LaLiga no longer rules the Champions League roost
A Champions League night; a night of emotions. And fear as well, in accordance with the date, for some. Particularly for Atlético, who are labouring under a dark cloud. From Rome came more bad news, because a Chelsea victory there would have benefitted Diego Simeone’s side and on top of that they played poorly in the Metropolitano. A flat first half, with few chances that broke down due to Kévin Gameiro’s chronic lack of marksmanship as his Atlético jinx continues. And to add more terror, Michel scored against Atlético, as he had done before for Getafe. At half time the unthinkable was a reality: Qarabag were winning in the Metropolitano. The stage was set for theatre.
Atlético only half fixed the issue. Or it could be said that they didn’t fix it all because the draw has left them on the ropes. The second half was one of redemption, although it was played against 10 men after a red card for Pedro Henrique, who is a fine player if a little bit of a scatterbrain. Thomas scored a fantastic equaliser, Atlético found renewed fire and set up an epic finale but the second goal would not come. I’m not sure how, but it didn’t. The mathematics offer a glimmer of hope but it is more realistic now for Atlético to think about the Europa League. Scant comfort, considering where they have come from, but at the end of the day it was through the secondary competition that Atlético emerged from the tunnel into the light, after that final in Hamburg against Fulham.
Barcelona were also held to a draw. It is not a serious matter, far from it, but all of a sudden Spanish sides are not imposing themselves on Europe. Sevilla welcome Spartak to the Sánchez Pizjuán short on points and with a long injury list while Madrid travel to Wembley still chafing from the 1-1 draw in the reverse leg. And there is no Raphael Varane or, still, Gareth Bale, who has been out for a month with a supposedly light problem. These fibs! And it is genuinely frightening that Varane’s initial diagnosis is the same as Bale’s – a little niggle. We’ll have to see if Zidane dares to throw Jesús Vallejo into the fray, with Nacho on the right, or if he’ll play the Spain international in the middle and leave Achraf to monitor Dele Alli. God, how I miss Pepe!