“…like I never left.” I know it has been a while and a long one for that matter, but for everyone’s sake can we just, I don’t know, forget about it and instead assume that mantra from Akon and the late Whitney Houston’s hit? Thank you. Onwards then.
There was only ever going to be one place to start and yes, you guessed it – the San Siro. This was supposed to be a supreme test of Inter’s mettle, so much that some fans and experts had stretched it to become their Waterloo. Indeed, the visit of the Serie A’s neutrals’ darlings from Bergamo was supposed to be, simply put, difficult. In the end, no one could have foreseen what went down. Atalanta will want to forget Sunday March 12, 2017 in a hurry.
I didn’t quite manage to catch the kick off – some errand had ensured I missed the first 15 minutes of action. Thankfully though, barely minutes after settling down, Captain Leader Legend Mauro Icardi was doing what he does best – reacting quickest to a blocked Ever Banega free kick to stab in the opener. Before I could finish posting an update of Icardi’s goal on TDO’s WhatsApp, he was being brought down in the D by Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha for a penalty. Our main man dusted himself down, and buried one of the most impudently dinked penalties you’ll ever see, and I kid you not. Next attack, a corner and guess who, Icardi at the end of it with an Icardiesque header to make it a 9-minute hat trick! And at the time it seemed that whenever Inter attacked, the net would bulge. Indeed, Banega who was having a blinder, bagged his brace before Remo Freuler brought some tinge of respectability to the scoreline – an emphatic 5-1 lead at the break. The Argentine maestro would net his treble after former Atalanta midfielder Roberto Gagliardini popped up to haunt his former masters. 7-1 it ended, way too easy.
It’s funny to think that this is a game which Inter should have been losing. Everyone had highlighted that even though Inter’s revival under Stefano Pioli had been on in earnest, it had been asterisked by a chronic wilting at the sight of the league’s big hitters Juventus, Roma and Napoli. In keeping with this thinking, since prior to kick off the visitors occupied fourth spot after the aforementioned trio, Il Biscione’s perceived inferiority complex would kick in again and throw the spanner into the works. Well, that’s all fair, but I always thought we’d grind out a 2-1 win. Don’t you just love it when the gods of football deem it fair and just to tear up already written scripts, most of which are littered with scathing epitaphs? Boy was and am I glad!
In the end, Inter sit pretty at 4th, two ahead of the wounded and left for dead Atalanta down in 6th and breathing hard on Napoli in 3rd for that coveted final Champions League spot. Of course there’s the small matter of Lazio entertaining Torino at the Olimpico later on Monday night, whose result might push back Inter to 5th, but make no mistake, the momentum is firmly with the Nerazzurri of Milan, and especially with Mauro Icardi. Where would we be without this beautiful bastard? His hat trick catapulted him to second in the Capocannoniere race, with 20 goals, just two shy of a certain pretender in Andrea Belotti of Torino. Next up on Saturday 18th is a trip to Torino. Dicey, and spicy, and for sure, it will be so damn lit!
My Bundesliga interests of course start and end with the Big Red Machine that is the record champions Bayern Munich, on the hunt for a fifth consecutive title. In as much as Eintracht Frankfurt under the tutelage of former Bayern player Niko Kovac (and his brother Robert) have been tricky customers and notoriously hard to crack this term, there was no doubt in my mind that the clash at the Allianz Arena would bring glad tidings. Initially that seemed so badly far-fetched as Mats Hummels had to pull off THAT last ditch tackle to deny Branimir Hrgota a shot on goal after he’d been put clean through. You really have to YouTube that tackle, because, believe me, it was so damn good, and blessed as if the Lord made it. In fact, if there was a category for tackles at the FIFA Best Awards, Hummels’ effort would swoop the award for three years in succession. Also, as it transpired, the distant, half-hearted chasing pack of RB Leipzig (0-1 to Wolfsburg) and Borussia Dortmund (1-2 to Hertha Berlin) connived to lose more ground. After the 5-1 walloping of Arsenal, this has been a near perfect week for Bayern.
Speaking of Arsenal, and I’m really trying not to, they somehow managed to upset Lincoln City 5-0 to book a Wembley date for the FA Cup semi finals. Like I said, I really don’t have much to say about Arsenal for as long as Arsene Wenger remains manager, but to quote my father, “Now you guys have paid halfway for the 10 Bayern goals; you’ve got to score another five in the next one.” That’s all good except for the small matter of the next fixture being the league encounter against West Bromwich Albion. At the Hawthorns, no less. A break cannot be caught.
There are few better things to happen on a weekend than Barcelona losing, except maybe losing 1-2 to Deportivo La Coruna after pulling off perhaps the greatest comeback of all time in the Champions League. Oh wait, can anything top that? Why, yes! A Real Madrid comeback win at the Bernabeu over Real Betis featuring a Cristiano Ronaldo goal and finished off by the now expected cherry on the cake that is a bullet header by El Capitan Sergio Ramos. When you need a goal, you had better call the Real Madrid skipper. The result, Madrid back at the Liga summit, two points ahead and with a game in hand. Next up, a trip to the hostile San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao.
Finally, as I try to swat away sleep waiting for the Chelsea-Manchester United grudge FA Cup quarter final cum Mourinho Derby, I sign off by imploring to look for, bottle and preserve THAT Memphis Depay goal in Lyon’s 4-0 triumph over Toulouse. That came on the back of the scintillating 4-2 comeback win over Roma in the Europa League, for good measure. Not a bad few days for my beloved Les Gones. Are the glory days back? That’s maybe pushing it.