It’s not just Dortmund-Paris-SG in life: a real entry into the competition for European behemoths – Paris-SG but also Barcelona, Real Madrid, English clubs – in the queen competition, the round of 16 the Champions League mark the gateway to matches of a stratospheric level, rich in adventures and reversals of situations. Overview of the other games of the week.
Atlético Madrid – Liverpool FC (Tuesday, 9 p.m.)
It would be nice if Atlético Madrid won because … Atlético Madrid is stuck in the simplest cliché: a team complicated to face and anti-good game in its most elaborate version. Namely, love-killing and pragmatism flirting with the accordion bus technique – defense first. The sworn enemy of football and gourmet mirettes. Diego Simeone, Madrid’s coach, single-handedly recounts the slide into this dark box. Five or six years ago, the Argentinian, who arrived on the Madrid bench in 2011, was still the genius of Europe. The one who turned lambs into wolves. Who made his players run 90 minutes, which gave the impression of being able to investigate 180 without problem and if necessary, 270 – with a smile to their ears. There, he is portrayed as good without more and disbelieving: if we trust the ambient rumor, he is the exact opposite of the religion of the moment, Liverpool, the model – his players also ride, but better.
The scenario would like that the Simeone cycle, coach as smooth as brilliant, who spent a life of player to be vomited before the games to maintain his grinta, ends as the stereotype adores: an exit in eighth and an end of championship d ‘Spain (Atlético is at the foot of the podium) is struggling. Then a resignation or a dismissal. Then a debate on a talk show to imply that the guy and his philosophy are dead and buried. May the picture go to hell! The Matelassiers disrupted and broke the alternation (Barça and Real Madrid) so exhausting in Spain (a title in 2014) and failed to sit on the roof of Europe twice (2014 and 2016). The Atlético has ten years of sabotage of big, medium and small clubs in the legs. We are right in what makes this striped jersey team dangerous: the habit of big battles, patience and mischief.
Except that Liverpool will qualify because … The club of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané is European champion. The mojo is lost, it’s true. But rarely in eighth final.
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Atalanta Bergamo – FC Valencia (Wednesday, 9 p.m.)
It would be nice if Bergamo won because … Ephemeral coach of Inter Milan in 2011 (five competitive games, four defeats), Gian Piero Gasperini is the man of a revolution in Italy since 2013 that he coaches Atalanta Bergamo: it matters what the Transalpine call with a touch of distrust the “continental game”, that is to say a different rhythm, superior to the ordinary of Calcio. This is the story of the biggest dwarf in the world (a normal type, therefore) of the Monthy Pythons: Luis Muriel and others do not play at the supersonic speed of a Liverpool or a Manchester City, but on a scale Italian, Bergamo is a textbook case, which earned Gasperini to be elected best coach of Calcio at the end of the 2018-2019 season. Who says rhythm says risk-taking, loss of balls, defenders having to manage in one against one against opposing attackers: in the realm of placed play and defensive systems belts and suspenders, it is not nothing.
Except that Valencia will qualify because … The force of habit, the superior technical skill (Rodrigo, Daniel Parejo), this hardness in the effort that inhabits the top Spanish player – Valencia is 6e de Liga – and a slow rise that saw them destroy FC Barcelona (2-0) three weeks ago, playing three times faster than the Catalans that day. The wind blew at the start of the season when the Singaporean owner dismissed coach Marcelino Garcia Toral, fresh winner of the King’s Cup, for sporting differences: he had the full support of both players and supporters. Former international player who passed through Bordeaux and coach in the Spanish youth teams (-16 years old, -17, Hopes), Albert Celades took the time to slip into his shoes and things got back to normal, with victories at Chelsea or Amsterdam during the round of pool. It’s as if the deep quality of the team speaks no matter who the coach is.
Tottenham Hotspur – RB Leipzig (Wednesday, 9 p.m.)
It would be nice if Leipzig wins because … Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann is both a fool and a symbol. Bad because his teams attack like beatniks, in flip flops, in all weathers and on all terrains, whatever the balance of power, and too bad if striker Timo Werner (supposedly the star) is what the English commonly called a “rabbit killer”, unable to score against strong teams. A symbol because German football has the wind in its back, embodying a kind of daring modernity that flourished until Paris-SG (Thomas Tuchel, ex from Dortmund) and Liverpool (Jürgen Klopp, ex from Dortmund too). This winter, Nagelsmann admitted to having been approached by Real Madrid… two years ago. To succeed Zinedine Zidane. At 32 years old. It’s very simple: at its best (or worst), Leipzig seems to be playing to play, forgetting to make it happen on the scoreboard as if by distraction. “It’s starting to be enough”, thundered Nagelsmann after a 2-2 victory in Lyon in December when his team should have won 5-0. In the meantime: it’s funny.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Portuguese coach José Mourinho before the match against Aston Villa in Birmingham on February 16. Photo Justin Tallis. AFP
Except that Tottenham will qualify because … The last finalists in the Champions League are indestructible and there is a vague feeling that they did not finish their work, which consisted last spring of leaving the formations (Ajax, Manchester City) much better armed. Hugo Lloris is back for these knockout stages, it’s good and it’s time to remember that the captain of the world champions had been the best player of his formation in the Champions League last season, the striker Harry Kane (injured last year) having the stature of the one who will permanently mark the competition. Trained by Mauro Pochettino yesterday or by José Mourinho today, we feel the Spurs harder, more winning than their opponents in these eighths. Mourinho knows the Champions League like the mouse behind a Swiss cheese. Leipzig has time. Not the Soft. If we talk about football, it is clear that Tottenham will suffer. But if we talk about sport, that is to say mental, we bet on them.