Of Power and Tradition: Champions League in the time of Pandemic
The Champions league this season was nothing short of unconventional. With the effects of the Covid-19 on football around the globe, the UEFA Champions league wasn’t spared. But eventually it came back and it did not disappoint at all. Cheri Mukiiri takes a look at each fixture post-lock down.
Round of 16
The Champions league returned in the beginning of August after its long Hiatus. It was a confusing tie because some round of 16 matches had been finished, with Atalanta and Leipzig surprisingly proceeding to the Quarters. But Man City, Madrid, Barcelona, Napoli, Lyon, Juventus, Bayern and Chelsea still had to play to advance to the round of eight. This round had some mouthwatering clashes.
Manchester City 2- 1 Real Madrid (agg : 4-2)
The Spanish giants traveled to the Etihad a goal behind and without their captain after he was sent off in the first leg. Consequently, Militao had to replace him in that back four and he was perceived to be the weak link. Little did they know. The game started with intensity particularly in City’s press. It would prove crucial as Raphael Varane made a mess of a poor pass from Thibaut Courtois and Jesus capitalized to give Sterling an easy chance which he took to put the Manchester club ahead. If Madridistas thought that was the last of the mistakes, they were wrong as the midfield and defense continued to give away possession in crucial positions forcing Thibaut Courtois into making crucial saves. These saves would prove pivotal as Rodrygo put in a sumptuous cross straight onto Benzema’s head in the 28th minute to put them back within a goal of the Cityzens. The rest of the half was more of Madrid mistakes and De Bruyne’s dominance in the midfield and so to the start of the first half. That is, until Varane absolutely sent Jesus through on goal granted through a tight angle with one of the worst defensive headers yet. From then on, there was only going to be one winner. A Varane disasterclass and a De bryne masterclass made it an interesting watch.
Juventus 2-1 Lyon (agg: 2-2)
The Old Lady returned to Champions League action looking to overturn a Lyon 1-0 lead but couldn’t have gone off to the worst start giving away a dodgy penalty in the 12th minute coolly converted by Memphis Depay. But at the other end the referee gave another penalty for fun to give the home side or rather Cr7Fc a hold in the game before the Goat converted an outside the box stunner to put them ahead. But with the score tie and Lyon having that away goal, Juve needed one more goal but after Bernadaschi’s open goal miss it just wasn’t looking like their day and it wasn’t. Barely 24 hours later, Maurizio Sarri was shown the door and Andre Pirlo appointed in his place. Rumours also started surfacing that Ronaldo could be heading out.
Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (agg: 4-2)
Barcelona came into this game confident to go through with an away goal. However some of their La Liga performances during the restart were enough to give Napoli concrete interest. It was cagy for a bit with Napoli missing a chance in the opening minutes. But Lenglet managed to direct his header into the net in the 10th minute. The game became one sided at that point, before Messi pulled a Messi and scored a stunning goal to put his team in the driving seat of the contest. Now Messi was doing things for fun and soon after got at the end of De Jong’s wonderful ball to score but he seemed to have handled and so VAR ruled it out. Soon after, a painful coming together between Koulibaly and Messi yielded a penalty for the Catalans. Which notably, Messi left for Suarez and was tying his shoes when it was scored. A goal from Napoli seconds from Half time wasn’t enough for any form of a comeback.
Bayern 4-1 Chelsea (agg; 7-1)
Most predictable game in this round and Bayern only left me wondering why not more? It was a classic attack verses defense. With Chelsea managing to break that high line but with Tammy’s ball holding abilities weren’t able to do anything concrete with said possession. Given what we know now, Chelsea did well to concede only four on the night but became the second London Club to concede seven goals from Bayern this season. What a stat! Yet Bayern were only in second gear here.
This is where all the magic started. World Cup type, one game knockout ties and they didn’t disappoint at all.
Psg 2-1 Atalanta.
The score line barely tells the story. Atalanta came into this on the back of an impressive Champions league run thus far. And with a record 98 goals scored in the Serie A they were surely a force to be reckoned with. BUT without their star forward Ilicic because of his cheating partner, they would have to make do with an unconventional forward line. PSG on the other hand were looking to win the UEFA Champions league for the first time but would have to do with Mbappe on the bench. The game started real open and fast but it was clear that Atalanta would defend man for man which quickly showed as Neymar got through on goal and missed both times. At the other end Zapata played a beautiful dummy for Pasalic who curved the ball past the PSG keeper for 1-0. But this surprisingly didn’t change the trajectory of the game as Neymar continued to nutmeg people in midfield and the yellow cards just started flowing. Icardi and Sarabia were doing nothing and so the injured manager had to take a chance on his injured player and it completely showed. The dummy’s, the turns. The masterclass that is Kylian Mbappe. But surprisingly he wouldn’t be the star to inspire a comeback as Choupo-Moting, previously relegated with Stoke, provided a key pass and scored the winning goal to send his side into the semis. Atalanta now with so many injuries and yellow cards had no answers and crashed out but still had a respectable campaign.
Atletico Madrid 1-2 RB Leipzig
Without star man Timo Werner, now of Chelsea, few people gave Leipzig a chance (me included). After Atletico kicked out defending Champions, they looked good but had a lot of key players out and it really showed. Out run all over the pitch, it was looking like a Nagelsmann masterclass and it was made tangible by Olmo in the 50th minute. 8 minutes later, Simeone brought on Felix and the impact was almost identical to that of Mbappe at PSG the night before. His touch and positional intelligence is undefeated and in my opinion he is worth his price tag. He managed to win the penalty and the tide was turning. He converted it to draw level with 20minutes of normal time to play. Atletico seemed to back off and played their football and it cost them when Adam’s shot was deflected into the net in the 88th minute to all but seal a first Champions league semi-final for the 33 year old manager and his boys. And a deserved one for that matter.
Barcelona 2-8 Bayern
I felt like it was coming. With all their transfer madness and Messi’s comments after the Osasuna game and the evident toxicity towards Bartimeu and the board it was only a matter of time before these payers fell apart. But this was more than a meltdown.
Por imágenes cómo estás, Messi no puede llevar la cinta de capitán de ningún equipo. Con 45 minutos por delante así estaba el argentino. pic.twitter.com/NXwrLKIUd4
— Jose del Valle (@delvalle_ESPN) August 15, 2020
To be fair, both teams started equally badly. With Bayern players scoring in both nets within 10minutes, it was going to be a high scoring game but no one thought that high. Messi repeatedly the ball into the box towards the far post thrice but none of his team mates could get a touch but after the third one the chances were over for Barcelona. Ter Stegen was hell-bent on playing out from the back even if he clearly didn’t have the facilities for that. Bayern got so many chances from mistakes and those aren’t even the ones they scored. Perisic opened the floodgates in the 21st minute after a Semedo mistake and a beautiful pass from Gnabry. 6 minutes later Gnabry got himself his goal after hitting the ball cleanly after a bounce. After 4 minutes, Muller was at the end of Kimmich’s cross to get his second of the night and Bayern’s 4th. It was the 30th minute Barcelona surprisingly managed to close its legs enough to go in only 4-1 down. A first in their history
I stan Cristiano so bad but seeing Messi like this was honestly so sad.
After the first half, the only was up, right? Wrong. Despite pulling one back through Suarez the horror show resumed. One full back set up the other expertly in the form of Davies and Kimmich. The Davies run, the Kimmich finish. Is there anything this team didn’t have? It seemed to be over when Bayern decided to bring their bench players. Actually not entirely their player. I was honestly confused that Coutinho came on considering in the Premier league loanee’s can’t play against their parent clubs. But si Coutinho was loaned for the precise reason that ameisha. Evidently not. Crossed the ball to Lewandowski, who was offside, and the number 9 can’t miss at the moment. He was offside but no one’s complaining. Coutinho then proceeded to wrap up his brace against his club. 8-2 the final score, last time I saw that scoreline well…
Man City 1-3 Lyon.
In the words of KDB himself, different year, same stuff. City got arguably the weakest team left in the competition. They had never got won this cup in their 12 year history. Pep had never won it with them. The stage was set. Surely, a 7th placed team in a ‘farmers’ league’ wouldn’t ruin it for them. Absolutely correct, they ruined it for themselves. Pep’s experimenting in big games proved to be fatal. Ederson in no man’s land for the first goal by Cornet. But they looked so flimsy in midfield, they were outdone by long balls and counter attacks. An overall invisible performance in the first half which they only came into in the last five mins. Joao Cancelo was their most attacking player; that said something.
Second half was much better, more incisive play particularly when Mahrez came on for Fernandinho in the early stages of the first half. In my opinion the game was also crying for Foden but it is what it is. In the 68th minute, KDB who pulled a Jesus and disappeared for 60mins scored an equaliser and then it was looking like the English club were heading to the last 4. They celebrated like it was a winning goal But at this point with KDB getting into his stride it was looking like a comeback-to-be. Emphasis on the ‘to-be’ but I guess it wasn’t because after a series of controversial events, substitute Dembele put the French Club ahead with 10 to go. Where do I even start with this. Okay first of all, that’s always a foul on Laporte by Dembele. Secondly it wasn’t offside cause it was a dummy by Cornet. Lastly for me, hio sweeper keeper achia Neur, Ederson can’t be coming that far from goal. Stay in your box and make yourself bigger. If you do what he did, even if you manage to save it it’s never going over the bar, but that’s just my opinion. But all in all it shouldn’t have stood, but sicomplain. After all VAR v City in quarter finals is the best matchup for me. With 10 to go, it was now or never for Man City and they managed to create the perfect chance too bad it fell to the wrong person. To add insult to injury, the next move ended up with Ederson spilling it right into the path of Moussa Dembele who was never missing from there. So like last campaign it ended in tears for Cityzens particularly their number 9.
The result prompted such reactionary tweets i.e.:
FARMERS LEAGUE 🤡
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) August 15, 2020
It was Germany v France in both the semifinals. Ultimate Farmer Fights. But both ties were always going one way.
RB Leipzig v PSG:
With Mbappe now fully fit and the high of their last game, the French Champions started as they finished. Di Maria back as well, he put in a pin point cross onto Marquinhos’ head who made it 1-0 and 2 in 2 for him. He was definitely standing up to be counted ahead of Veratti’s recovery. Leipzig now couldn’t employ their free flowing tactics and looked wanting and even when they penetrated the French back line couldn’t convert. Mistakes from their keeper was the last thing they needed but it was so at the end of the half when Neymar flicked to send Di Maria through and he wasn’t missing.
The German side started the first half on the front foot and it looked promising for them. But with one legged knockout ties you have to be on your toes and they completely fell asleep when a decision went against them and Neymar ended the tie just like that.
For the first time in their history, PSG were in the Champions league final. It’s 2020 after all, anything can happen.
Bayern 3-0 Lyon:
Same score line, same story. A series of missed chances by Lyon would prove costly when Serge Gnabry just went on another gear and carried his team past the turbulence that was the first quarter hour. After that it was just the management of the game which Bayern were expert at considering last time out, they were 4-1 up at half time. The favorites now just had one more game to secure their second treble and having won all their Champions league games this season, win one more and they would make History.
It was finally that time of the year once again. If we’re being honest, anything would be better than the garbage that was Liverpool v Tottenham last year. It helps when the underdog has Mbappe, Neymar and Di Maria in their team. It was a hard one to call but the favorites were the German Champions.
It began as expected, cagy, but it opened up with every passing minute. Suddenly it was end to end. A chance here, a chance there. The wings were looking crucial for the French side with Davies struggling against Kehrer so much that he was booked before half time. Imo that’s the point you switch Mbappe and Di Maria, but it wasn’t to be. Neymar and Mbappe seemed to be constantly running at the back 3, Kimmich constantly out of position. PSG had about 3 clear cut chances that they would ultimately regret missing. Alcantara completely calmed and bossed the midfield as soon as Bayern got possession and it showed so much. His iconic drop of the shoulder completely took the whole of PSG’s mid out of the game and soon Bayern’s dominance was rewarded. Kimmich put in a peach of a ball and Kingsley Coman, completely unmarked, wasn’t missing. From then on it was just the Thiago show, Alcantara not Silva. PSG couldn’t pinch the ball in positions of importance and when they did they couldn’t do anything. Neymar was busy trying nutmegs and flicks in a Champions league final against the best players in the World and when they didn’t come off, he would just go down. I do think PSG should have had a penalty with the Kimmich on Mbappe thing but VAR wasn’t having it. But the way I saw it, only Herrera and Silva played that final. Navas looked nervous when tested. Marquinos and Paredes barely touched the ball and Mbappe and Neymar looked knackered and wasted chances, Kehrer was in no mans land in that second half. The opposite was true for Bayern. Their Keeper, for me man of the match put in a captain’s performance, Kimmich superb again, Alcantara looked solid and even Muller though not a defender, pretty much pocketed Neymar. But to be honest there was not much between the sides hence the 1-0 score line but it ended in tears for the French club but not for the French match winner. That’s got to hurt though, spending 1B on players just for your academy graduate to score against you in the Champions league football. But it’s the game, that’s why we love it.
Here are some of the social media reactions to the result.
Childhood Dreams 😳 pic.twitter.com/7woB5l3hc0
— Thiago Alcantara (@Thiago6) August 24, 2020
Everything is possible by the power of the Holy Ghost!
Champions of Europe! Now we're finished.
Black lives still matter. ✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/8PyxnVL1UB
— David Alaba (@David_Alaba) August 24, 2020
Now it’s time for Mbappe to go to a team that can actually win the Champions league, Real Madrid!
Anyway, Congratulations to the Champions of Europe but we’d all be lying if we said we didn’t know.
It’s been a thrilling tournament and now it’s time to endure no football for three weeks but Thank you for reading, till next time.
Cheri Mukiiri is an aspiring football journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. Currently going to High School, she has her own blog where she writes more articles. You can find her writings here