Sunday, 17 May 2015

Eurotrip

The story of last week is undoubtedly Juventus' triumph over Real Madrid.

While Juve rarely take complete control of a game, it's very difficult to actually dominate against them. Real Madrid boasted a lineup full of star quality but were unable to put the less-fancied Juventus away after taking the lead. Starting the game with a front line assembled for just under £200 million, Real Madrid were ultimately undone by a product of their academy.

Allegri has at his disposal a very balanced team with a mixture of flair players, energetic runners and masterful game-readers, and used it to full effect against the defending European Champions to take a big step towards emulating Jose Mourinho's achievements with Inter 5 years ago.

Alvaro Morata
Deal With It (Image credits: 101 great goals)

Alvaro Morata's strike was particularly damaging to Real's season given the home draw against Valencia days earlier that saw them fall 4 points behind Barcelona. While Atletico Madrid are more than capable of producing a performance on their day, it's highly unlikely that Barcelona, in the form they're in, will let their lead slip with two games to go.

A season without major trophies at the Bernabeu often means big changes in the summer. Gareth Bale's Real Madrid career could be in jeopardy, particularly if Ancelotti does not remain as manager. He's often been singled out for criticism this season by Real fans even when others failed as well. Bale's fans will argue that he was at least trying to make a nuisance of himself while Ronaldo was more or less absent. But that's not how Real fans will see it - In this club, the crowd's favourites are quickly exonerated while the perceived interlopers are constantly under the microscope.

Not that Bale objectively has anything to prove to anyone. Last season, he scored the winner in an El Clasico cup final with a flash of brilliance, and put Real in the lead in the Champions League final. He has 17 goals for Real in this 'terrible' season. He would walk into the starting lineup of any Premier League side. There's no point in sticking around to prove a point, and there is no shame in leaving if it isn't meant to be. Others have chosen to move out of the club and they haven't exactly wilted.

Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder
No Spain, No Pain



The fans at Anfield were fantastic, putting the result quickly behind them to orchestrate a rousing farewell for Steven Gerrard. The result itself, however, mathematically put Liverpool out of Champions League football next season. The club messed it up by doing a Tottenham - spending the Suarez money on a bunch of decent players instead of snaring a world class replacement. It will probably be years before they're playing in the Champions League again.

They have to hope that in sending off their talismanic captain, they aren't seeing off the last memory of the days when they used to mix it with the best.

Steven Gerrard glory

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Nothing new

In the season after Sir Alex departed, Man Utd struggled to emulate the results they got under the great man. They finished 7th in the league and ended the season without a major trophy. For any other club, that kind of season would've meant a few years away from the top table, like Liverpool in the 2009-13 phase. But Man Utd are different. After Moyes' season, in walked Herrera, di Maria, Shaw, Rojo and Blind, and now they look set to challenge for the title and play in the Champions League next season - just as they always have.

The amount of money they can throw at their problems is staggering, all enabled by their past success. There is no real way a team without their revenue can now hope to take their place, long term. Even before FFP became real, Man United's domination in the Premier League was only challenged when teams that could match or better their spending power came along. Realistically, how many bad seasons can a club like theirs afford before the status quo truly changes? Three? Five? Ten? Will they even allow it to get that bad?

Atletico Madrid mean business, but are little more than interlopers
Atletico mean business, but are little more than short-term interlopers

In 2013-14, Atletico Madrid won La Liga and finished as Champions League runners-up. While theirs is a heart-warming tale, the reaction to these events reflects how those holding the clout prevail in the long run.

Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis are now turning out for Chelsea. James Rodriguez and Kroos headed to the Bernabeu and Barcelona snapped up Rakitic and Suarez. The big two are now miles ahead of the rest in Spain, again. Atletico look set to end the season 3rd and trophyless, as they were before last season. The inequality in TV rights in Spain already ensured the two major clubs would be spearheading most title races, and now FFP has completed the lockdown. (It has transpired that, beginning 2016-17, TV revenue would be shared among the 20 La Liga clubs)

Bayern took back the reigns in Germany as quickly as they surrendered them to Dortmund, while snapping up two of their best players to boot. Unpredictable one-off games such as the recent cup semifinal maintain interest in the fixture itself, but the two clubs are now competing at very different levels. Wolfsburg have had a great domestic season, but they are no harbingers of true change, just like Dortmund weren't. Germany has had its own financial regulations in place for quite some time now, and the result ever since they were implemented has usually been a Bayern triumph.

The status quo is set in stone. In three of the last four seasons, Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid all made the Champions League semifinals. And they will probably do it again next season. And the one after. Clubs like Atletico Madrid and Dortmund will probably get their 15 minutes of fame, but will always be mercilessly returned to their place in the food chain.



Chelsea striker Diego Costa
Chelsea's title charge has been driven by Diego Costa (Image credits: Daily Mail)

Chelsea have lacked a top goal scorer up front since Didier Drogba in 2009-10, the last time they won the title. With 19 Premier League goals in 23 starts, Diego Costa has proved to be great value for money. His strikes put Chelsea in a position where it was just a matter of getting across the finishing line - something they went on to do with minimum fuss.