5 Things We Learned From the Midweek Champions League Ties
The Champions League made a glorious and dramatic return this week. Here’re some things we discovered:
Arsenal gonna Arsenal
If you fancy slipping on an old sea boot and directing a kick at Arsenal this week, well, I’m afraid you’ll have to join the queue. Every pundit with an ounce of breath or a Twitter account is piling in on the North London club, after their dismal— but not unexpected —no-show at the Allianz Arena. Ian Wright called them a ****ing shambles, Martin Keown proposed that it might’ve been the nadir of Arsène Wenger’s two-decade reign.
Roy Keane localised his contempt directly at Kieran Gibbs, which the defender might feel was slightly unfair, considering some of the other sewage on display. You can understand the point, though. Gunnersaurus exhibits more leadership qualities than the England fullback.
Where PSG showed the way to overcome one of Europe’s elite after several attempts, a moniker which they can now claim for themselves, it was the same old story of mental fragility and capitulation for Arsenal. That’s the seventh season in a row which Wenger has failed to advance past the last 16. Spurs fans will take great delight in telling you even they managed it in 2011.
Di Maria is still quite good
It was with some confusion that we watched Ángel Di María struggle at Manchester United. I’m sure the experience was just as baffling for him. What should’ve been an ideal fit for the rough-edged, chaotic nature of the Premier League— someone whose work-rate and derring-do helped win the MOTM award in the 2014 Champions League final— ended up being a single-season amalgam of middling form, injuries and disappointment.
It would be easy to blame Louis van Gaal— for his undecipherable tactics and failure in finding a system that might best harness Di María’s talents: so let’s blame Louis van Gaal, for his undecipherable tactics and failure in finding a system that might best harness Di María’s talents.
Wow, that was easy.
In PSG’s demolition of the Barcelona on Tuesday, the former-Benfica winger’s two magnificent left-foot finishes were the signal of a great number of things, not least of all that class is permanent and Ángel Di María is still one of Europe’s most devastating operators.
Veratti and Thiago are the Next Generation
Andrés Iniesta returned for Barcelona against PSG and was immediately confronted with a challenger to his golden, medal-covered throne. Marco Veratti was utterly dominant at the Parc des Princes and without wanting to use such hyperbole as end of a dynasty or epochal moments— the Italian does look like an immense talent.
24 hours later, in Munich, Thiago Alcântara was making his own claim. The former-Barcelona star will face sterner tests than Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in his career, but it’s not hard to imagine him, along with Veratti and Paul Pogba, emerging as the prominent midfield forces over the next half-decade or so.
Toni Kroos loves a side-foot finish
In 32 La Liga games last season, Toni Kroos completed 870 passes with an accuracy of 94%. 74% of those were forward passes. With that level of precision, it makes perfect sense that the German’s modus operandi when confronted with a clear route to goal, is to try and side-foot the thing beyond the goalkeeper. Instead of passing to a teammate, why not pass directly into the net?
He’s made it an art form. There’s a video on YouTube titled ‘Kroos Signature Goals’ and it’s almost exactly what you’d expect. Three-and-a-half minutes of the midfielder arriving at the edge of the box to calmly stroke through a blockade of defenders and into the bottom corner.
Add another one to the collection. Kroos’ slotted effort against Napoli on Wednesday was textbook Toni.
Mitroglou to Fulham was the weirdest transfer ever
In the January transfer window of 2014, Konstantinos Mitroglou signed for Fulham for a club-record fee of £12m. Up until nine months ago, having being shipped out to Olympiacos on a season-long loan, Mitroglou was still a registered employee at Craven Cottage, clocking up an impressive three entire games and zero goals in his time there.
That he bundled in the winner for Benfica against Borussia Dortmund in midweek, putting the Portuguese giants in a strong position to reach the Champions League quarter-finals, just goes to highlight what an odd footnote that was in Fulham’s recent history. And they’ve had their share of odd footnotes, as fans still traumatized by the mental image of that Michael Jackson statue will attest.