Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hooligan's Daily: Barcelona pull off the impossible

Barcelona entered their second leg match against Paris-Saint Germain almost as dead as Arsenal was before Tuesday's match against Bayern Munich. The Spanish giants had conceded four goals in Paris without one of their own to take back to Camp Nou. Much like the Gunners' situation on Tuesday, it looked hopeless for Barca. Unlike Arsenal, though, Barcelona showed the heart to keep fighting for victory even when staring down elimination with only minutes left to play.

Barcelona had stormed out to a 3-0 lead early in the second half. The stadium was rocking. The team was believing. The players knew that a fourth goal was only a matter of time. Then Edinson Cavani struck for the Parisians to add a critical away goal to their tally. The home side would need three goals over the final half hour in order to advance. An ordinary team (or, you know, Arsenal) would have folded then and there. And if they didn't fold in the 62nd minute when the away goal hit the board they surely would have in the 87th when the aggregate score still stood at 3-5 against.

But Barcelona are different. Neymar provided the first two punches within three minutes of each other. Even after his penalty rippled the back of the net in the first of five minutes of stoppage time it still looked like PSG would be able to ride this mess out and reach the quarterfinal. All they needed was four minutes. Four minutes of responsible defending and they would be out of this quicksand and on their way past one of the game's true giants.

It still looked over at this point, but Barcelona are different. Barcelona refuse to lose under any circumstances. Barcelona told themselves they had four minutes to score one goal, they had a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it was dark, and they were wearing sunglasses. Hit it.

And hit it they did.

With almost the final action of the match, PSG cleared a free kick from the penalty area, but failed to close down on Neymar, who was given miles and miles of space to pick out Sergio Roberto in the penalty area. PSG failed to trap Roberto offside and he was through on goal, where Kevin Trapp never stook a chance. The miracle was complete. Barcelona had been rewarded for refusing to go away.

Compare this to the Arsenal team that capitulated against Bayern Munich one day earlier. That team clearly gave up on the game after conceding a back breaking goal. They looked up, saw they needed five more goals to move along, and decided they didn't want to fight anymore. Whether it was a lack of faith in their manager or some other deeper factor, Arsenal simply lost the will to keep going in the face of impossible odds.

Not that heart would have saved their Champions League lives anyway, but that's beside the point. Barcelona looked like they needed a lot more than an inflated sense of self belief to get the job done, too.

Yes, Barcelona are a more skilled team than the Gunners with a more tactically adept manager who was willing to make daring changes to his team's shape and strategy in order to accomplish an impossible task. Paris-Saint Germain, while a very strong club in their own right, are not the world beaters that Bayern Munich are.

But this isn't a question of extraordinary tactics or superior skills on the field. This is a question of heart. Barcelona could have thrown their arms up after the Cavani goal and coasted to the finish line much the way Arsenal did after Laurent Koscielny got himself sent off while conceding a penalty, effectively ending Arsenal's chances to move on. They were, of course, never going to win the tie anyway. Barcelona could have done this, but they chose to fight on. They chose to believe that the impossible was going to happen. And, lo and behold, something impossible happened.

Yesterday's Scores
UEFA Champions League- Round of 16 Second Leg
Barcelona 6-1 Paris-Saint Germain (6-5 on aggregate)
(Suarez 3', Kurzawa 40', Messi PK 50', Neymar 88', PK 90+1', Roberto 90+5')-(Cavani 62')

Borussia Dortmund 4-0 Benfica (4-1 on aggregate)
(Aubameyang 4', 61', 85', Pulisic 59')

Christian Pulisic continues his banner week by scoring his first career Champions League goal and providing the assist for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's first of three goals on the night. It was the brightest moment of the 18-year-old American's young career in the biggest game of his life so far. The goal put his side through to the quarterfinals and hopefully helped him earn a bigger place in a crowded Dortmund attack.

Premier League
Manchester City 0-0 Stoke City

La Liga
Deportivo La Coruna 1-1 Real Betis
(Borges PK 90+3')-(Piccini 70')

European League Tables

Headlines
Bournemouth's appeal of Tyrone Mings's suspension has failed. The defender will be suspended for five matches thanks to his stomp on Zlatan Ibrahimovic's face. The club's appeal focused on the intent, or lack thereof, in Mings's actions. They thought there was no proof that what Mings did was intentional and was merely a result of incidental actions during the play. The FA was having none of it however and Mings will be forced to sit out the Premier League for the next month.

Speaking of Zlatan, he has reportedly been offered a contract from LA Galaxy that would make him the richest player in the league. He was an MLS target last summer before he signed a one year deal at Manchester United. There is an option for a second year on his current deal, but if United choose to pass on it he will become a free agent. MLS is still an option for the Swede, who wants to conquer America as he did Europe.

Today's Matches
Europa League- Round of 16 First Leg
Rostov v. Manchester United- 1pm- FS2, ESPN Deportes
FC Copenhagen v. Ajax Amsterdam- 1pm
Apoel Nicosia v. Anderlecht- 1pm- ESPN3
Celta Vigo v. Krasnodar- 3:05pm
Olympique Lyonnais v. AS Roma- 3:05pm- ESPN Deportes
KAA Gent v. Racing Genk- 3:05pm
Olympiakos v. Besiktas- 3:05pm- ESPN3
Schalke 04 v. Borussia Monchengladbach- 3:05pm-FS2, ESPN3

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