Champions League 2013/14 Round-up – The First Knockout Week
With all of our favorite European seasons starting to enter into the home stretch, it also means that the Champions League is starting to get back on track. One of the most intriguing aspects of this Champions League competition will inevitably be that fact that several teams will have the entire season outlook riding on their CL performance. Teams like Manchester United and AC Milan that are struggling mightily within their own league, yet CL glory could erase any woes (i.e. Chelsea last season). Then, there are teams that will be hoping that their Champions League journey will be coupled with domestic success so that the team can enter the off-season with the ability to draw the best players in the world. How did teams fair? Let’s take a gander…
The easiest story of these fixtures to convey will be how Paris Saint-Germain completely dismantled Bayer Leverkusen. As a team that is built to bring home French league titles with little difficulty, the Parisian giants will have moved their gaze to Europe’s biggest prize some time ago. Although the emergence of AS Monaco in France makes life slightly more difficult for Zlatan and co., it will definitely be a hollow success if they are unable to couple Ligue 1 with the Champions League title.
They certainly have one of the most potent attacks in world football, and you can never feel safe when Ibra gets in the mood for scoring. While they may still be a year or two removed from their best chance at the European crown, PSG could definitely still be one of the teams in the mix when we get down to the last four squads. This 4-0 destruction in Europe’s elite competition will certainly sound the warning bell for the rest of the teams…and PSG will hope to continue this type of run. As we approach the summer transfer window, we are already hearing rumors about the long list of stars that will be tempted by a big contract and a trip to Paris. There can be no doubt that PSG will grow stronger as every transfer window passes until they obtain their ultimate prize.
The other game on 2/18 was Barcelona attempting to prevent Manchester City from creating some European history to match with their recent growth in English stature. For 53 minutes, Manchester City proved that they are reaching the level necessary to match up with the best teams in Europe. A season ago, the Citizens seemed unprepared for the level of play that met them in the Champions League as they went out of the competition with almost a whimper. However, this game seemed to be the perfect opportunity for City to finally announce themselves. Then, with Messi attempting to break through on goal, City defender Martin Demichelis brought down the amazing Argentine.
A red card, an extremely questionable penalty (a free-kick seemed more appropriate), and the following Messi goal made them (unsurprisingly) start faltering. It is difficult enough to chase Barcelona with 11 men, but chasing their passing style with 10 men is nigh on impossible. It is easy to see how Barca were able to double their tally in the 90th minute and Manchester City will have a huge mountain to climb when they visit Camp Nou. If Barcelona march on, City will definitely feel that they had their Champions League campaign cut off prematurely. Having been one of the few teams to be on the winning side against Bayern Munich for the past few seasons, the momentum certainly seemed to be riding with the Citizens. However, Barcelona (especially in light of recent struggles) will definitely have a hard time convincing anyone that they are a potential CL favorite…it truly seems like their invincible mystique from a few short years ago has genuinely worn off.
The Champions League is almost like Christmas every single time that it comes back around. For me, the product on the field would have to be amazing in order for me to put up with so many Heineken commercials. From this set of games, Barcelona escaped, Leverkusen already look beaten, PSG are growing into the behemoth we have always been terrified of, and City will feel hard done by their result. Even though the World Cup is looming, the Champions League still rules the roost. Plus…I never grow tired of that anthem…goosebumps every single time…A CHAMPIOOOOOOON!
Considering that AC Milan are staring down the barrel of a Serie A finish that provides them with absolutely zero European football next season, there is serious importance riding on how they progress in the competition this year. As the game against Atletico Madrid got started, it was obvious that the Milan players were also aware of the club’s need to make an impressive European run. Milan were definitely the superior side for the opening half, but their inability to finish their chances could be their fatal undoing in the CL. Even after the half, despite looking a little more energetic, Atletico still seemed to be the second best side on the pitch. However, Atletico have the insanely in-form Diego Costa…and an 83rd minute header means that Atletico will be returning home with an away goal in hand.
Although Milan do still (and will always) command significant respect, will any marquee player truly want to join Milan over some of the other options that will certainly be available if Milan crash out of the CL and fail miserably in Serie A. It was already surprising that Keisuke Honda chose his big club destination by joining, what seemed to be, a sinking ship…but, AC Milan do not seem to have the same situation ahead of them as when Liverpool started to experience the same situation. Milan do not seem to be having a large influx of money coming in at any point to help them try and rejoin Europe’s elite and they also seem to have an amazing inability to choose a competent manager…failing at this point could have repercussions that are felt in Milan for years to come.
Over in London, Arsenal had to face last year’s champion and the club that is easily the early favorite to be celebrating once the last Champions League fixture has been played. The biggest news before the first whistle was Arsene Wenger sticking with his impressive attackers from their recent victory over Liverpool and keeping Olivier Giroud on the bench. But, with the pace of the Arsenal front-line seeming to actually unnerve the German giants in the opening minutes, it seemed that Arsenal might complete the bounce back from their Liverpool thrashing with a great showing against the biggest scalp (currently) in Europe. It seemed destined to be Arsenal’s night as Ozil stepped up to take a penalty after only 8 minutes of play…but the German’s spot-kick was too tame for a keeper of Neuer’s talent and it seemed to deflate the English team.
In the 37th minute, another English squad in the Champions League would suffer a red card and the deflation that is associated with losing a player. Arsenal’s keeper Wojciech Szczesny brought down Arjen Robben in the box and, despite some impressive antics from Arsene Wenger and a bit of embellishment from the Dutch winger, the red card to Arsenal’s keeper would begin the downward spiral for the Gunners. Amazing work from Philipp Lahm and a great game from Toni Kroos would be tough to handle with a full complement of players, and Arsenal were helpless to watch as the might of Bayern started to crash down upon them. Considering the might of Munich, Arsenal will believe that a 2-0 scoreline will have been the best result that they could have hoped for after Szczesny went off and, despite the impressive nature of Munich this season, there is still hope remaining in London.
Two teams from England played in their Champions League fixtures this week…and two English teams received red cards. Two teams from Spain played in the Champions League fixtures this week…and two Spanish teams walked away victorious. Although, as soon as you start to think that the Champions League is the least bit predictable…it will knock you for a loop. That is the beauty of the Champions League and the reason why we will all be tuning in every time that anthem plays and every time the fixtures kick-off. (cue Champions League anthem)
About the author
If I may be so bold to condense my immense personality into two words, it would be: soccer nerd. I love everything about the beautiful game and I tend to reflect that in my writing. I suffer through Liverpool fandom and hope that they will win another title before my wife spreads my ashes at Anfield (considering I'm in my twenties, it seems somewhat likely). Although I also dabble in tennis, teaching, and coaching, most of my free-time is spent writing articles.
|This entry was posted by Andrew McCole on February 24, 2014 at 3:20 pm, and is filed under Champions League, Club Teams. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|
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