Is Lionel Messi the best player in the world, already one of the best of all time? Of course. He’s won pretty much everything in club football at the tender age of 22, and I expect him to transfer his club form to the national team this summer in South Africa. His turn of pace and balance are scary. [ad#as2]
But being a realist, Arsenal gave Messi far too much space in the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Tuesday, a 4-1 rout in favour of the defending champs. This after the Gunners gave up two poor goals in the first leg in London.
Mikael Silvestre got the nod over Sol Campbell in the middle of defense and looked lost alongside Thomas Vermaelen. If he clears the ball, as he should have, just prior to Messi’s opener, it might have been a different outcome. It certainly would have been different had Abou Diaby, who keeps his head down a little too much, passed to Theo Walcott instead of Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal’s poorest player of the evening) after Arsenal took a 1-0 lead. Walcott would have been in all alone, although he certainly wouldn’t have been a banker to score.
Cue the Messi brilliance.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (finally) has said he’ll splash the cash this summer. He should start between the sticks and see if he can lure Hugo Lloris or Gianluigi Buffon away from Lyon or Juventus, respectively. No more Manuel Almunia. He’s gotta go. A central defender or two, and at least one world-class striker (apart from Marouane Chamakh) needs to be brought in. Wenger continues to be linked with Juventus’ Felipe Melo, surprising considering there’s no need for a holding midfielder thanks to Alex Song’s phenomenal improvement this season.
Back to the Champions League. Messi and company won’t be allowed to roam free in the semifinals against the Special One’s Inter Milan. Midfield and defense won’t be separated by miles, and expect Messi to get some special treatment (and kicks) when on the ball.
Too bad there’s no Barcelona-Manchester United repeat. United fell to Bayern Munich on away goals, which got Fergie huffing and puffing about German antics. He was ticked Munich players helped to get Rafael sent off Wednesday and targeted Wayne Rooney’s ailing ankle.
What a farce. United, or at least before the emergence of Chelsea, has long been the leader at haranguing the ref (hello Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville and the whiny Darren Fletcher). United would have done exactly the same thing. Arsenal fans remember that United kicked Wenger’s team off the park at Old Trafford to end the Gunners’ unbeaten league run a few years ago (and Rooney dived to win a penalty).
Bayern-Lyon should be intriguing. Franck Ribery was a disappointment for Bayern against United, but fellow winger Arjen Robben wasn’t. He can’t stop scoring brilliant goals. Lyon was finally due to exceed the quarterfinals and got lucky in drawing Bordeaux. In Lisandro Lopez, Lyon found a suitable (better?) replacement for Karim Benzema. (Pause to consider Argentina’s options up front – Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Diego Milito, Lopez…all in form.) It’s not a stretch to say Lloris could be the best keeper in the world at the minute.
Let’s go with a Barcelona-Lyon final.
And is it just me, or has the Europa League become more exciting this year? Maybe it’s the added coverage. Liverpool, Fulham, Hamburg and Atletico Madrid advanced to the semis Thursday, the latter luckily. If you’re looking for one of the worst refereeing mistakes of all time, check out the ref’s no call when Valencia’s Nikola Zigic was wrestled to the ground in the Atletico box in the dying minutes. He was pulled with so much force his shirt was torn.
The game ended scoreless, and Atletico advanced on away goals.
Fernando Torres heads back to Atletico in the last four, while Hamburg meets Fulham. The Cottagers seem to be the team of destiny, knocking out the defending champions (Shakhtar Donetsk), Juventus, and the reigning German champions (Wolfsburg).