Sunday, May 16, 2021

Mighty Barcelona

 The Women's Champions League final has been dominated by Olympique Lyon, winners of the last five editions of the tournament, so today's final in Gothenburg was special in the sense that two teams that had never won the tournament, FC Barcelona and Chelsea, were facing one another in the final.

Both clubs have invested heavily on their women's sides and this investment has given fruit in what are plausibly the best two sides in Europe at the moment; both have won their respective leagues and have some of the best players in the world.

This was unfortunately not obvious in a strange final that was effectively over after a first half during which FC Barcelona walked over Chelsea: they went ahead after only 35 seconds in an unfortunate own goal by Chelsea defender Melanie Leupolz, and then basically cruised to a 4-0 halftime lead on goals by Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmati and Caroline Graham Hansen.

A well-deserved first Champions league title for Barcelona's ladies, and the way they are playing it may be the start of a new period of dominance by FC Barcelona.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Happy Foxes

I enjoyed watching the Champions League finals, first of all because of the fans in the stadium; a small step towards the long-awaited normalcy...

It was a dramatic match only after Youri Tielemans spectacular 1-0 goal for Leicester. Until then it had been a very tactical and rather risk-free match, and in particular first half was frankly a bore. But an FA Cup final is always a recipe for drama, and Chelsea pursued an equalizer only to be denied by Kasper Schmeichel and VAR (it was a close but correct off-side call that denied them a goal, although it was harsh).

Leicester won their first FA Cup title ever, and the fairy tale of the club seems to continue. In the meantime Chelsea have another final in two weeks: the Champions League final against Manchester City.

Friday, May 07, 2021

The 2021 CONCACAF Champions League knock-out stages

During the past couple of weeks I have been following the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stages.  I must admit that the last-16 were largely a bit of a bore with huge differences in the quality between the teams, except in the fact that Toronto FC defeated a poor Leon, the 2020 Guardianes champions. 

It was perhaps the latter that this would be the year for MLS (since the creation of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2008, Mexican teams have won every time): of the eight quarterfinal sides, five were MLS teams (Portland Timbers, Toronto FC, Columbis Crew, Philadelphia Union and Atlanta United), while only three Mexican sides were represented (América, Cruz Azul and Monterrey). 

But it was not to be: after the quarterfinals, only one MLS team remains, namely Philadelphia, who defeated a surprisingly weak Atlanta United. 

In general, the biggest surprise of the quarterfinals was, in my view, how weak the MLS sides appeared when faced with quality Mexican competition. Toronto FC, whom I would have rated better after eliminating Leon, lost 1-3 at home, but in the return match in Mexico City, looked as a side that had already given up against a Cruz Azul side that barely needed to make an effort to win 1-0 in what was a very boring match. Columbus Crew was a bit better against Monterrey, and gained a 2-2 at home as the Mexicans did not concentrate at the end of the match; but back in Nuevo León there was little doubt of the Rayados better quality as they won 3-1 against a Columbus side that also looked that they had given up beforehand.

Portland Timbers were aided by dreadful refereeing at home against América, with an extra time penalty to make it 1-1. In Mexico City Portland Timbers at least fought for their chance in what was the best of the four second leg matches. But America was also concentrated played offensively in a match they won 3-1 (and don't mind another round of dreadful refereeing assisted by VAR!).

After the quarterfinals the semifinals (that will take place in August) look as such:

  • Monterrey-Cruz Azul
  • América-Philadelphia Union

Of course Philadelphia has a chance of making it to the final, and taking the title, but odds are probably on an all-Mexican final, where América-Cruz Azul would be a modern classic between the two rivals from Mexico City.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

All-English final

After the second leg of the Champions League semifinals we have the finalists: Manchester City and Chelsea.

In my opinion, the best teams also made it to the final.

Manchester City will play their first CL final ever; something they have been trying for years. They were the better team in the second leg, by far, against a poor Paris St. Germain side that without Mbappe looked rather ordinary and a bitter bad loser. Initially I would have hoped to see them in the final, but in the end I was happy it was Manchester City.

Chelsea is the unexpected finalist, but since Thomas Tuchel took over as manager, the team seems transformed and it cannot be discounted at all that they can go all the way. After 1-1 in Madrid, the second leg in London was a good match: Real Madrid went for their chance, but a solid defense and splendid Edouard Mendy kept them away. Timo Werner brought the Londoners ahead in the first half, while Mason Mount made it 2-0 at the end of the match. Chelsea was solid, and their midfield-machine, Ngolo Kante, was truly fantastic, and if he plays as well in the final Chelsea will, in my view, be a slight favourite to take the title.

Manchester City is likely to win the Premier League, while Chelsea is in the FA Cup final (against Leicester), after defeating Manchester City. The sides will also face one another in the Premier League next weekend, so the rivalry of the year seems to be between these two English sides!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Holes in the Parisian wall

It seems it is not to be the time for Paris St. Germain: in the first home leg of the Champions League semi-final they lost at home to Manchester City. 

In the first half one could not see it coming: PSG were by far the better team and were ahead 1-0 on a header of captain Marquinhos. The Parisians were in control, and were quite a joy to watch; they seemed happy on the pitch! 

But second half turned things around. Manchester City were better, yes, much better, but the Parisians also seemed to welcome the two Manchester City goals. 

First Kevin de Bruyne: what was clearly a cross into the area sailed quietly into goal at the far post. Keylor Navas looked surprised, but I would say that it is always the goalkeeper that should be covering that giant hole at the far post! 

Second, Riyad Mahrez scored on a direct free kick; a wall with holes is not a wall, and while Verrati was lying down to prevent any low shot, Mahrez just fired straight into the wall, where a giant hole led the ball straight into goal and 1-2 for Manchester City! 

PSG were clearly frustrated, and Idrissa Gana was shown a red card to round off an evening that started so well, but end up full of holes for PSG! 

So it seems Manchester City is heading for the Champions League final, where they may face Chelsea, who got a good away result, 1-1, in Real Madrid. But let us see…