Champions League: In week of orderly chaos, Liverpool eke out victory, Chelsea play out wild draw against Ajax
Orderly chaos was the theme in this week’s round-up of Champions League matches.
8 goals, 2 penalties, 1 VAR disallowed winner and 2 red cards meant that the Chelsea vs Ajax game took on the look of a FIFA 20 simulation match.
The Inter Milan team that were turned over by Borussia Dortmund had only Diego Godin who has won any major honours in his career.
Tottenham registered an impressive 0-4 win at the daunting Red Star Belgrade with goals from Christian Eriksen, Giovani Lo Celso and Heung-Min Son.
Football keeps us guessing. Champions League is one of its proponents that takes the guessing game up a notch. A line segment of the narrative may ultimately travel from point A to B, but it is not without multiple transgressions that end up making it look like a Jackson Pollock painting — each speck of aberration colours, an aberration from the norm, each colour enforcing its own narrative to the other colours in play.
Like most of Mr Pollock’s body of work, orderly chaos is the theme in this week’s round-up of Champions League matches. Let’s dive right in.
Liverpool 2-1 Genk
Sadio Mane doesn’t like to be called a diver, but he’s self-aware enough to know where it’s coming from. “I think it’s a bit clever from him (Pep Guardiola) to get the attention of the referee (just before our Premier League clash).”
Mane was booked for simulation against Aston Villa before he powered home a header to maintain Liverpool’s unbeaten run in the league with a six-point-gap over 2nd-placed Manchester City, who now face them in the league this Sunday at Anfield. But before that overpowering narrative was the small matter of the defending champions Liverpool welcoming Genk at home.
Now, the scoreline may suggest that it was a mild-mannered game of one-upmanship with two gentlemen sides exchanging feeble empty-gloved slaps across their faces, but Liverpool’s vulnerabilities at the back made this a game that could go whichever way the wind blew.
There was little surprise when Genk scored with their first shot on goal at the 40th minute — Mbwana Samatta equalising Gini Wijnaldum’s toe-poke goal (14th minute) with a powerful front post header. The goal resulted from Liverpool allowing an initial cross to come in, cleared by Trent Alexander-Arnold. Samatta was given a second chance from the corner from which he duly obliged.
Mane had a knowing smile on the bench as he saw his teammate, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, pivot and shoot on the ball to give Liverpool the winning goal on the 53rd minute. What’s more intriguing about Liverpool’s vulnerabilities is their almost supernatural surety to overcome it. Like a skinny matador waving a red flag at a bull in a ring, armed with a sleight of hand and a swivel of hips.
Chelsea 4-4 Ajax
The universe is playing a peculiar game. Especially when column inches in this fixture are dedicated to youthful exuberance and daring and it’s not particularly aimed at Ajax’s youth.
Chelsea have a long, grimy history of stockpiling academy players only to keep them off the books of their rivals. Current Liverpool star Mohamed Salah felt the burning end of this treatment along with many others whose prospects and passions fizzled out in the obscurity of loan clubs. Yet, here we are, Chelsea with a transfer ban, having to rely at last on their internal wealth. The results are staggering.
Eight goals, two penalties, one VAR disallowed winner and two red cards (for Ajax’s Joel Veltman and Daley Blind) meant that the game took on the look of a FIFA 20 simulation match and left live-text commentators and journalists reporting live from the stadium with as much exercise that they are ever likely to get.
A Tammy Abraham own goal (2nd minute) was swiftly followed by a Jorginho equaliser from the penalty spot. That set the tone of the game early on. Ajax’s Quincy Promes and another Chelsea own goal, this time a meme-worthy incident by their keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (the ball went into the net after rebounding off of his face) meant the home side were looking at a 1-3 deficit at half-time.
“For a performance like today you need characters and personalities. At 3-1 down at half-time, it’s easy to turn it in. Even easier at 4-1. But we never did,” Chelsea manager noted after the match.
It was their captain, Cesar Azpilicueta who made it 2-4 in the 63rd minute, with his toe reaching a nod on from Abraham.
And then in one fell swoop, with two bookable offences, one in the passage of play (Blind’s foul on Abraham) and one being a handball that led to a penalty (Jeol Veltman), Ajax lost both their centre-backs with a second yellows. Jorginho made it 4-3 in the 68th minute, while another Chelsea prospect Reece James with poise placed a shot in the bottom left, with the ball arriving from a Kurt Zouma header off the post, to make it 4-4.
If that wasn’t all, Azipilicueta’s winner was chalked off by VAR for a handball.
We encourage you to watch the match highlight after you are done reading this round-up.
Dortmund 3-2 Inter
Inter manager Antonio Conte will need a couple of days to simmer down after this display. Once giants, Inter Milan are now a waning force in the Italian context and have been for long trying to escape the patterns of mismanagement and self-sabotage. Their manager, however, is tired of waiting.
Conte had this to say in the post-match presser: “Some important mistakes have been made at the planning stage, we can’t play both the Champions League and Serie A with such a small squad. I’m tired of saying the same things over and over again, perhaps they could come here over and say something. I hope that this will help them understand a few things.”
The team that were turned over by Dortmund had only Diego Godin who has won any major honours in his career. And on the pitch, it was apparent that their collective experience was stretched thin by a deadly Dortmund. Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi and company could not hold out.
Dortmund went into half-time with 0-2 down (goals from Lautaro Martinez and Matias Vecino), but their build-up of steam coincided with Inter running out of theirs. For Dortmund, a Julian Brandt goal was sandwiched by Achraf Hakimi who scored twice (51st and 77th minute).
Carlo Ancelotti and Aurelio De Laurentiis are at an irreconcilable difference with a Napoli squad mutiny following their 1-1 draw at Salzburg. This was the aftermath of the President demanding publicly on the radio for his players and team to go to a training camp retreat until their match on the weekend versus Genoa.
Real Madrid trounced Galatasaray 6-0 at home (with a brace from Karim Benzema, a hat-trick from Rodrygo, and a penalty from Sergio Ramos).
Tottenham Hotspur registered an impressive 0-4 win away from home at the daunting Red Star Belgrade with goals from Christian Eriksen, Giovani Lo Celso and a brace from Heung-Min Son.
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Son has scored nine goals in eight games this season and has also provided four assists, teaming up with Harry Kane to devastating effect.
Eriksen arrived on a four-and-a-half-year contract worth €20 million ($23 million) plus €7.5 million in bonuses in January.
Borussia Dortmund will be all but assured of a place in the knockout rounds with a second win over Belgian club Brugge