After the first leg of the Champions League round of 16, it isn’t too hard to predict who we’ll see in the quarterfinals.
PSG and Real Madrid abused the lesser-known German sides, Schalke 04 and Bayer Leverkusen. In Russia, BVB beat a noticeably rusty Zenit playing their first competitive match since the Russian winter break began on December 11.
At the San Siro, Atletico Madrid beat Milan 1-0 in a match Milan, easily could have won 4-0 if not for Milan’s inability to finish in front of the net. Going into the knockout stage, the more intriguing matchups involved all four teams from the English Premier League.
Manchester City against Barcelona should have been one for the ages. Manchester United vs. Olympicos were supposed to be a blowout and Arsenal against Bayern had to be memorable, right?
None of the four English teams won their matchups, being outscored 7-1 in four games. Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal lost 2-0 in games where all three of them were outplayed, outcoached, and simply outhustled by teams that just wanted it more. Chelsea were the lone team to score.
Excluding Chelsea, which put in a decent performance away from Stamford Bridge against a Galatasaray team that looked like it was playing for its livelihood, and excluding Manchester United which looks like a shadow of the Premier League champion from last year, Man City and Arsenal, simply put, got unlucky, very unlucky.
It’s safe to say former Manchester United striker Roy Keane overreacted when he said “I think we’ve been brainwashed by the [idea that] the Premier League is the best league in the world. Nonsense.”
When Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil stepped up to take a penalty kick in the 8th minute against Bayern, it was a shock to everyone watching except the goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, who handled it with ease. Even after Ozil’s miss, Arsenal still seemed to have things well in hand until Kieran Gibbs’ injury in the 31st minute.
Gibbs is Wenger’s starting left back and is better than the man he was subbed off for Nacho Monreal. Monreal is by all means a decent left back. However, by no means should he have the task of defending Arjen Robben and it showed in the 39th minute when Robben played a beautiful 1-2 with Toni Kroos who then lobbed the ball over clueless Monreal.
Wojciech Szczesny brought down Robben in the box and was sent off for his challenge. Lukasz Fabianski came on to replace Szczesny and Santi Cazorla, who had done all of zero defending, was sacrificed for the goalie. David Alaba stepped up to take the penalty. He sent Fabianski the wrong way, but hit the post.
Although at the half it was 0-0, the possibility of Bayern not winning the 2nd half against a 10-man Arsenal squad was slim to none.
In the 54th minute, Toni Kroos scored and in the 88th, super sub Thomas Muller put away a diving header. Did Arsenal really get outplayed or just get unlucky? If you ask this writer, it’s obvious they got painfully unlucky. If Gibbs didn’t get injured and Ozil slotted home his penalty, there’s no reason to think the Gunners couldn’t have won 2-0—are at the very least drawn 1-1 with the defending champions from Europe.
In Manchester, it’s the same story. City were playing fluid football against Barcelona, until Lionel Messi was fouled by Martin Demichelis right outside of the box or inside of the box depending on who you ask. Demichelis, like Monreal is not a Champions League worthy defender. Signed on deadline day from Atletico Madrid for 4.2 million for defensive depth, Demichelis is behind Kompany and Nastasic on the pecking order in Manchester, and rightfully so.
Demichelis is painfully slow, very nervous on the ball and during the game, was out of position more often than not. Did the referee make the wrong call and give a penalty that should have been a free kick? Anyways, Demichelis was sent off, Messi tucked his penalty home and City, just like Arsenal have a very minute chance of reaching the Champions League quarterfinals.
Chelsea is the only team in England that can even dream of advancing. Even though Galatasaray have the starting eleven to compete with any team in Europe, Chelsea is invincible at home under Jose Mourinho and should go through easily
In a 0-2 hole, Manchester United is in a tough position with little room to be optimistic after being stunned in Athens. Based on their lackluster form this campaign, this writer expects no different at Old Trafford. Even though it’s more than likely three out of the four teams from England will be knocked out of the Champions League, the Premier League is by no means worse off than it was before the knockout round started.