Champions League talking points: Barcelona disgrace themselves with shoddy performance

Neymar Jr
Neymar Jr

Barcelona show themselves up with a risible display against Juventus

We are almost constantly told that Barcelona are more than a club. We are also told that the phrase isn’t some kind of boast, but that it is a reference to the importance of Barcelona in Catalan identity at times of stress, suffering and oppression.

That might be the case in times gone by, but now, it is merely a weapon of commerce. It is used to beat the world into submission to accept that Barcelona are moral, and that their way of playing is the very best, and the most beautiful.

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And, indeed, it can be very impressive. Not now, obviously. Not now their heads are down, Lionel Messi is blowing chances, and the rest of the team cannot raise their game to score against a strong Juventus side.

Not now they have been held back by a refereeing performance that was far more competent than the one offered up during the game against Paris Saint-Germain.

But what is memorable from the PSG game is the same as in the Juventus game. The diving. The constant, relentless shrieking at the referee that they should be rewarded because they have the inveterate, shameless desire to cheat and flop their way to victory if that is what is needed.

More than a club is nothing more than a symbol, trampled on by a team who will take gamesmanship to despicable limits. They made Juventus look honest. Juventus!

Monaco have as much to offer Mbappe as he does them

Kylian Mbappe does not stop scoring. He has one in each of his last four Champions League knockout ties and it could be true of his next three, this season, given his form. He has five goals in the tournament at a far younger age than both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and while that is not a wholly illustrative statistic, it shows just how important he has been to Monaco, and just how dangerous he already is.

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His goal against Dortmund killed off any hopes that the away side had of overcoming a miserable set of events last week. The game should not have gone ahead, really, but there was no practical way to avoid it either, beyond Dortmund retiring from the competition – that could never have happen.

But back to Mbappe. There are rumours of a £100m move in the summer, with Manchester United, Chelsea and the rest of Europe’s biggest clubs links.

He would not be out of place at any of them, but his is a talent that needs exposure, not time on the bench. Another season, at least, at Monaco might be his best move yet.

Atletico Madrid have one last shot at glory with Simeone

Atletico Madrid are not going to win another LaLiga title for Diego Simeone. He will leave in the summer, and plenty of their excellent players – Diego Godin, Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann – will move on to their next club, or to somewhere entirely new. Simeone’s hard work, charisma and organisation has taken Atletico to greatness once, and to its cusp several more times.

Against Leicester, they knew they were favourites against a hard-running, direct team. It wasn’t a mirror image, but they would have been aware of the similarities, as an interview with Godin illustrated a couple of days ago.

Despite those similarities, Atletico were in control for most of the tie, especially after Griezmann hit the deck and won a dodgy penalty.

For all Leicester’s recent improvement, there was nothing that could reasonably be done against Simeone. His players do not roll over, they do not give into complacency and they do not let their opponents work harder than they do.

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There are a few more games for Atletico with Simeone, and it would be foolish to suggest they cannot end the season with a Champions League to join the LaLiga and Europa League titles they have built their success upon.

Cristiano Ronaldo proves football fans wrong. Again

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo

There are awful fans across the world. There are the fans in South America, Italy, France, Britain and almost everywhere in the world who boo black players in order to express their own inferiority.

There are fans who proclaim Santi Cazorla to be world class because he passes well and is short. There were fans in the past who burnt effigies of David Beckham for getting sent off against Argentina.

Across the world, there are fans who do stupid things because they either can’t be bothered to think things through, or because they just don’t want to think at all.

On Tuesday night, Real Madrid faced Bayern Munich, perhaps the second best or best club in the world. Cristiano Ronaldo struggled early on. Then Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick, and was the most important player on the pitch, who once again saved Real Madrid.

It is not the first time that Ronaldo struggled and then saved his side. It probably won’t be the last. But the Real Madrid fans whistled and booed. There are lots of awful fans across the world. Real Madrid fans definitely qualify.

Arturo Vidal’s hints at conspiracy doesn’t let him off the hook

Real Madrid were fortunate to qualify. Not because Arturo Vidal missed some great chances over the tie, but because they relied upon some refereeing mistakes to send them through. Two of Ronaldo’s chances looked offside; at least one of them definitely was.

In the previous round, Barcelona were lucky to have a referee who was going to be fooled by obvious cheating and dives.

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Now, Vidal and others hint at a dark conspiracy about these results. They suggest that there are problems with favouring the big clubs. When it comes to Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern and Real, we can be realistic – they are all massive clubs, and they all carry more than enough influence.

But the problem is that when players dominate, and create chance after chance and dive after dive, humans will inevitably make mistakes. It’s irritating, and at times infuriating, but the solution is not to rail against these errors as if they are deliberate, it is to start using video technology to render them obsolete.

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