Champions League: Gareth Bale's near-perfect finish, luckless Liverpool, and Lionel Messi routine highlight Matchday 5

  • Gameweek 5 of The UEFA Champions League not only saw the peak of human proficiency, but also a fair share of fallibility.

  • Real Madrid, second in Group A, have limped to eight points from five matches. PSG lead with 13 points. Both qualify for the last 16 with a game to spare.

  • Liverpool head to Salzburg needing a win to be absolutely sure of qualification despite topping Group (10 points).

Matchday five of the UEFA Champions League not only saw the peak of human proficiency, but also a fair share of fallibility. Rudolf Arnheim was a Professor of Art Psychology at Harvard. He postulated in his book Visual Thinking (1969) that "a person who paints, writes, composes, dances, improvises, thinks with his outward senses". He reasons with psychological data that the mechanisms of peripheral vision and vision altogether are evolved through and by the medium the artisan uses. Professor Arnheim’s findings extend to football too. How? Consider how footballers perceive the space or the lack of around them. Their peripheral vision and the estimation in drawing plotting Xs on the pitch border on superhuman. Their ability is coded into their instinct and muscle memory.

Here’s a review of the headline-hogging matches.

Real Madrid 2 - PSG 2

The score was tied at 2-2. Gareth Bale stood over the ball. There were only 10 seconds on the clock. Leading into this game, he was much vilified by Marca and the Madri press for posing with a “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order.” flag away on international duty. It’s no secret that the Welshman who featured in Sky Sport’s Team of the Decade on Monday wanted a pink slip and a ticket back to England.

 Champions League: Gareth Bales near-perfect finish, luckless Liverpool, and Lionel Messi routine highlight Matchday 5

Gareth Bale's freekick hit the post as Real Madrid and PSG played out a 2-2 draw. Getty Images

Yet then, at that moment, his left foot could have been the compass that drew his redemption arc. He locked his shoulder, taking three steps back and one to his left. Someone in the Bernabeu stands wanted away a fruit fly distractedly and missed Bale’s leg coming down on the ball like a hammer on a piano string. It was pitch-perfect: The ball swam over the wall, the PSG keeper was suspended in time like a corgi missing the flight of the frisbee, and then it smacked the post at the 94th minute. It was almost pitch-perfect.

Keylor Navas in the Paris Saint Germain goal, the former Real Madrid instead received a standing ovation at the final whistle. He fended off 27 shots letting in 2 from Karim Benzema (17th, 79th) despite his best efforts. Real Madrid had PSG pinned down: Toni Kroos, Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, Isco, Daniel Carvajal, Casemiro, Marcelo notched up 16 shots when the half-time whistle blew.

It could have been worse. VAR stepped in to overturn a red card (for Thibaut Courtois) and a penalty in favour of PSG’s Mauro Icardi. But PSG, biding their time, took their chances to snipe-shot a victory that would have served as a statement: The rumours of Real Madrid’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

Two late goals in the space of two minutes (Kylian Mbappe 81st, Pablo Sarabia 83rd) denied the 13-time Champions, resigning them to a draw.

Real Madrid, second in Group A, have limped to eight points from five matches. PSG lead with 13 points. Both qualify for the last 16 with a game to spare.

Juventus 1 - Atletico Madrid 0

Forgotten-man Pablo Dybala did what Gareth Bale couldn’t. The Juventus forward bent in a free-kick from an extremely acute angle against Atletico Madrid during time added on right before half-time. Dybala’s run-up started from outside the goal-line and despite the odds, he managed to make the ball swoosh into the far side of the Atletico net.

Juventus qualified with a game to spare. However, this result throws Group D open to the possibility of Bayern Leverkusen hopping over Atletico Madrid on Matchday 6. The Spanish club are on seven points while the German team are on six, thanks to an emphatic 2-0 win over Lokomotiv Moscow, riding a thumping volley from Sven Bender and an own goal from Rifat Zhemaletidinov.

It wasn’t entirely straightforward for Juventus. De Ligt’s charging last-ditch tackle on Atletico’s Angel Correa on the 83rd minute who was through on goal.

Valencia 2 - Chelsea 2

Chelsea ended the night at Mestalla level on goals and level on points with Valencia, with the same goal difference. The match was not shorn of drama with a total of seven yellow cards being handed out. This match was an example of how quickly a villain could turn to a hero and back again. The antagonist/protagonist in question is Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizibalaga.

Valencia got the lead on the 40th minute when a long punt from their goalkeeper Cillessen found an unattended Rodrigo who found Soler in the box. Soler’s rough shot was palmed by Kepa but into the bottom corner.

Chelsea’s Kovacic replied a minute later with a turn-and-curl effort into the top corner.

The second Chelsea goal on the 53rd minute had VAR splitting armpit hair again. This time it was Ezequiel Garay’s. Christain Pulisic’s six-yard prod from a Kurt Zouma head-down stood the test of legitimacy.

The 63rd penalty in favour of Chelsea fired by the boots of Daniel Parejo was turned by Kepa the keeper. Chelsea held onto their slender lead, Kepa was the hero, but not for long.

The former Athletic Bilbao keeper, Arrizibalaga, opted not to come for a Daniel Wass delivery which was intended as a cross on the 70th minute. The ball took on a mind of its own, and decided to drift into the goal over the head of Kepa; reminiscent of Paul Konchesky’s effort vs Liverpool in the 2006 FA Cup Final. Quelle horror.

With Ajax on 10 points, Group H remains as wide open as a Prairie barn door during harvest.

Barcelona 3 - Borussia Dortmund 1

Barcelona, on 11 points, secured their safe passage to the round of 16 with a scruffy win over Dortmund, despite the Dortmund club having more of the possession(54 percent). Lionel Messi marked the occasion of his 700th Barcelona goal by slipping in two assists for his teammates.

Dortmund could only muster a solitary Jordan Sancho goal (77th minute) in response to Luis Suarez (29th minute), Lionel Messi (33rd minute) and Antoine Griezmann’s (67th minute) efforts.
Dortmund and Inter Milan, both on seven points, will have all to do on Matchday 6. However, Dortmund, hosting Slavia Prague, are more likely to progress than Inter Milan who host the five-time Champions League winners — unless of course, Barcelona opt to put out their second-stringers in Italy.

Liverpool FC 1 - Napoli 1

“The team is aware of the issues we've encountered over the last few weeks. We are beginning to improve and leave the problems behind. More character, more personality, a range of factors,” said Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti in the post-match. Napoli, as a club, were ailing: Seventh in the Serie A, and a public falling-out between president Aurelio de Laurentiis, in addition to a $2.75 million fine hit on the squad two days ago could have sucked the joy out of the dressing room. Instead, they regrouped.

“This Napoli is the type of team which lose ourselves quickly, but we find ourselves again quickly too," Ancelotti offered. And so it was.

Playing with healthy doses of clenched-teeth snideness coupled with incompetent refereeing by Senor Carlos del Cerro Grande helped Napoli take the early advantage. Dries Mertens’ deliberate elbow into the kidney of Virgil van Dijk resulted in the man-mountain collapsing on the ground. Dejan Lovren, expecting a foul to be called, was slow to step up the pitch thus allowing Dries Mertens to beat the offside trap and score on the 25th minute. VAR incorrectly stood by the referee’s decision.

The Croatian made amends on the 65th minute from a corner. Lovren’s ridiculously well-directed header from a distance had no right to loop into the net, but it did, to the joy of all gathered at the Kop End.

Sandwiched between the two goals was Senor Carlos del Cerro Grande making sure the word ‘jobsworth’ doesn’t go out in fashion. A neck grapple on Mohamed Salah in the box by Kalidou Koulibally went unnoticed. The referee chose to enforce his authority at the expense of the flow of the game. This benefited Napoli and made Liverpool lose whatever little rhythm they tried to generate.

This result means Liverpool head to Salzburg needing a win to be absolutely sure of qualification despite topping Group (10 points). As things stand, either of Napoli (9 points) or Salzburg (7 points) could pass them by. They will need to hope that Genk don’t roll over when Napoli visit. On last night’s evidence, that seems unlikely; the Belgian club were thumped by Salzburg.

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Updated Date: Nov 28, 2019 15:11:57 IST