The premier club football tournament in the world, the UEFA Champions League, is a class for the discerning, entertainment for the football junkie and a graveyard for yesterday’s men.
The first four knockout matches in this season’s competition were played on Tuesday and Wednesday and they produced spectacles laced with lessons even as most of the second leg matches remain as critical and on a knife-edge as the first legs.
Here are three key takeaways from the four matches.
Is football leaving Mourinho, or is he leaving football?
RB Leipzig outplayed and out-hustled Tottenham, as Spurs’ manager, Jose Mourinho was out-manouvered by Julian Nagelsmann, nicknamed mini-Mourinho at the start of his managerial career.
Nagelsmann had said before Wednesday’s encounter that his philosophy differed greatly from the two-time Champions League winner.
And what a difference it was and it showed clearly! Tottenham looked like the away team in their own stadium and was it not RB Leipzig’s inefficiency combined with the heroics of Hugo Lloris, they could have been seriously embarrassed.
Though the second-placed team in the Bundesliga fielded second-string defenders, Spurs could not find their way through – in fact, the truth is Mourinho’s team looked listless for a majority of the encounter.
We cannot say the Portuguese tactician was caught unawares at the intensity of the German team though it was perplexing to see the London side groping for answers to the ferocious hassling by the away team.
The worrying past for many Tottenham fans is that this is not the first time teams have made Mourinho’s team look amateurish since he took over last December.
If this is the sign of what portends in their future, then it won’t be a long ride for Mourinho. He looks unable to reinvent himself or help teams to play on the front foot; with his teams more attuned to waiting out the opponent and then hoping to catch lucky breaks.
EPL may not be as strong as thought
Liverpool, European and world champions, and designated champions of the 2019/20 EPL season, were beaten in Madrid on Tuesday, without Jurgen Klopp’s side managing a shot on the Atletico Madrid goal.
On Wednesday, Tottenham were almost mauled at the Tottenham Stadium in London. Liverpool’s conquerors, Atletico Madrid are sixth in La Liga while RB Leipzig have the youngest team in the Champions League. For all the famed intensity of the English game, it was their opponents who created a better intensity to get surprising results.
The glare now turns to both Manchester City and Chelsea as they hope to ensure the EPL continues to hold up its head with pride.
Is the EPL so much hyped and blessed with media money that other leagues have silently caught up and strode ahead?
Who wants to play Atalanta?
The unfashionable Serie A side demolished Valencia 4-1 on Wednesday, but if the scoreline had read 7-0, it would not have flattered the Italian side. They were so superior; they could give a goal to their opponents.
In their first-ever Champions League campaign, the team managed by 62-year-old Gian Piero Gasperini has scored 76 goals this season in all competitions.
With one of the lowest budgets in Italy’s premier league and unable to play their UCL matches in Bergamo, playing away at the San Siro did not faze them and you wonder if ‘La Dea’ could play at their own ground, Gewiss Stadium.
Maybe we could have been talking about a cricket scoreline against the La Liga side, who came tops in Group H of this season’s UCL group stage.
Who will want to play Atalanta in the quarter-finals if they confirm their passage in the second leg?