Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Cruyff's Kids Play on in Europe


AJAX AND BARCELONA REACH THE SEMI-FINALS OF THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Real's reign is over but who will take their place on top of European football?

AJAX AND BARCELONA REACH THE SEMI-FINALS OF THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE


Tonight Barcelona proved Manchester United's amazing comeback at PSG was only a flash in the pan by cruising past the Red Devils 4-0 on aggregate, while Ajax are in the last four for the first time in over 20 years.

Blaugrana 2019 might not be a Guardiola vintage but their fierce gegenpressing and moments of Messi magic were enough to make a top six Premier League side look also-rans. Pep has not been working in Catalonia for seven years now but his record-breaking tenure still echoes in the Camp Nou atmosphere and the team's quick passing style.

The Dutch masters' elimination of Serie A's runaway leaders Juventus after knocking out the holders must also make them contenders for the big prize, despite their inexperience.

A young and inexperienced Ajax won the cup in 1995 and since losing the 2017 Europa League final to Jose Mourinho's United side have maintained their revival.

United by comparison have spent ten times what Ajax have in the past two years but have stumbled out of the competition tonight.

Liverpool and Manchester City should join Barca and Ajax in the last four, which could result in a parallel tussle for the Champions League to match the pair's dual for the crown in England.

The romance is with Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool's quest to avenge last season's loss in the final and bring the trophy back to Anfield for the first time since 2005, but the blue machine of City will be hard to halt.

Tottenham stand in City's way for now and Spurs on a roll can bring the same power-play football as Liverpool can to the competition - a fascinating contrast to the Barcelona DNA in Ajax and City.

La Liga has won the last five editions and for my money the Blaugrana or its former coach are the most likely to bag the silverware this time, maintaining the Spanish succession.

2019 feels like an interregnum after Real's recent fall from grace but Guardiola's grand projet in Manchester could be the most likely replacement dynasty.

With Ajax, Barcelona and Pep Guardiola still in the competition, the spirit of Johann Cruyff is alive and well in European football.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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