Tag Archives: Champions League

COULD THIS BE THE END OF THE MOST BORING ERA EVER? I HOPE SO…BUT NOT SO FAST!!

(PS: Long post ahead; Barca’s misery makes me happy, hence, I have a lot to say!!)

Barcelona’s ‘global’ soccer dominance received a seismic shock on Tuesday last week when they were THROWN OUT of the Champions League competition (I was so so so happy).

It would have been less of a shock if they were dumped out of the CL by a superior team. But, let’s face it, there is hardly a team that deems itself superior to Barca let alone equal to these Spanish giants.

I am sure Roma knew they were done for the minute they were drawn against Barcelona for the CL Quarter Finals. I do not think they expected to survive the second leg let alone beat Barca on aggregate score.

They were thoroughly thrashed in the first leg with Barcelona scoring four to their measly one goal. But, they turned it all around in the second leg on Tuesday last week by beating Barcelona 3-0; the aggregate score was 4-4 and Roma went through because of the away goal rule.

It was such a rare unexpected comeback for Roma at this stage against such a team and a shockingly cruel and an unimaginable turn of events for Barcelona.  Just last year in the same competition at the same stage, Barca had been able to claw through PSG’s 4 goal lead from their first leg, and beat the French giants 6-5 on aggregate score in their second leg match (this was a beautiful night of football btw).

So what’s the dish? What made Barcelona go from King of the CL comeback in 2017 to the biggest victim of comebacks in 2018?

The answer is that alot contributed to their fall from grace last week, but let me start by saying that I have NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER liked Barcelona. (Hence, some of the views presented in this post may be slightly biased).

Their style of play, for me, is completely outdated and makes every game a drag! It is crucial to have a formation for the squad, but, let it come with some spontaneity and bring the game alive. Neymar, Suarez, and Messi used to bring the wow factor when they played together, but before and after this trio, it was just boring!

Arguably, they may not use tiki taka at every instance, but, come on, that is the go-to technique for that midfield (that never seems to get replaced).

I also feel like tiki taka is a bullying technique of sorts; mentally and physically for the opponents, which is fine until it becomes a tad too predictable, too domineering, and the players do not often have to think outside of the box in order to win the game. Tiki taka has curtailed their creative expression (don’t roll your eyes, it’s the truth!!).

Anyway, back to the topic. For me, the biggest reason for their poor performance last week was tired, lethargic players. Why would Barcelona have tired players when they have such a good line up sitting on the bench?

Because Valverde seems not to have learned the beautiful art of squad rotation regardless of competition or stage. His over-reliance on his top scorer is evident, and it seems he was a bit too scared to muddy the waters by experimenting with other players. I know nearly everyone considers Messi as some god (more like freak of nature), but even he deserves a break. We have barely seen the likes of Alacer, D. Suarez, and Gomes being used when it counts, and I’m sure they would have a profound impact if they are not forced to live in Messi’s shadow, were taught the ropes, and were allowed to be as creative as they want.

Another closely connected area that the Barcelona coach should have paid more attention to was substitution. The minute Barcelona were two goals down in that second leg he should have brought the other squad members in. We have already spoken about D. Suarez and Gomes up there, but the list is long. Vermaelen, Dembele and/or  Paulinho could also have come in to pick up some of the slack earlier on in the game. Unfortunately (or not, depending on your side of the fence), he was making substitutions with like 10 minutes to go. Honestly, how would that help anyone?

And this business of playing defense when you should be attacking, all in the hope of protecting a lead, is not working this time round especially when you are facing a team as hungry as Roma. Go out there and score goals before they even think of making a comeback.

However, the loss (and hopefully several future losses) is not entirely Valverde’s. The board of this team seems to also be full of it when it comes to making purchase decisions (Barca and Arsenal continue to have more in common as the years drag by). Fans have accused Bartomeu and his cohorts of selling their top talent (NEYMAR!!) and purchasing expensive individuals who have not been as productive as fans would have hoped in the domestic leagues.

Here, we are talking about Coutinho and Dembele, who together cost Barcelona more than 200 million euros, but presumably only have three goals between them (but then again, it is the coach whose refusing to rotate these players, although Dembele has suffered serious injury setbacks over the season)!

And let us not forget how old their midfield is, and this Iniesta is still keeping us in the dark about whether he is retiring or not. I think if he renews that contract, I will break something (I still have beef with him over his goal against Netherlands at that World Cup final btw).

Furthermore, Messi and L. Suarez are not getting any younger with both of them in their early 30s. I am sure they still have a lot of gas, but at that age and their level of competition, that gas runs out fast!

Anyway, I wish I could definitively claim that Barca’s glory days are over. But, that is not the case. All they need to do is improve on squad rotation, and avoid exhausting their players especially the older ones. Give Coutinho (and perhaps Dembele) more time away from Messi, and he will become a regular on the score sheet. They also need to utilize the other younger players during games to give them a more hands-on experience as well as allow them to create their own magic and learn through their own mistakes, the BARCA way!

(FYI: These youngsters played really well this weekend with most of the veteran players out and they won)

(I also wanted to say that I really miss Puyol)

Finished. Done. I’m satisfied now.

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BAYERN’S DECISIVE LEFT-WING SAVES THE DAY!

Easter Monday football was awesome, but Tuesday was even better with Champions League action where we had Sevilla FC going head to head with Bayern Munich. Sevilla put up a spirited fight against Bayern Munich in their first leg of their quarter-final Champions League draw. I am a Bayern Munich fan, and I take every opportunity I get to watch them play (Germany is my favorite footballing nation as you might have gathered from this article that I wrote). However, we (glorious Bayern fans) did not expect the kind of zeal the underdogs were bringing into this match. Sevilla did not give Bayern much space to control the ball, which is usually the latter team’s modus operandi.

From the get-go, Sevilla were in control of the game much to my surprise. They had some really impressive counters, and their speed was incredible. Their performance in that first half was why they deserved to score the first goal. I almost bit my tongue when Sarabia struck a powerful ball with his left to open the scoreline for the visitors. He had had an obvious opportunity a few minutes earlier but he missed. Luckily, he redeemed himself with his second attempt at goal.

It felt like Sevilla wouldn’t stop coming against Bayern, and I was beginning to think Sevilla might take the match (much to my dismay). Those feelings quickly evaporated once James Rodriguez got into the mix. Vidal had to come out of the game due to an injury, and Rodriguez was his replacement. Minutes into James’ entry into the game, and Bayern’s attitude changed, I could feel it. And, clearly, they could feel it too, because immediately after he came in there was a Bayern goal. A long pass from Bayern’s left wing (Ribery?) deflected off Navas, and went into the net, and we (glorious Bayern fans) all breathed a sigh of relief.

That left wing for Bayern Munchen is the epicenter of their attack. It was quite clear that much of their shots towards goal came from here, especially when Rafinha came in for Bernat. Rafinha showed more confidence in feeding Ribery on the left-wing from the mid-field than his predecessor, Bernat.

Thiago’s goal, Bayern’s second for the night, was also as a result of a decisive long ball towards goal from the home team’s left wing. Thiago caught on to Ribery’s long ball and headed it in into the back of the net. There were suggestions (mainly from one of the commentators) that the goal was as a result of Thiago’s header deflecting from the visitors’ captain, and thus, it should be considered an own-goal (Sevilla’s second of the match). It seemed that everyone ignored this sentiment and Thiago was credited with the goal.

It almost became automatic that the left-wing was where the ball towards goal would come from for the home side. If only Sevilla had taken notice of this and covered Ribery more fiercely especially in the second half. If they could just intersect the passes from Rafinha towards Ribery, they would be able to build up stronger counter attacks that emanated deep within their own half. If only! (Luckily, they did not, otherwise, I would be a sorely disappointed but still glorious Bayern fan).

And Heynckes as well as his men need to know this kind of predictability can harm their attack in the upcoming games in the CL, especially if they beat Sevilla next week and progress in the tournament (be careful, guys!!!!).

Bayern won the match, but credit to Sevilla for putting their best foot forward, and performing much better than people (glorious Bayern fans) would have expected. There is really not much hope for Sevilla after this in the Champions League, but the tide could turn next week.

Let’s wait and see.

PS: If you missed my comments after the match, you can catch them on youtube here.

THAT LIVERPOOL PERFORMANCE WILL LEAVE YOU SECOND-GUESSING YOUR ALLEGIANCE

That Liverpool game was everything!! At first, I was not going to watch it. PSG vs Real Madrid was on at the same time, and this is the game that everyone was talking about. Ronaldo vs Neymar/Mbappe/Cavani, people, what could be more exciting than this tantalizing clash of the titans? Turns out, Liverpool vs FC Porto, baby!!

I watched the RealvsPSG match for the first 10-12 minutes, and I kid you not I was getting bored. Plus, I was not really feeling Cavani on that Wednesday night, I just did not like seeing him on the screen for no apparent reason. Then, a small voice inside me told me to switch to the Liverpool game for just a few minutes then come back to this ‘main event’, hopefully, more refreshed. That small voice was like a calling! People, I never went back to that PSG game, and I do not regret it for a second! Liverpool was on fire, and if I wasn’t such a staunch Arsenal supporter, they would have converted me.

I’m talking about moves that could give a girl straight orgasms; goals that could give a healthy 26-year-old, heart palpitations, a game that moved so fast, there was hardly any time to breathe or blink, an intense coach who hardly sat for the entire match (I love Klopp’s theatrics on the sideline, they are always entertaining), a defensive wonderkid who is delicious to watch (and he gets better every game), and a midfielder who, for the life of me, has not let age define him. Yes, that was what the Reds brought to Porto on Valentine’s day. That and much more!

Let me begin with James Milner, this midfielder who seemingly re-invents himself every season, nay, every match! Every time I see him play, I make fun of him for being too old to be on this particular team. I know that is kind of mean, but in football years, Milner is ancient! I first heard about him in 2010 when he was moving to Manchester City from Aston Villa where he had spent two years. Before that, I came to find out, he had been in Newcastle, preceded by a loan transfer to Aston Villa, which was after his first stay in Newcastle who had bought the then 18-year-old from Leeds United. In short, he’s been playing professional football since I was a pre-teen, and my head just cannot get around that!

But, here is the funny thing about Milner that leaves me in awe. He is doing what normal 32-year-old professional footballers cannot do. He’s changing roles on the field on a regular basis making him one of the most versatile footballers some of us have ever come across. Last season, he was playing in the left-back position; this season, he’s playing as a midfielder! How absolutely amazing is that?

Another fun fact, he currently holds the record for the most assists in this Champions League season. He set up two of the five goals scored by Liverpool on Wednesday taking him to the top of the assist table. Imagine, he’s ahead of players like Kevin De Bruyne! Wow.

That’s not all! Milner (alongside Henderson) clearly dominated that midfield and controlled that game. He showed so much tenacity and maturity that promulgated throughout the Liverpool team. Milner was not allowing any of his teammates to make mistakes, not on this day!

Milner was not the only one showing maturity on such a big stage on Wednesday. Mo Salah, the King of Egypt, demonstrated that exact sentiment throughout his game, and he was so impressive to watch. I find the way this man moves with the ball, dribbling across defenders, and linking the ball up with teammates, at times who are in his blind spots, so enticing. Like, I cannot resist him when he is on the field.

And did you see his goal? This was one of those orgasmic, heart palpitation causing moments I was talking about earlier. That goal wasn’t just magical, it was pure art! How can he have such composure to score a goal like that? To me, it’s just mind-blowing! Can Salah do anything wrong at this point? I doubt it!

Firmino was also on point in this game, and what a spectacular goal that was. I loved his celebration after he scored, it was so boyish (I also like his teeth, but this is a story for another place). And, I have to be honest. I fell in love with the Firmino-Salah combination in their match against Southampton last Sunday. They played off each other so well at the front during this game, and it was exciting to see them doing that again in the Porto game.

The duo seems to have so much chemistry, and so much fun playing together and scoring amazing goals. That is why it was so surprising to learn that they are not best friends. Guess who is Salah’s closest friend at Liverpool?

I’ll tell you. It’s the man who completely destroyed Porto on Wednesday. Sadio Mane, baby!! What a performance! What a way to seal the destiny for your team in the Champions League. Mane’s three goals against Porto is another testament of how mature, and composed these boys have become under Klopp, and how precise their game is. It also shows the breadth of talent within Liverpool, wow!

Of course, Mane’s performance on Valentine’s day was also testament to the player’s self-belief and self-awareness. Just a couple of weeks ago people were talking about how he sucked because his form had nose-dived a little. But, now look at him, scoring hat-tricks in one of the biggest competitions in the world! That is truly inspirational, and Liverpool is a wonderful team for giving him the space and the encouragement he needed to recover and reach these new heights.

So, yeah! I am basically in love with everything about Liverpool including their coach and their orange kits. It was the perfect match to watch on Valentine’s, and I hope performances such as those keep coming from Liverpool. (Don’t worry, I have not converted yet. Once a Gunner, always a Gunner, but a little flirting with a rival never hurt nobody).

Subscribe, and leave your comments about the game below. You can also follow me here, here, here, and here.

Have amazing, safe, and love-filled weekends, people!!

WILL TOTTENHAM EVER STOP SHOCKING ME?

Oh, my! Oh, my! Oh, my! Who saw Tottenham’s performance on Tuesday night coming? Who? Certainly not me! I spent an entire blog post belittling Spurs before their match against Arsenal last weekend, AND their Champions League match against Juventus this week (you can catch that post here). Little did I know how truly resilient Spurs can be.

I had to eat my own words after they completely outclassed Arsenal on Saturday, and now, I have to do the same thing again after their breathtaking performance on Tuesday night. Before this game, even before the week began, I was so sure that Spurs had no chance against the Italian side. On such a big stage? Pshhhh! There was no way they were going to hack it (I have to admit that some of the negativity stemmed from them beating us on Saturday). Boy, was I wrong! And, boy, was I glad to be so wrong.

For me, the match was not only entertaining, dramatic, and full-blown intellectual (the way Spurs was passing that ball was just incredible), it showed a different class to Tottenham. These boys are poised, organized, confident, mature even, and all this is evident in that amazing comeback from 2 goals down to a draw. This has not happened at the Juve Stadium since 2011, and for Tottenham (of all the teams) to be able to do that was just mind-blowing!

When Higuain scored the first goal (in the 2nd minute, mind you), I was like ‘Here comes the bloodbath!’, and then he scored the second goal, and for me, that game was over before Spurs could even blink. Two goals in less than 10 minutes of the first half of the first leg of the knockout stage of the Champions League, Tottenham was clearly way out of its depth here! To make it worse, they are the underdogs, they have less experience compared to Juventus across all competitions, Juventus have Buffon who is a matchmaker on his own, and Juve’s defense (BBC) was until most recently considered unbeatable, absolutely impenetrable! Talk about having all the odds stacked against Tottenham.

And yet, Spurs continued to play their hearts out. They kept attacking and they kept coming, and Juventus kept making mistakes. Higuain had two amazing opportunities to widen the score in the first half, one of them being a penalty that he missed right before halftime. Can you believe that? He and Mandzukic also missed seemingly straightforward goals in the early minutes of the second half. What were they thinking?

A special shout out to Kane for being so unafraid in front of goal. Did you see his goal? Did you see how he drew Buffon in, then darted from him, leaving the veteran goalkeeper completely floored, and then striking the ball into the net with his left foot? He did it so unassumingly, you wouldn’t believe that he had just done that to THE Gianluigi Buffon! I mean the cheek of it all!

That goal was special; that goal was the first goal that Juventus have conceded in 2018! That goal, along with the Eriksen one, could shove Buffon into retirement, people! There are already calls for the legendary goalkeeper to pack up his gloves and leave after his ‘not so good’ performance against Tottenham on Tuesday.

Personally, I do not think Buffon was solely to blame for the calamity that befell Juve this Tuesday. Tottenham ARE that good, and it was wrong for so many of us (I’m pointing at myself here) to under-estimate them!

And the beauty of this match was how every Tottenham player contributed immensely to that successful comeback. I’m talking about the likes of Dembele, who hands down, controlled that mid-field and single-handedly set the tempo for that entire game. He made incredible passes forward, he stole the ball, he dribbled, he tackled, he created chances, restarting lost ones, and he linked well with the others. He..was..UNSTOPPABLE!

Dele Alli was also quite impressive, mainly because he was absolutely instrumental in both goals. His possession was not as clear-cut as fans would have hoped, but, for me, he showed a bit more maturity than usual (in other words, I’m glad I’m not spending my post-Valentine’s day calling him out on his diving antics again).

The Spurs’ defense was a bit shaky from the start, but I liked how Sanchez continued to remain calm even with all the pressure. I feel like Tottenham fans are making too much unnecessary noise about Sanchez here. He’s been good so far, give the boy a chance (as I secretly hope he is your weak link and causes you to tumble out of the running for the top four spot in the EPL #COYG)!

One Tottenham player who will not be happy with his performance on Tuesday night is Serge Aurier. It was just a bad night for him, although, it is turning out to be a series of bad nights for him. Free loan transfer, anyone?

But that was a beautiful game, a wonderful show of sportsmanship, and I CANNOT WAIT for the return leg. It is going to be absolutely awesome, and I cannot believe that I am saying this, but I really hope Tottenham go through. Chances are they will, but this is football, and I know Juve will put up a strong fight! Good luck to both teams!!

What did you love about the TottenhamVsJuventus game? Leave your comments below and you can also follow me here, here, here, and here!

TOTTENHAM FANS-ARE YOU READY? ARE YOU REALLY READY?

I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of a Tottenham fan right now, especially after last night. So many problems in such a short span of time! Woi! First, Tottenham is playing against Arsenal this afternoon, and not just any Arsenal, or the Arsenal of old. This is a renewed, re-energized, allow me to say, RE-BIRTHED Arsenal, and after the Gunners’ exhilarating performance against Everton(5-1 baby!!) last weekend, Spurs need to bring their A-game this afternoon.

But, this is Arsenal, and a great performance is not always forthcoming (I swear I die a little every time Arsenal loses, but this is what love is, together through pain and joy). That coupled with the fact that Petr Cech will be missing in action today (Ospina just does not do it for me), and Kane is in amazing form and still, the season’s lead top scorer could give Tottenham the exact ammunition they need to obliterate our chances of a top-four finish. I do not expect to see much diving from the likes of Alli and Kane, owing to the magnitude of this game, but if there is, I hope they are both red-carded (fat chance!!).

Anyway, moving on to the second point on why Spurs fans should be cowering in their boots at this very moment, Juventus!! It is going to take a miracle for the Tottenham boys to beat Juventus in the first leg of their Champions League match. I mean going by what I saw yesterday, that defense is crazy and Gianluigi Buffon is even crazier. Fiorentina brought their all to that match and dominated almost the entire first half, yet nothing came of it!

It also seemed like luck was not with La Viola yesterday with their penalty appeal being denied after it was accepted five minutes before. The penalty was initially awarded because Dias’ cross made contact with Chiellini’s outstretched arm. However, the penalty was revoked five minutes later, when the ref came to the conclusion that Gil Dias was offside when he crossed the ball. The messed up thing is that replays clearly indicate that Dias was not offside at all!

To make matters worse, guess who scored the first goal for Juventus? One man, Bernadeschi, touted as the most hated former Fiorentina player ever! From the moment he signed to Juventus from Fiorentina, he was regarded as a traitor and a backstabber. This was his first match against his former side since his signing, and his former fans let him have it from the minute he stepped on that pitch yesterday. So when Juventus was awarded a freekick after he was felled by a Fiorentina defender, he had no reservations about taking that free kick and netting it in. (Italians have drama for days….)Yaani, this was not the night for Fiorentina. And did you see that solo Higuain run that led to Juventus second goal? Talk about a counter attack beautifully executed! Wow…

So, let me put this into perspective for you loyal Spurs fans. Congratulations for making it to the last 16 in the Champions League, but from here on out, it’s going to be a bloodbath! Your first game in the last 16 will be against a team that is the top team in Serie A, who have only conceded one goal in their last 16 matches, and that one goal was in December! Furthermore, you are going against a team whose goalkeeper has just capped 500 appearances for his team and is considered to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Do not forget that their charismatic striker has just re-discovered his spark, and he’s going all in for his team! Plus, the drama that will ensue in that game, woi!!

I am rooting for you guys, I really am. But, the way things are turning out, it’s going to be a long weekend for you guys, and an extra long week.

I wish you the very best of luck in both games, and take heart!!!