Monday, May 20, 2024

Champions League, Coq’s revenge, Utd’s revolutionary revolution

This season’s Champions League has thrown up some extraordinary games, and last night there was another as Man City beat Real Madrid 4-3.

I have to say, I don’t really understand this Real Madrid team. Well, beyond the ‘They’re extremely suspect defensively but holy cow they know how to score goals’. Karim Benzema was at it again, banging them in at 34 years of age. The late penalty was really something, an ice-cold Panenka made even more impressive when you consider that he missed two penalties in one game just a week ago.

In some ways it’s a shame he scored it, because at 4-2 the script was written for a hat-trick in the second leg to win the tie. One header from 56 yards that bullets into the top corner; one where he intercepts an Ederson pass to roll it home with the goalkeeper stranded and Pep going spare on the sideline; and the winner, deep into stoppage time, another header but this time from close range – just from the edge of the box (it’s all relative) – after Luca Modric plays a reverse pass / cross with the outside of his spine to bamboozle John Stones.

Tonight, it’s former Arsenal boss Unai Emery in charge of Villarreal against Liverpool. They’ve had a remarkable run to get to this point, seeing off Bayern Munich and Juventus along the way, so you couldn’t categorically rule them out of this one. It does seem a bit unlikely to me given how potent the Mugsmashers are in attack, but you never know with football.

Villarreal also have former Gunner Francis Coquelin playing for them, and I saw a quote on Reddit (r/gunners) in which he spoke about winning the Europa League last season against Man Utd (I thing I was grateful for even though we lost out to Villarreal in the semi-final). He said:

“It was a bit of revenge, because when I made my Arsenal debut we lost 8-2 at Old Trafford and Sir Alex Ferguson criticised me a bit in his biography. So it was a nice little turnaround to win the Europa League against them. Plus I think he was in the stands as well, so lifting the trophy in front of him was nice. I was looking for him, he must have seen me.”

I enjoyed this. The idea that Alex Ferguson was in the stands, scanning the pitch in his bitter disappointment at seeing Man Utd lose a European final, only to fix his gaze upon Francis Coquelin.

“Damn,” he thought. “There’s that little bollix. I knew my mild criticism of him would come back to haunt me one day. Make a note: contact the publishers and have them pulp any remaining copies of my autobiography lest this happen again with another player/team.”

This is what Ferguson actually said in his book, in reference to the infamous 8-2 at Old Trafford:

“Arsenal played a young boy in midfield, I had hardly heard of him – Francis Coquelin – and he barely played again. He was completely out of his depth.”

It’s funny how people remember things. I recall it differently. It was 3-1, we’d missed a penalty, and Arsene Wenger took Coquelin off and put on 17 year old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, after which we conceded 5 more goals. Am I saying the young Frenchman was the glue that was just about holding everything together? Not quite, but it’s an important lesson for any manager: just be careful how you handle your Coq because there may be some damage caused to your team.

Speaking of Man Utd, I did enjoy a certain writer specific to that club waxing lyrical over a video clip of incumbent manager Erik ten Hag shouting at a young Ajax player a couple of years ago. This is, apparently, going to ‘give Manchester United something they desperately need’.

The idea that Man Utd’s problems can be solved by something as radical as a manager giving a player in-game instruction is genuinely hilarious. Is this really the missing piece of the Old Trafford puzzle? The player in question was then ‘shipped out’ a month later and replaced by the very average veteran Ryan Babel, which augurs well for their transfer business too.

Let’s be brutally honest here, ten Hag could easily come into that club and similarly banish about 75% of the squad. Not because they dared answer back when he told them to do something, but because they are basically crap. Still, having gone through managers like David Moyes, Luis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho – none of whom ever said a word to anyone while they were on the touchline as games were going on – this new, revolutionary approach to football management will surely bring back the glory days. All Harry Maguire needs to flourish is some bald lad bellowing at him from his technical area, as if nobody has ever thought of that before.

Right, that’s your lot for this morning. Take it easy, back with more tomorrow, and any breaking news during the day on Arseblog News.

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