FC BARCELONA’S EPIC FALL FROM GRACE
FC Barcelona have fallen hard from the mighty heights that they had once occupied. They crashed out of the UEFA Champions League competition after drawing 1–1 to Paris Saint Germain in the round of sixteen stage. In the first leg of the selfsame encounter, they were beaten 1–4 by the Frenchmen and this meant that they had to score at least three goals at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris in the second leg encounter on Wednesday. However, they failed to do so and were shown the door from the European competition by their historical foes Paris Saint Germain.
After Kylian Mbappe had scored from the spot to give Paris Saint Germain an early lead on Wednesday, magician and maestro Lionel Messi scored a stunner to pull the score back for La Blaugrana. At that point of time, it seemed like FC Barcelona would manage to upstage the home team Paris Saint Germain and even proceed to the next stage of the UEFA Champions League competition. However, that was not to be, and their worries were compounded even further when Messi missed a penalty which was saved in extraordinary circumstances by Paris Saint Germain’s goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
FC Barcelona had found themselves in a similar position against the same opponents back in the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League competition when Paris Saint Germain had taken a 4–0 lead in the first leg of their round of sixteen clash. In the second leg, however, FC Barcelona rallied to score six goals and end the game 6–1 to proceed to the quarterfinal stage. This was termed as one of the greatest comebacks seen in footballing history. Brazilian attacker Neymar, who now ironically plies his trade for Paris Saint Germain, was on target for the Spanish team on three occasions back then. Many fans of FC Barcelona had expected a similar showing on Wednesday as well but that was not to be.
It seems all but certain that Lionel Messi will now leave the club, especially since FC Barcelona have failed to progress to the quarterfinal stage of the UEFA Champions League competition. Manager Ronald Koeman, who was appointed right before this season began, has a big task on his hands and he needs to rebuild the club right from scratch. The fall of FC Barcelona has been epic and they need to work on the right set of players to get back to the level of greatness where they rightly belong.
If Messi is not a part of that project, then Koeman needs to look further ahead. There is no doubt that the likes of Marc Andre Ter Stegen, Clemet Lenglet, Frenkie De Jong, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele surely would be the mainstays of the FC Barcelona team in the near future. Their manager Koeman therefore needs to look up to them to build his team for the coming years. There have also been rumours of the arrivals of Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay to Camp Nou, and if that is indeed true, then there will be nothing like it for the Catalan giants.
FC Barcelona are a big club who deserve to compete for whatever major titles are there in Europe. Though they have been knocked out of the UEFA Champions League competition now, they still stand a chance of winning the Spanish La Liga competition. At the time of writing, they are ranked in the second position of the league table with 56 points to their name. The league leaders Atletico Madrid have six points more than them and are perched on top with 62 points inside their kitty. It also needs to be said that Real Madrid, who are in the third position at the moment, are also pushing to go on top. FC Barcelona have the firepower to knock Atletico Madrid out of the race and their fans will be hoping that to come true. This is going to be an interesting title race, and only winning the Spanish La Liga title will save FC Barcelona’s season somehow.
All that is needed for FC Barcelona to reach the top of the league standings is to continue winning games and hope that Atletico Madrid drop points on the way. Atletico Madrid only need to lose a couple of games for them to come down to the second position. The threat of Real Madrid from the number three position is even more significant given that Zinedine Zidane’s team are known to overcome barriers very easily. Koeman needs to emphasise to his wards that there is no room for complacency. Even if such complacency had crept into the FC Barcelona dressing room, we are pretty sure that it has left by now in the aftermath of the defeat to Paris Saint Germain in the round of sixteen stage of the UEFA Champions League competition on Wednesday.
THIS IS A BRAVE NEW MANCHESTER UNITED
Manchester United sent shockwaves around the world when they ended their cross-town
rivals Manchester City’s 21-match winning streak at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were brilliant throughout the first half, with their rivals not even coming within sniffing distance of the goal manned by Dean Henderson. In the last thirty minutes of the game, it seemed like Manchester City had found fresh legs but that was after Luke Shaw had drilled home a stunner, capping off an exquisite showing by the English left-back.
Phil Foden’s introduction into the battlefield seemed to reignite some passion in Manchester City’s players but there was no real end product to speak of. Questions will be asked of manager Pep Guardiola’s refusal to bring on Sergio Aguero in the second half when the situation demanded it, but then one has to remember that City will go again in midweek when they take on Southampton. However, little sympathy will go Guardiola’s way if it turns out Aguero was indeed rested to keep him fresh for the inconsequential encounter with the Saints. Of course, this Manchester derby was inconsequential too, but the pride and bragging rights at stake must have surely had a say.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Red Devils are still eleven points off the top of the table and barring an exceptional implosion by Manchester City or an extraordinary surge by Leicester City, should be able to finish the campaign at number two. Will Manchester City’s campaign derail after this shocker? Only time will tell, but this victory of Manchester United’s needs to be celebrated only for what it means during the moment. Coming into the game on the back of three disappointing goalless draws against Real Sociedad, Chelsea and Crystal Palace, very little was expected of the Red Devils against their more noisy neighbours at the Etihad in the 185th Manchester derby on Sunday.
That they turned up to showcase an extremely dominating performance over the potential quadruple winners displays how well they have evolved under Solskjaer. In the last six times that these two teams have faced off against each other, Manchester United have been victorious on four occasions, drawing one and losing the other. This is a significant improvement, and one that needs to be lauded tremendously by fans and spectators across the globe.
Manchester United’s lacklustre showing against AC Milan in the first leg of their round of sixteen clash in the UEFA Europa League (which is the second tier competition- the UEFA Champions League being the first-tier) at Old Trafford on Wednesday culminated in their opponents pulling back a late goal. Except for Eric Bailly and Aaron Wan Bissaka, United’s defenders showed very little commitment on Thursday. Captain Harry Maguire, who is not the most technically gifted centre back in the world, and who is found wanting at the best of times, was again on target for a poor display against AC Milan. Maguire was also responsible for missing a sitter early on in the game from a cross whipped in Alex Telles.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had an excellent moment when he brought on youngster and new signing Amad Diallo right after half time and the latter went on to score, and there were very few other decisions which baffled the fans of Manchester United. What remained to be seen was the desire of the players, and except the likes of Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes, none of them showed any. Striker Antony Martial was pathetic to say the least, and although there were signs of some attacking inspiration in between, there was very little to actually commend.
Manchester United will now have to travel to the San Siro in Milan next week and hope to pull this one back. Now that AC Milan have an important away goal to their name, they will not be willing to let go easily. Manchester United have to score at least two goals next Thursday to ensure that they go through to the next stage of the UEFA Europa League competition. If they fail to do so, then they will be looking at another exit from this competition, like they had to against Sevilla last season.