The Lionel Messi Show: Thoughts From The UEFA Champions League Second Round

The intriguing second round of the UEFA Champions league was concluded on Wednesday night and eight teams scaled the hurdle for a place in the quarter- finals of the competition. For the second time in three seasons, no English team made it to the last eight as flag bearers, Arsenal, Chelsea and champions Manchester City all crashed out of Europe’s elite competition in one fell swoop.

Only last week, Real Madrid qualified after enduring a scare at the return leg to Schalke when they lost uncharacteristically by 3-4 at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. The job had been done however in the first leg with a 0-2 victory and Los Blancos would hope that they regain the form that made them secure the much coveted La Decima last season.

FC Shakhtar Donetsk had a crash course in football rudiments with instructions coming from the ruthless FC Bayern München side that are sizzling favorites to win the competition. Pep Guardiola’s men were always going to be the favorites to see through the tie, but a 0-0- first leg shielded what was to unfold at the Olympics stadium where the Bavarians put seven goals past their foe to set a UEFA  Champion’s league record.

FC Porto dismissed FC BASEL 1893 by 4-0 to go through with a 5-1 aggregate despite the fact that the former were not with their talisman Jackson Martínez. The first leg had ended 1-1 but goals from Yacine Brahimi, Hector Herrera, Casemiro and Vincent Aboubakar saw them through to the quarterfinals only for the second time since winning the trophy in 2004.

PSG had their pound of flesh over Chelsea after grinding out a 2-2 draw. All Chelsea needed was a scoreless draw on their own soil but their reluctance to take the attacking initiative and penchant for being cautious in the vintage Mourinho style saw them shockingly draw with PSG.

PSG

PSG players celebrate after the Champions League round of 16 second leg soccer match between Chelsea and Paris Saint Germain at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Wednesday, March 11, 2015. The ended in a 2-2 draw with PSG going through on away goals. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

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PSG had the last laugh over Chelsea in last week’s game

This week…

Arsenal FC had made a meal of their fixture with AS Monaco in the first leg at the Emirates stadium where they went down 1-3 and the return leg was always going to be a workload. The Gunners, however, buoyed by their FA Cup triumph and a 3-0 dismissing of West Ham, needed to match their last league performance on a foreign ground to go through. The Londoners’ intent was blatant from the blast of the whistle as they showed purpose and took the game to their host with a flurry of attacking displays while putting some good shifts in their rearguard. A goal from Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, however, wasn’t enough to make them see through a Monaco side that was hanging on but qualified through an away goal.

MONACO                                   Aaron Ramsey scored the second goal for Arsenal but it was not enough!

Atlético de Madrid is “a team that sometimes don’t play well but put their soul into the game,” the charismatic Diego Simeone stressed as they wriggled through a 3-2 dramatic penalty shootout against German outfit, Bayern Leverkusen, defying their history of bad lucks in penalty shootouts in European competitions. Atleti had lost the first leg in Germany through a solitary goal but evened things out through a deflected first half strike by Mario Suárez .

Juventus saw off what was left of a Dortmund’s side that hasn’t much going for it lately with a 0-3 Carlos Tevez inspired victory to go through. The Old lady had won the first leg  2-1 as they cruised to their second quarter-finals in three years.

Finally, welcome to the one and only Nou Camp; if you are just joining us, it’s another enthralling episode of the Lionel Messi Show! If there’s still anyone left on the planet that is still on tenterhooks about the genius of Messi, Wednesday night was your answer. Forget Ronaldo, Messi is the World’s best player – emeritus. The little frame Argentine who fessed up that he had a bad year last year by his own monstrous standards, continued from where he left off at the Etihad stadium, instigating a wave of attacking football and tricky nutmegs that Pep Guardiola  found tantalizing as he watched on from the stands. It was a night where the Catalans were rampant, with their talisman in the mood for party.  In the first half, Messi’s artistic trademark pass from the far right found Ivan Rakitic in the box who  and he chested coolly before tipping over Joe Hart to give Barca 1-0 victory and see them cruise to the quarterfinals for the umpteenth time. Manchester City’s keeper, Joe Hart was the only reason the scoreline was reasonable as he put up a virtuoso performance to stop Messi, Suarez and Neymar from scoring, never mind Sergio Agüero’s spot kick miss. .

MESSI SHOW                                 You’ve had enough! Joe Hart made  brilliant  saves to stop magical Messi

So what were the things I picked from the round of sixteen of the UEFA Champions League? You have it:

Don’t do the right things at the wrong time. Arsenal left it too late and their effort to salvage something on Tuesday night, though commendable, was sheer damage control. They had thought fate had finally smiled on them when they were drawn against French side and were confident to go through, having avoided the precarious Bayern Munichs and Barcelonas of our time. But at the first leg they weren’t really in it to win it— and before anyone could scream Jack Wilshere, their time was up!

Manage pressure. The Special One who couldn’t couch his frustrations had said that his side wasn’t able to manage the pressure of playing at home and being a man up— who would have thought that those seeming advantages could give you pressure! But it really proved to be an albatross and the Blues for once, sank into the tides of the pressure when they were expected to stay afloat!

Don’t play into the hands of the competition—Manchester City loves to play attacking football—that is the philosophy of Coach Manuel Pellegrini, but there’s only one team that’s always going to attack when you play against the Catalan giants— don’t ask me which team, ask  Sir Alex! I thought Manchester City could have made it more compact and stifle play but they chose to sell Ice to the Eskimos by playing attacking football with Barcelona!

Never give in.—PSG were one man down as Zlatan Ibrahimovic was controversially sent off. But they refused to give up against an uncompromising opposition and gave all that they had. When Chelsea eventually scored in the tail end of the game, they responded with their own goal—not once— but twice. Now that takes some wits and they were well rewarded with a place in the quarter-finals!

The quarter-finals draw is on Friday March 20 and it promises to be another scintillating adventure. See you then!

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

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