This season’s Champions League knockout games have been crazy. How else would you explain it? First, Ajax knock out holders Real Madrid out of a competition they have dominated for the last three years winning the trophy back-to-back-to-back. That after losing 2-1 at home.
In fact, Real Madrid players were so confident they will sail through with an easy win back in Spain, that captain Sergio Ramos drew a yellow card on purpose to miss the game. That was considered preferable to missing the quarter final first leg.
Then Erik ten Hag’s men surprised even themselves to produce an inspired performance that got the football world talking. A 4-1 drubbing of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu of all places was as stunning as it can get. But an even bigger shock result was yet to come.
Paris Saint-Germain strolled to a comfortable 2-0 victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford. It was such a convincing win that most people felt the tie was done and dusted. To rub salt to injury, United suffered injuries to several key players heading into the return leg. Starman Paul Pogba was also ruled out of the game after seeing red in the corresponding fixture.
Although Paris Saint-Germain had their own injury problems to worry about, they did not cause any headache so far as the side had managed quite well without Neymar, Thomas Meunier and Edinson Cavani. So an easy win was expected against a United team missing the likes of Matic, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata in midfield as well as Jesse Lingard, Alexis Sanchez and Anthony Martial upfront as a result of injuries.
But manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his team had other ideas. A surprise 3-1 win at the Parc des Princes means the French giants have exited the competition at the same stage for the third season in a row.
With these results in mind, should Manchester City be concerned?
These upset wins including Porto bundling out Roma with a 4-3 aggregate win have set a precedence. Other less-fancied teams watching these games will have been inspired to believe they can continue the trend. Man City hold a 3-2 lead into the second leg against Schalke. The Germans may be having a tough time in the Bundesliga this season but showed no signs of that against City in the first leg. It took a spirited fightback to equalise and win the game.
Having already lost at home in the competition this season, City should take nothing for granted. If anything, the Madrid and PSG results should serve as a wake up call. Schalke has a rich history in the Champions League that will give the players confidence. So they will come ready for a fight. City must be ruthless and kill off the game very early.
If the contest is allowed to drag on or the German side is allowed to get an early goal as it happened to both Real Madrid and PSG, we could have an upset on our hands. Of course, some will dismiss that with a wave of the hand. But so did many including yours truly concerning United’s chance of beating the serial French champions to qualify for the next round.
Pep Guardiola’s constant stressing of his belief that Man City is not ready to win the Champions League is also unhealthy for the team. Heading to France, Solskjaer told everyone who cared to listen that United were not out of the game. That in fact, he was going there to win. The confidence lifted the players to another level. It’s all about belief first, then execution. Why discourage the players off the bat?
Reverse psychology maybe, but I’d prefer to be told I can do it, and now is my time. It’ll provide that extra push at critical moments when the margin between winning and losing is very thin. That may not be needed against Schalke. But against top sides like Barcelona, Bayern Munich and even Man United at the latter stages of the competition, that could be the difference maker.