In defence of any team that played in Europe last week, it is impossible to suggest that each could be at full strength, in full pelt and at their best because football, just hasn’t been football since March 2020.
Atletico Madrid for example last played on 19th July in La Liga before playing their single leg Quarter Final European Cup tie in unusual surroundings on Thursday. RB Leipzig last played in the Bundesliga on the 27th June although they did have a friendly match against Wolfsburg two weeks ago… Players being asked to play at elite level without elite level match practice in front of nobody… No wonder last week threw up some weird and wonderful results.
On Wednesday I had only just finished tweeting how great and underrated Atalanta were as Paris Saint-Germain clawed themselves from the brink of defeat to victory within the blink of an eye. The pass by Neymar to Mbappe that provided the winner for Choupo Moting one of the best bits of skill from the whole Quarter Final stage. Is this the year Paris finally achieve what they long set out to do?
I felt sorry for Atalanta who have been a breath of fresh air with the attacking football they play, the brilliant Papu Gomez pulling the strings for Zapata and Muriel, Pasalic looking like a player that can go on to greater things. Perhaps against PSG they missed the drive of Josip Iliicic who has been one of Serie A’s best attacking midfielders in recent years.
There’s something about Paris this year and I feel they can create ‘finally’ history thanks to the stars they have in Neymar, Mbappe and Icardi but first they’ll have to beat another team who’s own late show proved their resilience and workrate could provide advantage as players tire during a tournament rustled together over a fortnight so that things can get finished quickly.
RB Leipzig were tactically better than Atletico Madrid who’s defensive ‘plan A’ system failed moments after half time when Spaniard Dani Olmo scored. A cameo from Felix may have saved Simeone’s blushes but when young Tyler Adams deflected shot crept home with just two minutes remaining it provided the game winning goal to the games best team. A deserving victory for Coach Julian Nagelsmann who has been long tipped for the top despite his young age at just 32.
As for Simeone and his dying breed of defensive football, only time will tell if he’s at the end of his tenure at the Wanda Metropolitano. I see him walking next season if things don’t improve.
Whilst Atletico could be at the end of an era for Leipzig it could be very much the start. Often attracting young future stars their transfer policy is one designed to make millions (and repeat) as the likes of Upamecano and Olmo delight the scouts watching from all over the continent. Should they beat Paris to reach the final of the European Champions League the Red Bull franchise would have done it just eleven years after forming from taking over a fifth tier team SSV Markranstadt. Modern day football and the epitome? Many don’t like it but you cannot say it’s not been done brilliantly.
Should Leipzig not only win in Europe but go on to become the best in Germany they must topple a great great Bayern Munich team that has won eight successive Bundesliga titles. Not only that, better than all of that in fact, they have just toppled, sunk, destroyed, humiliated one of the greatest teams of a generation with perhaps the best footballer of a generation in it, whilst beating Barcelona 8-2 to reach the semi-finals of the UCL themselves.
Friday night was one of those evenings, even without the crowd you could feel the atmosphere, tension, excitement as two European football powerhouses took on each other in a one off knockout match.
I said anything from 5-1 to Bayern to 4-4… Hearing pre-game references to Germany beating Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-final. It couldn’t really go that way could it?
What we saw was German efficiency, ruthlessness, a powerhouse working to and beyond every means of its capacity against a side that was not prepared for the fight. It felt like Ayton Senna’s McLaren against Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.. Whilst the Williams still had style and some substance was pleasing on the eye, the Mercedes rightly, more equipped for the modern day had more power, more gumph, and simply blew its opposition away.
At the right time Bayern’s stars have all come out to play. They for me along with Manchester City, Liverpool and perhaps PSG are the strongest on the continent. Lewandowski the best no9 with Tiago Alcantra the best in his position too. They have arguably the best full backs with the best goalkeeeper… They really should be crowned European Champions this year but as we know, stranger things have happened.
That crown I initially thought was reserved destined for Pep and Manchester City but they themselves were beaten by their own bogey club Lyon, given a helping hand by Guardiola changing tactically in fear of the French sides attacking pace.
In reality the stick Guardiola has got since is a bit OTT… Players win/lose matches, not tactics, but Lyon saw advantage in City’s more defensive shape and thanks to a couple of errors from Edison and a glaring miss by Sterling (both nothing to do with tactics) the French side got a result that nobody expected and for the way they played themselves they possibly deserved more credit than what they got too.
Often reaching the qualification stages Lyon have not had a great season domestically but with talented players like Houssem Aouar, Maxwel Cornet and Moussa Dembele they have some of Europe’s best upcoming footballers and in Memphis Depay have a player now in the peak of his career ready to lead his team.
99.9% of me says Bayern should beat Lyon and reach the final but you should never write off a team that has endlessly qualified for latter stages of the worlds toughest club competition. The bookies would point to Bayern v PSG in what would be a super game but an all German final or all French affair could mean that we see a new winner for the first time since Chelsea won the tournament in 2012.
Of those who are left only Bayern have won it before, it could be six in all for them, for Paris St Germain it could the quadruple having won three domestic trophies this long season in France, for Leipzig and Lyon it could be a miracle should either of those go on to lift the cup.