Champions League midweek action is highlighted by Messi magic and English failure.
Arsenal Euro Misery
Although AS Monaco dropped the home second leg of their Round of 16 Champions League tie against Arsenal by two goals to nil, the Ligue 1 club still managed to advance to the quarterfinals 3-3 on away goals. Arsenal did make a match of it on Tuesday, however, by dominating a reserved Monaco side throughout the 90 minutes. A comeback even felt engaged as Aaron Ramsey knocked Arsenal’s second past Danijel Subasic with ten minutes remaining. But alas, Monaco’s first-leg advantage proved too much for the London side to overcome.
The gulf between Arsenal’s domestic and European fortunes couldn’t be bigger. Just this past weekend, the Gunners moved within one point of second place Manchester City in the Premier League. In a title race long thought to be done and dusted, it seems to be Arsenal who seem most likely to wage a late — and admittedly improbable — run at league leaders Chelsea rather City.
With such positivisms about league play surrounding the Emirates, it’s a wonder that the Gunners’ midweek blues have resurfaced once again. The Monaco debacle means that Arsenal have failed to make the CL’s final eight for five seasons running. Nearly ten years ago, Arsene Wenger’s side were challenging Barcelona in the CL final. Ever since that day, European conquest has been a red herring for Arsenal. While one of Wenger’s claim-to-fames is leading the Gunners to — what will be in May — 18 straight CL qualifications, is it possible that their tepid displays somewhat negate the plaudit altogether? That’s hard to definitively maintain, but it’s certainly a thought worth considering. For Wenger, and anyone trying to accomplish things.
Messi Magic Trumps Hart Heroics
Barcelona finished the job against Manchester City on Wednesday with a 1-0 victory. A lone Ivan Rakitic goal was all that was needed after the Catalans’ first-leg 2-1 win at the Etihad. This signals the eighth straight year that Barcelona have qualified for the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Though Wednesday’s result might feel foregone some time down the road, the audience at the Camp Nou will no doubt remember a different sentiment. Yes, Barcelona controlled the majority of the tie, but not flippantly so. Both sides attacked with fervor, intent on breaching one another’s goalmouth before the night’s end. The difference, unsurprisingly perhaps, was the personnel. While City have a stellar squad filled with high-dollar talents, they still have a distance to go before they can be taken seriously in top-level European competition.
On the attacking side of the pitch, City really struggled to create clear-cut chances. Most opportunities were found down the right flank through Jesus Navas and James Milner, but neither player could provide anything substantial to their efforts. It was on the defensive side where City thrived, if only singularly. While that much is isn’t wholly shocking — considering their opponent, they were always going to get more chances to impress on the defensive side of the ball — the heightened play of goalkeeper Joe Hart kinda was.
Still only 27, Hart has had a decorated performance history. He’s been notably inconsistent throughout his years, and has rarely ever matched up his ability with his situation. But on Wednesday he was electric between the sticks. In a match that could’ve ended 6-or-7-nil had Hart not taking a Super Mario Bros’ star beforehand, this should serve as a unique feather in the Englishman’s cap for the remainder of his career. It’s not often that you stand across from this Barca team in a do-or-die game, period. It’s even less often that you leave said match with dignity.
Then there’s Messi. The Argentine may not have scored on the day, but his influence was immeasurable. Playmaking from various positions all over the park, Messi cut City’s defense to shreds with his domineering runs and flawless circulation of the ball. There was even one point where Messi’s former tutor Pep Guardiola, watching from the stands in full Cule mode, shook his head in total adoration and amazement. It was right after Messi did this. After all of these years, the one man, Guardiola, who was exclusively everpresent in the days when Messi fully learned to harness his greatness; even that guy couldn’t believe what he was seeing. That’s what Messi does to people — to us. He astonishes us to the point where our emotions and motor functions lose track of themselves. It’s all a chain reaction born from beholding the greatest footballer ever.
Juve Flex In Germany
Juventus made light work of Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday in a 3-0 drubbing at Signal Iduna Park. Carlos Tevez laid waste to the Germans’ defense, scoring two and assisting one. An additional goal from Alvaro Morata was enough to seal Dortmund’s ill-fate, as the Italians advanced on 5-1 aggregate.
Last week, PSG had a coming of age moment against Chelsea. It was the first time that they faced near-insurmountable odds against an elite team and came out on the winning end. It was a coming-out party; an announcement that the money bags were no longer simply bouncing checks, but actually bearing fruit. Like the Parisians, Juventus have faced up with their contemporaries numerous times over the past few seasons. Each time they’ve failed, even amidst such favorable circumstances as a Europa League semifinal against Benfica last season with a rare home final on the line. So often recently, Juve have fallen short of what we’d come to expect of the classic Old Lady. This time, they stood up and puffed their chests out.
The difference is, Juve are already legends. Because PSG are such a green club — founded in 1970 — means we all — even the club’s most diehard supporters — are experiencing their introduction into the bigtime. The same bigtime that Juve have a longstanding time share in. Therefore, for the Turin-based club, this victory represents less of a coming of age and more of a reclamation of prominence. With the form of their best players spiking (Tevez, Arturo Vidal), as well as newer discoveries (Morata, Roberto Pereyra), this is perhaps the best chance Juve have had to do real damage in the CL since the Conte era first began. They’ve dominated Italy, and they’ve taken their bumps in Europe; now’s the time to either take that step forward, or relinquish that sub-elite status to one of the continent’s resurgent sides like Wolfsburg or Sevilla.