In a compelling Champions League matchday, Real Madrid manage to just save face against Schalke, while PSG finally grow up at Chelsea.
Real Stave Off Schalke
Well, that wasn’t supposed to go down quite like it did. Heading into the return leg of Real Madrid and Schalke’s Round of 16 tie, all was as expected. Before the match even kicked off, hosts Real Madrid, were two goals to the good over the visitors, Schalke. A standard Santiago Bernabeu performance was all that was required from the Blancos on this occasion. Just do the deed, and we can all go home as if none of this happened. However, as has often occurred in the bowels of the Champions League knockout stages, a convenient night quickly and unbelievably turned to a meltdown.
Schalke’s resilience on Tuesday cannot be overstated. With every passing tally from the hosts, the Germans swiftly responded with their own counterpunch. As the minutes of the second half waned on, the mood of the Bernabeu felt under siege by the Royal Blues. It was almost as if the Merengues were being held hostage in a twisted Saw-like game with Jigsaw draped in blue and every tunnel led to an unforeseen dead end. They actually made me, you, and their fans totally forget that they had given up three goals.
As Iker Casillas allowed strike after strike pass his person without the slightest hint of a touch, the collective gulps of the Madridistas around the ground were obviously leading to an ultimate regurgitation of all the strife that had been building up through a downtrodden Liga spell in which they’ve relinquished their spot atop the league to Barcelona.
But then the obvious forsook the grandeur of the moment. Despite losing 3-4, Real were able to hold on to the tie, somehow. In search of one more goal, and the one that would take the visitors through, Huntelaar, Howedes, Mane and company were unable to evade Casillas, Pepe, or Raphael Varane one last time. The key wasn’t turned when it most needed to be for Schalke.
Conversely, the door was shut just in time for Real Madrid. It often works that way though, doesn’t it? You could call it the primary value of experience: being able to locate the weapon just before the killer has sunken his own knife into your chest. As inspiring as Schalke were on the night, Real did what had to be done; to survive, to flourish, to wear the badge of champions.
PSG Come of Age
They pushed and pushed and pushed. In the 31st minute, Zlatan Ibrahimovic — PSG’s best player and first-leg absentee — was given his marching orders for dangerously colliding on a 50/50 ball with Blues midfielder Oscar. If there was ever a complementary death nail issued in a football match, this was it.
But even a man down, they pushed.
Although they were the crippled visitors, the Parisians played with a fervor unseen from their previous performances among Europe’s elite. As Edinson Cavani repeatedly found space beyond Chelsea’s sluggish defensive partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill, a goal felt imminent. They pushed, and then it came…at the other end of the pitch.
Cahill’s 81st minute goal further banged in that unfair, resentful death nail. Surely that was it. Nevertheless, they kept pushing.
When David Luiz drew PSG level in the 86th, the night finally felt like it was going with the grain. Such an enthralling encounter needed extra-time, and the Brazilian’s late equalizer ensured it.
Luiz’s goal was a pent-up sneeze. The release of something burrowing deep inside that’s pulled everything deep within. All of the frustration from all of the hate, criticism, and ridicule, self-imposed or otherwise, that’s accumulated over the last year for the Brazilian. From the seven goal German thrashing in Brazil to the eye-rolls over his big-money transfer in June, David Luiz’s last ten or so months has been a churn. It’s hard to say plainly that Luiz deserves this gratifying release-of-a-goal on merit. But that’s only to say that the notion of deserving any plaudit is suspect at best. Either we all deserve something or nobody does. And when you recall that sullen, broken young man in Belo Horizonte shedding his skin because had just let down his entire homeland, there’s only one correct light in which to view his goal.
But as far as gratification goes, Thiago Silva’s showing might’ve took the lead. After giving away the penalty that resulted in Chelsea’s go-ahead extra-time goal, the captain won the tie for the Parisians with a succinctly placed header in the 114th minute. You could say the goat-to-G.O.A.T. idiom fits here, but you’d be kidding yourself. Silva was and is as integral a part of PSG’s machine as Zlatan or even Laurent Blanc. Without the skipper, the comeback doesn’t happen, along with the two-legs, and the CL Round of 16.
But hold on. Some scrutiny should fly towards the Blues here. In truth, Chelsea got exactly what they deserved over the two-legs; especially on Wednesday. After repeatedly being in pole position to move on throughout the 120 minutes, Chelsea coughed up a glorious chance at a treble in a gloriously unhinged fashion.
After the match, Jose Mourinho agreed.
“When you can’t defend against corners and play against 10 men at home, you don’t deserve to win.” said Mourinho.
You can’t put all of the blame on the Portuguese boss. Chelsea were generally lethargic and uninspiring through both legs. But like Mourinho, they did what they could using intangible tactics like baiting the officials and attempting to physically intimidating the opposition. But this time, it failed. Well, it worked until the big Swede got sent-off; then it failed. Because we laud the Special One so brightly when he gets these things dead-on, we have to look his way when he falls on his face. Or, more appropriately, when he gets pushed on it.
Bayern Clobber Shakhtar
With two of the more seizure-inducing games of this year’s CL in the bank, it was actually quite nice to just take in a good ol’ fashioned ass whooping. There’s no better nation to administer such a beating these days than Germany, specifically Bayern Munich.
As with any “A-Lot-to-Love” destruction, this one got an early start. By minute three, Shakhtar defender Oleksandr Kucher had been sent-off for a foul on Mario Gotze in the box resulting in a successful Thomas Muller penalty kick. By minute 34, the Germans were two goals up thanks to a strike from Jerome Boateng. Franck Ribery, Muller, Holger Badstuber, Robert Lewandowski, and Mario gotze added five more by the time the final whistle blew. 7-0 Bayern.
The biggest extraction from this encounter has little to do with Bayern’s outstanding attack or Shakhtar’s unfulfilled-yet-still-impressive millennial CL endeavor. We all knew that this outlandish drubbing was a possibility. But if this tie says anything about the next couple of months, it’s that there’s one side that looks fresher and more confident than any other in the field, and that’s Bayern. While so many other giants have expended barrels of blood and sweat over the early rounds, Pep Guardiola’s team have been silently excellent. Such pacing is the key to everything in championship football.