Just under 2 months to the end of a covid-hit 2019/2020 Champions League season — an exhilarating campaign for treble-winning German outfit, Bayern Munich, clinching their 6th European silverware in grand style — a new era of an alluring but cutthroat Champions League football began.
So far, it’s been a mouthwatering 2020/21 UEFA Champions League season. Albeit most matches were played behind closed doors, football fans around the globe had something to cheer about as they were treated to a masterclass of football play by every team partaking in the competition.
The icing on the cake was when the best footballers on the planet (Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi) locked horns again in an epic clash between Barcelona and Juventus at the last round of the group stage phase. Ronaldo stole the show with his two trademark goals. Olivier Giroud’s fantastic four against Sevilla was eye-catching. The 34-year old netted a perfect hat-trick with a penalty to give Chelsea the top seed in Group E.
Also, Manchester United shocking defeat to RB Leipzig was astonishing!. The German team edged United out of the Champions League in a decisive 3-2 win at home.
However, inspite of the enthralling matches played at the group stage level of the competition this season, there were some magic moment that mesmerized the world of football. Thus, here are 5 talking points as the group stage phase of the Champions League come to a close.
(1) Erratic Real Madrid wriggles their way through to the knockout stage.When qualification seemed impossible with all odds against Los Blancos due to their inconsistency in a group where until the last day, all teams had a lifeline to advance to the next stage of the competition; Real Madrid advertised to the world why they remain the most successful in the competition — defeating Boroussia Monchengladbach 2-0 at the most crucial time to seal top spot in group C and ensure qualification to the knockout stage. Thanks to Karim Benzema’s exquisite double header that left Monchengladbach in tatters.
Going down the memory lane, Real Madrid have won all their opening games in the Champions League but this season took a new dimension with the Spanish Giant failing to win their opening 2 games of the season’s campaign.
Despite the La Liga holders shaky start to the season, coupled with the fact that they were tied alongside high pressing team; Internationazole, Boroussia Monchengladbach, the 13th time champion were relentless and resolute as they wriggled their way out of a highly competitive group B.
However, Real Madrid’s implausible progression to the round of 16 suggests why they are firm favourite in the race for the European crown.
(2) Relentless PSG cut United down to size to claim top spot in group H.The Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United clash was on an occasion when the former dearly needed a win not only to keep their hopes of progress alive but also to remain in control of their destiny. With anxiety filling up PSG’s nerves and tension all over their body on a night when they must not be susceptible to any error, the beaten finalist last season stood firm, with Neymar providing the ammunition to silence United in a 3-1 win at Old Trafford. At full time, Thomas Tuchel’s side could not conceal their delightfulness about the win. They were now within touching distance of the Champions League last-16 if they can get a point against Turkish Istanbul Basaksehir in the last group game.
At the other end, Ole Gunnar Solksjear’s team were extremely nervy and in a complicated situation with Europa League knocking at their door once they fail to claim a point against RB Leipzig in the final group stage game. Indeed!, there profligacy in the game had costed them gravely. It was then the match winner, Neymar said he never imagined himself out of the Champions League or playing in the Europa League.
” I didn’t come here to play the Europa League with PSG.” Neymar said after the game against Manchester United.
Be that as it may, the French giant need to be applauded for among other things, their single-mindedness, aplomb and high level of team work as they overcomed a setback suffered at the hands of United on opening match day to fight back and clinch top seat in a dog eat dog group tie.
(3) Manchester United efforts were too little, too late to ensure qualification to the next round of the competition.
Arguably the most unpredictable team in Europe; blessed with a manager known for somehow finding a way to keep the storm cloud at bay by overseeing a win when he needs it most, coupled with the fact that they are on a 9 matches away winning streak domestically — Manchester United seemed to have had an edge over an 11-year old team, RB Leipzig.
But it was the German outfit who stole the show and caught United’s defense cold. They meant business, had no time for pranks and were unwilling to condole any sloppy display from the English side. They put up a slick performance and within the space of 15 minutes, they were 2 goals ahead leaving United tensed and turmoiled in a contest where they needed just a point to advance to the Champions League last-16. In the end, even though United intensified effort at the dying stages to pull 2 goals back in what could have been a memorable comeback, they got what they deserved which was nothing.
Now Manchester United are out of the Champions League after leaving it too late in Germany. Elimination from the Champions League on Tuesday night was many things: a shame for the club’s fan, an enormous missed opportunity after the opening day win in Paris, a regret of the silly loss to Istanbul Basaksehir and a much clearer picture of what the future looks like for Solksjear and United.
(4) Bedlam sets in as alleged racism abuse angers the football world.
A busy night of Champions League action on Tuesday was overshadowed by events at the Parc des Princes, where racist allegations by the fourth official Sebastian Coltescu led to Paris Saint-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir players walking off the pitch.
The walk off occurred following the red card shown to Basaksehir’s Cameroonian assistant coach Pierre Webo for protesting against a refereeing decision. Report said that Sebastian Coltescu triggered Webo’s dismissal from the game. The fourth official made a racist statement while trying to draw the referee’s attention, Ovidiu Hategan towards dismissing Webo.
” The black one over there. Go check who he his. The black one over there, it’s impossible to act like that.” Coltescu said.
That led to Basaksehir’s substitute Demba Ba confronting Coltescu over what the official said as he called on the referee to dismiss Webo. Enraged and incensed, Demba Ba could be seen in a video footage saying to Coltescu: ” You never say ‘this white guy’, why when you mention a black guy do you have to say ‘this black guy’.” Demba Ba could also be seen in a footage confronting the referee and saying to him: ” why he say negro?.” There followed heated discussions before they players departed into the locker room.
However, Coltescu’s statement infuriated the world of football and precipitated actions and sayings against racism and discrimination in sport. At that, UEFA released a press statement saying:
“Following an alleged incident involving the fourth official, the match was temporarily suspended,” read a Uefa statement. “After consultation with both teams, it was agreed that the match would restart with a different fourth official. Uefa will thoroughly investigate the matter and further communication will be made in due course.”
Istanbul Basaksehir took to their Twitter page and said:
“Our players have taken a decision NOT TO go back on the pitch after our Assistant Coach Pierre Webo has been exposed to racist behaviour by the 4th Official.” The same account also posted the message: “NO TO RACISM Respect.”
PSG also issued a statement on Twitter:
“After a red card is given by the referee to a member of opposition staff, discussions continue between players and staff of both teams with the referee. The Basaksehir players decide to go back to the locker room, the Parisians follow them.”
Despite UEFA, Istanbul Basaksehir and Paris Saint-Germain’s intervention in the matter, PSG’s players also lent their support in the fight against racism. Presnel Kimpimbe could be seen saying:
“Is he serious? We are heading in. We’re heading in. That’s it, we’re heading in”. The striker Kylian Mbappé posted on Twitter: “SAY NO TO RACISM. M WEBO WE ARE WITH YOU”.
Players walking off the pitch in protest against racism is rare and that both teams did so marveled everyone. Such and action could prove a turning point in football’s fight against discrimination and there will be much focus on UEFA’s investigation and the sanction the governing body issues should Coltescu be found guilty of racism.
(5) Rich in squad depth, the reason why Chelsea are firm favourite in the title contest for the European cup.
To win an elite team, you must field in your best material to achieve the best result. But Chelsea was an antagonist to this rule on the day when they sinked Sevilla in a 4-0 win in Spain. With 9 changes from their usual squad, the richness in the Blues squad depth was showcased as Frank Lampard’s ‘second-team’ showed superiority over Sevilla to go top in group H. Chelsea invested heavily in transfers of players prior to the start of the season, bringing in 7 players to the team after they were relieved of a 1-year transfer ban. There spending spree in the summer transfer window as however yielded positive results. The newcomers have not only enriched the team’s depth, but also instilled healthy competition in the squad. They are now a team with 2 or 3 players battling for a position, in which only the most impressive makes the final squad. Inspite of the competitiveness of Chelsea’s squad, Frank Lampard has been brilliant with his team management. He rotates the squad in a meticulous manner, giving every player the game time to showcase the qualities he possess. Little surprise why Faustino Anjorin was handed a Champions League debut against Krasnodar in the final match of the group stage. But Chelsea have a strong squad depth with most players playing at a top class level and ready to inflict injury unto any team that come their way. On top of that, as of the time of writing, they have an impressive run of form so far this season, remaining unbeaten in the Champions League with 9 clean sheets in all competition to boast of. In light of this, they remain a contender for the title and with the quality of players available in the team, they possess more than enough to get their hands on the European crown.