Wednesday night saw two heavyweight matches. The second matchday of the first game-week of the 2019-20 edition of the Champions League featured Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, PSG, and Juventus. Here is a closer look at the highlights.
Atletico’s Hector Herrara alliterates his way to equalise vs Juventus (Atletico 2-2 Juventus)
Manchester United fans would be thinking about what could have been when they tuned in to eventually watch their former player pull the game away from the mighty Juventus.
Atletico started with a traditional, high-pressing 4-4-2. With a frontline of Diego Costa and Joao Felix — the most-watched and sought after youngster in Europe today. Thomas and Saul formed the base of midfield that allowed Koke and Thomas Lemar to bomb forward and trackback in equal measure. Thomas Lemar’s versatility (a player who is able to seamlessly slot into left wing-back, left forward, attacking midfielder, right forward roles) and hustle have been key tenets in setting the tone of Diego Simeone’s front-foot press and it was no different last night.
To accommodate the fluidity of the Atletico teaming forward, left wing-back Lodi tucked in while Koke — functioning as an auxiliary attacking midfielder — meant right wing-back Kieran Trippier provided the width and the crosses from the opposite side. Savic and Gimenez played as defensive stoppers.
Italian champions Juventus and manager Sarri copied the mould of the Atletico formation with their own version of a 4-4-2 consisting of Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuain, Pjanic, Cuadrado, Khedira, Matuidi, Danilo, Alex Sandro, Bonucci, De Ligt, Szczęsny.
In the early exchanges, both sides peppered the opposition box with deep, early, diagonal crosses hoping to catch the backlines out of step, and the game took the shape of aerial pinball. As the match wore on the crosses became progressively square, and the backlines deeper.
Joao Felix provided moments of individual magic, like a driving fish slaloming through flanking Juventus fishermen-defenders and fired a stab low into the side of Wojciech Tomasz Szczęsny, who palmed it away.
Juventus were not shy of leaving studs behind to rattle some of the consummate attention of the Atletico player. Pjanic, on more than one occasion, was guilty of some cynical timing on the challenges on Felix. It was beginning to dawn on journalists and spectators that it wasn’t going to be a football match for the aesthetes and the soloists. However, what was notable was that Felix, who has a frame similar to the diminutive former Atletico man Griezmann, was able to get on the end of more than half-a-dozen crosses by his sheer positional sense.
Defenders like Savic and De Ligt had to resort to wayward long-range punts since space and flow were squeezed out from the front for their attacking players. It wasn’t until the second half did the breakthrough come.
A squared ball to former Fiorentina man Cuadrado caught the Atletico defence in a twirl. A left side-step into the box released a ferocious side-foot shot that arrowed into the top left the corner in the 48th minute.
Soon enough, a nodding Blaise Matuidi guided Alex Sandro’s early cross into the net in the 68th minute to make it two goals in favour of Juventus.
On the touchline, Atletico manager, Diego Simeone, seemed like an orchestra conductor and drill sergeant rolled into one. He was dictating the crests and the troughs of the sound as much as the players were. Juventus were looking likely to have a choke-hold on the game, as most Italian sides are when it comes to defending a lead.
The Wanda Metropolitano was a pit of noise, with decibels reaching levels making throats quiver and knees quake. It was as if the crowd knew it was a matter of when and not how.
A vertical freekick from deep was headed on by Koke, squared for Savic to bundle it through into goal. 1-2 to Atletico. Fist pumping, Savic rallied the fans and in the Wanda Metropolitano, it was now difficult for Juventus to hear themselves think. There were still 20 minutes of regulation time left on the clock and the minutes, for Juventus, moved like the clock was stuck.
Herrera, known for his terrier-like bite and bark, leaped like a one receiving a frisbee to attend a corner on the 89th minute. The ball found its way to the net as the frisbee would find its way to its master. The match ended 2-2. It was one of those masochistic of draws to watch as a neutral.
Former Real Madrid star, Di Maria, pulls the rug from underneath with a double (PSG 3 - Real Madrid 0)
It was the battle of the moneybags. PSG boasted Angel Di Maria, Icardi, Sarabia, Verratti, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Bernat and Kimpembe in their ranks. Real Madrid, who now have the look of a waning force still had enough about them with Eden Hazard, Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez, Gareth Bale, and Karim Benzema — or so we thought.
The floodgates were opened as early as the 14th minute: Di Maria making a shadow run into the box connected sweetly to a first-time low cross from the left side. The ball, before it had a chance to bounce, was dispatched into the net.
Soon, Eden Hazard came close to equalising with a shot from the edge of the box, but skewed it wide and into the advertising hoarding to the right side of the goal. Bale too came close from a knuckled free-kick from 25 yards away that didn’t dip enough.
It was one-sided traffic for large parts since then that Real tried to not get run over by. But that wasn’t to be. Angel Di Maria receiving the ball at an angle outside the D, curled the ball into the net to make it 2-0 to the hosts. Neymar and Luis Ronaldo were tickled by the cheekiness of the effort in the stands.
Bale’s lob against the run of play was ruled out as handball by the VAR and things didn’t improve for Real Madrid, as their grim-faced manager Zidane looked on from the sidelines. Real Madrid were being peppered with shots in Paris.
Their humiliation was complete in the 90th minute when the onrushing Courtois was dinked over by a square pass and made to look like a marooned fisherman for Thomas Munier to pummel the ball into an empty net with contempt.
Updated Date: Sep 19, 2019 13:01:23 IST