So it’s Champions League time again as we enter the second phase this week. This is when this competition gets interesting with not a lot of space for slip-ups. Basically, it’s time to play or go away and there is no room left for “ordinary” teams. I’ve just witnessed a couple of matches that were quite different and interesting for that very reason. In order to convey just how diverse and appealing this game can be, let me contrast and compare for you Leeds United at home to Real Madrid with Paris St Germain hosting Deportivo La Coruna. Bear in mind that in both cases the away team is a Spanish contender and that both games resulted in two goal victories for those visiting teams. There, as they say, the comparison ends.
Deportivo bestowed way too much respect upon a less than deserving PSG, and even went into the half time break a goal down to a side where only a couple of players broke sweat. As luck would have it, Deportivo’s plan to escape France with a draw had been dented at this point and they were reluctantly forced to regroup for the second period. Eventually they introduced substitute Roy Makaay and finally attacked PSG in the last third of the game, easily scoring three unanswered goals and collecting all three points on offer. When subjected to some pressure, PSG’s defence leaked goalscoring chances like the proverbial siv and in truth Deportivo could have taken this game even more easily with a little pre-game research and proper approach. What’s ironic is that Deportivo are the only unbeaten team in the competition. I don’t think that distinction will last much longer.
Contrast that with the approach of Real Madrid. Real remains the class act in Europe right now. They are laden with talent, including Luis Figo, the world’s most expensive player. The top four goalscorers in the Champions League so far this year are playing with teams already eliminated, and so there is an open opportunity for someone to elevate himself even further.
In looking at the Elland Road game, it was obvious that Real bestowed no similar respect upon a clearly more deserving Leeds United. Of course they acknowledged the English underdogs achievement in getting this far in the competition. Of course in pre game build up they issued the pious platitudes that professionalism demands. Of course they announced that it would be a tough assignment and they would have their work cut out for them. But essentially they declared that they were there to get the three points and were confident about their ability to acquire same. As a class act and worthy champions, they proceeded to deliver on the pre match hype and followed through with a clinical second half two minute execution that somehow summarised the ninety minutes.
As with any soccer game worth playing, Leeds United had chances to score – Woodridge hit the post from a cockup corner, and Matteo forced a good reaction save from a close in header, both in the first half. It’s true that either of these “close but no cigar” efforts could have placed a different complexion on the match at that point. But cream has that way of rising to the top and the evidence over ninety minutes suggests that there was only going to be one winner on the day.
Leeds efforts are to be commended in the time-honoured tradition of giving it your best shot and you never know. Paris St Germain could have achieved a lot more from their fixture by adopting a similar approach. Deportivo need to believe the evidence before them and start taking chances within their capabilities. Real Madrid continues to show why they may get three in a row and it will take great soccer performance to stop them.