Losing is good sometimes. Look at how the emphatic 4-1 defeat at Tottenham’s home stadium was the inception of Liverpool’s juggernaut. The lessons that one learns in defeat often outweigh those learnt from wins.
Frank Lampard’s Chelsea lost 0-3 to brawny Bayern Munich. Elsewhere, a draw felt worse than a defeat would as Napoli fettered Barcelona to a 1-1 stalemate, with Arturo Vidal being sent off on the 89th minute.
In Barcelona’s context, the result is saddled by the public sideshow of PR attacks between the players and the hierarchy off the pitch. The draw had a feeling of inevitability and mediocrity that Barcelona fans have grown to understand after so many years at the helm of perpetual success.
We look at the matches where the erstwhile European superpowers tried to establish a level of posturing that signals their durability at the expense of the other.
Chelsea 0 - Bayern Munich 3
It’s kind of poetic when the prodigal son returns, taking another step in the journey towards legacy. Serge Gnabry, the former Arsenal recruit, inflicted heavy damage over their city rivals by scoring two goals.
The pace was never in doubt, neither were his aspirations. Cesar Azpilicueta, the Chelsea sheet-anchor had to be substituted, such was Gnabry’s menace. The Chelsea captain slipped and was directly responsible for Gnabry’s first goal.
Reece James had to take three steps backwards for every forward step. Instead of facing goalside delivering curly-fry crosses, he was mostly seen tracking back. Antonio Rudiger played with the firmness of hot-air powered dancing mascot.
If Serge Gnabry is Mowgli from Jungle Book, then Robert Lewandowski is Bagheera. Forever prowling sideways, dragging defenders to an outward diagonal making way for his apprentice’s safe passage to the goal.
Lewandowski is maturing into Bayern Munich’s booby-trap-springer-in-chief, a role previously reserved for Thomas Mueller. For the first goal, he shaped to shoot after being released by his partner-in-crime but opted to feign it for a low cross instead - Gnabry for the easy kill. The second arrived from a one-two from the same perpetrators, resulting in a low drive past Caballero.
The total equation was on full display against Chelsea. The combinations between Thiago Alcantara, Gnabry, and social media sensation and Tik-Toker Alphonso Davies down the left, had Mason Mount’s flank inside-out. Mount himself, however, was supremely competent.
Alert and savvy on the ball, he was perhaps the only regular focal point on Chelsea counter-attacks. In comparison, Ross Barkley was directionless, possibly because of trying too hard.
It was painful to watch the lack of incisiveness the former Everton superstar has when it comes to executing duties that are beyond merely dribbling towards the goal. The concoction in the Chelsea midfield was barely heady. Chelsea provided no disorientation for the visiting Germans. Bayern played as they would do in away games in Germany: With ruthless methodology.
Chelsea's pressing was not missing, it was completely amateurish considering the opponents. Bayern simply played around it. Marcos Alonso was sent off on the 84th minute with the intent of physically hurting Lewandowski.
For the third goal, Andreas Christensen was left on the floor like a leaking back of tumbling potatoes, by Alphonso Davies. He set up a low cross for Lewandowski to pounce. That was his 11th in the Champions League this season and 39th goal of the season in total - a mind-boggling number. The difference in the quality of the two sides was stark.
Lampard summed it up in the post-match presser: “It was a lesson, a harsh one. (Bayern Munich) gave us a reality check for our aspirations. The players now know. This is the Champions League knockout stages and we haven’t been at this stage for a while, and the levels will take some getting used to. The players will have to take this as positively as possible. We have to go to Munich and play with a lot of pride. Today made an apparent the work to be done.”
Liverpool have shown last season, and now the Bundesliga is showing that Bayern aren’t that indomitable force of nature they once were, and they can be hurt with precision. They can’t be simply playing with their emotions, or the abstractness of ‘pride’; they need to have a ploy.
If Chelsea are to make the most of their chances in Germany in the return leg, they’ll have to channel all that attacking exuberance. The shotgun approach has to be refined to a poisoned-tip blowdart.
Napoli 1 - Barcelona 1
Napoli as Italian team would do, let the opponent have most of the ball. Barcelona had near-monopoly of the ball (67percent possession), but it’s what you do with it what counts. Despite the disparity, Napoli notched twice the shots on goal and frustrated the visitors enough for them to chalk up 11 fouls in their favour.
Dries Mertens’ 30th-minute curler gave the Sky Blues the lead. The Belgian international was growing in influence, and looked poised to add to his tally, but had to go out due to a mistimed challenged by Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets that ended his involvement.
Napoli then went into Plan B - soaking pressure and hitting Barcelona exclusively on counters.
In one such counter-attack, Barcelona caught Napoli unawares. Antoine Greizmann ghosted into the box for a close-range finish on the 57th minute. Whatever late momentum Barcelona built in the dying minutes fizzled away with hot-blooded Arturo Vidal losing his temper.
Two yellow cards resulting on successive fouls that included an intended headbutt on Mario Rui, means Barcelona while they take the away goal back home to the return leg at the Camp Nou, they will miss one of their midfield lynchpins.
Barcelona looked unusually out of sorts, lacking invention at crucial moments, bogged down with self-doubt that often boardroom bickering casts on the club and the collective.
Barcelona coach Quique Setien collated a list of positives to take away from this fixture, citing the ability of his team to open up a Napoli team who were poised to sit deep after their goal. But the team that had the poise of lockpickers, look cruder, jaded. Napoli should be hopeful.
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Updated Date: Feb 26, 2020 15:35:41 IST