When Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova took the lead through Jasurbek Yaxshiboyev on 25 minutes against 13-time UEFA Champions League winners, Real Madrid last Wednesday at the Santiago Bernabeu, it was a blip.
Normal service was supposed to resume when the UCL heavyweights flexed their relaxed muscles, which they did. But the equaliser did not materialise until the 65th minute from the penalty spot. Then Madrid should have pushed on and punished the minnows for poking the beast in the eye.
It did not happen!
The minnows scored the winner in the 90th minute with a quite stupendous volley from Sebastien Thill that silenced the Bernabeu crowd. It shouldn’t have been a surprise if anyone had taken the time to check out the supposed minnows and there is the leveller that is COVID-19.
The Real Madrid of 2021/22 season cannot be compared to that of the 2017/18 season when they won their last UCL title. Lack of funds took a toll on incomings and forced some exceptional outgoings. The likes of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane had to be sold or let go to free the wage bill, but Sheriff have no such restraint. The multiple Moldova champions paraded players from seven countries in the win.
In the final against Liverpool in 2018, Real Madrid started with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in attack.
Off the bench came Gareth Bale, who scored two goals to help the Spanish side to a 3-1 win. On Tuesday, Real Madrid started with Benzema and Vinicius Junior as their offensive stars and brought on Luka Jovic off the bench when they were chasing the game. The funds to build exceptional squads are no longer available and it will tell, especially in the UCL.
To buttress the COVID malaise, Portuguese side, Benfica battered Barcelona 3-0 on Wednesday.
The Catalan side are feeling the full force of the pandemic and have had their wage cap slashed to less than $100 million. Forced to jettison Lionel Messi, they had to also sell Antoine Griezmann to help them register players like Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay, who joined on free transfers.
According to transfermarkt website, the Benfica squad is worth $332 million while the Barcelona side is worth $786 million-roughly twice the value of their Portuguese opponents but just like in many valuations; Barcelona’s squad has history and precedence because in actual star power, the team has a lower value than presented on paper.
Whilst we can see these results from one side as a one-off, Real Madrid have in recent seasons dropped points to the likes of Club Brugge of Belgium and Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine.
If the pandemic pangs continue, some of the stellar names will have to re-evaluate how they confront so-called minnows because the distance between the haves and the have-nots will continue to shrink and results like we had on Tuesday and Wednesday will not come across as a surprise.