Quarter-final frolics: Ducks, ankles and egos

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

Until Tuesday night, I’d been thoroughly fed up with Marouane Chamakh.

In part, this was the irrational resentment many journalists feel for a celebrity whose name doesn’t seem to spell naturally. In part, this feeling was inspired by the furore of his on-off move from Bordeaux to somewhere else, which created an online caricature of the Moroccan striker as a sulky egotist.

One of the perils of the internet age is that, on the basis of an Wikipedia page and some quotes, we feel justified in judging people we have never met and, when it comes down to it, know very little about.

My initial impression when Chamakh took to the field in Stade Gerland was that my prejudices were right. He is one of those unfortunate souls whose natural expression suggests he is perpetually on the verge of tears. But, as the great Andy Gray might say with a note of gravelly wonder in his voice, what a player!

Although his team lost 3-1 – and Lisandro scored twice for Lyon – Chamakh was the most intriguing player on the pitch.

His runs were intelligent, his skills silky and his instincts around the penalty area normally spot on. What impressed me more than his headed goal was the snatch shot he struck on the edge of the area, an opportunity taken so quickly he seemed, momentarily, to be moving at a different speed to anyone else on the pitch.

Speed – or rather tempo – was crucial in the Stade Gerland.

Often, football games are decided by one simple fact: what speed the match was played at. In the first half, Lyon forced Bordeaux to play at their pace, Lisandro and Michel Bastos created havoc in the Girondin defence and the home side led 2-1 at the interval.

In the second half, Bordeaux slowed the game to their favoured tempo, were the better team for most of the half – Chamakh forced one of the saves of the season from Hugo Lloris – but still conceded another goal after a dubious penalty award.

For technique, drama, controversy and free-flowing football, Lyon v Bordeaux was my match of the week, indeed one of the best I’ve seen all season. Certainly more intriguing than watching Manchester United’s familiar frailty – a mysterious inability to keep the ball – undo them against Bayern.

Even though Inter took an hour to find any rhythm, their 1-0 over CSKA was far more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests. Igor Akinfeev was in such mesmerising form his asking price will surely have soared by a few million euros.

Arsenal v Barcelona had everything: sentimental sub-plots, crucial cards, farce (how did Arsenal scrape a draw when they should have been 7-0 down after 18 minutes?) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic breaking his duck against English teams in the competition.

This will have given the great Zlatan particular satisfaction because, as he told Champions earlier this season, he’s thoroughly aware that the English, as a footballing entity, don’t rate him.

Still, unimpressed Monsieur Rosbifs might note gleefully that’s player rater has Messi, not Zlatan, as man of the match.

Can’t see it myself though Messi may have won it on the U2 effect. In their heyday, U2 were so massive that the mere fact they turned up in a studio was enough to earn their album three stars in Q magazine.

As for Manuel Almunia, in that kind of form he could have protected the pass at Thermopylae single-handed (although the movie might not have worked as well: 300 just sounds better than 1).

With Akinfeev, Lloris, Van de Sar and Almunia all making superlative saves, this was a good week for keepers. And a bad one for ankles: Wayne Rooney’s and Wesley Sneijder’s are both causing consternation ahead of the second leg.

After the first round of ties, nothing is decided. But it was a great week of football, a week which will surely go down in the annals of this competition as the week when Barcelona completely and utterly battered Arsenal 2-2. More to read...
Champions League: News * Stats Blogs * News * Interviews * Home
Join us: TwitterFacebook * Forums