In the cauldron of culer insecurities, trouble bubbles. Barça CB Thomas Vermaelen hinted at it when he said that people shouldn’t count Arsenal out. But it’s a Premiership tale of romance that might provide the clearest depiction of why maybe, just maybe …
Leicester City won a match against Newcastle, to preserve a 5-point lead in the Premiership standings, with 8 matches to go. People who rely on logic and things making sense don’t trust Leicester. Why should they? As one very smart writer said after the match, against a better team than Newcastle, Leicester would have lost. They had one shot on target, a bicycle kick golazo, and won 1-0.
For Barça supporters, velos are icing on the cake, something done by Suarez, Pedro or most recently Arda Turan, bits of frippery that gild the lily of a beatdown. Leicester needed that moment of madness to grab the goal necessary to get the win. After the goal, the coach, Claudio Rainieri, gestured like a man thinking, “Just like I planned it,” which is obviously not the case, because who in the hell ever plans that your only shot on goal for your only goal that is sufficient to win a match that you absolutely HAVE TO WIN, will be a bicycle.
That doesn’t happen. And yet it is. It’s also the kind of thing that makes you wonder if there are in fact Footy Gods, and they’re slapping their knees as they have one over on the world for yet another week. Leicester City was supposed to be relegated this season, a passel of journeymen that Messi could buy with a single pay packet. And that was when magic started to happen, another improbable thing in an improbable game.
Another person compared Leicester City to the Montpellier side that won Ligue 1 in that fun-filled year, but PSG still wasn’t in full juggernaut mode yet, Lyon had fallen on somewhat clunky times, and Montpellier was, a lot of the time, flat-out lucky. Like Leicester. Romance doesn’t truck with logic. The statisticians and analytic minds struggle to explain how in the hell Leicester is happening, but romance doesn’t care. It’s snuggled up with a bunch of athletes and their dour, bespectacled coach, smiling for yet another week.
A better team would have beaten them, yet they have beaten better teams this season, week after week, time after time. The giants of the Prem have fallen, to be fair. Tottenham Hotspur finds itself in an uncharacteristic spot as well, second in the table in March, rather that rutting around with Arsenal for that last Champions League slot that the Gunners usually grab. And Wenger says, “We have made Champions League again, which is no small feat.” And so it goes.
Football doesn’t care about your logic. Leicester doesn’t care that Chelsea needed to implode, that United had to play drab, ineffective football while Liverpool resembled a hospital ward. Romance doesn’t care, either, as that team’s legitimately wacky story persists for yet another week that will actually be two because even if they go on a losing skid while Spurs take off like rockets, they will still have to lose two times to relinquish their lead atop the table. The odds on that are about the same as they have always been: heavily against Leicester, that batch whose name sounds like the kid who got pushed around in school. And they’re top, because who doesn’t love a Cinderella story?
Into that illogical world strolls Arsenal, a side just coming off an upset loss in the FA Cup to Watford that has ejected that team from “their” competition. They drew against Spurs, which was a perfect result for that kid named Lester, and had lost to Swansea before that, the only surcease coming via a 4-0 thrashing of Hull City in the FA Cup, a preening that set them up for failure.
They are 2 precious away goals down to the best football club in the land, FC Barcelona. This tie is all but done, says everyone except romantics and culers, for two very different sets of reasons. Romantics include fans of the team with scant hope, a starry-eyed worldview born of the pragmatism of the vanquished. They have to believe that their team can turn it around. Hell, look at Leicester.
Culers, of course, have a strong, unflappable history of paranoia that finds them worrying when up 6-0 and an opponent scores a goal. “What is wrong with our defense this season!? Gaaaah! There are six minutes left, and our guys look tired. This isn’t over.”
It wouldn’t take much for Arsenal to create squeaky bum time at the Camp Nou. And in a game where eternal vigilance is required lest a moment’s lapse result in Giroud suddenly having one of his moments of inexplicable excellence, a goal would change a lot.
Logically, you can look at the Arsenal defense that gave up a pair of goals to Swansea and say, “No way in hell that group, chasing the match, doesn’t concede to the vaunted Trident.” Particularly with the first-choice keeper out.
But there are times in football when nothing makes sense, when some unshakable force decides today is the day that the greats will be mortal and the peons will be able to strike magic from feet that were formerly ordinary. And two sets of fans worry for very different sets of reasons, one hoping for romance, the other logic. And that latter should rule. But hey, some kid named Lester isn’t supposed to be prom king, either.