What is it about sport that makes it so compelling, one wonders. What is it about football’s constellation that makes it so timelessly sparkle, one wonders. Well, simply put, it is the greatest reality show ever. And a show it is – one with passion pure, emotions unbridled, drama unscripted and an end unknown.
Football makes the viewer forget life’s tribulations and even if it be for only 90 minutes, it fills the world with joy. Sometimes, this joy heralds the romance of struggle and it is in those moments that football transcends sport and brings forth the essence of living – one where quitting is traded for grit and an unending drive to finally prevail.
Last weekend in football was everything we watch the game for. It was dramatic in equal measures as fulfilling for those who watch sport for an underdog story. Leicester City came to the home of Pep Guardiola and scored five past the self-styled footballing philosopher’s team. David Moyes’s West Ham United pumped four past the otherwise stingy backline of Wolves, while Frank Lampard’s Chelsea scratched and clawed to save face against newly promoted West Ham. In Germany though, there would be no saving face for champions Bayern Munich who crash landed back on earth courtesy of Hoffenheim.
Perhaps never has the widely consumed television of world football served up such delectable treats with unexpected twists in the short space of two days. Here’s a rundown of the delirium.
Bayern Munich crash lands in Sinsheim
German champions, European champions and monarch of all they surveyed. Bayern Munich were not just flying high, they were orbiting outerspace since football resumed after lockdown. It would be an understatement to simply say they were winning every game – they were dominating games and strangulating opponents into submission. Playing against Bayern Munich felt as though you were boxing with God. It is not every day a team scores 8 goals and then goes on to do it again, it is not every season that a team wins the continental treble.
So, when Hoffemheim took a two-goal lead and Joshua Kimmich brought one back, nobody thought the next two goals would go to the team in blue. But it did and that left Germany shook – Bayern were not just defeated, they were left scrambling on the floor reaching out for Andre Kramaric-lead Hoffenheim who were Cryuff turning their way to the history books.
All at Chelsea at the Hawthorns
Frank Lampard got the Chelsea job after failing to gain promotion with a fancied Derby County side in the Championship. A club legend, he did a decent job to guide his team to fourth spot with the handicap of a transfer ban. But, his team’s defensive organization left much to be desired and that was not helped by a goalkeeper who saved lesser than he conceded.
With the transfer ban lifted and Lampard’s statement of “not just an academy club”, the London club went all out in the transfer market with a shopping cart boasting of acquisitions from across Europe. That included PSG’s highly experienced Thiago Silva and Leicester’s ever consistent Ben Chilwell. However, mere signings can only do so much if the structure is missing and that absence was highlighted gleefully by newly promoted West Bromwich Albion who took a shock 3-0 lead at halftime.
Stung by the reversal, Lampard’s men came roaring back in the second half. Buoyed by the £200 million spending, Chelsea would not have given the game up at the lemon break and the attacking gliteratti did manage to somehow steal a point. But the three goal scorers on the night cost a sum total of zero as they were all academy graduates.
Leicester City lends strange shade of blue in Manchester
Any suggestion of blue in Manchester is music to Manchester City’s ears but the shade of blue that descended the city on Saturday was a shade darker than usual blue. And it left those who cheer for the Cityzens in a dark mood.
For the foxes though, it was a dream result and lead by Jamie Vardy, they galloped to the table summit. To put Vardy’s hat-trick into context, this is the same man who was earning £30 pounds a week in non-league leading his team’s charge against the most expensive assembly of footballers in the world. For Vardy though, this is routine – having to punch above has been his occupation since inception.
Vardy, however, is not your everyday crude grafter. The 33-year-old has also got some party tricks and he used some of those smooth dance moves at Etihad when he back flicked Leicester into the lead. It was only one in a pack of very watchable goals but for Pep, his team’s defending was rather unwatchable. Three of his back four – barring new arrival Nathan Ake – conceded penalties to expose the undeniable crack in the philosopher’s stone.
Joy at 95, heartbreak at 100
Manchester United’s visit to Brighton was the single most bizare game of football. It was unique and its chain of events was as unprecedented as the year 2020 has been.
Brighton took a deserved lead against United who shot back immediately after. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men had two goals chalked off for offside before humanity’s hero Marcus Rashford scored a cracking solo goal. It was all normal till here. Brighton also struck the post five times and anyone who popped up on their left was left enough acreage to build a bungalow – while not normal, not unprecedented either.
As five minutes of stoppage time was signalled, Brighton must have felt immensely bitter had they not revived atleast one point from this game. They came close so many times, only to be denied by the goalposts and David De Gea’s midriff. But in the 95th minute, finally, the space afforded and perhaps by the law of averages, Solly March managed to bring Brighton level.
Game over, right? Almost as there was enough time for United to conjure a corner which was cleared off the goalline. The referee blew the final whistle and so it was. All football apps sent their notifications and United fans worldwide went into meltdown at another disappointment after a summer of minimal activity.
On the pitch however, the scene was a little different – every United player in sight charged towards the referee remonstrating a potential handball. Brighton players joined the melee signalling that the match was over. It was a situation never seen before as the referee put fingers to his earns – not to block out noise but to pick up on it.
VAR had intervened and in a matter of minutes, Bruno Fernandes was stepping up to take his 18th successive penalty. 100 minutes in, the game was well into overtime and as the Portuguese sent Matt Ryan the wrong way, Neal Maupay – whose arm had defaulted – could not help but break down.
It summed up how every Brighton fan must have felt – so close and yet so far. But for those detached, this was football in all its glory, where it is never over until it is over and on this occasion, it was not over even after it was over.
In the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, “Football, Bloody Hell!”