WHAT WE LEARNED: Sorry Maurizio Sarri, marvellous Lionel Messi and time for Cristiano Ronaldo to rest?
LONDON: After yet another busy weekend of football action across Europe, here is what we gleaned as the season marches toward the final quarter.
Perception is everything in football. As soon as a manager or player is regarded as being on the way down, with the 24-7 media spotlight and social media forever in overdrive, it is very hard to kick “accepted wisdom” into Row Z. Coming into the League Cup final against Manchester City, Maurizio Sarri had won 28 of his first 43 matches as Chelsea boss. By comparison, Pep Guardiola won 27. But the perception was that Sarri had not only lost the dressing room, but also the plot as the Blues fell out of the Premier League top four and suffered a humiliating 6-0 defeat at the hands of City. Against Guardiola’s team at Wembley, Chelsea more than proved a match for their lauded rivals and were unlucky not to snatch a win. However, it stayed at 0-0 and Blues keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, in a bizarre display of mutiny, refused to be substituted in the dying seconds of extra time. Cue a collective shrugging of the shoulders from senior players, and an apoplectic Sarri going mental on the sidelines. Chelsea lost the match on penalties, and the Italian most likely has lost any chance he had to put right the perception he is the latest dead man walking at Stamford Bridge.
REST FOR RONALDO?
Even superheroes get tired. We cannot find the comics where this happened, but we are pretty sure that from time to time Superman, Wonder Woman and Spiderman took the odd nap instead of taking on the baddies. Perhaps the time has come for Cristiano Ronaldo to admit that even he needs a bit of a break — we are pretty sure he will not. During Juventus’ 1-0 win over Bologna, the only thing more labored than the victory was “CR7’s” performance. The Portuguese had only one chance, and that came late in the game. He is now 33, and with the title all but already won — Juve are now 13 points clear of second spot — it would be no bad idea to rest Ronaldo, with the main focus for the rest of the season being the Champions League. The Old Lady have a tough task in trying to overhaul Atletico’s 2-0 first-leg lead when they face the Spaniards in two weeks’ time, and the sight of Ronaldo putting his feet up might help in that challenge, rather than looking lethargic in an ultimately meaningless Serie A match.
LIONEL MESSI REMAINS VERY GOOD
We admit that above statement does not really do justice to just how good the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time, as if you needed reminding) has been and still is. But there is the sense that we all need constantly reminding because with every passing week, Messi seemingly adds yet another record to his bugling book of ridiculous feats. At the weekend, the Argentine ace scored his 50th career hat-trick, the guinea pigs for his brilliance this time were Sevilla. His third goal was his 650th career strike — 585 for Barca and 65 for Argentina. The thing is, he shows no sign of slowing down. He has 25 league goals so far this season at an average of one every 75 minutes. In all competitions he has 33 strikes in 32 matches. Such has been his perennial excellence that it is all too easy to forget just how good Messi is, and that every record he sets is not the norm. We should all appreciate him while he is still at the top of his extraordinary game.