Lionel Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, Marco Verratti, Marquinhos, and Sergio Ramos walk onto the sleek pitch on Sept. 14, illuminated under the bright lights and roar of over 30,000 fans. Some of the greatest talents in the world — and of all time — assembled on one team: Paris Saint-Germain. But this is not the Parc De Princes, and the fans are not here to cheer on the Parisians, but rather their local club, Maccabi Haifa.
Haifa, an Israeli Premier League club, has been successful domestically but has only qualified for the Champions League three times. Regardless, the home fans are oozing with passion, singing their chants and egging the players on. The air is clouded with smoke from the flares that are burning devilish red in the shaking stands. Contrasting with the smoke on the interior of the stadium is blinding green lights, displaying the Haifa colors. The stage is set for an amazing match of football.
According to Transfermarkt.us, the market value of this Maccabi Haifa side is $22.28 million. In comparison, the European giant Paris Saint-Germain is valued at $979.39 million. Acknowledging this insane disparity, Haifa came out the gates exuding high energy and challenging every ball in the midfield aggressively. This proved fruitful as they tested the PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma several times in the game’s opening section, forcing him to stretch full length to save some shots.
The moment the fans and players were waiting for came in the 24th minute. A ball was won by Haifa in midfield after Verratti sloppily attempted to move the ball up the field. The ball was played out to the right wingback Dolev Haziza, who took a touch and whipped in a ball toward the running midfielder Tjaronn Chery. The result was a side-footed volley into the bottom left corner and the first Champions League goal for Haifa in 20 years. PSG and the rest of the world were stunned, and the stadium shook violently as the Haifa fans went into pandemonium.
Haifa ultimately lost the match 1-3 as PSG’s superstar attack trio of Messi, Neymar, and Mbappé combined to pick apart the Haifa back line. However, during the whole game, Haifa challenged every ball, tested the keeper, and competed. They were never there to settle for a draw or a close loss, instead, they were there for Champions League glory, and it showed with the performance they left on the pitch.
A Sigh of Relief
A recently battered Tottenham Spurs side returned to Premier League football after getting embarrassed at Lisbon in their Champions League draw. One of the main topics discussed following the match was the role of Heung-Min Son under manager Antonio Conte’s developing squad. As the co-winner of the Premier League Golden Boot award last season, Son was expected to pick up where he started.
No one was predicting an eight-game goal drought at the beginning of the season. It was not just Son’s lack of goals, it was that he could not get involved in the attack or make an impact on the game. Looking like a shell of himself on the field, English media and fans were starting to suggest that the previously untouchable Son should be placed on the transfer list to take advantage of his current value.
On Sept. 17 in the match against Leicester, Son was starting on the bench, having been dropped for Dejan Kulusevski. Playing at home, the Lilywhites seemed to struggle defensively throughout the match. Although leading at the 59th minute when Son was subbed on, the Spurs lead seemed unstable as Leicester kept applying pressure. In the 73rd minute, however, Son broke his cold streak with what would become a hat trick completed in just 13 minutes. He scored two from outside the box with each foot and another with a one-on-one with the keeper. Throughout these magnificent 13 minutes, Son’s only expression was that of pure relief, knowing that he was able to contribute at last.
A Sigh of Despair
Juventus woes continued from last week’s disappointing draw to Salernitana. Playing against Monza, a team recently promoted to Serie A, Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri needed a victory. Juve went down to ten men in the 40th minute after Ángel Di María elbowed a Monza defender, which only got worse as Monza’s Christian Gytkjær scored the game-winner in the 74th minute. Following this result, Allegri’s job security has been the subject of much speculation as it seems that Juve fans and owners alike have had enough.
In this coming week, all club football will halt for a short international break. Friday, Sept. 30 faces an underperforming Bayern Munich against another underperforming team in Bayer Leverkusen. The next day, Premier League action returns with a bang as first-place Arsenal and third-place Tottenham face off in what is poised to be an explosive North London derby. Lastly, Tuesday marks two months until the start of the controversial Qatar World Cup in which two of the greatest players of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, might represent their countries for the last time.