Champions League blues continue for Paris Saint-Germain
Real Madrid outlasted Paris Saint-Germain, 3-1, in the first leg of their round of 16 matchup, sending PSG to yet another crushing defeat in the most prestigious of European competitions — next to colonizing the known world, of course. That joke was about two centuries too late, but Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t, as he scored twice — once in the 45th and again in the 83rd minute — and Marcelo added a third in the 86th minute to cap off a commanding win by Los Blancos. PSG started well enough, with Alphonse Areola literally making a save with his face and Neymar cleverly finding Adrien Rabiot in the 33rd minute to secure an early lead, but PSG’s success proved to be fleeting.
Possession rates between the two squads was dead even and PSG looked to be in control for certain stretches of the game, but it wasn’t able to capitalize off its early success, and Madrid took full advantage. Sports are kind of like horror movies — if you don’t cut the bad guys’ heads off while you’ve got the chance, then you’re bound to suffer the grim consequences. That’s exactly what happened with PSG in this heartbreaking Valentine’s Day matchup. Last year, it allowed Barcelona to rise from the dead and complete the most legendary comeback in soccer history, led by PSG’s $262-million-dollar man (Neymar), and while this recent loss was nowhere near as outrageous as the Camp Nou debacle, this continues a troubling trend for the Parisians.
This is the season that PSG was supposed to go full Napoléon and position itself as the ruler of Europe but right now, that reality is looking as promising as the invasion of Russia. It’s already locked up Ligue 1, which it has won 4 out of the past 5 seasons, but it’s yet to add a UEFA Champion’s League trophy and PSG’s ambitious ownership group — basically the government of Qatar — won’t settle for anything else. Considering Qatar’s deplorable human rights record, it’s always nice to watch this franchise suffer, but I do feel for the players, coaches and fans. Manager Unai Emery will definitely be sacked if they finish anywhere but first in this competition and PSG will keep printing money until it does.
As for Real Madrid, this was a bright spot in an otherwise shadowy season. It’s already out of the Copa del Rey and doesn’t have a realistic shot of challenging for a title in La Liga. That makes it all or nothing for Zinedine Zidane and Co. from here on out. If they don’t at least make the final four, Zidane is probably headbutting his way out of Spain’s capital, and a bulk of the current roster may follow.
Ronaldo continues to do Ronaldo stuff — finishing off two easy chances with efficiency and just the right degree of arrogance. In the process, the “Portuguese Prince” became the first player to score 100 Champions League goals for one team, and he’s now scored 10 or more goals in seven consecutive UCL campaigns, while no other player has done so in more than two.
He’s really good, guys.
Mohamed Salah is a treasure
Liverpool embarrassed Porto, with a 5-0 win built on the back of Sadio Mané, who finished with a hat trick. Apologies to Mané, the rest of the Liverpool squad and the Beatles, but Mohamed Salah is my take for the best thing Liverpool has ever shared with the world. The Egyptian and former Roma striker has proven to be the best signing of the offseason, as he’s already been involved in 40 of Liverpool’s goals in the 36 matches he’s played in for the club — scoring 30 of them and assisting on an additional 10.
The dude only cost $39 million for Liverpool, and he’s giving the Reds billion-dollar moments such as this — continuing to outperform his contract. His fantastic, brilliant, masterful, (insert adjective here) goal against Porto got me thinking that he either 1) stole Lionel Messi’s talent like the Monstars in “Space Jam” or 2) is actually Messi in disguise.
It’s unfair to compare any player to Messi, but my God, what we’re seeing with Salah may be the closest we’ve got. Sure there’s been plenty of other great players on or close to Messi’s level but none who play and even look like him. The wizardlike ball control, the breathtaking counter attacks and the joy Salah shows on the pitch, not to mention his small, stocky frame, is eerily similar to La Pulga.
It can’t be a coincidence can it?
In any case I hope the Liverpool faithful keep singing his famous song all the way through the Champions League final.
Spurs score comeback in Turin
Tottenham Hotspur clawed back to secure a draw and two crucial away goals against Italian big shot Juventus, who pulled ahead with two early goals due to unfortunate defensive lapses on the Spurs back half. Coming back from 2-0 is tough enough but all the more difficult against the best team in Italy — sorry, Napoli fans — not to mention the environment of the host’s home stadium and with the pressure of a crucial Champions League fixture.
It speaks to the character and talent of this Spurs squad that it was able to respond so positively. Gone are the “tough luck” Londoners, who’ve been replaced with an ambitious manager in Mauricio Pochettino and a talented squad filled with the likes of Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Mousa Dembélé, Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris. They’ve been together for a few years now and they know how to win — an essential ingredient for any team with championship aspirations. Dembélé and Eriksen, in particular, played excellently, and if Tottenham can get elite-level performances like this from those two going forward, watch out.
As for Juventus, it was a disappointing end to a promising start. The team was playing without its most dynamic player, Paulo Dybala, but a 2-0 lead (that could’ve easily been 3) should have been enough to shut the door, especially with a team with the defensive tradition of Juve.
Both Sami Khedira and Alex Sandro looked less than sharp, and it’ll be interesting to see whether Bianconeri manager Massimiliano Allegri changes his tactics for their next meeting in North London. If nothing else, I’m trying to appreciate the last bits of Gianluigi Buffon while we’ve still got him around. I’ll always love Gigi.
Man City might be England’s best hope
No English team has won a Champions League title since Chelsea in 2011, and only four (yes, 4) English teams have made up the 28 semifinalists of the last seven seasons. That’s some rather embarrassing statistics for the wealthiest and most competitive league in world football.
Enter Manchester City, which looks like a lock for at least a semifinal position and perhaps a UCL title as well. Man City has already run away with the Premier League, and a Champions League trophy would be the icing on the cake of a historic and dominating campaign. Its efficient 4-0 dispatching of FC Basel was a good start.
Kevin De Bruyne has proved himself to be one of the best players in the world and definitely Man City’s finest ginger, while Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sané, David Silva and Sergio Agüero have proved their worth as well. It’s all been so easy for Abu Dhabi’s mercenaries, and the Champions League appears to be the only competition that could possibly make them sweat. The only thing that could make Pep Guardiola angry at this point would be another MLS All-Star Game.
Rory O’Toole writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected]