This should be a recovery beyond even Messi and Barcelona
Against Malaga, there was yet another example that Luis Enrique has lost the run of Barcelona.
Given Enrique has managed to win the Champions League and Liga with Barcelona, we can assume that he is no chump. For all the club’s struggles this season, they could owe as much to the impossible task of effectively replacing the spine of a world class team.
Perhaps the best team ever had, at its heart, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique. They had Pedro with them, too. These players are all years older, have been battered by the game and opponents, some have been sold, and some are in inevitable decline.
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You can add to that the intrigue of egos, as Neymar appears to resent his lot as the third wheel against Messi and Luis Suarez, not willing to wait any longer to be the most important player in the next iteration of Barcelona.
That’s fair enough, and to some extent it is Enrique’s job to manage and mitigate this. Enrique seems to attract plenty of criticism for not having the answers now, but there are so few instances of truly great teams enduring for as long as Barcelona have. Unless you have the genius of Messi and the confidence of Pep Guardiola, at the right time, just as a team is shedding its old skill, reinvention is no easy thing. Barcelona had one dead cat bounce against PSG, and they are pushing their luck to hope there is anything more to come.
Juventus rewarded for their stellar transfer business
Dani Alves, obviously, is one of the other players who left Barcelona. Now, Alves might have looked like a slimmer John C Reilly, but despite that he was a vital part of the team, pressing an entire wing of the opposition back, offering bronca and a will to win via skill and/or cheating. It’s not vital to replace like for like in a team, but a dressing room that misses clear but inevitable qualities that Alves brings has to plan to deal without them.
Alves moved to Juventus to prolong his career, as they adroitly replaced the fading body of Patrice Evra with another strong character. It is just one example of a transfer policy that has been impressively effective for Juventus over the past decade.
While they have dominated Serie A, which is still yet to recover from an economic downturn and the corruption scandal, they have nonetheless become more of a threat in Europe. Their team last night showed the pragmatism and cold-blooded nature of how they negotiate the transfer market. Paulo Dybala was prised away from also-rans Palermo on the cheap. Sami Khedira arrived for nothing. Mario Mandzukic was a Bayern off-cut. Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic nobbled their closest domestic rivals. Juan Cuadrado has been borrowed from Chelsea.
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As Juventus have developed, sustained themselves and improved in many ways, they have shed Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba and Carlos Tevez, all while balancing the books. They aren’t short of funding, but their demolition of Barcelona was a tribute to just how they have excelled off the pitch as much as on it.
Cristiano Ronaldo in decline is still enough against the best
When Vidal left, he ended up at Bayern, having missed a Manchester United-shaped bullet. The worries at Old Trafford were that the state of his knees meant that he was no sure thing. Regardless of the process of that decision, the outcome was the wrong one. He has flourished at Bayern Munich, and put them ahead against Real Madrid. Were it not for his missed penalty, the tie might be looking significantly different now.
Another player who also has his fitness concerns was the difference for Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo creaked his way through the European Championships, and as someone put it on Twitter tonight, his body is starting to fall away from what his mind wants to do. For the most part though, his mind is determined not to break or bend to anything, even he is not the threat he once was. He made it to 100 European goals tonight.
As the saying doesn’t go: goals aren’t overrated. As long as Ronaldo keeps banging them in, he can start to shave away the other contributions he makes. Ronaldo could still end up with between 30 and 40 goals this season – that is more than enough to keep his place in the side, and to beat some of the very best teams.
Dortmund perform admirably in impossible circumstances
It is not impossible, but it is pointless, to discuss Monaco’s win at Dortmund without an acknowledgement of the surtext. The evening before Dortmund’s planned match, there were explosions outside the team bus. Marc Bartra was injured so seriously that he required an option, and reportedly shrapnel was found embedded in a headrest. A fraction of a second either way, and Bartra’s injury could have been far worse, or those around him might have suffered something much more serious than just an injury.
It is perplexing that the game was rearranged so quickly, but given the nature of both teams’ schedule, in some ways it was a case of now or never. It is feasible and likely that for many players, after the match, the events of Tuesday night will begin to catch up with them more profoundly.
As Dortmund fell behind to two early Monaco goals, the obvious thought was that they had simply been too rattled to compete effectively. But they fought back to 3-2, and had Monaco on the ropes to be confident for the return leg. As, too, will Monaco. Kylian Mbappe plays with determination and fearlessly. In the longer term, it remains to be seen if the same can be said as players adjust to what they went through.
Atletico Madrid fail to make their most of their dominance
Leicester were organised, but they simply did not have the talent. Atletico were patient, and they had the pace and guile to stretch their limited opponent, but they were neither ruthless nor brutal enough to gain any great dominance ahead of the second leg. Atletico ran out of ideas. At King Power, Leicester only need one single goal to go their way for them to spring yet another surprise. It is foolish to count them out yet.