Poof. In a little cloud of smoke, the myths of English footballing supremacy in Europe have been completely undone over the last couple of days. I wouldn’t have wanted it (or, indeed, expected it) any other way. Of course, we’ll have to make do with Liverpool being The Heart And Soul Of Football for the next three weeks, but it’s a comparatively small price to pay for about as satisfying a week in the European Cup as we could have asked for.
On Tuesday night, a cry of, “what the hell is this?” went up across Europe as Liverpool eventually ground Chelsea down over 210 agonising minutes and a penalty shoot-out. The truth is that Chelsea were lucky to get that far. They looked flat out exhausted by the start of extra-time, and it was no great surprise when Liverpool won the penalties. It makes a hell of a difference when your legs feel like lead. I remain convinced by my belief that Liverpool’s appearance in a second European Cup final in three years is a symptom of a wider malaise in European football rather than an indication that this is a great Liverpool team. There is still no comparison between this team and the one that made three finals in five years in the early to mid 1980s, and I would go so far as to say that this team isn’t even as good as the team that won it two year ago. One day, the fact that Jermaine Pennant is set to play in this match will be a pub quiz question of some sort. You mark my words.
Last night, Manchester United were completely undone. I’m not certain that Milan are a great team by any stretch of the imagination, but they exposed the frailty of United’s aspirations in the starkest way possible. I expected Milan to win this, having seen the ease with which they carved through the United defence at Old Trafford last week to score twice, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be quite as one-sided as it actually was. From Ronaldo attempting a back-heel ten seconds in (and failing) to the simple and clinical ease with which Milan scored their three goals, it was completely one-sided. Much has been made of the performance of Kaka. I saw his performance described as “economical”, a viewpoint that I wholeheartedly agree with. He did the basics, and he did them exceptionally well. It is, yet again, a sad indictment on the state of our game that he is lauded as being one of the best players in Europe for doing that, but the truth of the matter is that there’s a lot in it. It also says a lot about the lack of strength in depth in the Premiership that Cristiano Ronaldo, who has showboated his way through the season, was basically shown up as being… well, not all that, really. Stick him up against some experienced defenders who aren’t mesmorised by his fancy step-overs, and he’s muscled off the ball.
So, it’s Milan vs Liverpool. I hate Berlusconi, and I hate the fact that they weaseled their way into this year’s competition. But – I’m not certain that I can handle the levels of guff that will spew forth from Merseyside if Liverpool win. It’s probably for the best that I try not to care about it too much. If you feel the same, you should probably keep this in mind: The Champions League. It’s fourth place in the Premiership against fourth place in Serie A.