Just another one of those quiet weeks in the Champions League, then. It’s a shame we couldn’t have stayed in the competition a little bit longer. Had things gone a little differently for us in the Round of 16, we might have been in a position to provide some of the spark, unpredictability and all-round elite entertainment that Europe’s top club competition so badly craves, and arguably deserves, given that it’s got its own anthem and everything.
As it was, viewers around the world had to settle for Roma unthinkably over-turning a three-goal deficit against Barcelona, and Juventus unthinkably over-turning a three-goal deficit against Real Madrid, only to be beaten with a last-ditch penalty in time-added-on, and Manchester City looking like they might easily overturn a three-goal deficit against Liverpool, only to be thwarted by an erroneous offside decision (pictured below) which seemed to suck the steam right out of their engine, enabling Liverpool to charge on through in the second half.
Same old same old, then. Try not to drum your fingers too loudly. But the competition was always going to miss us – and may have to continue missing us next season, if we’re not careful, although I remain optimistic a) that we can win all of our six remaining Premier League games and b) that either Liverpool or Tottenham (and perhaps both) still have a major collapse of form in them. Let’s face it, in the case of both those teams, it wouldn’t be the first time.
In that context, although I don’t suppose many of us found it in our hearts to cheer them on this week, Liverpool’s survival in the Champions League is a definite boon from our point of view, keeping their schedule crowded and, potentially, their concentration divided. Plus, of course, they still have to come here, when we can do our best to hasten along the necessary process.
OK, it’s a long shot, and one can’t pretend otherwise. But any team that loses a critical home game against Tottenham from a winning position, and follows that by drawing a critical home game against West Ham from a winning position, can hardly be surprised to find itself shooting from distance at this point in the season. The key thing is to keep shooting.Incidentally, were you watching that decisive, momentum-changing moment in the Manchester City v. Liverpool game on television, by any chance? It seemed to carry some broader ramifications. BT Sport had invited Chris Foy along to act as a properly qualified adjudicator at the more complex and technical moments of controversy, such as might be deemed above the pay grade of Steve McManaman and Glenn Hoddle in the commentary box. And quite right, too. Yes, there’s a danger of over-crowding in such a system, but if the result is greater clarity for those of us tuning in, then it seems a small price to pay.
However, on Tuesday night it took Chris Foy three goes to provide a summary of that incorrectly disallowed Leroy Sane goal which accurately reflected the evidence offered by the cameras. The retired Select Group official had one attempt to explain it directly after it happened, and another attempt to explain it at half-time, seeming to miss the point on both those occasions; and he was then allowed a third and ultimately successful attempt to account for it, applying the relevant law (you can’t be offside if the ball comes back off a defender), shortly after play had resumed for the second half, the best part of 20 minutes later.
He got there eventually, then. But his struggles to do so did rather shed some light on the recent difficulties getting the VAR system up and running. For here was an official, granted time with the video evidence, and reaching two wrong conclusions about it before he reached a right one. The strong implication was that, for as long as it comes down to referees looking at pictures, video officiating may always create as many further layers of confusion as it removes.
But that’s a discussion for the longer term, of course. For now, it’s all eyes on the immediate future, which is two meetings with Southampton in the space of a week, broken only by a trip to Burnley. This weekend we go to St Mary’s with a view to commencing that invincible run which (on top of the aforementioned collapse by either or both Tottenham and Liverpool) is our only hope of a top-four finish, but must still be accounted a hope, none the less. And next weekend we play the same team at Wembley for the chance to go one step beyond and, if we win the final, secure our eighth FA Cup win of all time and our seventh in the last 21 years alone, at an extraordinary average of one every three years.
Roma v Barcelona? Juventus v Real Madrid? Pale by comparison, I would suggest. Here’s a double-header that genuinely sets the nerve-ends tingling, one with real and tangible consequences hanging from it, every second of the way. Bring it on.