Marseille 2-3 Paris SG
You blew it, OM.
I had such high hopes for you last season. Crazy genius Marcelo Bielsa controlling you from the bench. Gignac finally finding his second wind as a lone striker to feed you with goals. Dimitri Payet becoming an assist machine. Steve Mandanda saving everything his useless, feeble defenders would screw up – and more. Even without injured Nicolas Nkoulou as your best centre-back, you had all the tools needed to win the league and take some steam off the overpaid, overpriced, over-pampered starlets from Paris. But instead of taking your chance, you just had to implode right in front of your die-hard supporters.
Well – at least it was fun to watch. At least PSG’s Marquinhos had to swallow a bitter pill before he struck back to make the game level in the second half. But what was with defending the free kick the way you did while leading 2-1? This was exactly the kind of sloppiness that costed you a win in Bastia (3-1 up after 62 minutes, then conceding two), Saint-Etienne (2-1 up until the 90th minute, injury time equalizer) and at home, to Caen (2-0 only to roll over from the 67th minute onward). Those games alone costed you six points; the exact amount you needed to finish second and at least make your way to the Champions League. Does the idiom “to shut up shop” even exist in Bielsa’s vocabulary?
The Argentinian (not in OM anymore, by the way) deserves credit for one thing: without his shenanigans, a goal like Matuidi’s would not be possible. It’s been a strike of the year from a player who worked harder than any other PSG lad. He was essential. And if the millionaires from Parc des Princes are seriously looking to succeed in Champions League this season – they better make sure Blaise is healthy, fit and in a good form.
Real Madrid 1-1 Juventus
It wasn’t meant to be. Despite the best wishes, the biggest money signings possible and gigantic effort from both sides, we were once again denied El Clásico in the Champions League final. Barcelona did their part of the job by outplaying Bayern Munich thanks to Leo Messi’s brilliancy; but the team that once brought Gareth Bale for over £80 million and looked to unleash the BBC trio potential in the final – failed to deliver against Juventus. Yeah, that’s right: a club from severely underperforming, crisis-ridden, defensively-minded league has proven to be better than the Galacticos. And not only that: they’ve also did it by using the skills of a player born, raised and eventually thrown out at Madrid!
Álvaro Morata has never been my favorite striker. He’s not the best dribbler; his shots are hardly exciting. When he scores, it’s usually through thinking ahead, reading the game well and getting in the right positions. However, in May, he was both in-form and motivated – motivated to prove his former employers wrong. He didn’t celebrate the two goals he scored past Iker Casillas; but that doesn’t mean he didn’t feel any satisfaction from it. Alongside with Tevez, Vidal and inspired Gianluigi Buffon in goal, he was a hero who stopped Carlo Ancelotti from putting hands on his fourth Champions Cup. Too bad that a formidable team like 2014-15 Zebrette had such short and underwhelming lifespan…
Barcelona 2-2 Deportivo
The narrative of close saves and miraculous escapes has been hijacked by Leicester City this year; however, La Liga fans had their own, heroic antics to watch. Prior to the last round, Dépor were tied at 34 points with Granada, while Eibar and Almeria were both on 32 points. However, the Basque club was hosting a game against the absolute outsiders from Cordoba – and that meant that Víctor Sánchez’s players needed at least a draw in the lion’s den: Camp Nou, Barcelona. In case of a failure, the only helping hands for Estadio de Riazor hosts would’ve been potentially Valencia or Atletico Madrid – two teams which, coincidentally, had their own rivalry for #3 spot to settle. In short: this was going to be a messy thriller.
Granada and Atletico bored each other to death with an ugly 0-0 draw. Eibar scored two goals from their first three shots 11 minutes into the Cordoba game and cruised to an easy win. Almeria were 1-0 and 2-1 up against Valencia in the first half. Deportivo looked busted there. Messi’s header just five minutes into the game and his tap-in in the first half only confirmed the relegation of a club that managed to win the league title in the year 2000 and made a memorable Champions League comeback against AC Milan.
And then, a miracle happened. An absolute thunderbolt by Lucas Pérez in the 67th minute gave the visitors a little bit of hope – and they clung to it. In a critical moment, Haris Medunjanin had two shots blocked by Barcelona defenders, only to see young Sporting CP loanee Diogo Salomão score the equalizer. In the meantime, Valencia have managed to claw back into the game and eventually took out Almeria 3-2, sealing La Coruna’s survival. 14 minutes after the 2-2 goal, there was a party at Camp Nou – not for the league champions Barcelona, but for those, who stayed up against all odds.
About a month later, La Liga executives have decided to relegate Elche for unpaid debts and allowed Eibar to stay up. But that’s another story…
FC Dnipro 2-3 Sevilla FC
Up until this game, things in the Europa League were quite clear. Sevilla were the attacking, free-flowing side; Dnipro were the ugly-faced, street-toughened hard-asses. The way the Ukrainians sneaked into the final was severely uninspiring: second place in their group (with a 4-5 goal difference after 6 matches); 0-0 and 1-0 in the quarterfinal; 1-1 and 1-0 in the semis… If it wasn’t for the Ro32 matchup against Olympiacos, it would’ve been a trail of tears and boredom for their fans. At the same time, Sevilla’s aggregate scores were promising tons of fun: 4-2 over Gladbach; 5-2 over Villarreal; 4-3 with Zenit; 5-0 with Fiorentina. One of those team was supposed to park the bus and the other attack non-stop, right? Right?
Not exactly. In Warsaw, Dnipro went forward first – and with deadly precision. For Nikola Kalinić, his goal was a free pass to a lucrative Fiorentina transfer; Ruslan Rotan’s free-kick equalizer was comparable with the set-piece efforts of Messi or Çalhanoğlu. However, Myron Markevych’s players have let themselves down at the back: particularly by not dealing with through balls properly. Carlos Bacca, the man who absolutely thrives on making the runs and sweeping passes from the deep, pounced twice and the game was sealed in SFC’s favor. But what would’ve happened if this year’s top player, Grzegorz Krychowiak had never scored 1-1 equalizer on his home soil? We will never know.
Napoli vs Lazio 2-4
Without a doubt, the best Serie A match I’ve seen this year. Coming into the last matchday of the season, Napoli needed a two-goal victory against Lazio to overtake them in a race for the top-three finish and a spot in Champions League qualification rounds. Partenopei had the advantage of playing at home; in eighteen previous games at San Paolo, only Juventus and Chievo managed to collect three points against Rafa Benitez’s team. Lazio, upset by the previous, derby defeat at home to Roma, unable to field their injured leader Lucas Biglia, looked like a team vulnerable to another defeat. After all, how long a team starting all games in a 3-4-3 setup can play like that and get away with it?
As it turned out – for a long time. After a cagey start, one of the absolute Lazio’s heroes, Marco Parolo scored a spectacular long-ranger and the game inevitably opened up. After that, Biancocelesti have quickly proven to be the better team, as they mercilessly capitalized on SSCN’s sloppy passing to score a textbook, counterattacking goal. 0-2 and it’s all over?
Not really. After the break, Napoli’s wingers Insigne and Mertens really went for it. After dispossessing visitors’ wing-backs twice, they’ve managed to serve Higuain with two goals on a silver platter. Then, the Argentinian had a chance for a hat-trick. Had he converted penalty given for a foul committed outside the box, it would’ve been 3-2 to hosts and 15 more minutes to score a goal worth of the third place…
The former Real Madrid striker had to hit it over the bar.
Ogenyi Onazi and Miroslav Klose have sealed the deal. Lazio were victorious. Then, Fat Spanish Waiter went to Madrid, Napoli made a huge leap forward this autumn and Stefano Pioli’s team has become a mid-table side. Apparently, the fortune doesn’t always favor the winners.
Chile 3-3 Mexico
In the absence of a big, European tournament, the best thing national teams could offer us during the summer was Copa America. Unfortunately, this time, most of the superheroes were simply tired. We’ve seen a bunch of insipid results (out of 26 games, 12 featured one goal or less) and a couple of frustrating injuries (Edwin Valencia, Sergio Agüero, Philippe Coutinho). This all combined with several scandalous incidents: a proctologic procedure by Gonzalo Jara on Edinson Cavani; a disgraceful sending-off for Neymar and finally, Arturo Vidal’s late-night car crash after a visit in casino. Not exactly the tournament we’ve all been hoping during a footballing dry spell in the middle of the year.
Fortunately, Chile and Mexico have managed to destroy this pattern. After a fairly quick, opening goal by Vicente Vuoso, The game opened and ceased to be so calculated, so discipline-driven, so… European. Each side managed to net three goals and it easily could’ve been more if it wasn’t for the officials, chalking off Valdívia’s and Sánchez’s strikes. But still, despite the riot going on at both ends of the pitch, three of the six goals we’ve seen came from the set-pieces, highlighting the way South American football has changed over the years. In the end, Mexico have failed to protect their lead twice and got eliminated from the group A; the Chileans, and their indisputable leader Vidal, stormed through the tournament to capture their first, historical CA title.
Manchester City 1-4 Liverpool
How good are Martin Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala? That’s the question Manchester City fans were asking themselves for the last 18 months. But after an absolute mockery of defensive display they both put in against Liverpool in November, the right question would be: are Demichelis and Managala any good? Because if they aren’t, the Citizens will need Vincent Kompany healthy and in-form for every single game remaining in the 2015/16 season – and that’s simply an unattainable dream.
However, let’s not take anything from The Reds. The Brazilian duo of Coutinho and Firmino has executed exactly what Jürgen Klopp has been preaching for years spent in Borussia Dortumnd. The fact that they left space open behind them didn’t matter – according to the German manager, if they could only put the pressure on City properly, they would be rewarded with goalscoring chances. And it worked. Once Sagna and Mangala both cracked under the pressure, the hell broke loose. Again and again, Liverpool would move the ball forward on the counterattack quickly and City had no answer to it.
The question that remains valid today: can Citizens, arguably one of the richest football clubs on this planet, even accomplish anything with Vincent Kompany struggling with injuries? Because without him, the team can’t handle the burden of defending against the counters. It’s confusing and embarrassing that not a single other player in their squad is able to give directions to his teammates, predict the opposition’s intentions correctly or put in an accurate tackle! And Kompany himself isn’t getting younger either: he’ll turn 30 in April…
Wolfsburg 1-2 Dortmund
It was a cold, December evening when I tuned in to watch Bundesliga after hours spent on contemplating games from supposedly “the best league in the world”. And let me tell you something: perhaps the overall level of skill in Barclays Premier League is higher, but nothing – and I repeat, nothing – can replace the thrill of a full stadium in Germany. Nothing can be better than watching footballers who give their absolute best for 90 minutes and, most importantly, aren’t just the mercenaries, but actual team players, willing to help out their mates regardless of what petty conflicts or grudges they hold off the pitch. Which is exactly what this game has been: not a “tactical slug fest by managers” or a “clash of individuals”; an actual, formidable spectacle of team play.
Wolfsburg were better, though. Not by a mile, but better. In front of their own fans, they really went for it and showed that the second place at the end of the last season was no fluke. Naldo should’ve scored from his trademark corner-into-header situation, but the ball was cleared off the line; same happened to Draxler’s venomous shot. To be fair, though, there were more than enough chances for both sides, as the players produced a total number of 36 shots. A horrible mistake by Guilavogui led the home side to go down 0-1 despite dominating the contest in all departments. And what did they do in face of such injustice? They tried even harder. They’ve made the game even more interesting to watch.
In a show like this, finale had to be as dramatic as it gets. A last-minute, questionable, but overall correctly given penalty to Wolves. Seconds later, a magnificent response from Shinji Kagawa, who volleyed Mkhitaryan’s cross in the back of the net. Awesome football. The only problem with this game? I think that it caused few heart attacks all around the world.