A chance for Barca to make history
Ahead of next week’s second leg of the Champions League last 16 fixtures, Mondli Makhanya looks at the talking points
ARSÈNE WENGER’S FUTURE One of the big jokes among Arsenal haters is how, every season, the team fights bloody hard to get a top four spot to get into the Champions League and then always crashes out in the last 16.
This season, the joke has an extra injection of sweetness for Gunners haters – two weeks ago, Arsenal travelled to Munich for what was expected to be a tough clash of European giants and came back with a 5-1 walloping.
On Tuesday, Arsenal host Bayern Munich at the Emirates Stadium, hoping to overturn the four goal deficit. Few expect Arsenal to perform this miracle and they will most likely have their seventh consecutive last 16 resignation.
So rather than the action on the field, the big talking point will be manager Arsène Wenger’s future. Arsenal bosses have been patient with their long-serving manager because, even though Wenger has been dismal at delivering silverware, he has guaranteed them Champions League action and the heavy bundles of cash that come with it. But the patience of supporters is wearing thin. It is therefore likely that an exit on Tuesday will signal the beginning of the end of Wenger’s tenure. He will almost certainly depart when his contract ends in three months’ time.
Following the 4-0 drubbing at Parc des Princes, Barcelona striker Luis Suárez said he and his team-mates have a chance to “make history” when they meet Paris Saint-Germain in the return leg on Tuesday.
“If we want make history, we have to turn it around. It is a nice challenge and this team has the ability to do it. We cannot down our tools, even if we have been upset at the situation over the past few days,” said the flesh eater.
Unlike in Arsenal’s case, this is not an impossible task. As wonderful as they are, PSG are no Bayern Munich and the scoreline in the first leg was not entirely due to their outstanding performance. Barcelona were terrible in Paris. This being Luis Enrique’s last Champions League run at Barcelona, he will not want to be remembered as the coach who suffered the ignominy of a last-16 exit with the Spanish giants. Expect the (almost) impossible to happen in this clash.
Surprisingly, some of Barcelona’s backers in this clash are Real Madrid supporters. The Madridistas want their rivals to have the same Champions League pressures as theirs so that they do not close the tight points gap at the top of La Liga.
The surprise 2016/17 English Premiership champions kept their hopes of a quarterfinal berth alive with a late goal from their onetime talisman Jamie Vardy, who ended his lengthy goal drought for relegation-threatened Leicester by scoring a crucial away goal in the clash against Sevilla. The day will be remembered for goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel’s outstanding saves and manager Claudio Ranieri almost knocking his glasses off as he celebrated a goal that he believed had saved his job. He was fired about a week later. In their first game after Ranieri’s departure, Leicester shocked Liverpool with a 1-0 defeat, sparking hope that this was the beginning of a revival. But given the one-sided nature of the first leg, it will take the kind of miracle that earned them the EPL champions medals to stand up to Sevilla this time. Leicester will be dumped out of the Champions League and will only be seen at this level again when a Pakistani immigrant wins the Republican nomination for the White House. In other games, Napoli will seek to overturn a 3-1 scoreline against Real Madrid, and Borussia Dortmund will want to remedy the missed opportunities against Benfica, who lead them by a goal. Fans will hope for a repeat of the goal fest that saw Manchester City beat Monaco 5-3. It should be routine for Juventus when they meet Porto to solidify their 2-0 lead. Atlético Madrid, who lead Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 going into this leg, will hope their place among Europe’s top dogs is cemented.
TOUGH ASK Can Lionel Messi inspire Barcelona to stage a comeback against PSG? OFF FORM Cristiano Ronaldo has been criticised for his loss of form