The 5-1 thumping that Arsenal suffered at the hands of Bayern Munich set the scene for what is a fascinating Champions League knockout round as the action continues tonight. But first things first.
Arsenal oh Arsenal. Groundhog day. Familiar scenes. Emirati destruction. What do you call a car crash which keeps repeating itself? At what point does the director say “Cut scene” to an utterly ridiculous, repetitive take which seems so hell-bent on warping itself in ignominy that even the word parody fails to describe it aptly?
At what point do you call time on your losses and just let the actors go? For those blaming the loss on Laurent Koscielny’s sending-off or preaching patience with the manger for his wonderful contributions to the club, here’s a stat for you: Since the start of the season, the only top-six side that Arsenal have beaten is Chelsea in September.
Back to tonight, Barcelona will be trying to do what Arsenal failed to yesterday: overturn a four goal deficit against difficult adversaries. The 4-0 scoreline has never been reversed in the Champions League era and has been overcome only three times in European knockout history. While they have the firepower, they have a far more difficult task because they are hampered by...
The lack of an all-important away goal
The importance of an away goal cannot be underestimated, especially considering what it would have done for Barcelona’s chances in the tie. Samuel Umtiti hitting the post is as close as they came to snatching a vital strike.
While they will need to score five or more goals to win the tie in regulation time or four to force extra time, a PSG goal would most certainly mean lights out for the Catalan club as they would need to score six to outright win the tie.
An away goal in a heavy first-leg defeat allows the losers to play with more freedom in the return leg, given the cushion that the goal provides. Losses without first leg goals lead a club to try and reverse the scoreline while maintaining a tight backline at the same time.
While PSG shut out Barcelona for only the second time this season, the Parisiens average two goals in their last six European games. Edinson Cavani, who is Europe’s leading club scorer with 37 goals in 36 matches is sure to start.
A summer of change at Barcelona?
Should they fail to make it through to the next stage, this will be the first time in ten years that the Blaugrana have not made the quarterfinals of Europe’s primary club competition and that is a testament to how consistent they have been.
Luis Enrique has already stated his intentions of leaving this summer and several players may follow suit. Among those coming to the end of their Barcelona career is Javier Mascherano and the Argentine may feature in his last European game for the club in a three-man defence that Enrique has used in recent weeks.
Considering the level of success that the fans have become accustomed to over the years or that a rampaging Real have games in hand in the La Liga race, a solitary Copa Del Rey triumph may not have sufficed for Enrique had he stayed.
Barcelona, like Arsenal, are due a summer of change and making sure that their star-studded front line stay together. Unlike the latter, however, Barca are sure to put up a fight given the firepower at their disposal. It should make for an exquisite match-up with one of Europe’s perennial also-rans looking to finally overcome one of the big guns at the grandest stage.
Tuchel’s young turks face litmus test
It is an open secret that Borussia Dortmund possess the hottest young properties in the football market, anywhere in the world. Then it is also known that Dortmund have been inconsistent all season long.
In Emre Mor (19), Julian Weigl (21), Raphael Guerreiro (23), Ousmane Dembele (19) and Christian Pulisic (18), they have footballing royalty-in-the-making but these are the footie equivalents of diamonds in the rough, not the complete product yet.
It showed in the first leg in Portugal when the Germans have many chances to put the tie to bed but somehow managed to come away empty-handed. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the main culprit on the day for missing a penalty among other sitters, will be looking to make amends.
Benfica will be anything but complicit: Coming into the knockouts, the Eagles were the only one of the 16 teams to have won their last six games in all competitions and in Kostas Mitroglu, scorer of the goal from the first leg, they have a striker with 18 goals in his last 17 appearances.
Tuchel will appeal to his youthful charges to step up and respond, made doubly hard by Marco Reus’ injury-enforced absence. Sven Bender, Mario Gotze, Nuri Sahin and Sebastian Rode are also out but such is the depth in their squad that they have scored 12 goals in their last three games.
For the season to be termed as a step in the right direction, they must beat Benfica and progress, for Tuchel knows, that tougher challenges than a 1-0 deficit await his youthful charges.