the exact opposite. PSG scored two unreplied goals (two beauties by Di Maria) in each half of the game to take a four-goal advantage into the second leg.
Surprised Barcelona didn’t score? With the way the PSG players played, it was impossible for the clubside from Spain to score. The closest they came to scoring was a header from Umtiti that hit the woodwork.
The work rate of Unai Emery’s men was un-freaking-believeable! Names like Aurier, Rabiot, Cavani, Veratti seemed to be on the move every time. The little pockets of space Messi’d usually enjoy in games like this were closed up. The Argentine was locked out. Neymar was isolated. Suarez? You know the rest.
The French side never seemed to slow down. For example, Barcelona were encamped in their own half for the entire first 5 minutes of the 2nd half. This is testimony enough about PSG’s resilience to kill the game – despite being 2 up already at the time. Add another 5 minutes, and Di Maria had rattled the net again, this time with a beauty from his left foot.
3 – 0.
By the 75th minute, PSG’s left-back had dribbled past Neymar, went on a mazy run, and supplied Cavani who scored the fourth with a one-timer. During this time, PSG’ had already registered10 attempts on target compared to Barca’s lone attempt on target.
The Catalan giants seemed distraught. The big and mighty names disappeared at the sight of regulars like Rabiot, Aurier, Draxler and the young Presnel Kimpembe. The fabbled “Barcelona Connect” struggled to connect throughout the game.
Now, the Catalan giants have an uphill task of overturning a four-goal deficit at the Camp Nou, a challenge no club In Europe has ever tackled successfully.
2. Real Madrid and CR7’s New Role
Before this game, there was something unnerving about the UCL form of Napoli. This was a team that could spring surprises. They won their group. It’s almighty Real Madrid, I know. But the Italians almost pulled off a Spanish surprise.
Their set-up from the word go startled and rattled Zidane’s men. Their quick exchange of passes seemed to catch Modric and co off guard. Sometimes, it looked like tiki-taka. At other times, it looked like something never seen before.
The passes were fast, the runs sharp and it didn’t take long before they opened their account, scoring inside the first 10 minutes of the game thanks to Insigne. And to think that Real Madrid had been doing all the playing during this time. That was the wake up call for the leviathan.
Realising that the ‘highly dreaded’ away goal had just been conceded, Real Madrid started creating chance after chance and Benzema found a way to pull Madrid back on level terms.
C. Ronaldo then unselfishly cut one back for Toni Kross, who finished cooly with a low shot. Then there was Casemiro’s beauty of a goal that got Rafa Nadal laughing and left Morata stunned on the touch line.
Speaking of C. Ronaldo, it’s not exactly clear who has given the Portuguese football god this new role he now performs in: maybe his age has forced him to start operating in this new capacity, maybe it’s Zizou. It’s quite hard to tell. But the obvious remains: Cristiano Ronaldo is now more of a team player and less selfish.
Case Study: His assist for Toni Kroos Is one CR7 would usually take aim from. It was inside the opponent’s 18-yard box, a confort zone for Ronaldo. But he chose to pass Instead.
There was the 85th minute pass to Marcelo which he could have chosen to fire home as soon as he received the pass in the 18-yard box.
Seeing as the usually goal-hungry CR7 hasn’t scored a UCL goal in 523 minutes, it’s weird to see him break the UEFA Champions League assist record. Wonders, they say… http://www.goal.com/en/news/8/main/2017/02/15/32726982/ronaldo-breaks-champions-league-assist-record?ICID=HP_BN_2
3. No Love Lost at Odds of 5-1
“The game ends Arsenal 1, Bayern 5, for the second year running.” – Match Commentator.
But for Ospina, the scoreline may have had three digits. And you know whose the double digits would have been. This one was a contest between men and boys.
Forget what Arsene Wenger said about missing Koscielny. The Arsenal team that played against Bayern Munich on Wednesday wouldn’t have survived if they had a XI full of Koscielny’s. The English side was just helpless.
It was a mismatch from the blast of the ref’s whistle and Arjen Robben’s beauty of a goal (how many times have I said this?) was a testament of things to come. Yes they got an away goal, but shipping in 5? De javu. De javu. De javu.
Is it time for Wenger to go? I don’t know. I can’t say. Ask your friend who’s an Arsenal faithful (please let me know what they think by leaving me a comment. I’d love to hear from you).
Some may say the job’s only half done for the Bavarians. And they’re right. Only a handful of German goals in England will rightfully settle this one.
Benfica beat Dortmund by 1-0. That’s still the most open game of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 so far.
The games continue next week. Will there be more beautiful goals, large scoreline margins or even more surprising wins or defeats? Fingers are crossed.
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage him on Twitter @rotdav