continued to set records in the most recent round of Champions League play, but his previous team once again lost in the group stage. What a round of Champions League action. Matchday 5 was wildly exciting, even by the tournament’s absurdly high standards.
Antonio Conte found the late, VAR-fueled drama at both Tottenham and Atletico Madrid virtually unbearable. Two well-known teams also lost this week, with Barcelona and Juventus both being eliminated from the Champions League after humiliating losses. Bayern continued their perfect winning streak by dominating Camp Nou, and Napoli is now 5 for 5 after defeating Rangers in an easy victory.
Lionel Messi: No one wanted Lionel Messi to leave Barcelona. This week, Sergio Aguero stated that a fellow Argentine was so eager to extend his stay at Camp Nou that he began requesting images of himself wearing a Barca shirt.
Even while Messi may have found leaving to be tremendously difficult, it now appears to be a blessing in disguise. Barca hadn’t participated in the Europa League since 2004 before his departure. They are now preparing for their second consecutive campaign. After a challenging first season at Paris Saint-Germain, Messi is now back to anything approximating his mesmerizing best.
Andy Robertson: Darwin Nunez’s startling miss after the first half of Liverpool’s match against Ajax caused some to worry about him. Since moving to Anfield during the summer, the Uruguayan hasn’t had an easy time of it and has faced constant criticism on social media. Even during national team training sessions, every mistake has been scrutinized, and every miss has gone viral right afterward.
He was, however, naturally very unhappy with himself as he sat in the away dressing room at the Johan Cruyff Arena during the halftime interval. He must have been aware that he was already being picked out online and dismissed as the next Andy Carroll a big-money bust once more. He assured Nunez that if he repented, he would place a cross on his head, and the Scot kept his promise.
Simone Inzaghi: At San Siro, Inter advanced to the round of 16, but the Spotify Camp Nou was the center of attention in the media. Given that Barcelona’s elimination from the group stage is one of the season’s biggest stories, that was perhaps predictable.
However, it is important to recognize the work Simone Inzaghi did to advance Inter to the knockout round. Remember that after a disastrous start to the Serie A season, the coach’s job was under heavy criticism heading into the pivotal doubleheader with Barcelona. Even worse, Romelu Lukaku and Marcelo Brozovic’s injuries prevented Inzaghi from performing at his best.
They might have beaten Barca at San Siro thanks to a questionable VAR ruling, but in the ensuing 3-3 draw in Catalunya, they were by far the superior team, with Inzaghi outsmarting Xavi by a wide margin.
Super League clubs: The three remaining European Super League (ESL) rebel teams haven’t had a nice week with losses to Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus. Nobody would bet against the defending champions winning a tournament they rather weirdly remain bent on destroying if they defeat Celtic at home in their last group game and advance to the round of 16 when they will be among the top seeds.
The reasons behind Barca and Juve are clear, though. While the existing Champions League system has its drawbacks and still favors the wealthiest teams too heavily, the group stage at least penalizes persistently poor performances, which is why failure specialists Barca and Juve want a closed competition. Barca and Juve are recklessly run clubs that should be held accountable for their mistakes rather than having an ESL bail them out while their less illustrious opponents are being prudent.
La Liga: La Liga will only have one representative in the knockout round for the first time since the 1998–99 Champions League. And Real Madrid is involved once more. Sevilla will, quite reasonably, complain that their group, which also included Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund, was difficult. Additionally, the Europa League has long seemed like their natural environment.
However, the fact that Barcelona, who were demoted to Europe’s “second tier” for the second year in a row, is in danger of becoming regulars in the Europa League is immensely alarming for the Spanish game. Although they too received a difficult group with Bayern Munich and Inter, the performance of the second-best team in Spain against both did not bode well for the current state of La Liga.
After Barca’s team defeated Athletic Club with relative ease just a few days after cruising past Villarreal, the matter was even brought up with manager Xavi at the weekend. The Primera Division, according to Xavi, is stronger and more competitive than it has been in a long time.
Antonio Conte: Not that Inter (or Juventus or Chelsea) supporters will be too surprised, Inzaghi’s predecessor had a far more difficult evening. Antonio Conte may have won the Champions League while he was a player, but as a coach, he has never advanced past the semifinals. His dismal performance in the competition has long been used to discredit his reputation as one of the best coaches in the sport.
And he is aware of this, as evidenced by his indignant response to Wednesday night’s tie with Sporting CP. Despite his assertions that Tottenham lacks talent and depth, elimination from this year’s group stage would be quite painful. To be honest, Conte’s wrath, which resulted in a red card for him, was somewhat explicable. When Harry Kane hooked the ball home in the final seconds, Spurs appeared to have won the match.
Matt Doherty acknowledged that neither he nor his team understood what was happening and that he would have to consult the rulebook to determine why Kane was deemed to be onside given that the ball had been deflected to the forward’s feet.
For more latest updates and news, keep watching this space.