Tag Archives: Champions League

Lionel Messi Leaving Barcelona Is A Good Thing For Football

After it was officially announced on Tuesday evening that Lionel Messi has told Barcelona he wants to be released from his contract, it’s been the only thing anyone has cared about in the news.

Messi is the club’s top goalscorer ever with more goals than the 3 players directly below him on the list combined, while also being second in the list of the club’s all-time appearance makers only behind Xavi.

But following continuous fall-outs with the board and the first trophyless season at the club since 2007, Messi has decided enough is enough and he wants to experience something new.

The player has options for his future, not least because he’s the greatest player of all-time but because he’s still more than good enough to effect the biggest games. He became just the second player since Opta records began to record a 20+ goal & 20+ assist league campaign after Thierry Henry in 2002/03 last season, yet it wasn’t enough to lead this Barça side to any trophies.

But regardless of who you support, unless it’s Barcelona, him moving is a good thing. Nobody cares about the Ronaldo vs Messi debates anymore, so it’s nothing to do with that. It’s more to do with the fact that him leaving will be a huge kick up the backside for one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the history of the sport.

Since the Messi era began in Catalunya, the club have clung to his coattails and relied upon him to such an extent that them spending crazy amounts of money on players has almost been overlooked. His brilliance means he’s always the star of the show, regardless of if he was sharing the pitch with Neymar and Luis Suarez or Munir El Haddadi and Cristian Tello.

FC Barcelona v Villarreal CF - La Liga : News Photo

Signings like Phillipe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Frenkie De Jong in recent years have struggled but because of Messi it’s not been noted. He saved them time and time again and covered up their blemishes because they kept winning. But the Messi era had to end at some point.

Whether that was through him retiring in three, four, five years time or leaving like he plans to now, the club needed to plan for it. They haven’t. It’s been said that the club would suffer a Milan-like decade following his departure, simply because of the lack of planning.

His leaving is down to the board being inept and inadequate at their jobs, in particular Josep Maria Bartomeu. The final straw was reportedly a “cold” phone call from new manager Ronald Koeman to Luis Suarez to inform him that he wouldn’t be part of the squad next season. Messi took offence since Suarez is one of his best friends, but the fact Suarez is third on the club’s all-time top scorer charts after just six years at the club means he’s probably owed a bit of respect.

Messi obviously loves Barcelona. His actions when they lose and win are clear evidence of this. While he’s putting himself first on this occasion, at 33 years old with the achievements and accolades he has he deserves too. But it’s his love for Barcelona that is making him do it. He wants the club to be secure after he goes and if leaving now means that happens quicker, then so be it.

He will leave a legend and fans seemingly understand his decision, since they stormed the Camp Nou offices to protest against the board as soon as the decision was made public. Club legend Carles Puyol tweeted his approval of the decision and with Pique also stating following the 8-2 defeat to Bayern that he’d happily leave too if the club felt that it’s what was needed, they all understand that Messi is doing the right thing not only for himself, but for Barcelona.

We need to enjoy the final years of this genius’ career regardless of where it is. We also need to see Barcelona get back on their feet as a club without Messi, because a powerhouse football club shouldn’t be so reliant. They can learn a lot from rivals Real Madrid, who went from losing Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018 to dethroning Barcelona as La Liga champions in 2020 with a few bumps in between.

Barcelona without Messi will be strange but they were around for long before and will be for long after the little Argentine. It’s time they act like they know it’s FC Barcelona and not Messi FC.

Paul Pogba: New Manchester United Contract, New Captain?

A slow moving transfer window for the club has finally brought good news for Manchester United fans, as it has been confirmed that Paul Pogba will be staying at the club for the forseeable future.

The France international signed for the club for £89million back in 2016 but following an uninspired spell so far, has constantly been linked with a move away with Real Madrid and Juventus interested.

After winning the World Cup with France in 2018, Pogba returned to the club and fell out with manager Jose Mourinho. After Mourinho was sacked in December of that year, Pogba was reinstated to the side under Ole Gunnar Solskjær and had his spell at the club. He ended the season as the top goalscorer and top assister across all competitions.

That summer however, Pogba publicly revealed that he was questioning whether it was time to move on or not with Zinedine Zidane returning to Real Madrid and making him his prime target. A deal was never made between the clubs and Pogba stayed. He then missed the majority of last season with an ankle injury that required surgery, but returned following the COVID-19 lockdown to help the club earn a Champions League place for next season.

With a year left on his deal (plus an extra year that Manchester United can trigger when they wish), questions marks remained over his future once again. But agent Mino Raiola has told the media that Pogba will stay at Old Trafford and that talks over a new contract are due to start soon.

Prior to his admission about wanting to leave the club, Pogba was among the front-runners for the captaincy after Antonio Valencia left following the expiration of his contract. He, De Gea and Ashley Young shared the armband for the end of the campaign before Young was given it permanently in the summer.

David De Gea and Pogba both seemed to find themselves out of the running following comments to the press during the season though. When Young was out of the side, De Gea wore the armband and when he said “this is the worst I’ve seen at United” following yet another poor result, he was never named captain again. Pogba hasn’t worn the armband since he almost left last year.

Despite being the obvious candidate for the role, when Ashley Young joined Inter Milan in January it was Harry Maguire who was given the full-time captain role. Many stated it was due to his leadership qualities and the fact that Pogba wasn’t committed to the club while his future was up in the air.

But with his sights firmly set on Old Trafford now going forward, he should be given the armband. He is the leader of the dressing room. Whenever you hear a player talk about the behind the scenes elements at the club, it’s always Pogba who’s name comes up as an inspiration or a leader or someone who helps the younger players along. He’s a winner too, having won the World Cup, Serie A four times, Coppa Italia twice plus the League Cup and Europa League with United under Mourinho.

We’ve seen plenty of times where he has take it upon himself to be the leader in high profile situations, with footage online of his team-talks during France’s run to winning the World Cup. With a young squad at the helm now, they need someone who’s mentality is that of the elite. There is nobody more elite in the Manchester United squad than Paul Pogba.

In reality, the person wearing the armband doesn’t really matter. The club needs leaders throughout the team and that is something Solskjær has made clear during his time at the club. With De Gea, Maguire, Pogba, Fernandes and Rashford they have a spine of players that command respect throughout the club and that’s a good sign.

But considering Pogba’s reputation worldwide in the game, plus the fact he is the best candidate for the role, I think it would be the best thing for the club if Pogba is seen as the leader of the club in an official capacity.

Luis Suarez Exit To Start The Barcelona Exodus

Luis Suarez will leave Barcelona this summer after Ronald Koeman told him that he is not part of his plans for next season, according to reports.

The Uruguayan striker has been at the Camp Nou since 2014 and is third in the club’s list of all-time top goalscorers with 198 goals for the club in 283 games. Despite his standing with the fans and club talisman Lionel Messi though, new manager Ronald Koeman has made the decision to move forward without the 33 year old.

According to reports, Koeman held discussions with Suarez on Monday and told him about his plans for the upcoming season. Reports suggest that Koeman wants to sign Calvin Stengs and Memphis Depay for Barcelona this summer and use Antoine Griezmann in his preferred central striker position. With Ansu Fati now also part of the first-team squad and Ousmane Dembele and Phillipe Coutinho to return, Suarez is the first name to be axed.

The club announced a club-wide restructuring, including playing staff following their 8-2 humiliation against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final.

Lionel Messi has expressed a desire to leave the club, although he’s acknowledged that it will be difficult due to his contract. The club have already let Arthur Melo leave and replaced him with Miralem Pjanic, while it’s expected that the club will listen to offers for any player minus a select few.

That means players such as Ivan Rakitic, Nelson Semedo, Samuel Umtiti, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Phillipe Coutinho and Arturo Vidal could all leave the Camp Nou this summer. The club will look to replace as they sell, with Koeman expected to install the ‘Barcelona DNA’ back into the club with his signings.

With Luis Suarez expected to be the first name to leave, it shows the club are serious about this restructuring. The club are going to be relying even more heavily on Lionel Messi during this transition period they will go through but it’s a positive start for Koeman to get a big name out of the door early on into his reign.

Thiago Silva To Join Chelsea Following Champions League Final Defeat

Brazilian defender Thiago Silva is set to join Chelsea on a free transfer following the Champions League final defeat to Bayern Munich.

Silva, 35, played for PSG in the 1-0 defeat to Bayern on Sunday night in what was his final game for the club with his contract expired and not renewed by the French giants.

Reports that there were talks between Silva and Fiorentina about a potential move seem to have been too soon though, as the player denied them following the final and it’s now come to light that he has chosen Chelsea as his next club.

Frank Lampard has been linked with a new centre-back this summer, with many reports that Declan Rice was his number one target for the position due to his ability to also play in midfield. However with the club prioritising their big money signings in attack, it seems they’ve made the decision to cut back and bring in a proven name without a transfer fee.

Silva would join as a free agent on fairly large wages, but a short-term contract makes the deal a very clever bit of business from the club.

With Rice the number one target seemingly, by bringing in Silva on a short-term deal it means they can revisit the Rice deal at a later date without signing an expensive stop-gap in the process. It also means that if they decided against Rice in the future, the position is still open to be filled in the near future and they can revisit the market as a whole again.

Despite that, Silva has shown this season that he is still at the top end of the centre-back ladder in Europe and he is an instant improvement on all their options in the position at the club currently. He brings experience and leadership to a squad bereft of it and can help improve the mentality of the young squad, including players like Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi who have come through the academy.

If Chelsea are able to complete the deal, as looks likely this week, then it would take their new additions up to five for the summer with a deal for Kai Havertz also likely to be completed in the near future after the clubs agreed a €100million package for the German sensation to go along with Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech and the incoming Ben Chilwell at left-back.

Chelsea are coming for the title next season, and Frank Lampard will have no excuses for not delivering an improvement on the last campaign.

Paris Saint-Germain vs Bayern Munich – Match Preview

The longest season in recent memory finally comes to an end on Saturday night as Paris Saint-Germain take on Bayern Munich in the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League final in Lisbon.

The two sides have progressed through to the final following big wins in the semi-final against nations from the opposition countries. PSG outclassed RB Leipzig thanks to goals from Marquinhos, Angel Di Maria and Juan Bernat while Bayern overcame a rough start against Lyon to also win 3-0, thanks to a Serge Gnabry brace and Robert Lewandowski’s 54th goal of the campaign.

While PSG were quite comfortable in their progression, Bayern had a few question marks early on in the game as Lyon could have quite conceivably been 2-0 up before Gnabry’s wondergoal in the 18th minute. The aggressive high-line that the German champions play was caught out by Memphis Depay and Karl Toko Ekambi, but both players missed golden opportunities to put Lyon ahead.

Once Gnabry found the back of the net, Bayern entered cruise control and saw the game out comfortably but the questions were immediate and loud. If Bayern allow that kind of chance against the quality of Neymar and Mbappe, would they still be able to get themselves back into the game?

Bayern Munich Training Session - UEFA Champions League : News Photo

In reality, the answer is probably no. PSG have conceded just 4 goals in the competition this season and while they’re much more renowned for their attacking abilities, defensively they have been solid throughout the competition.

Bayern have of course been free-scoring, hitting 7 past Tottenham in the group stages, 7 past Chelsea over their two-legged last 16 tie and 8 past Barcelona in their one-legged quarter-final game. If anyone is going to be able to open up the Parisian defence, it’s Flick’s side who seem to be able to play any style of football necessary.

They control possession in the majority of their games and can unlock low blocks, however we’ve seen them use Lewandowski as a traditional target man to bypass the opposition press and even sit in a bit deeper than usual to be able to launch counter-attacks. With the depth they have on the bench too, they’re always capable of switching the plan mid-game to adjust to their opposition.

PSG are likely to line-up with Marco Verratti and Keylor Navas back in the starting line-up, meaning they will be at full strength. Reports suggest that Kylian Mbappe will start as the centre-forward with Neymar and Di Maria on the wings, meaning Mauro Icardi will start on the bench. For Bayern Munich, they are expected to be unchanged once again. Jerome Boateng is a doubt after coming off against Lyon at half-time, but it’s expected he should be able to overcome his issue to start ahead of Nicklas Süle.

FBL-EUR-C1-PSG-TRAINING : News Photo

Looking at the performances of both sides, it’s hard to pick against Bayern Munich in this game. They’ve battered everyone and they seem to always have an extra gear to go up if they need it. Hansi Flick’s side are dominant on the ball and while they have had a few issues defensively, they are averaging four goals a game. But something tells me it’s PSG’s time.

With Neymar in sensational form and just missing a goal from his knockout stage performances, he’ll be fired up to take the crown as the world’s best player by delivering the trophy that PSG paid €222million for him to bring to Paris. Kylian Mbappe is already a World Cup final goalscorer and will want to add to that too, while Angel Di Maria and Keylor Navas have won the tournament before. Thiago Silva will be playing his final game for the club and will want to cap off his time as captain with the biggest trophy there is.

There is plenty of motivation for both sides but it just seems like it may be PSG’s time. Bayern have possibly peaked a little bit too early and if they adopt the aggressive high-line that they did against Chelsea, Barcelona and Lyon then they will be punished.

PICKS
Neymar to score anytime (90 mins only) – 31/20 (888Bet)
PSG to win & both teams to score (90 mins only) – 7/2 (Bet365)
Leon Goretzka to be booked (90 mins only) – 9/2 (Bet365)


Juventus Cancel Two Players Contracts As Pirlo Ushers In New Era

A ninth successive Serie A title followed by defeat in the Champions League round of 16 has convinced Juventus bosses that serious changes are needed at the club.

Maurizio Sarri was sacked following the defeat to Lyon in Turin and immediately replaced by club legend Andrea Pirlo, who was appointed manager of the U23 team just two weeks prior in his first official coaching role since retiring.

Despite his inexperience though, Pirlo has reportedly not shown any weakness by making decisions on three big-name players in the squad already. French World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi had his contract rescinded by mutual consent and was allowed to join David Beckham’s Inter Miami CF in the MLS and now Pirlo has asked for two other stars to be released.

According to Sky Italy, both Gonzalo Higuain and Sami Khedira have been told by Pirlo that they have no future at the club and the hierarchy at the club are now in talks with the players about cancelling their contracts a year early.

Atletico de Madrid v Juventus - 2019 International Champions Cup : News Photo

Sami Khedira had a season plagued with injuries last year, including a heart scare that saw him miss several months. The introduction of Aaron Ramsey and Adrian Rabiot alongside Matuiti, Pjanic and Bentancur meant he was way out of favour anyway and was likely to leave this summer regardless. With Pjanic leaving for Barcelona and Arthur Melo coming in a swap deal, Juventus reportedly want to add Houssam Aouar from Lyon to make up for losing Matuidi and Khedira although a deal isn’t close to materialising yet.

As for Higuain, Juventus paid a club-record fee at the time of €90million to trigger his release clause and bring him over from Napoli back in 2016. He was their top goalscorer in his first year and did okay in his second year before the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo saw them let him go. Loan moves to AC Milan and Chelsea didn’t work out but he returned under Sarri, his manager at Napoli, and was a solid back-up option behind Ronaldo and Dybala. But with Sarri gone, Higuain will follow him now.

The former Real Madrid striker has previously spoken about his ambition to play in the MLS at some point in his career and now at 32 years of age having exhausted his physical peak, it may be time for that move. LA Galaxy are reportedly interested in him, while I’m sure once he’s a free agent other clubs will come to the fore. He is still a lethal finisher, but physically he struggles with the pace of the elite level in Europe now so a move to a slightly less intense league will do him the world of good.

Andrea Pirlo will now look to build a squad with a younger core that can still compete with the elite in Europe for titles. A tenth consecutive Serie A title will be the minimum expectation, although Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan will prove to be stern competition. But as Maurizio Sarri found out, just winning the league is no longer enough for Juventus. They need to compete in Europe and a regeneration of the squad is exactly what they need in order to get back to that level.

The next question is whether or not Pirlo is the right man for the job.

Romelu Lukaku: Why The Manchester United Divorce Had To Happen

When Manchester United splashed out £75million for Everton’s No.10 back in July 2017, it was met with a mixed response from fans, critics and ex-pros.

Lukaku was a certified goalscorer, scoring goals at every level no matter what club he was playing for. United had just lost Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a long-term knee injury and hadn’t yet decided to re-sign him to a new contract, meaning they were in desperate need of a new talisman to lead the line.

When he signed, Lukaku hit the ground running with 10 goals in his first 9 games for the club including in the UEFA Super Cup against Real Madrid. Then he went on one of his now annual droughts. Romelu has a period, every year and at every club, where he will go almost double figure games without a goal. He will miss chances and then eventually get back on the scoresheet before going on another run. He ended the season as their top scorer with 27 goals in all comeptitions, including 16 in the Premier League.

The following season was when we saw the beginnings of cracks in the relationship between Lukaku and the club. With Jose Mourinho struggling for results and Lukaku on the end of criticism for yet another goal drought, the fans turned on him. He was booed and even stopped celebrating goals that he did score.

Manchester United v Leicester City - Premier League : News Photo

One of the issues for Lukaku under Mourinho was that the team were not playing to his strengths as a striker. Lukaku has made a name for himself everywhere he has been with his excellent finishing ability inside the box but also the pace and power he has to run in behind defences and stretch them while drifting out wide. Despite that, Mourinho insisted on using him as a traditional target man – competing for flick ons and being asked to hold the ball up with his back to goal, despite a clear weakness in controlling the ball and linking up with others in the build up of moves.

So when Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over after Mourinho was sacked and said he wanted to get the opposition teams turning and facing their own goal when United attacked, it seemed Lukaku would fit in much better. But he was out of favour with the Norwegian manager. Ole’s preference was to go with Marcus Rashford as the striker for his pace in behind but also his ability to link with his teammates and float across the front-line in a fluid setup. Lukaku still performed well when called upon, famously scoring twice in the Red Devils’ famous comeback win against PSG in the Champions League.

At this point however, it was clear that Lukaku was now back-up. Regardless of what you think about Lukaku as a footballer, as a player who cost upwards of £75million with a goalscoring record like his, he’s too good to be playing second fiddle. After a long, drawn-out transfer saga in which Lukaku even trained away from the club and with his former side Anderlecht, United recouped their money and sold him on to Inter Milan where he was paired up with Antonio Conte.

Since moving to Italy Lukaku has so far scored 33 goals in all competitions, just one less than the legendary Ronaldo’s record of 34 for a debut season. Lukaku can match that record in their final game of the season after his brace helped the side make it into the Europa League final.

FC Internazionale v Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Europa League Semi Final : News Photo

He scored 23 Serie A goals, only behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Ciro Immobile and has become a leader in the dressing room as Inter missed out on the title by just a single point. Inter play a much more defensive style of football that is based on quick transitions, something that Lukaku thrives off and his partnership with Lautaro Martinez has seen the Argentine linked with a move to Barcelona to replace Luis Suarez.

But it hasn’t been all fun and games for Lukaku there either. His longest drought without a goal this season was only three games, but he scored just 8 times against clubs that finished in the top half of the table. With that said, it seems to be one of those moves where everyone has come out as a winner.

Inter Milan have a top striker in their ranks and the fee looks good based on his performances and numbers, while United made their money back on a player that no longer was part of the plans for the first team. Lukaku is now playing in a side that is essentially built to maximise his strengths as a striker, while also playing in a league that suits his style to a tee. United on the other hand, have been able to use Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial together, with both in their preferred positions. They’ve also been able to bring through Mason Greenwood as a first-team regular and all three players managed to score more this season for United than Lukaku did last year.

Both parties are better off without the other at this point and while neither side will look back on Lukaku’s time at the club with great fondness, it was something that needed to happen. Just like his move away was.

RB Leipzig vs Paris Saint-Germain – Match Preview

Two shocking upsets, a late comeback and humiliating destruction of one of the biggest clubs in the world have led us to this seasons Champions League semi-finals.

RB Leipzig will take on Paris Saint-Germain while Lyon face Bayern Munich, as Europe’s premier club competition sees the final four clubs all coming from either Germany or France. For the first time since the Champions League was rebranded back in 1992/93, there are no English, Spanish or Italian teams competing for a place in the final.

After going 1-0 down to a free-flowing Atalanta side, PSG looked to be crashing out of the tournament despite the brilliance of Neymar on the night. The Brazilian was in fine form, dazzling his way past opposition players and creating chances for himself and others but was missing his shooting boots. It was the introduction of a half-fit Kylian Mbappe from the bench that helped change the game in PSG’s favour though. In stoppage time, Choupo-Moting floated the ball into the box, which Neymar brought down on his thigh and fired across the goal for Marquinhos to tap in an equaliser. Then just two minutes later, Neymar picked up the ball in his own half and dribbled past two Atalanta defenders. A bit of pinball in the box ended up with the ball back at Neymar’s feet and he played a stunning pass through to Mbappe, who squared for Choupo-Moting to slide into an empty net for the win.

It was well deserved and if they’re in a similar mood when they face RB Leipzig, they will have similar success.

Julian Nagelsmann’s side were expected to be stuffed by Diego Simeone’s defensive Atletico Madrid team, but a 2-1 win thanks to goals from Dani Olmo and a deflected Tyler Adams strike late on sandwiching substitute Joao Felix’s penalty kick.

RB Leipzig v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final : News Photo

The German side dominated the possession and found spaces between the lines very well against the low block of Atletico, but they missed the prolificness of Timo Werner with those chances. PSG will leave much more space in behind and will compete for possession of the ball, so it will be an entirely new task for Leipzig to deal with.

Overall, this game will be a fiercely contested game. Leipzig are a very well coached team and with their three-at-the-back system, they don’t leave much space for players to run in behind on them. That is where Mbappe and co do their best work but with Neymar intent on taking the crown as the world’s best player, I think his form will be key to PSG being able to get a win. PSG have conceded just 5 goals in the tournament so far and I think they’ll be able to maintain that record by keeping a clean sheet in this game. With Mbappe likely to start this game and Angel Di Maria back from suspension, PSG will have a stronger line-up but they will severely miss Marco Verratti in midfield and goalkeeper Keylor Navas who is a serious doubt. I think going forward though, they have far more quality and variety than Atletico did and they will be able to get the goals needed to make it to the final.

PREDICTED LINE-UPS

PSG: Rico; Kehrer, Kimpembe, Silva, Bernat; Marquinhos, Gueye; Mbappe, Neymar, Di Maria; Icardi
RB Leipzig: Gulacsi; Kounate, Upamecano, Halstenberg; Klostermann, Kampl, Laimer, Angelino; Nkunku, Olmo, Sabitzer

PICKS
PSG to win & O2.5 goals – 6/4
Mauro Icardi to score anytime – 7/4

Manchester City Suffer Again Thanks To Pep Guardiola’s Tinkering

Another UEFA Champions League quarter-final for Manchester City, another early exit for Pep Guardiola’s side.

The Premier League side crashed out of the competition in Lisbon thanks to a 3-1 defeat to Lyon, with goals from Maxwel Cornet and a double from substitute Moussa Dembele enough to cancel out Kevin De Bruyne’s second-half equaliser.

Eyebrows were raised before a ball was even kicked though, as Guardiola named a starting line-up without Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, David Silva or Phil Foden in it, instead deciding to go with a 3-5-2 formation to match up with Lyon’s defensive shape.

Fernandinho partnered Aymeric Laporte and Eric Garcia at centre-back, while Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan provided a steady defensive base to allow Kevin De Bruyne a free role behind Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.

City started well but struggled to really open Lyon up throughout the game, and when Cornet gave them the lead Guardiola’s stubbornness came to the fore and he refused to change it untl almost the hour mark.

He replaced Fernandinho with Riyad Mahrez and City instantly caused problems, with the Algerian’s directness and skill instantly pushing Lyon 5-10 yards deeper. Because of that, City were able to push higher up the pitch and it was this that led to their equaliser, with De Bruyne side-footing home a cut-back from Raheem Sterling from the edge of the box.

It was two tight offside calls and an error from Ederson that gave Lyon their goals, but City opened themselves up for problems with the initial team selection. Why, as the better team, not just go into the game with your strongest side in your favoured formation and get the job done?

City have dominated most of the teams they’ve played under Guardiola, almost exclusively using a 4-3-3 formation. They changed it here and were punished, but it’s not the first time Pep has done this.

Guardiola has previous for over complicating football on the biggest occasions. He’s been accused of doing the same several times in the past, including by former Bayern winger Frank Ribery.

He has a tendency to try and throw in curveballs for opposition managers to deal with, instead of going with his tried and tested. It’s no coincidence that he won his two Champions League trophies with an unapologetic 4-3-3 throughout the tournament, even with players out of position if necessary.

Raheem Sterling’s open goal miss and Ederson’s error will no doubt take the headlines, but there needs to be a closer look at Guardiola for City’s short-falls in Europe over the last three years.

Barcelona Are A Mess, But With Messi Anything Is Possible

As Barcelona prepare to take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals, not many people are giving them a chance.

In a strange turn of events, the Catalan giants are heavy underdogs in the tie despite despatching Napoli in the last round relatively comfortably with a 3-1 win on the night. While many will say it’s purely down to the form and brilliance of this current Bayern Munich side, I’m more inclined to go with the poorness of the Barça side being the reason.

After sacking Ernesto Valverde in January while top of La Liga, they went on to lose the league title to Real Madrid and didn’t make it to the Copa Del Rey final, losing to Athletic Bilbao.

Now, their final chance of a trophy is Europe’s most coveted club competition. They will come up against a formidable Bayern side.

Robert Lewandowski would surely have been a shoe-in for the Ballon D’Or this year had it not been cancelled, while Serge Gnabry is enjoying the best scoring season of his career too. Joshua Kimmich and Thiago have mustered a partnership in midfield capable of absolutely any type of game, while Thomas Müller broke the assists record in the Bundesliga this season from the No.10 role. Alphonso Davies has come to prominence as one of the best young prospects in the world at left-back, while David Alaba, Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer offer an assurance in defence with their experience.

What they don’t have though, is Lionel Messi.

The little Argentine voiced his concerns following the end of the La Liga season, claiming the club needed a big overhaul of playing staff and at board level if they are to compete at the level expected of them.

In the game against Napoli, he scored another stunning solo goal before his pressing forced an error by Kalidou Koulibaly and he won a penalty that Luis Suarez converted. As well as being the best player in the world, Messi is still arguably the best dribbler, best passer and best playmaker in world football. Everything Barcelona do well, goes through him.

He’s 33 now though and beginning to see those sky-high standards he set become a bit out of reach. 2019/20 is Lionel Messi’s lowest goalscoring season since 2007/08, when he finished the campaign as a 21 year old. He still managed to come away with the Pichichi award (top goalscorer), while also becoming just the second person ever to score and assist 20+ goals each in a single league season after Thierry Henry in 2002/03.

Just because his level has dropped from his prime, which is only natural with age, he is still ahead of everyone else on the planet. The gap is just slightly smaller now.

Barcelona will need Messi to be up for this game if they are to have any chance of success in Lisbon. We’ve seen him do it a million times before, he can win even the biggest games on his own. This is one of those games where he will put Barcelona on his back and run with them if they are to progress to a semi-final clash with Manchester City or Lyon.

As unlikely as it is, this is Lionel Messi. Just like his sponsors ‘adidas’ say, anything is possible.