Four Truths: Leicester's European holidays, and the incomparable brilliance of Buffon
From Leicester's continuation of their Premier League party to Juventus and Buffon mirroring each other's continued relevance, we look at a Champions League night to remember.
Leicester well aware they're one-season wonders – and they're thriving because of it
So that’s three games, three wins, five goals and zero conceded for Leicester in the Champions League.
Yes, it’s only Porto, Copenhagen and Club Brugge they've beaten - but then, it’s only Leicester that they are. The other three sides had infinitely more experience in Europe’s elite competition than Leicester did going into this season.
During these victories, the Foxes have proved that last year’s style is still working in Europe, so no wonder they welcome the change of scene with open arms - particularly when you consider their stuttering Premier League defence. A change really is as good as a holiday for Claudio Ranieri's.
You could ask, ‘to what end?’, for they can’t (surely) be in contention to walk out at the Millennium Stadium in June’s final? No, of course not. But then again, they surely weren't in contention to win the Premier League last season, and look what happened there...
Leicester's Riyad Mahrez (right) scores the winner in their 1-0 victory over CopenhagenPA Sport
What we’re witnessing is the rare sight of a team living for the moment. Mainly because it won’t happen again. Not for this team. Not for some time – but it's wonderful to see them enjoying it, and they're already more-or-less certain of a spot in the last-16.
And once they've confirmed that spot? Who's to say how far they could go – particularly if they get as kind a draw in the knockout phase as they did in the group stage.
We're actually sort of hoping that UEFA pull one of their legendary (and probably fictional) 'hot ball draws' to ensure that the Foxes keep on going as long as possible in their one attempt at being kings of Europe.
But while Leicester's European adventure will begin and end with this campaign, the same can't be said of their stars. For players like Riyad Mahrez the Champions League journey has just begun; it’s not surprising to see the Algerian spark into life in these midweek fixtures, he’s already auditioning for the 2016/17 season.
80/1 on Warsaw the worst value of the season, with resurgent Real in town
Legia Warsaw were priced at 80/1 to win in Real Madrid this evening. It seemed a lot for a two-horse race until you realised they were facing the football equivalent of Dream Alliance, the thoroughbred racehorse who beat the odds to win the Welsh Grand National a few years back. Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo are Real Madrid’s own dream alliance, but sometimes the Welsh thoroughbred Bale’s role in the success of Madrid is understated.
Before taking to the field against Legia Warsaw, big Gareth had not struck a goal for Los Blancos in the Champions League since December 2014. An astonishing stat really when you consider his overall contribution to Madrid’s rise to a 10th and 11th European Cup over the past three years. But on Tuesday the waiting was finally over, Bale arrowing a wonderful effort into the corner of the visiting net to open the score for Zinedine Zidane’s side on their way to a 5-1 success.
Gareth Bale scores - Real Madrid v Legia Warszawa - UEFA Champions LeagueReuters
The goal rush is important for Real, who had been on a run of four consecutive Liga draws until they cut loose against Real Betis at the weekend, producing a 6-1 drubbing. They've followed it up in similar style; and it was just what the doctor ordered for Zidane’s future health in the role.
What's more, Real have reason to believe that things will only get better. In La Liga they remain joint top after eight matches despite having suffered what is probably going to be their worst bad spell this season, and they're a comfortable joint top of Champions League Group F alongside Dortmund.
Even better than that is the emergence of their understudies, with Marco Asensio and Alvaro Morata both thriving against Legia as they have in their league outings this season.
Plus, of course, Bale and Ronaldo continue to sprinkle gold dust when the mood takes them. We’re not sure if Bale is worth the £525,000-a-week he is reportedly on at the Bernabeu, but on nights like this he is priceless. And the odds of him waiting two more years for another Champions League goal will be substantially longer than 80/1.
Spurs lacking fireworks, but the embers burning deceptively hot
Last season Tottenham made a run at the table with a brand of exciting, fast-paced and creative football that dazzled their fans and endeared them to neutrals. They've shown that only in flashes this season – notably in their amazing win against Manchester City – but for the most part they seem to be channelling the spirit of a late 1980s Arsenal side: dour, tough and lucky.
That's the approach which has kept them unbeaten in the Premier League and which, with half the group stage gone, looks likely to earn them a spot in the last-16 of the Champions League. The table is tight, but with two 'home' games left they are hot favourites to make it through.
The only thing counting against them? Those home games are actually being played at Wembley, where the atmosphere will probably be as grim and gritty as much of Spurs' football so far this season. But we had a feeling before this season started that Tottenham's players will have learned a lot of lessons from their failed challenge in the last campaign, most notably about the pros and cons of irrational exuberance compared to grinding out results. And they're all the more convincing as silverware contenders because of it.
Bayer Leverkusen's Kevin Kampl (left) and Tottenham Hotspur's Dele Alli battle for the ball - Bayer Leverkusen v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League - Group E - BayArenaPA Photos
Juventus still have the X factor – an no-one shows that more than Buffon
Star players come and go. Managers come and go. But one thing remains the same: Juventus simply know how to win a football match.
The Italian champions' clash against Lyon on Tuesday night was a case in point: a masterclass of stealing three points when even one might have been generous. The French side, with home advantage, missed a first-half penalty, and then enjoyed a man advantage for over 35 minutes in the second half as Mario Lemina was sent off.
That penalty save, incidentally? It came from the veteran Gianluigi Buffon. The legendary keeper turns 39 in a few months, yet the Old Lady's oldest man somehow still musters the skill and energy to keep his place at the top of the sport.
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Telling the truth tonight were Mike Hincks, Des Kane and Toby Keel