Johnny Gillespie ’20
The end of February was inundated with exciting fixtures in the soccer world, many equally as exciting as they promised to be. Among this pool of matches were results that were both significant and thrilling to play witness too. We’ll focus on the Champions League Round of 16 First Leg ties as well as domestic fixtures from this past weekend.
The obvious frontrunner for edge of your seat action on paper, Manchester City, left the Santiago Bernabeu with a 2-1 lead over Real Madrid in what was a tale of tactical check-mate on the part of Pep Guardiola. Leaving Sergio Agüero, David Silva, and Raheem Sterling on the bench against the best opponent City had yet faced in the Champions League did nothing short of raise eyebrows, but the master tactician came up with a plan so unorthodox, you just had a feeling it would work. And though it objectively did, it turned out there was one more start-when-healthy player that should have been left on the bench, with Aymeric Laporte being sidelined for another month after picking up a knock in the first half. City will now welcome Real Madrid to the Etihad with two away goals that may have all but settled the tie, and if Kevin De Bruyne maintains his borderline superhuman form that consistently sparked the City attack in the second half, Zinedine Zidane will have overseen his first Champions League elimination as Real Madrid manager.
Barcelona saw out a 1-1 draw with Napoli thanks to goals from Antoine Griezzmann and Dries Mertens, the latter ceding no chance to the goalkeeper. Both teams were presented with several opportunities to unlevel the match but failed to capitalize, and Quique Setién has stopped short of convincing supporters that his Cruyffian philosophy can successfully translate to results on the pitch in the biggest of games. A late Arturo Vidal red card will eliminate him from consideration in a second leg that Barcelona will be favored to win at home.
Having mentioned both Real Madrid and Barcelona already, it seems fit to fast forward to Sunday’s clasico, a tale of two halves and two goals. What began and endured as an even match throughout the first half was broken open by a deflected effort from Vinicius Jr. A game that was massive for implications in the La Liga title race saw Real Madrid to the top of the league by one point after they failed to win any of their previous three matches, including their loss to City, while Barcelona had won 7 of their last 10 in all competitions. Lionel Messi has now failed to score or assist a goal in a single clasico since Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus, perhaps missing the motivation that likely comes with playing against your only rival for the best in the world. We’ll miss these two when they’re both gone.
Though the odds for a perfect Premier League season had always been against Liverpool, no one suspected they would play with so much dejection against a Watford side only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference. The Reds deservedly earned their first league loss of the season, and will look to bounce back against Chelsea in the midweek FA Cup semifinal in anticipation of a crucial Champions League second leg against Atlético Madrid at Anfield in two weeks. Manchester United drew Everton 1-1 and Carlo Ancelotti earned himself a red card after full time, having been disallowed a goal by VAR in stoppage time. In what looked to be the second best European match of the weekend, Juventus v. Inter Milan was postponed due to the outbreak of coronavirus in northern Italy, denoting a delay in what might prove to be the title-deciding match in Serie A. March will be an extremely important month, especially for cup competitions and we’ll return with updates on their progress soon.