Managers around the world will say that the knock out stage in Champions League is a season in its own. The difference is the small nuisances of the two-game season hold much more magnitude in the overall standings. This was seen firsthand during the fixtures featuring Manchester City vs Barcelona and Bayern Munich vs Arsenal.
Both games turned on a “nickel”, twice, making a dime. Arsenal keeper, Wojciech Szczesny and City defender, Martin Demichelis both saw red in attempt to prevent obvious scoring chances by Munich’s, Arjen Robben and Barca’s Lionel Messi respectively. At that juncture of the ‘season’, it appeared as if both Barca and Bayern would run away and coast to the league title. City and Arsenal looked every bit undermanned and fatigued. The pressure was unrelenting as the possession heavy leaders peppered the goal with constant pressure. Onlookers assumed that goals we come and status quo achieved.
As the time started to tick closer to 90 the pressure transitioned from home teams, City and the Gunners to Barca and Bayern. The leaders were unable to increase their lead against the 10-player sides and the feeling of a lost opportunity crept in. The losing squads were counting down the seconds until their post game interviews in which they would reference that things could have been much worse and how happy they were only need a victory in the second leg. But as Manchester Unitied Ole Gunnar Solskjaer explained to Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final, the game is not over until the whistle blows. And once again, the game, and season, turned on a dime when Dani Alves and Thomas Muller scored late goals to put the visiting sides ahead 2-0 on aggregate going home.
A two goal, road deficient would be challenging anywhere let alone Camp Nou and Allianz Arena. Those second, insurance goals have put Barca and Bayern in the drivers seat, looking to their next opponent. But things could have been so different. We could be referencing the genius of the Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini as they were able to prevent the floodgates from opening. It goes to show the amount of tactical genius each manger must use when playing in the knock out stages. While we will have to wait two more weeks to find out whether the second turn in the games decided the fate for both City Arsenal, one thing is for sure and that is the fact that every goal, yellow card and substitution has a say in the two-game ‘season’.