A Champions League’s Changing of the Guard Leaves Behind Two Fixtures

A Champions League’s Changing of the Guard Leaves Behind Two Fixtures

The Premier League is, at last, benefiting not only from its vast financial advantage over the rest of Europe, but from its decision — belated, admittedly — to spend a rather greater proportion of that on managers, rather than players.

That is one reading of the situation, anyway. It is not the only one. The Champions League is about teams, of course, and about dynasties and eras and power bases and all of that, but more than anything, it is about players. Indeed, if the dominance of Real Madrid taught us anything, it was that, currently at least, this is a competition defined by individuals more than by systems. And those individuals have not changed at all.

On Tuesday, it was Cristiano Ronaldo, scoring yet another hat-trick to pull Juventus clear of Atlético, to send the Allianz Stadium into raptures, to deliver on the reputation that convinced the Italian champion to spend somewhere north of $100 million on a 33-year-old forward last summer.

And on Wednesday — obviously — it was Lionel Messi, scoring twice, creating twice, and orchestrating Barcelona’s demolition of a courageous, fearless but utterly outgunned Lyon.

For a while, the French visitor discomfited Barcelona; for a while, there was a gentle draft of change here, too, if not quite a full wind. Lyon defended valiantly, and counterattacked with zest, before Barcelona broke the deadlock — a Messi penalty, deftly, almost thoughtlessly, chipped past Anthony Lopes.

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