Rabat - From the quarterfinals onwards, the Champions League is sure to be drama of the highest proportions!
Rabat – From the quarterfinals onwards, the Champions League is sure to be drama of the highest proportions!
Whoever thought of calling this tournament “Champions League” was right: it is, to the utter excitement and delight of fans and curious viewers, a battle of titans.
From what could have been an otherwise-mundane mid-week, the games bring fans a fleeting–though seemingly infinite–bliss.
This week was no different, adding to the most unforgettable moments of the game, the legendary memories that we’ll speak about for years and generations to come. There is no better way of putting it—great Champions League matches have an incredible way of infusing the ordinary and the familiar with a kind of jubilation brought on by very few experiences.
Zidane is on Fire and Ronaldo is Back: Who can stop them?
Tuesday night was magical–even by Zidane’s boys’ own stellar standards. That majestic win against the ‘Old Lady’ will surely go down in history as one of Real Madrid’s most mouthwatering victories. Even NBA star LeBron James weighed in: “Are you not entertained?” he tweeted after Ronaldo’s breathtaking bicycle kick.
Guided by the boisterous winning spirit that the team has carried since they humiliatingly routed Neymar and his mates, the effectiveness that Zidane’s boys brought to the field paid out in the very first minutes of the game. By the third minute, Ronaldo, comfortably situated inside Juventus’ box, received a pass from the elegant Isco; the Portuguese, clinical as ever, scored what is so far his fastest Champions League goal.
After conceding his first goal, Juventus pressed high, kept the ball, and crowded the midfield, making Real appear more like Manchester United at times. But to no avail: the Varane-Ramos wall was spotless and impassable. 1-0 for the first half, but Allegri’s boys–given their superior control and possession at this stage–could still dream of a tie, perhaps even victory.
But their equalizer never came, in spite of Dybala’s numerous runs in the midfield and Douglas Costas’s many feints and crosses…
Instead, Juventus received Ronaldo’s best night of the campaign: that bicycle kick goal! Buffon was completely helpless, watched the ball fly into his goal. He appeared to be complaining to the football gods, asking them what he’d done to have to face Ronaldo in what is most probably his last Champions League appearance. Buffon will never forget Cristiano Ronaldo—the Portuguese has been an absolute nightmare to the Italian!
Incredulous, shocked, at a loss with the absolute beauty that his veteran center-forward had just scored, Zidane put his hands on his head, unable to adequately celebrate. How do you even celebrate that kind of goal? “What the heck have I just seen?” the Frenchman’s facial expression seemed to suggest.
“It is one of the most beautiful goals in the history of the game,” Zidane said shortly after the match, adding: “That is what Cristiano Ronaldo can do; that is why he stands out from the others.”
Wonderful, daring, impeccable (and I did not think I’d be using such words to describe Ronaldo this season), the Portuguese’s outrageously delightful move stunned the Italians fans so much so that they gave him a standing ovation, the ultimate tribute for an otherworldly performance. The moment bore striking similarities with Real Madrid’s own fans’ acknowledgement of Ronaldinho’s devastating skills.
“All-time great overhead kick,” the Telegraph said, of Madrid’s second goal. The accolade was obviously overstated, it seemed to overlook the fact that many goals like this have been scored before. But the exaggeration is pardonable, for brilliance has that eerie ability of erasing history: it imposes itself on the mind and, in the heat of the moment, obscures everything else.
And by the time Marcelo scored the third, it was all done for the Italians. “Now, it will be impossible,” Juventus Coach Massimiliano Allegri said after the game, meaning that his team can forget about the rest of this year’s campaign.
Madrid did it again. They crucified a disciplined and frightening Juventus that many thought could perform the miracle that the Neymar-led Paris boys failed to achieve. Many argued before the game that Juventus had all the resources and the required stamina to end Zidane’s dream of salvaging his season. “Allegri and his boys will not allow a second humiliation in a row,” some suggested.
But whoever said that logics applied to Real Madrid in the Champions League?
The question now is: Will they win a third in a row?
Kloop’s Tactical Flexibility Thrashes Manchester City
Kloop demanded bravery and adventure from his players before the Manchester City test. The German coach, quite reasonably, knew that in spite of the exquisite and impressive play his front three (Mané, Salah, Firmino), have exhibited throughout the season, it takes more than quality to outshine a team with City’s footing. To clobber England’s best team, Anfield needed a wild and beastly force of will.
“If you are brave, if you are ready to make mistakes, if you are ready to enjoy the work and your attitude is at the highest level, if your character is at the highest level, then you have a chance. And that is the only thing I need,” Kloop encouraged, hinting that defeating “the best team in Europe” required as much skill as dogged determination and, more importantly, an unquenchable desire to outperform yourself.
To beat “a team that runs through you like a warm knife through butter,” the German continued, “You need to use the spaces… Be there, don’t wait, be lively.”
And lively they were. Their invincible instincts tamed an otherwise-excellent side, facilitating a first-half rampage of 3 goals in 30 minutes of play. Led by an immaculate midfield and an unstoppable front three, Liverpool looked indomitable at every turn—even their usually-unimpressive defense had a glorious aura of impassibility.
Salah, injured, may have left the pitch earlier than expected; but it was his imperious left foot and his unperturbed composure in the face of City’s threatening squad that propelled Liverpool towards what Anfield can remember as its most momentous European victory in a decade. And although Firmino did not score, his boyish enthusiasm and his tireless contributions were just as important.
2-0 down after Chamberlain’s stunning thunderbolt at the 20th minute, Kloop could have told his boys to defend, to revert to a Mourinho-inspired humdrum way of playing, to focus on keeping a clean sheet rather than looking for another goal.
But such a move would be unlike Kloop: he revels in offensive and beautiful football, which is what he might have meant when he said that the match against City was “an opportunity for football.” And it was, despite City’s wanting first half.
Kloop’s strategy has always been based on a forward-looking philosophy that advocates stifling and suffocating your opponents by subjecting them to a plethora of attacks and counterattacks. And the German coach got his reward when, after thirty minutes down, Sadio Mané brought the third goal home, upon receiving a royally magnificent cross from Salah.
A calamitous night for Pep Guardiola; a moment of unrivaled elation for Jürgen Kloop; a stellar memory for Liverpool fans: But make no mistake about it, this tie is not tied yet.
Beating Premier League teams 4-0 or more, though challenging a task, is not impossible for City’s squad. But again, this is the Champions League, and it is Kloop’s Liverpool.
In the other two games of the week, things went as expected. Barça kept being Barça by vanquishing Roma 4-1, while Bayern, although they struggled for it, showed the vibrant and perpetually energetic Sevilla that the game need not respect the veterans. But with 2-1 in the first leg, Bayer should be careful, for the Spaniards can come back–just ask Mourinho and Man United!
So we almost know who will make it to the next round. But hey, this is football: it thrives on uncertainty and implausibility.
Guardiola said that his side can come back, that he is unreservedly sure that City will give their fans an incredible show. We’ll find out soon enough.
As for us, watchers and fans alike, it is this mindset of shattering the most insurmountable obstacles, of keeping hope alive until the last whistle is blown, that draws us to the incomparable beauty of the beautiful game.