Champions League: Evolution of N'Golo Kante, how PSG lost the plot and other talking points from semis 2nd legs
We take a look at the talking points from this week's semi-final second-leg fixtures of the 2021 edition of the Champions League
Mason Mount scored vs Real Madrid in Chelsea’s 2-0 win last night to set up an all-English Champions League final. Manchester City lie in wait for them after defeating PSG 2-0 in style in Tuesday night’s fixture.
We at Firstpost take a look at the talking points from this week's semi-final second-leg fixtures of the 2021 edition of the Champions League.
Riyad Mahrez is no one-trick pony
Mahrez was the darling white stallion emerging out the night-mist. On the night he became the vehicle for Manchester City's Champions League Final charge, poised to become a part of European folklore.
Limbs lay tumbling around Mahrez attached to the bodies of PSG players, namely Marco Verratti, the usually sure-footed midfielder. The player cut from the cloth of fine Italian registas, was hapless around the Algerian like a buoy in stormy sea.
Winning the tie 4-1 through two of Mahrez's second leg goals meant the African forward now has a Champions League night attached to his name like a hyperlink to a perfect memory.
Mahrez doesn't run, he glides like a gold coin on a titled pink silk sari, with gilded edges, and royal blue embroidery. He dribbles in cursive. If blue is the warmest colour, Mahrez’s essence is its warmest hue.
For an exhibitionist, he is low key on the profile, without the ball. But on it, he dribbles with the swagger of a man who knows he’s out to own a piece of Champions League legacy and has Lamborghinis parked in five of his garages.
Fifteen goals out of nowhere this season, is a stat that utterly jumps at you, when you are looking at the Manchester City man's tally. His numbers deceptively creeps up like he does beyond the last man, with the sharpness of the fanged hands of Nosferatu, emerging from the mist like a ghost of a horse and disappearing into the shadow like a ghost of a bat.
Much of his game was once reliant on how well the supply line of midfield fed him. As he matures, he finds himself occupying pockets of space where the ball simply presents itself. When that happens, greatness doesn’t just beckon, it ushers. His prominence will only increase with time.
Pochettino lost his authority, PSG lost the plot
After a certain point of huffing and puffing to no avail vs Manchester City, PSG dug into their sack of dark arts. Dark as it might have been, calling the callousness of their cynical challenges art would do a great disservice to the great Italian teams of yesteryear who perfected cloak and dagger football, and of course the entire Renaissance period.
What PSG did was act like punks who has never thrown a punch in a street fight in their lives, but walk around wearing spiky leather jackets to romanticise the idea of it. Like how they romanticise the idea of finally sitting on the head table of the European elites. They looked impetuous, impatient, out of imagination, throwing prams out with the toys.
The little dignity and class they had was lost when the players on the pitch entirely shut themselves up from their manager’s irate instructions and eventual pleadings.
This does not bode well for Mauricio Pochettino and for a team who have a history of undermining their manager.
Just ask Chelsea manager and 2021 Champions League finalist, Thomas Tuchel. This team would sooner blame the manager than find accountability in their own shortcomings as a unit.
Man, machine, master header, Kante
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 5, 2021
The N'Golo Kante one-two that split open Real Madrid was a joy to behold.
Like a window swinging wildly on the hinge, the Chelsea midfielder swung away from his marker out towards goal. Quick thinking from Timo Werner facilitated a lob from Kai Havertz before Werner nodded in the rebound.
It was Kante again who was pulling strings to effect Mason Mount's killer goal.
The evolution of Kante from an out-an-out defensive mit fiber to a forceful creative catapult has been remarkable viewing. His game now encapsulates both the styles of Chelsea legends Michael Essien and Claude Makelele, which is a truly frightening prospect. With his adroitness, acceleration and close control, coupled with an informed timing of when exactly to release the ball, he becomes someone teams need to put two man makers on.
Casemiro, Toni Kroos were driven to utter exasperation by his running on the ball. Luka Modric’s ability was driven to near extinction down to the Chelsea man's running without the ball.
Kante was regal, yet cavalier, stoic in holding his position yet Baudelairian when the balls presented himself to him.
He has become the shepherd of men. A near perfect ally for all of Chelsea’s frontline. He instilled front foot daring, drive, and can-do spirit in Werner despite his ails in front of goal, and eventually the German reaped the rewards of Kante’s steadfast belief in him with the opening goal.
When Kante runs he squeezes space out in front of him like a rolling pin going at soft dough. In order to stop the pass and the player, two to three Real Madrid defenders were invariably pulled towards him. That gave ample room and freedom for Chelsea forward to pick up pockets of space to toy with Madrid like a cat toys with a ball of yarn.
Blue barracudas vs turgid porpoises
If Chelsea took them chances, the scoreline would have bulged heavily. What was two-nil could have easily been five-nil vs Real Madrid.
It must have been an excruciating watch for Real Madrid fans to watch the tooth of age grating down hard on this veteran team.
The legs are gone in midfield. The rapid radiance of Chelsea's attack was like a shoal of barracudas bullying a hapless porpoise stuck in an estuary. Taking out chunks, one nibble at a time.
The Chelsea press drove Real Madrid down dead ends. The amount of sideway passing was indicative of lack of verticality of their play.
Chelsea thrived on the counter. A ball over the top spelled potential doom for Real, as Mount, Werner found themselves through on goal on more than a few occasions.
The old guard of Real were helplessly out of steps, their knees buckling to the sheer youth and pace of Chelsea's attack. Sergio Ramos was made to look pedestrian. Thibaut Courtois in goal was the only thing keeping Chelsea from a drubbing.
A long hard look is required from Real to come to terms with the fact that every squad comes with an expiry date. And theirs have now passed.
Liverpool’s poorness in the quarters exaggerated Real Madrid’s strengths while Chelsea laid bare their weaknesses for all of Europe to stand up and note.
Asian Champions League: AFC confirm revised group, schedule after Australian clubs pull out of tournament
Sydney FC, Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar placed in the top six in the A-League regular season to qualify for the domestic playoffs, which start 11 June and are scheduled to conclude on 26 June, clashing with the Champions League preliminary and playoff stages, and prompting their withdrawal from the tournament on Friday.
Brazil defender David Luiz and Spain midfielder Dani Ceballos are also leaving when their contracts end on 30 June, Arsenal said. Ceballos was on loan from Real Madrid, also.
Chelsea were revitalised by Tuchel's arrival, climbing the table to finish fourth before winning European club football's biggest prize against Manchester City in Porto last weekend.