12 Days of Football 2019/20: Five Golden Goals
Happy Christmas and welcome to this year's edition of the 12 Days of Football on It's Round and It's White. Over the holiday fixtures, our writers will look back on the 2019 calendar year and ahead to the season's end in a series of 12 articles covering different issues and leagues in European football. Today, Zaid Pathan nominates his five goals of the past year. Enjoy.
What can be more glorious than watching the net bulging with a fine strike? We can rephrase a part of it – the game is about goals. Isn’t it? Without them, the game isn't beautiful at all. Tottenham Hotspur legend Danny Blanchflower understood.
The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.
Thousands of games are played each year involving thousands of goals. It’s a tricky task choosing the best over the course of the year. You can't review every game or even understand its context to fans in a different culture and country. Thus, any list is subjective, including this one. Don't ask how I could leave this one or that out; it's much easier than you think. My choices are a gift to you this holiday season, whatever your religious or football affiliation. I hope you take them as such and enjoy.
1. Kompany's thunderbolt v Leicester City
All things Leicester immediately began to improve when Leicester City brought Brendan Rodgers to the King Power Stadium in February. Alright, he lost his first game in charge but just once more in their next seven league outings. Among those triumphs, they dispatched Arsenal 3-0 just before their visit to the Etihad to challenge the champions in the season's penultimate match.
Pep Guardiola’s men were on a 12-game winning run but desperately needed 13 and 14 to hold off Liverpool's title challenge. There was and would be no margin for error. Having beaten Manchester City in the home fixture, Leicester again caused trouble. As the second half unfolded, it seemed like they might see out the game with a point but Vincent Kompany had other ideas.
In the 70th minute, the Belgian received the ball just inside Leicester’s half, took a couple of comfortable touches then fired a right-footed thunderbolt from 30 yards out into the top corner. Kasper Schmeichel's dive left no doubt he never had a chance.
Defenders are not supposed to be capable of such shots. It felt like a gift from the gods just when City needed one. It sealed their 13th victory in a row and sent the title race down to the wire.
2. Rashford's freekick v Chelsea
After failing to replace Romelu Lukaku, Manchester United apparently lacked firepower but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s youth policy and Anthony Martial's injury left Marcus Rashford as the face of their attack. It was time for the Wythenshawe native to put potential aside and deliver.
United’s inconsistent league form left the cups as their best chance for silverware. After sheepishly surviving on penalties in the EFL Cup 3rd Round against League One Rochdale, the Red Devils still had every reason to be confident against Chelsea. They'd dealt the Blues a 4-0 sucker punch on the season's opening weekend.
That said, knockout football is entirely different than league play. The pressure ratcheted up considerably when Michy Batshuayi cancelled out Rashford’s first-half penalty. Solskjaer makes two changes; removing Jesse Lingard and Victor Lindelof for Andreas Pereira and Anthony Martial. The impact was instantaneous. The pressure was now on Chelsea. Pedro brought down Fred a little more than 30 yards from Chelsea’s goal.
Rashford stepped up, placed the ball carefully, paced off his approach, then sized up the Chelsea goal as though working out a problem in advanced calculus. When the referee blew the whistle, the 22-year-old revealed the solution. The ball curved and dipped into the top corner. Apparently football is rocket science.
Stamford Bridge was silenced. The power, precision and devilish swerve would defy any goalkeeper, let alone Chelsea backup Willy Caballero.
Rashford's effort drew an immediate comparison to Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal against Portsmouth in 2008. It sent United into the next round and Rashford into the next phase in his career.
3. Cunha’s cool take v Leverkusen
Ralph Rangnick’s RB Leipzig and Peter Bosz’s Bayern Leverkusen played out a six-goal thriller in April last season.
Leipzig were on a fine run of form, unbeaten in their last nine league games. Leverkusen wanted to spoil their fun. They dominated the first half at the BayArena but Rangnick’s half-time changes proved too good. Timo Werner quickly levelled the scoreline after Nordi Mukiele and Matheus Cunha came on. Emil Forsberg put Leipzig ahead in 71st minute through a VAR-induced penalty but the moment of the match came in the 83rd minute.
Leipzig keeper Peter Gulacsi launched a brilliant goal kick into Leverkusen’s half, spawning a four v three situation. Marcel Sabitzer won the header and Werner collected, played a quick one-two with Sabitzer, then a through pass for Cunha to chase. The Brazilian beat the first defender with pace and pulled off a sublime Cruijff turn to beat the second. Bayer goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky charged only for Cunha to cruelly dink the shot over the Finnish shot-stopper.
Deservedly, the goal was shortlisted for the Puskas Award.
4. Son goes supersonic v Burnley
To hear tell, Mauricio Pochetino suffocated Tottenham Hotspur and they needed a breath of fresh air. Club chairman Daniel Levy acted swiftly. The Spurs honcho needed 60 seconds less than 11 hours to announce Jose Mourinho as the Argentine's replacement. Call it the new manager bounce or whatever but Mourinho gave Spurs a new lease on life.
Three successive wins were enough to change the mood. Fans didn't dwell on Pochettino's absence. Then, the defeat to Manchester United revealed that Mourinho's powers had limits. The Lilywhites needed to bounce back quickly. Sean Dyche’s Burnley travelled to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on the following weekend and Spurs went on a rampage, scoring two goals inside 10 minutes but what happened just after the half-hour mark remains a fond memory for any who watched it unfold.
Burnley won a freekick just across the centre line. With seven players committed to the attacking third, Dwight McNeil tried to find James Tarkowski in the Spurs box. Jan Vertonghen intervened, flicking the ball to Son's feet. Before he could venture far, the Korean was surrounded by four Burnley defenders. No matter, he simply ran through the gears and left them behind like Labour hopefuls staring at election results From there, the goal was inevitable.
5. Messi’s hattrick goal v Real Betis
When will this man stop mesmerising us? It’s been more than a decade now. Complacency is not a word in the Argentinian’s dictionary and he doesn’t know what an off day is. There’s been unrest among Cules regarding how Barcelona play under Ernesto Valverde but the Maestro operates on a higher wavelength.
When Barcelona visited Real Betis in March, the crowd soon knew it was going to be the Leo show. The Blaugrana No.10 scored a sublime freekick in the 18th minute then added another on the stroke of half time. In the second half, Luis Suarez added a third. Lorenzo Garcia scored a consolation goal in the 82nd minute. Barca were on the cusp of a routine victory until a moment of excelsior involving Messi.
In the 85th minute, el Capitan laid off to Ivan Rakitic inside Betis’ box. The Croat took a touch before returning the ball to the Argentine. A left-footed chip over Pau Lopez dotted the 'i' in sublime. Weight. Trajectory. Placement. It was all perfect and completed with a nonchalance that mocked humanity. People say great art requires time and suffering. Messi says, "Sostenga mi cerveza".