Life's Good For Flamengo: 5 Talking Points
Rio celebrates a Copa Libertadores and a Brazileirao inside a wild 24 hours.
Flamengo celebrates a Copa Libertadores victory and a Brazileirao title all inside a wild 24 hours, as we look at the five talking points from football this week.
#1: LIFE IS GOOD FOR FLAMENGO
Life doesn’t get much better for Flamengo fans right now.
Because just 24 hours after their Copa Libertadores victory against River Plate in Peru, their party got a second wind with the Brasileirao... without having to even kick a ball. Gremio’s 94th-minute winner against Palmeiras gave The Mengão an unassailable 13-point lead in Serie A with four games remaining.
In one sweet weekend, they became South American champions for the first time since 1981 and Brazilian Champions for the first time since 2009 - making Flamengo the first Brazilian team to have won both the league and the Libertadores in the same year, since Pele's Santos achieved it in 1963.
The size of the achievement was not lost on Flamengo defender Rafinha:
To win trophies for Flamengo. I knew it was very hard because we have a national league which is one of the toughest in the world, the Brazilian League, and before that (Copa) Libertadores, which is like South America's Champions League. I am very happy for winning this title and become part of Flamengo's history.
But Rafinha’s not just part of Flamengo’s history, as he became only the tenth man to have won both the Libertadores and UEFA’s Champions League, doing so with Bayern Munich in 2013.
#2: PSG BATTLE AGAINST FAMILIARITY
80 minutes into their Champions League game at the Santiago Bernabéu, there was an air of familiarity around Paris Saint-Germain. While they might be running away with Ligue 1, Les Parisiens were 2-0 down to a European power from a stronger league.
But maybe, just maybe, PSG could be learning how to fight for what they want. First, it was Kylian Mbappé, then Pablo Sarabia, who struck in the space of three minutes to bring PSG level with Real Madrid.
They couldn't find the winner, but they did display the kind of gaul they’ll need if they are to bring an end to their Champions League woes.
#3: GARETH BALE’S MIXED RECEPTION
Gareth Bale’s return to Real Madrid was eagerly anticipated in last weekend's La Liga fixture against Real Sociedad.
After holding up a flag on international duty suggesting Madrid came third in his list of priorities behind Wales, and golf, his teammates seemed to see the funny side. But the Madridistas didn’t, sending a chorus of boos in his direction during the 3-1 win.
While Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane took the diplomatic approach:
I said before the game that we need our fans, I can't control it and Gareth can't control it. The only thing I can say is we need the support of the public. Always.
So reactions were clearly mixed, but that’s nothing new for Bale in the Spanish capital.
#4: BAYERN BACK ON THE ASCENDANCY
Bayern Munich fans are rejoicing while the rest of the league weeps, with new manager Hansi Flick putting the Bavarians back on the ascendancy.
Bayern’s replacement for Niko Kovac has certainly hit the ground running, backing up the 4-0 win over Borussia Dortmund ahead of the international break, with another 4-0 win against Fortuna Dusseldorf.
The three points sent the defending champions just one point behind Borussia Mönchengladbach after the league leaders lost to Union Berlin.
If Flick keeps going like this he may even get the Bayern board to extend his stay beyond the winter break.
#5: LIVERPOOL VAR CONSPIRACY
Fans all around the Premier League, and indeed the world, have begun connecting the dots between Liverpool’s extraordinary title potential this season and the introduction of VAR in England, as yet another decision went Liverpool's way to help them beat Crystal Palace at the weekend.
Indeed, the Reds were far from their best against the Eagles and would’ve got a very different result if not for VAR ruling out a James Tomkins goal as six yards away, his teammate Jordan Ayew was adjudicated to have nudged, and fouled, Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren.
Despite the good fortune, even Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp acknowledged his side wasn't quite at their best:
Today there is no problem that we are not brilliant because, in a game like this, you just have to make sure that you are ready to fight for the result and we did that from the first minute. Could we have played better? Yes.
So Liverpool is now 30 games undefeated in the Premier League, and whether aided by VAR or not, Reds fans are just about ready to celebrate after 30 years of hurt.