No signs of slowing for Cris

If you have not yet watched the thrilling World Cup match between Portugal and Spain then you had best get it on some kind of TV catch up.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the game. Twice Portugal led and Spain were brought back to level terms by the physical play and skill of Diego Costa, but when Portugal trailed in the closing stages and had a free kick outside the Spanish box, there was only one man you knew who would take it.

Up came Ronaldo, curling the ball around the right side of the wall, past Real Madrid team-mate Sergio Ramos (yes, that guy who took out Mo Salah in the Champions League), and past Manchester United keeper David de Gea, who was flatfooted and rooted to the spot. There was nothing he could do about the free kick, because the wall had been placed to his left, but the ball had such bend to it that even de Gea could not have anticipated it would have gone in from that side. He more or less had trusted the wall to protect that side, but even Ramos’ attempt to flick the ball away had no effect.

Spain might have had a chance to win the game had Ramos decided, in the same way he had done Salah, to chicken-wing Ronaldo out of the game by injuring his shoulder ligaments, and taking out the opposing team’s best player, but that would have been a one-way exit out of Madrid for the captain. Don’t put it past him, though. And don’t put it past Ronaldo either. Wasn’t he the guy who got ex-team mate Wayne Rooney sent off in a game, before being caught giving a devilish wink as if to say, yes, I’d intended for him to get sent off?

Say what you like about Ronaldo, though, at age 33 he is still showing no signs of slowing down. Like Ryan Giggs, he still looks like he has a few good years left in him. His technique hasn’t suffered, but is it because of the recent changes in balls that has resulted in him scoring more goals? When the ball technology was improved, many people were ambivalent about them, but that is pretty normal, because new things start from the periphery and end up in the mainstream when accepted or tolerated over time, as this Stroud Green piano teacher tells us, using music as an example. Now kids are buying the balls and wanting to demonstrate skills – such is their popularity. Has Ronaldo drawn more followers to football, or have footballs drawn more followers to Ronaldo? That is one you have to decide for yourself!

Ronaldo’s three goals meant he equalled Ferenc Puskas’ record of 84 goals in European competitions. One can surmise he will be going calmly past the mark with a bit more calm and ease.

New World from Old Beginnings

Unless you have been hiding somewhere on a yacht, you will probably have heard about the coaching changes this summer.

Five days after winning the Champions League, Zinedine Zidane quit Real Madrid. He probably had a look at Arsene Wenger’s record at Arsenal, at how he won in his early years before presiding over a prolonged period of decline, and decided that enough was enough – he’d best get out while he remained the only Real Madrid manager to win three consecutive Champions League trophies, and all within two and a half years.

Arsene Wenger? Twenty-two years, zero.

Julen Lopetegui was sensationally sacked as Spain manager after agreeing to fill the void at Real Madrid and in his place stepped up Fernando Hierro. Meanwhile, Wenger’s place at the Emirates will be filled by former Paris Saint Germain manager Unai Emery, who despite spending a fortune on Neymar (did his salary top the GDP of Tonga?) couldn’t win the Champions League.

Lopetegui has never won anything major in his career. Neither has Emery.

And what about the younger class of managers? Steven Gerrard is off to manage Rangers, a great step up for him, while Frank Lampard takes the helm at Derby. Their former international team-mate, Wayne Rooney, is still deciding on his future, whether to head off to DC or not. I tell you what would be fun, though – Rooney off to China.

The hiring of managers who have been successful as players, and managers who have been successful elsewhere, in the hope that they can recreate the success seems to mirror the hope of winning through osmosis. In a way, it is like hoping to create a new world from old beginnings. Assemble winning players as managers, hope for winning teams.

But if you think previous success as a player rubs off, looking no further than Mourinho and Guardiola. Neither were successful players, but realise they could be winners tactically and became managers – the two most successful ones in Spanish history.

Enjoy the World Cup! Who do you think would be topping the charts of football after this is all over?

Near the summer

As we edge towards the World Cup, let us recap on what has happened in the leagues around us:

Arsene Wenger won his last match against Huddersfield. Finally a win! Mikel Arteta is one of those slated to replace him, and it could be a reality, seeing as Arteta has been learning from one of the best in Guardiola. Arteta also fits the bill in getting a young youthful manager to energise the old players, and he also holds some clout in being former Arsenal captain. Of course, it could be because none of the big names like Max Allegri wanted the Arsenal job. Rafael Benitez, in staying with Newcastle these past few years, is really one of the rare big names to stay with a mid-place team.

It has been reported that Arteta has even discussed his pay package and coaching staff and that Santi Carzola could be part of the backroom staff. Carzola, once part of Arsenal’s creative force, has not recovered from the Achilles infection and the Gunners have missed his presence and leadership in midfield.

Are the Gunners management moving towards a trend of ex-players taking over? They may be taking a leaf out of Manchester United’s book, when Ryan Giggs and other ex-players held the fort after David Moyes was sacked as United manager.

Moyes latest entry on his CV would be the “was” West Ham manager after he was dropped for the next season. He did pull the Hammers out of relegation, to his credit, but unfortunately is not seen to be the man to halt the decline since that magical season when Dmitri Payet played for them before he upped sticks to Marseille.

Marseille lost to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League. Payet lasted an hour before he had to be replaced. Was Atletico’s place as champions ever in doubt? I wrote a while ago that the road to Europa glory goes through Atletico, so while Arsenal harboured hopes of making it through, their Spanish conquerors saw them off quite easily.

Returning to Europe, Liverpool have a chance for glory against Real Madrid. While a lot of the focus is on Liverpool, I dare say Madrid have a lot to play for. Lose and they are, by virtue of their third-placed league position, in the Europa League next season? La Decima champions playing in the lower tier? That’s worse than Cristiano Ronaldo getting a zit on his face. Slightly.

The summer is approaching so what does it bring? The World Cup.

Now, if you are slightly overdosed on football as I am already a bit – there are other avenues of distraction. There is the Royal Wedding.

What?

Just kidding. Summer is the time of traditional beach parties, dancing, enjoying the sun, and music. If outdoor music is not your kind of thing, and you don’t really like the blaring music festivals, you can try something new. A piano teacher in Crouch End, London N8 suggests that you take the time to learn new skills if you have the time. And why not? Playing the piano is something that can give you some sense of joy, when – and this is tongue in cheek – your favourite team is going through a bad patch and losing against lesser teams, or teams are playing defensively and parking the bus, when the game is a dead rubber. Hell, you could even be playing on your keyboard while watching a match. Especially one of those where it is pass forward, pass back, pass side, pass, pass, and there is no decisiveness in the final third. Sounds like a team we know?

Mercifully, Arsene

It is coming to the end of an era.

Arsene Wenger’s second-last game in charge at Leicester ended in the same way as many of his games during his tenure. A defeat to a lower team, a bitter twist in a game the Gunners should have expected to do better.

One could explain away the disappointment by saying the sending only of Mavropanos twenty minutes in the game changed the face of things, but let’s not make excuses for the poor form. The Gunners played against ten-men Atletico Madrid a few weeks ago, at home, for nearly eighty minutes, and still drew. This failure to score, coupled with defensive frailty, remains.

It is slightly worrying that Arsenal have spent so much money importing a strike force of Lacazette, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan; dismantling the old guard of Walcott and Sanchez, and didn’t do anything to replace an aging backline. Koscielny has been battling with Achilles problems for a long time, and his collapse in the Atletico game denied the Gunners of positive leadership that Callum Chambers and Rob Holding have not really filled.

The transfer market signs are fairly clear – the backline needs a solid leader. The leaders are past their best – Koscielny, Metrsacker – or not mature enough. Nacho Monreal is the only one who has been fairly consistent but his absence when he is injured is telling.

The Gunners have Bellerin and Kolasinac and a good thing to do would be to revert to a 4-men backline. At least this leaves two of the four positions in good hands, and if Monreal could double as a centreback of sorts it would help tighten up the back. All season long the Gunners have hoped to deflect from a centreback deficit but maybe they can sign Jonny Evans now that West Brom are on their way down.

Arsene Wenger walked out to a guard of honour somewbat sheepishly during a 5-0 triumph of Burnley, but that optimism from the game has evaporated and all that remains is the sense that finally, supporters of the club with one of the more-expensive club tickets will no longer have to fuel gliders or light aircraft in the sky to get their message across.

Mercifully Arsene Wenger’s reign is drawing to an end.

For the second successive season, the club have not got into Europe.

And they are still stuck with Mesut Ozil, who really needs to be shifted for his attitude.

Channeling circumstance into victory

Liverpool are on the verge of a Champions League final against Real Madrid, who survived a Bayern Munich draw in their own home stadium to eventually triumph via their 2-1 victory in Munich a fortnight ago. While Real’s progression was never really in doubt, if you believe those who think that they will always find a way to grind it out, Liverpool – despite their 5-2 advantage have still got things to do and are not safe.

Things would have been easier if the Merseyside team had ground a 5-0 win last week but the defence, it seems, had too muchc of an eye on a next game and coasted in the last ten minutes, giving a chance to Roma to snatch two precious away goals. Surely 5-2 must be enough? Don’t forget that this is the Roma team that defeated Barcelona 3-0 away – AWAY! – to progress via away goals, despite losing 4-1 at home. They are a dangerous team, capable of scoring.

And Liverpool are capable of conceding.

It is no surprise that Liverpool’s attacking players have been let down by the defence, and while Virgil van Dijk’s arrival has calmed the ship in its storm, the whole backline is still not rock solid. Lloris Karius has improved but is not consistent, and Simon Mignolet’s fine form that saw Liverpool sign him seems to have evaporated.

Liverpool’s quest is not helped by the fact that many of their fans have chosen to stay away from Roma. A BBC report saw that the “flash stabbing”, a drive by or quick attack, is one famously perpetuated by the ultras that support Roma, and even factions within the fan base almost see that as a badge of courage. Last week a Liverpool fan was stabbed prior to the match in Roma. This week, many fans have decided against visiting the stadium. Some are doing so with security. The team have issued advice that under no conditions should anyone walk to the Stadio Olimpico. And forget about wearing the Red t-shirt; it is a target board.

Will the conditions be a factor? Few home fans, attacking team, hostile atmosphere? Liverpool fans only need to look back at the conditions they created for a Manchester City team when they threw missiles at the visiting team bus. The Premier League Champions suffered a 3-0 defeat after a run of victories. Whether or not it was because they were jaded, or whether or not they suffered because of the conditions at the visiting ground depends on your point of view.

Perhaps Liverpool will use the circumstances to inspire themselves to grind out a draw or victory to allow them to progress to the final without a show of fear. Channelled correctly, hostile cirumstances can inspire artistry. Look at a different field such as music at the composer Ludwig van Beethoven. While he is famous for the Ninth Symphony and Ode to Joy, he famously had to overcome a difficult childhood involving abuse, bullying, health deterioration and rose in spite of it (read more about it here).

Liverpool stand  on the edge of Champions League history. Can they overcome and channel the spirit into victory? They should do, but don’t count against them to concede and make it difficult for themselves!

 

 

French Connection

Ah, Arsene Wenger. Heading into the first leg of the Europa League, having announced his retirement, the Frenchman was living in the praise of the pundits, lauded for revolutionising the English game when he first took over Arsenal having managed in Japan. “Arsene Who?” was Gary Lineker’s reaction at the time. But the pundits, in the run up to the game, as well as the media personnel, just couldn’t get enough of Arsene Wenger. Perhaps it was because it was a quiet day for sports news. So it was Arsene here, Arsene there, Arsene out of every nook and cranny and inch of the woodwork.

I speculated in the last post that the timing of the resignation was perhaps linked to the Europa League and the end of the season, that perhaps it was almost designed to give them an emotional boost heading into the final part of the campaign. So while the journalists were still reproducing the “In Praise of Arsene” articles they had long written, and trying to get the full benefit of them, it was no surprise to me to see a few days later the “Win It for Arsene” cries from individuals such as Per Mertersacker.

The game began rather auspiciously for the home team. Cheered on by a large crowd in Highbury, there were no sign of divisions, as fans of both banners cheered their team on. And when I refer to both sets of fans, I don’t mean the Arsenal and Atletico fans, I mean the Wenger Out and the In Arsene We Trust fans. The manager had at least achieved his aim of eliminating some of the mental distractions for his players. They did not have to play an important game while their own fans fought among themselves.

Further luck was in store when French referee Clement Turpin sent off an Atletico defender with two yellow cards in the space of twelve minutes. Really? In a game of this magnitude? Now, experience tells you that referees try to set the tone of the game at the start, so you try to lay off a hard challenge at the start, no matter how you want to set the tone of the game. Give it ten minutes, let the referee and the emotions of the game settle, then make such challenges. Vrsaljko had obviously not had much experience and naively laid two hard challenges within a short span, believing he was helping his team set a tough tone. Unfortunately he did. He made it tough for his team, alright. Ninety minutes with ten men, away from home.

The visiting team held their ground defensively but withered and it was left to Arsenal’s record signing for a few months, Alexandre Lacazette, another Frenchman, to play his hand and assume his role in the plot. Latching on to a cross from the right, he powered home past Jan Oblak. Both sets of Arsenal fans cheered. Finally the Gunners could score a goal against a team with ten men in their own home ground!

The Europa Cup final in Lyon, Lacazette’s home town. French manager Arsene Wenger’s last campaign. Clement Turpin, French referee, helping to engineer a cup final with Marseille, another French team, in the French suburb of Lyon.

The introduction of former Liverpool and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres threatened to throw a spanner in the works. Was it because it was Torres’ last season at Atletico, as well, and he would be fired up to give his best? Was it because during his time in the Premier League, he had known how to work his magic at Highbury?

No, silly. It’s because in a game riddled with French connections, Torres is Spanish.

It was left to French centre back Laurent Koscielny, for so many years under the wing of veteran Metersacker and now leader of the defence, to put his hat in the game. Letting an innocuous pass get by him, it was picked up by Antoine Griezmann who with one of Atletico’s few chances managed to get the advantage for the second leg. Griezmann, in case you have not noticed, is also French.

So. One Frenchman’s bid to make it to a final in France in his last managerial season, aided by a French referee and French striker, foiled by a French defender and opposing French striker.

Laurent Koscielny revealed that during a team meeting he had broken down when his children asked why the Arsenal team were so bad.

Wonder what he has to say now?

FArewell

So what’s been going on this week?

Unless you have been hiding in a cave somewhere without electricity, you would have already known that this evening Manchester United beat Tottenham 2-1. The Spurs have now drawn one and lost one game since that game where Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane claimed the same goal, Kane one that had a dubious brush off his shoulder obscured by a goal post. The Spurs’ poor run of form since that game can really be attibuted to slightly strange statistics; a breakdown of team spirit caused by Harry Kane doing his team mate in, in a quest to become the top scorer of the Premier League (give it up Harry, because Mo Salah will ensure it never happens), as well as – slightly odd – a team wanting Harry to do it, and hence threading every ball to him in the hope that he can bolster his tally. The problem with statistics, as every player who has been on one can tell you, is that you become so focussed on the numbers it alters and eventually ruins your game. You try too hard and end up losing the natural form of your game that gave you the attention and recognition in the first place.

In the National Basketball Association (NBA), one player was so desperate to continue his streak of getting double-figure rebounds (that is, ten or more), that he deliberately shot at his own team’s basket and missed in order to get the tally!

But the story of the week is not Tottenham Hotspur, nor is it Manchester United, who on balance, will be meeting Mourinho Old. That’s right, I predict a Manchester vs Chelsea FA Cup Final. Mourinho vs Conte. Lukaku vs his old team – one of them anyway. But that’s not the story of the weekend.

The main story is that Arsene Wenger is retiring. And what a way to announce it. On the eve of the FA Cup semi-final, which in itself for so many years had been the saving grace of the losing Arsene regime, the Gunners revealed that he would be leaving at the end of the season.

But while most waxed lyrical about how Wenger revolutionised things in England with his approach, one should not get too caught up in the plaudits. Instead, Wenger leaving Arsenal is like the deathly end to a terminal disease. You are sad, but you are also relieved because the pain and suffering can finally be over.

And let’s be cynical. Why did the Gunners choose such a time to announce this decision? Let’s play devil’s advocate here.

Wenger and Mourinho have never got on well. The latter calls him a specialist in failure, and Wenger famously shoved the Portuguese on the touchline in a game against Chelsea. Announcing it on the eve of a semi-final, where Mourinho would likely advance (and he did), would be like stealing Mourinho’s thunder. The fact that it was Spurs playing as well would be a way of undercutting their neighbours, the Gunners overshadowing the build up to Saturday.

This coming Thursday and next Thursday Arsenal play Atletico Madrid over two legs. The first is at the Emirates this Thursday. Deciding the manager’s future and publicly declaring it means that players go into Thursday’s game wanting to do their best for the manager, wanting to win one big competition for him, and the fans can be united behind the team, because whether you like him or not, there will be no more Wenger Out banners, no light aircraft, do battle lines among the fans.

They will need that against Atletico Madrid; I’ve said before, the road to Europa League glory goes through Atletico Madrid.

Wenger’s announcement is a way of leaving on his own terms. He will not let the result against Atletico be seen as influential in him leaving, had he decided to announce it later. He’s set it out, now he hopes the team can rise to the occasion by beating Atletico, however hard it may be.

Either way, it’s the end of an era. Question is, if Arsenal lose over two legs to Atletico, would it make any difference to you if Wenger had stayed or whether he had left?

Team Breakdown

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking that in a week with Champions League football, exciting comebacks galore, that much of what I’ll be writing about is either something out of one of the following teams:

Manchester City’s and their successive failings, losing three in a row

Liverpool and their Champions League success – now up to face Mo Salah’s old team, Roma

The decline of Barcelona and Messi

How Real Madrid nearly got tossed out by Juventus

How Juventus and Gigi Buffon’s career in the Champions League came to a sad run.

Actually, I’m talking about none of the above.

Aha! Wait a second. You think I’m going to write about Arsenal and how they nearly lost it in Moscow, how Arsene Wenger’s life flashed before his own very eyes.

Nope.

Instead I’m going to write about Tottenham.

Tottenham? You say. They haven’t done anything note worthy. They haven’t really been in the news for anything special.

Well, in fact, before tonight’s game against Man City, which saw the Spurs lose 3-1 at White Hart Lane, you could have predicted that the Spurs would lose. Really? One might have been forgiven in thinking the boys in white could have snatched one from the boys in blue, coming off a bad week for Manchester City, with successive losses at Liverpool, Manchester United (the enemy from town!) and then Liverpool again … maybe City were suffering from fatigue? What better to strike them while they were on a losing roll? Spurs might have fancied their chances.

Actually, it didn’t really matter who Spurs played. They could have played West Brom and lost. They could have played Southampton and lost. Heck, they could have played any team in the Premier League and not got a favourable result.

And you know why?

Because the Spurs are imploding.

Imploding? How so?

You can date it back to the game where Christian Eriksen, Spurs’ talisman over the recent two months, swung a ball in from the left corner of the field, which then slightly out of form striker Harry Kane claimed to have grazed his shoulder on the way in. The replays really were inconclusive, because if you watch the replays, the goal post is in the way right at the crucial moment that Kane claimed it brushed his shoulder. The Spurs striker swore on his daughter’s life that it had touched his shoulder and should have been awarded to him. During the game, the goal was credited to Eriksen but after a goals panel (all English) reviewed it, Kane got the nod.

What does it do for team spirit?

Really, Harry Kane should have let that one go. Sure, he is chasing Salah to be top scorer, and he wants to be the league’s top scorer three years in a row. But he should understand that Salah is in exceptional form, and is likely to run away with the award. Would you bet against Mo Salah to win the Player of the Year? Not even Kevin de Bruyne is in with a chance now. It’s all Salah, Salah, Salah.

Kane’s whingeing about how the goal was his instead of Eriksen’s really is unsporting. What do you think it did to his team and team mates?

To also swear on your daughter’s life that a ball grazed your shoulder in mid flight and ended up in a net is really a case of a selfish player putting only himself in his own frame.

If you wish to score, seek to make your teammates better first. Then when the opposition clamps down on them , you will have your chance. Look at Salah against Bournemouth.

But for Tottenham, unfortunately, every one knows the road will pass through Harry Kane. And his team mates feel obliged to help him. Stop Kane, and you stop Tottenham winning. They are too focussed in this selfish dream to think about winning now.

Which is why they are imploding.

 

Red and Blue

Did he or didn’t he?

Paul Pogba’s agent claims that in the January transfer window he offered his client’s services to Manchester City. Really?

Remember this is Mano Raniola, who reportedly does not get along with City manager Pep Guardiola. Their disagreement stems from the criticism of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whom Raniola also represents. When Ibrahimovic was at Barcelona, he accused Guardiola of buying a Porsche but driving it like a Fiat. Further digs have included comments such as “Mourinho brightens up the room, but Guardiola draws the blinds”.

So why is it that Raniola, who does not like Guardiola, would offer Pogba to the sky Blues?

Firstly, you have to remember that whatever agents do, they work for money and a cut of their star’s contracts. So it doesn’t really matter what he thinks of Guardiola. Raniola isn’t going to play wingback at City. If Pogba went there, he would get a share of the transfer fee.

Secondly, realistically you have to remember that agents do whatever they can to place their player in the limelight. So ahead of a derby between two Manchester clubs, it would have been a good time for Raniola to draw attention to his client, and mention that he was good enough to play for both. Not only does it draw attention to his client while the world is watching, it also is a message to the United hierarchy better not to take his client Pogba for granted.

Pogba had not been on good terms before the derby with Jose Mourinho. Until Alexis Sanchez turned up, Pogba was an influential player. But with the focus turning to the piano playing Alexis Sanchez – is it really him or does he have a body double? – it is dangerous to any football agent to have your client’s worth diminished. Think Cristiano Ronaldo when Gareth Bale arrived at Real Madrid. The world could have been enamoured with Bale, but Ronaldo found a way of maintaining his omniscience, making sure that his name still remained in the headlights. Pogba had been criticised by Mourinho and the press reported that they had fallen out. Raniola’s claim that his client could have gone over to the Blues is a way of hitting back at Mourinho.

Pep Guardiola is certainly a fan of Pogba. He will be more of a fan now that the Frenchman led a rejuvenation against his Manchester City team, taking them from 2-0 down to 3-2. What did Guardiola say to Pogba at the end of the game? “Well done, you played well, you have good skill, you and de Bruyne would really take us into the dazzling heights of Europe”. Did you see how the City boss fawned over him and tried to plant a seed of doubt into the Frenchman’s minds? Mourinho gives scathing criticism, Pep gives encouragement. It was so obvious it gave me the creeps!

And did Pogba really entertain a move across town. Don’t count on it. The way he taunted the City fans, telling them to be quiet and not to talk so much essentially means he is not interested. He probably wasn’t in the first place – it might have just been Raniola agitating for a bigger contract. But that blue hair dye would have annoyed the Man United faithful though!

David and Goliath

Do you remember the story of David and Goliath? Little David, with his little slingshot and stone, seemingly pit against the mighty Goliath, who could ______ (fill in the blanks with superlatives here) and ______ and crush ten men with a sneeze. Yes, that story. The mighty Goliath, up to the point where he had to be confronted by David, was seemingly unbeatable, invincible. And then little David toppled him with the humblest of weapons, that story was big news and made him a worldwide sensation.

I repeat this story because it was perhaps not so much David’s prowess more than the unfailability of Goliath that kept people talking. Had David taken out any other opponent with the same amount of pizazz he would have probably received less publicity. It was not so much David, but more Goliath. Even if it had been bad news for the latter, it was what sustained conversations for weeks to come.

So when you read about how Liverpool destroyed Manchester City in the Champions League match at Anfield last night, this fact is underpinned by the supposed Premier League giant being toppled by a lesser neighbour that fuels the news. The Mancunian Blues got toppled by an opponent sixteen points below them in a league which they are expected to win. Can you name what Liverpool did right? True, they had a great attacking first half, and then sat back in the second. And if you read the morning papers, while some of them go on about little David’s conquest of Goliath, some write about how Goliath was dismantled. It is still all about Goliath.

City did miss the experience and guile of talisman Sergio Aguero. In him they have a proven champion and winner who is not fazed by big events. Remember who won City their first Premier League title with what was essentially the last kick of the game? The Cup was almost being flown across town to rivals Manchester United before being called back at the last minute. At least that year the engraver could have made a head start with engraving Manchester on it.

City miss Aguero for various reasons. When they were behind, they would have tried to contain. It has been said of Aguero that had he been playing, he would have known not to make those runs in deep behind the centre back, but would have dropped back to help his midfield. Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sana lack the experience to monitor the game like that.

It was also unfortunate that the City bus came under attack on its journey to Liverpool. Now, say what you like about it, but you cannot disagree that the City players were shaken on their journey in, and would have been shaken on the pitch too. But Pep Guardiola has a point. The attack had been mooted on social media days before and the police did nothing about it. Or at least, they did not take it seriously enough. What would have happened if the City players merely had a typical journey into the grounds? They would undoubtedly have played a better game and would have been more focussed.

The unfortunate thing is, after all that has been written about how the Liverpool fans suffered at Hillsborough, incidents like these, and the ones at Heysel Stadium during the UEFA league clash with Juventus, paint a darker picture.

You can almost be certain that on the return leg, the Manchester City fans will not let it go and there will be crowd trouble.