We are reaching the end of this season and, inevitably, teams around Europe and worldwide are preparing themselves for the summer transfer window. The focus for many will be on exciting prospects and young talents from around the globe. Here is a list of 13 talented African footballers who are going to be high on […]
The first leg of the first Champions League semi-final is out of the way, and you could be forgiven for thinking the tie is already over.
A potentially tense and tight first leg was busted open by a virtuoso show from Cristiano Ronaldo to give Real Madrid an unassailable-looking 3-0 ahead of the second leg at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon stadium next week. But what were the main talking points to take away from the game?
1) Cristiano Ronaldo – the ultimate big game player
3 – Cristiano Ronaldo is the first player to score a hat trick in a Champions League semifinal game since Lewandowski in 2012/13. Machine. pic.twitter.com/ig1aWzaP0X
— OptaCan (@OptaCan) May 2, 2017
There are some football fans – though not many these days – who label Cristiano Ronaldo a “flat-track bully” and will argue his record-breaking goalscoring statistics are massaged by goal gluts against weaker teams both in the Premier League and La Liga. But he is very much a big game player and showed as much in this semi-final.
He netted the opener after just ten minutes, a trademark header from six yards. That was Ronaldo’s 50th goal in Champions League knockout games – making him the first player ever to reach that milestone.
He then broke his own record in the 73rd minute, slamming the ball into the top corner after good work from Karim Benzema and Marcelo. His third goal soon followed, finishing off a move he started. If Madrid do go on to retain the competition, they will have the Portuguese forward to thank.
2) Bale not missed as Isco shines
100% – Isco was the only player with a 100% passing success rate in the first half of Real Madrid – Atlético (42 passes). Diamond. pic.twitter.com/CPOjy3BXg6
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) May 2, 2017
Real Madrid fans seem to have, shall we say, a complicated relationship with the Welsh winger Gareth Bale. While he has often played well, the fans on the terraces don’t seem to have ever quite taken him to their hearts. As such, losing him through injury wasn’t seen as the hammer blow that it could have been.
In his place, Isco stepped in, and his peripatetic movement bewitched the Atletico defence. The Spaniard misplaced only one pass all night, and his ability to come into the starting line-up shows the impressive depth of squad that Zidane has to work with.
3) Simeone’s bold gameplan backfires
Many would have expected Atleti boss Diego Simeone to instruct sit deep, tackle hard and hit their opponents with rapier counter-attacks. Instead, he told his team to press high and try to exploit the space in behind Casimero, Real’s nominal defensive-minded midfielder.
It worked – to an extent.
Aleti showed neat passing moves but were often let down by the final ball. Games like this are decided on fine margins, and while Atleti couldn’t find the killer pass, Real could, and ended up running out 3-0 winners.
4) Will Atletico ever overcome their Real Madrid European hoodoo?
Aleti must be getting sick of their city rivals in the Champions League. Though Simeone’s team have a good record against their neighbours in La Liga, they have lost two Champions League finals (in 2013/14 and last season) with a 1-0 aggregate quarter-final defeat sandwiched in between.
Now, after a 3-0 loss, Atleti have it all to do in the second leg. Yet another loss looks on the cards. Barring a near-miracle, of course.
5) Zidane could achieve the impossible
There was much scoffing when Real Madrid announced that club legend Zinedine Zidane would step up from managing the Castilla team to replace Carlo Ancelotti in the Santiago Bernebeu dugout. Clearly, Real were desperate to emulate rivals Barcelona, who appointed their B Team coach (and former player) Pep Guardiola to the top job and enjoyed amazing success. Zidane appears to be taking Real on a similar path.
They are favourites for the Liga title and now favourites to retain the Champions League that Zidane won in his first season in charge. It’s a well-known fact that the Champions League (in its modern guise) has never been retained.
Plenty of great modern managers have won it. Illustrious names including Carlo Ancelotti, Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Marcelo Lippi, but none have retained it. Zidane could be the first to do it, and who knows, such an achievement may not be matched.