April Shower…of Goals
After our extraordinary exploits against Shakhtar, two further results in late March and early April ensure that this will be a season to remember.
First up, Man City. The big one. The title decider. But how to line up? Should I be cagey and go defensive, hoping to hit them on the break? Do I try to start fast and then retreat? Or do I strike a balance and led the flow of the game dictate any changes?
Well, whatever plans I had went straight out of the window when we scored 3 goals in the first 7 minutes.
First, Oxlade-Chamberlain ran through from the kick off and smashed it straight into the net. Next up it was Fekir with a simple tap in and then on 7 minutes, van Dijk powered in a header. What a performance! Thing is though, it brought it’s own anxiety. I always remember when England played Romania at the Euro’s when Keegan was in charge. We struck out into a 2-0 lead, only to lose 3-2. A mate of mine remembered reading a comment from Keegan that at 2-0, he didn’t know what to do. And that’s how I felt. Do I keep pushing and go for more, however ludicrous that sounds? Do I switch to control and dominate possession? Do I sit back and hit them on the counter? I got caught betwixt and between, with what started out as a thumping turning into a nervy 3-2 victory. Crucially then, points secured but some underlying anxieties revealed, hinting at a long standing lack of self belief.
The fun wasn’t over though. The very next game was a Champions League quarter final with Juventus. Pre-match, a news reporter asked me how I fancied our chances of scoring, given that Buffon hadn’t conceded in 5 games. It was a stark reminder of how little I involve myself in the wider gaming world. It never occurred to me to scout out the opposition. I barely even glance at the pre-match opposition reports or pore over heat maps, average position charts, strength and weakness reports or any of the other myriad support options available.
As for the game itself, we quickly found ourselves a goal down, van Dijk somehow conspiring to injure himself whilst conceding a penalty. After 24 minutes it was 2-0 as Higuain converted. But then something interesting happened. I had noticed from watching the match that Higuain was getting far too much space in behind my defence. And so I dropped the defensive line back a notch. I was slightly worried about isolating my forwards but I had to react to the threat. The benefits came almost immediately, Firmino scoring after 30 minutes to get us back in the tie. Just after the break, he hit another and then unbelievably completed his hattrick after 76 minutes. The 2-0 win in the return leg at Anfield was as routine as they come and so not only were we top of the league and 5 points clear, we were into the Champions League semi.
Oh, and guess who we drew in the next round. Yep, you guessed it. Man City.