The Champions League rolled back into town this week, bringing with it the usual array of quality and drama. There was duly no shortage of action despite the break from the Premier League.
Borussia Dortmund should have known that it was going to be an unpleasant trip to London from the moment they reached the airport. Jadon Sancho and teammate Abdou Diallo were responsible for the most inauspicious start possible ahead of their Champions League meeting with Spurs, forgetting their passports and causing the flight to the capital to be delayed. Sancho might wish he hadn’t been able to leave Germany: his return to English football was a humbling one, as an impressive second-half performance from Tottenham saw Pochettino’s men pick up a 3-0 victory. They showed that they are more than a one-man team, with Son, Vertonghen and Llorente providing the goals at Wembley in the absence of Harry Kane. Barring a miracle at Signal Iduna Park, this will eliminate Dortmund from Europe. They will at least take some comfort in the fact that this would allow them to focus more completely on the league run-in; Bayern have closed the gap at the top to just two points, albeit having played a game more.
Declan Rice’s passport problem has been somewhat more difficult to resolve. The West Ham centre-back has two of them: he is a dual national of England and the Republic of Ireland, and both national sides wanted him to commit his future to them. It looked as though Ireland might have won the day after Rice turned out in green in multiple friendlies, but under FIFA rules only competitive games bind a player to a country. After a long saga, he finally announced this week that he has chosen to try and make it with England – he issued a statement that showed great maturity for a young man. This will be of little comfort to Mick McCarthy and his staff, who had promised to build their squad around Rice for years to come. Gareth Southgate will now have to decide whether to turn to the 20-year-old for the games next month.
Rice has had to tread carefully to negotiate the politics of the situation, and meanwhile Politic has been making an impact in the National League. Salford City man Dennis Politic scored an unbelievable goal at the weekend, spotting the keeper off his line and beating him with a perfectly-weighted lob from inside the centre circle to put his team 1-0 up. This would have been a great moment in any circumstances, but it was made all the sweeter by the fact that a certain David Beckham was watching on from the stands. The former United man is almost synonymous with long- range goals of this ilk, although Xabi Alonso may dispute this – either of them would have been proud of this strike. It ultimately counted for nothing, however, as Dover Athletic came back to win 3-1. Beckham was watching the game in his capacity as the newest co-owner of Salford City; he joins various other members of the Class of ’92 on the board, who together are now majority shareholders.
Politic, however, cannot even claim to have scored the best long-range goal of the week. You would have had to travel quite a long way to see a better one, but if you made it as far as Paraguay then you would have been in luck: Oscar Cardozo got one in from his own half in a Copa Libertadores win over the inaptly-named Bolivian outfit “The Strongest”. Cardozo made his name in Europe with a highly prolific spell at Benfica; his long-range heroics took place for his current team Club Libertad, a side based in his home country. This rounded off a thoroughly convincing 5-1 win.
Few sides in the Portuguese top flight in recent years have rivalled the Benfica team in which Cardozo featured, along with the likes of Axel Witsel, Nemanja Matic, Nicolas Gaitan and Pablo Aimar. Liga NOS is as entertaining as ever, however – it made the headlines last week when Nacional were on the end of a 10-0 drubbing by the current Benfica team, but they bounced back in highly impressive style. A Rashidov hat-trick got them on their way to a 4-0 rout of their own against Feirense, only their sixth win all season. This leaves their opponents stranded five points adrift at the bottom of the Primeira Liga.
Matic’s current side, Manchester United, have enjoyed a huge upturn in form since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho at the helm. This appointment was initially only on an interim basis, but various reports suggest that the Norwegian is moving closer to securing the permanent role. However, his Midas touch finally came to an end in the midweek Champions League clash with PSG: the French champions were a class above their opponents at Old Trafford even despite the enforced absence of Neymar and Cavani. First-half injuries to Lingard and Martial did not help the home side’s cause, but in the resulting straight shootout between wonderkids Marcus Rashford and Kylian Mbappe there was only one winner. The French prodigy showed why the comparisons are foolish – he once again asserted his credentials as a forward already amongst the elite, scoring the second goal in the 2-0 away win. Presnel Kimpembe netted the first, getting free at a corner to score his first PSG goal.
Real Madrid boss Santiago Solari also initially took over as caretaker manager, but a run of impressive results saw him handed the permanent position. A slight dip immediately followed, but since then Real have been making up for lost time with a strong run of performances and results. These have been characterised by some mesmerising displays from young Brazilian talent Vinicius Jr. However, neither he nor his more established colleagues could prevent a shock defeat at home to struggling Girona: the side looking to stave off relegation went behind to a Casemiro first-half goal, but a Christhian Stuani penalty levelled things up following a Ramos handball before Portu secured a famous victory. To add insult to injury for the Real fans, Sergio Ramos received a second yellow card in the dying minutes after his attempted acrobatic effort was adjudged to be dangerous. They now find themselves nine points adrift of Barcelona.