Champions League: Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi run riot as Chelsea, Napoli trudge along helplessly

Like Lewandowski, Messi is one player you should tune in to watch as a neutral, lest your mind remains unexpanded by the boundaries these two players push.

Srijandeep Das August 09, 2020 11:03:13 IST
Champions League: Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi run riot as Chelsea, Napoli trudge along helplessly

With last night’s matches, UEFA Champion League Round of 16 came to a close. We now have our teams for the quarterfinals of the 2019-20 edition of the tournament. Let’s have a look at how Bayern Munich and Barcelona reserved the last seats on the table.

Bayern Munich 4-1 Chelsea (Aggregate 7-1)

One team came with the battering rams, trebuchets, the other team came with a rope ladder, a floor plan to the enemy’s gunpowder reserves and a burning torch. Chelsea were the former.

Bayern did what Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings did. Chose the narrow passage and reaped the benefits. The German team focused on the channels between the wingbacks and the centre-back. Their movement was shadowplay. Their passes cloak and dagger.

For the most part, this game was a refresher course, a masterclass, a checklist for Chelsea. What Frank Lampard saw unfold in front of his eyes is what that will take his back to the premises of clenched teeth resilience and street smarts of a Didier Drogba led Chelsea. Sadly for him, it reflected in Bayern’s ruthlessness. Chelsea at the Allianz Arena looked like crabs in a bucket - oscillating sideways to no avail.

There was no Ricardo Carvalho to exude calm on the Chelsea backline. There was no Michael Essien to ram into skittles. There was no canniness of suave, Armani-fit Jose Mourinho. There was a lot of ‘can-do spirit’ from Chelsea though. But that counts in the boy scouts, not here, not in this competition.

Like Tai-Chi masters and judo practitioners, Hansi Flick’s team directed the opposing energy towards itself.

This is Robert Lewandowski’s peak years. And what you’re witnessing in the Bayern goal-machine is the post-war winger-forward role moulded into post-modernistic perfection. The Polish international is a Swiss army knife of strikers. This is what Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino can become if he’s asked to stay in his number 9 position, instead of embroidering play for his team - until then the Brazilian international will remain the Inverse Lewandowski - doing everything and more but seldomly scoring.

Bayern Munich have the excess of quality personnel to make Lewandowski play at his most optimal position. To witness one of the purest target men of the modern football era play with the surefooted panache of a winger, laced with the economical insight of Raul-like poacher, is a sight to behold. Here are some of his highlights.

10th minute: The first goal came about when Emerson was playing Lewandowski onside. The spearhead latched onto a through ball from Serge Gnabry. He ended up being upended by the keeper, Caballero. Foul was called and a penalty was given, then dispatched for Lewandowski’s 52nd goal of the season.

24th minute: Thomas Mueller pickpocketed a dallying Kovacic to send his team through on a 4-on-2 situation. Lewandowski on the ball had two obvious choices to make for the pass, but instead, he calibrated the most difficult one to find Perisic hanging on the edge of the box. The Croatian let the ball rest on his right foot before spearing it into the net for Bayern’s second.

76th minute: Just when Chelsea were having their best spell of the night, Lewandowski sprung again. Gnabry found the Pole at the edge of the touchline. He stood up a marksman’s cross to Tolisso’s contorted body that met with the ball with a volley. 3-1 Bayern.

83rd minute:The striker capped off the performance with a towering header to hoist Bayern’s flag that much higher.

Chelsea’s consolation goal came through Tammy Abraham on the 44th minute. It was Manuel Neuer essentially fending a cross into the Chelsea man’s path for a tap in. A gift if you consider how the goalkeeper was feared once.

Mueller, Gnabry, and Perisic pulled the yellow-carded Emerson every which way. The Chelsea full-back had a big target sign on his back throughout the night.

Bayern’s David Alaba, adjusting to life as a sweeper centre back, matched the legs of Mason Mount. Ross Barkley, the creative midfielder for Chelsea, seemed to play with all the enthusiasm and very little of the acumen.

The Bayern midfield of Thiago Alcantara and Leon Goretzka set up the cat’s cradle to trap the moves of Hudson-Odoi and Kovacic. When that plan came into effect, there was very little in the way of Chelsea possession. Bayern ended the night with 62% possession. In large spells of the game, that percentage touched 75% for the hosts.

Frank Lampard put too much impetus on the quick counter, thus lost the initiative to throw a hat at the game.

There was this unrestrained joy one feels while listening to jazz, watching Bayern carve up triangles and ellipses. There was a measure of freedom but tied to the strings of scale and meter. Chelsea looked like a team who hadn’t been at this stage of the competition for six years. And judging by their performance, Frank Lampard would be the first to admit that they have a lot of catching up to do.

Bayern will now face Barcelona in the one-legged quarter-finals.

Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (Aggregate 4-2)

Champions League Robert Lewandowski Lionel Messi run riot as Chelsea Napoli trudge along helplessly

Lionel Messi (R) scored one and could have had more in the second leg against Napoli. AP

Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne’s strike (45th-minute penalty) wasn't enough on the night when Lionel Messi decided to turn up again. In fact, there is really no player that could outshine Messi when the little Argentinian wants the monopoly of the spotlight. He scored one of the three goals (23rd minute). Lenglet claimed the 10th-minute opener for Barcelona, while Luis Suarez scored a 45th-minute penalty to make it 3-1.

Like Lewandowski, Messi is one player you should tune in to watch as a neutral, lest your mind remains unexpanded by the boundaries these two players push.

There is a daunting shadow looming large at Barcelona. But Messi, like Gandalf, is lodging his staff into the ground and emanating light to ward off the hand of unavoidable entropy. There is a sense of rushed calm in his play now, a scowl that Liverpool talisman Steven Gerrard once bore. What is common between these two names is the grave realisation that the fortunes of their respective football clubs lay clearly on their shoulders.

Yet, at 33, Messi shows very little signs of retrograding. He was the leading light in a poor, black and white, silence film version of their raucous entertaining football. There is proof that joints of this great football club is being calcified by administrative mismanagement. The effect doesn’t remain in the boardroom but splashes down onto the turf. The drop in quality of the overall Barcelona play and the standard of reliance from his equally aged teammates has been flagging for over two seasons. The drop off was seen coming from miles out, but little was done in light of club facing crippling debts. There will come a time when Messi and Barcelona will be faced with a conundrum of a departure that would put enough funds in place to resuscitate the club. But it will not be this season. He is out to prove a point and redeem what’s left of Barcelona’s season.

There is a sense of irony that they will face Bayern, one of the best-run teams in world football.

They join Atalanta, PSG, Leipzig, Atletico Madrid, Manchester City and Lyon in the quarters.

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