According to numerology, wherein the basic notion is that “everything in the world is dependent upon the mystical properties of numbers”, the number 8 resonates with building (power) and at times with destruction (sacrifice). One could also say that the same would apply in football as well. A player wearing the number “8” is considered to be among one of the play makers in the team; the one who builds the foundation for a successful round of play. At the same time, on a bad day, the lackluster effort of that same player could be deemed as the very reason for the loss.
For the past two weeks, in the UEFA Champions League, we had witnessed the yin-yang affect of the four best number 8’s in the European scene. They were Javi Martinez (Bayern), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Iikay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund) & Kaka (Real Madrid).
Javi Martinez (Bayern Munnch): A very athletic footballer who is predominantly used as a defensive midfielder did the job that he was brought on to do. Though he was weak on the attacking front in the first leg, his defensive contributions do not go unnoticed. With 6/6 tackles, two interceptions, and 2/2 aerial duels, he was able to shut down Iniesta for the entirety of the game. The only player to maintain consistency between the two legs, his primary role was just that which can only be confirmed by the 23 passes that he made with 83% pass accuracy (same in both legs). He was barely close to his team mates to receive a pass from them (only 17 received throughout the entire game which is quite low for a midfielder).
Andres Iniesta (Barcelona): We all know how Iniesta can change the game when all expect Messi to. But this was not the case against Bayern Munich. With a pass accuracy of 96% and receiving 92 passes (compared to 65 that Messi received), predominantly on the left side of the pitch that he is normally operates from, one wouldn’t be surprised of the role he plays in the Barca eleven. While it was quite obvious that the entire team pressed on the Bayern defense while in possession, Iniesta found it tough to shrug off Martinez to link up with the dashing runs of Jordi Alba or send those captivating through balls across, slicing the defense.
The home game was as sloppy for Iniesta as it was for the entire team. As expected, Barcelona was initiating the comeback with massive disadvantages – non existing central defenders and the injured Argentinean playmaker. And the fact that he was substituted in the 66th minute did not help his case. The style that he is known for was not on display, having only made 40 completed passes and two successful one-on-one situations out of 6. Nonetheless, he will always be a fan favorite because of his personality and the attitude he carries into a game.
İlkay Gündoğan (Borussia Dortmund): Then there was German international of Turkish descent who for his height bossed the center of the pitch like no other in both the legs for Dortmund.
He had covered almost the entire area of the pitch with 80+% pass accuracy in both games while playing a significant part in Lewandowski’s first goal against Real Madrid in the first game. He managed to keep the likes of Modric and Khedira on bay and the breathtaking run in the second half from the right hand side into Madrid’s final 18 having passed a few players, only for the effort to be acrobatically blocked by Diego Lopez simply summed up his performances for the first leg.
In Madrid, he was able to maintain his resiliency in the center, distributing the ball effectively and contributing defensively with vital interceptions. However he was not as influential as in the first game. And of course, we will brush aside the fact that he had an opportunity to end the game which was not exploited.
A potential player who we will hear a lot more of in the media as we approach the summer.
Kaka (Real Madrid): It would not be fair to compare his performances having come in as a substitute in both the games. However, he was rather effective in the second as he was involved in Benzema’s first goal. Other than that, it would be a surprise that he would end up remaining at the club as the season comes to a close.
At this point, it is obvious which team had put in the effort but would it narrow down the funnel to the performance of the above mentioned players? Yes, indeed.