Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
The Champions League certainly lived up to its billing this week!
At Juventus Stadium on Tuesday, Atletico Madrid were nowhere close to the side that showed ‘cojones’ (balls to you and I) in the first leg at the Wanda Metropolitano, the venue for the final.
Leading 2-0, the Rojiblancos could’ve killed off the tie with a goal which would’ve required the Bianconeri to score four. As it happens, on the night that may not have been beyond the hosts, but it really was a meek surrender by a side that is noted for their combative edge.
And it would have to be their nemesis, Cristiano Ronaldo, that did the damage, his hat-trick propelling him to an astonishing 124 goals in Europe’s premier football competition.
Massimiliano Allegri’s side were at it from the first whistle whilst, unusually, Atleti were extremely conservative coming forward. It appeared that their desire not to concede actually affected their ability to deliver the knockout blow up front.
Alvaro Morata was often left isolated, and Antoine Griezmann was nowhere to be seen. It’s precisely these sorts of games where he needs to show up, but the Frenchman was usurped by the Portuguese who powered home the opener just before the half hour.
A carbon copy in the second half gave Juve the impetus they needed, with Diego Godin and his defensive colleagues just fire-fighting for long periods.
In midfield, Atleti were outfought and out-thought, and though Simeone may forgive his players for the latter, he’ll be incandescent about the former.
The glittering prize was within reach had they passed this round, but Angel Correa’s needless push to give Ronaldo a chance to complete his hat-trick from the spot summed up the visitors’ evening.
That meant that Barcelona were left flying the La Liga flag on Wednesday against an exciting Lyon side. Would we see a changing of the guard given that Spanish sides have won six of the last eight Champions Leagues and the last five consecutively?
Lyon coach, Bruno Genesio, had said in his press conference that much depended on how well they could contain Lionel Messi, and the answer was… not very well at all.
The Argentinian was a class apart, scoring and assisting for four of Barca’s five on the night. He could easily have had more than the two goals he scored, but what marked him out was the willingness to get back and defend. More than once he was back in the right-back position, helping out his back four to ensure that the hosts were always on the front foot.
Apart from a 15-minute period once Lyon had pulled a goal back through Lucas Tousart, the Catalans were well on top, and given how well the French side had played throughout this tournament, the eventual 5-1 score line would’ve sent a message to the other sides left in the competition.
What price a Messi/Ronaldo shoot out in the latter stages?