Just wait for the knockout phase of the Champions League. That’s when the season really gets going, that’s when the real football begins. That’s when you get the festival that justifies the tedium of the group stage, the greatest football ever played, the glorious pay-off for the grotesque iniquities of the game’s financial structure w88 com
Perhaps the second legs will be better. Or perhaps it’s actually the quarter-final stage when everything gets started. But on the evidence of the first legs of the last 16, the super?clubs, en masse, aren’t very good this season. There are exceptions. Until the turn of the year, Liverpool were brilliant. Manchester City, fuelled by their sense of grievance, were impressive in winning at the Bernabéu – although whether despite or because of Pep Guardiola’s tactical tinkering no one seemed quite able to agree. Bayern Munich have added pace and looked both dynamic and well balanced in dismissing Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge.
But a lot of the other giants are having what might kindly be termed transitional seasons. In losing to City, Real Madrid looked a disjointed mix of those on the way up the hill and those on the way down, with barely anyone actually at their peak. In their inhibitive dependency on Lionel Messi, Barcelona, who lurched to a 1-1 draw at Napoli in the first leg, increasingly resemble Argentina. The comparative lack of quality of both was evident again in last Sunday’s scratchy clásico w88 casino
Both may argue that they are rebuilding. Madrid had been based around Cristiano Ronaldo and so were always going to require some adaptation once he had left. Barça have arguably not worked out in which direction they’re heading since the Guardiola era ended, and any sense of strategic competence disappeared amid the panic that has followed Neymar’s departure. But equally it’s hard not to think that both might have begun to address their failings earlier if their stature didn’t essentially guarantee them a top-three spot in la Liga. It’s not as though Barça’s stretched and creaking midfield hasn’t been exposed repeatedly in Europe over the past three years.
Atalanta’s story is romantic but this is the first season in which the last 16 all come from the richest five leagues
Juventus, stuttering in Serie A, were desperately uninspired in losing at Lyon, who are fifth in Ligue 1. Juve’s problems are almost entirely self-inflicted and born of a sense that domestic success can almost be taken for granted. The idea that five league titles and four cups in five years (and two Champions League finals) might somehow be inadequate seems absurd, but that was why Max Allegri was let go. Maurizio Sarri was appointed to manage a shift to a more progressive, possession-based game, but no one seems to have asked how he was going to achieve that with Ronaldo, who was brought in at great expense the summer before last seemingly on the logic that his prodigious goal return would bring Champions League success. Sarri talks constantly about how hard he is finding it to get his team to move the ball quickly, but it’s hardly a surprise when the focus of the attack is essentially static w88 mobile
And then there’s Paris Saint-Germain, untouchable in France but unfulfilled in Europe. There were moments in the group stage when it seemed that Thomas Tuchel had finally got the midfield right thanks in large part to the signing of Idrissa Gueye but the return of Neymar has seemingly scuppered that. Brilliantly skilful he may be, but his erratic defensive work inevitably destabilises his team against high-class opposition. Borussia Dortmund, their young and vibrant attack built on the shakiest of foundations, are deeply inconsistent but outplayed PSG at home in the first leg and may regret not beating them more convincingly than the 2-1 they did manage.