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Analysis on European Teams’ 2nd leg prospects

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Since all of the first leg matches of the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League have been concluded, I would like to offer my humble perspective on some of the scorelines which caught my attention and simply prompted me to think and ponder about it before finding out about some hidden facts beneath the facade of the aforementioned scorelines from the first leg matches, as well as the often overlooked dangers and opportunities that lurk right behind the respective teams who have notched a victory as well as being defeated.

The teams which I will be focusing on here are those who are going to play the second leg of the European match  away from home. I will be specially locking on the 1-0 and 2-1 scoreline from the first leg home match. Thus, the aforementioned teams in focus are Internazionale (won 1-0 against CSKA Moscow) and Bayern Munich (won 2-1 against Manchester United) in the Champions League and Fulham (won 2-1 against Wolfsburg), Benfica (won 2-1 against Liverpool), and Hamburg (won 2-1 against Standard Liege).

At a glance, it seems that all of the teams above who have won 2-1 certainly have a higher chance of progressing into the next round of their respective competitions in comparison to Internazionale who “only” managed to clinch a narrow looking 1-0 victory. However, this is where the cold, hard, facts beneath the facade of the scorelines are overlooked. Actually it works totally the other way round. Internazionale actually have a higher chance of progressing compared to the rest of the teams mentioned.

The root of this is actually the rule celebrated or lamented by the various top managers in Europe, the Away Goals rule. Even though the rule is very clear for the managers and especially the players, and many if not all of them have fallen foul as well as benefited from this rule in the past (and thus they know full well the significance of this rule), but still it tends to be overlooked. The point is simply that bringing a 2-1 lead into the enemy territory in the second leg is extremely dangerous because the players would at least psychologically be complacent and might think that they have 1 foot in the next round.

However, in the actual fact, just one little mistake, just 1 goal conceded, and it is game over to them. When that one goal is scored, it will serve as an extreme sucker punch to the players and it would be really hard to bounce back again to restore their slender lead just before the goal. This is further compounded by the fact that they are now playing in a very hostile stadium in which even the referee might be part of the opposing team at times, if not for the whole match. This is how dangerous a 2-1 lead would be. As for the opposing team at the back of the 2-1 defeat way from home. They will be extra motivated to grab that one sucker punch goal in the home leg. Since they are playing at home, they will be extra charged (as most if not all home teams are) and they would not be afraid to venture forward to attack right from kick-off. The manager just needs to say “ONE goal is all you need to get” during the pep talk in the home stadium’s dressing room and the players are set to go. Not only they are likely to grab that 1-0 victory, but they might even go on and humiliate the visiting team.

As for teams like Internazionale which bring a 1-0 lead to the away leg, they would not have the same level of complacency, if there is at all compared to the teams bringing a 2-1 advantage from the home leg. For Internazionale, the sense of urgency would still be embedded in the manager’s as well as the players’ minds prior to the game. They know that 1-0 is a “very slender lead” (and this is the common perception by everyone) and thus they know that it is not over yet, and they will not slack in the 2nd leg away from home.

Thus, even if many if not all the fans of Benfica, Fulham, Hamburg, and Bayern Munich are thinking that their teams have progressed into the next round, they have to really think again and realize the extreme danger that their teams are in right now, and I am not ruling out every single one of them being knocked out in the 2nd leg. This is proven in coincidentally Fulham’s previous round in which Juventus had won 3-1 in Turin and still being knocked out as they were thrashed 4-1 at Craven Cottage.

As for any Internazionale fans in doubt of their team’s chances of progressing, they should not worry, as CSKA Moscow would need 2 goals to safely progress to the next round. 1 goal would mean extra time in which the wits and tactical supremacy of Mourinho would still shine through, and with Diego Milito, Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder in full swing, they are very likely to progress, even if they only manage a draw in Moscow.

Thus, the point is, besides pointing out the difference in the common perceptions on the aforementioned teams’ chances of progressing, it also serves to point out about the often overlooked fact that a seemingly slender 1-0 lead from the home leg is actually much better than a seemingly safe 2-1 lead from the home leg.

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