Big Midweek: Real Madrid v Bayern, Vitinha, Gasperini and Club Brugge

Will Ford
Bellingham Kane Champions League
It's Jude Bellingham vs Harry Kane in a Big Midweek of European football.

Is Vitinha actually the main man for Paris Saint-Germain? Who will win Bellingham v Kane II? And why is Gasperini never linked with the big jobs? All those questioned unanswered…


Game to watch: Real Madrid v Bayern Munich
Jude Bellingham’s mumbling put paid to the lip readers’ attempts to uncover what he said to Harry Kane ahead of his penalty for Bayern in the first leg, which Chris Sutton reckons Kane will have taken as a “lack of respect” from his England minion and, incredibly, encouraged one publication to call upon a ‘body language expert’ to uncover Bellingham’s unhidden agenda. Here’s Darren Stanton’s earth-shattering interpretation of the footage in full.

I’ve got no doubt in my mind at all his intent was to go there, intimidate, undermine and bully Kane. As Bellingham approaches him he’s got an angry micro expression. If you imagine now making an angry expression to yourself in your camera, your eyebrows come together, your lips are pierced, that shows his emotion was one of anger and his intent was not good. He’s not gone up to give him a pep talk, it’s very clear from his body language and certainly from the micro expression that he had ill intent on his mind to basically distract Kane from what he needed to do.

The phrase ‘no sh*t, Sherlock’ springs to mind. And suggestions that ill-will from either Kane or Bellingham would boil over into the Euros, or past the final whistle even, are made by people that have entirely misread the characters of two supremely competitive but grounded footballers. Bellingham pushed the sportsmanship limits in an attempt to gain an advantage and Kane blocked him out to convert a penalty under huge pressure. Both should be admired.

And rather than focusing on a minor incident England fans should be basking in the good fortune of having arguably the two most important players for these semi-finalists representing them this summer. They’ve both had extraordinary seasons.

Kane linked the play in typically brilliant fashion in the first leg, dropping deep and setting the speedy wingers alongside him away to create chances. And Bayern will need him do the same at the Bernabeu to have any chance of winning a tie that stands at 2-2. Kane holding onto the ball and granting Jamal Musiala and Leroy Sane space to weave their magic is how Bayern get to the final.

Real Madrid aren’t quite so reliant on Bellingham, but after his limited impact in the first leg it feels as though there’s a significant moment from him coming in the second. He’s rarely quiet for long.

READ MORE: Kroos, Sane, Vinicius come to the fore in Bayern 2-2 Real Madrid but England star disappoints


Manager to watch: Gian Piero Gasperini
Having finished in the bottom half of Serie A for the five seasons before he arrived at the club, Gasperini led Atalanta to fourth in his first season in charge and to three consecutive third-place finishes between 2018 and 2021. They reached the Champions League quarter-final in 2019/20, were knocked out at the last- 16 stage the season after and they’re now contesting their second ever European semi-final, and may well triple the trophies won in their history by the end of the season, with the Coppa Italia final against Juventus coming less than a week after their second leg against Marseille.

It’s 1-1 going into the game in Bergamo after Gianluca Scamacca, having ruined Jurgen Klopp’s farewell tour in the previous round, scored his sixth Europa League goal of the season – a remarkable record given he’s only managed nine in Serie A. Atalanta will fancy their chances of winning at home and reaching a European final for the first time in their history, where they will likely face Bayer Leverkusen, who lead Roma 2-0 ahead of the second leg in Germany.

And it would be nice to see the wits of Xabi Alonso, a manager all the big clubs want, and for good reason, pitted against Gasperini, a manager none of the big clubs want, and for no good reason. Five games as Inter Milan boss in 2011 hardly constitutes a fair shot at the big time, and while it may be a case of Gasperini and Atalanta being the perfect fit, it is odd, given what looks set to be quite the managerial merry-go-round in Europe this summer, that a manager who’s had his team playing consistently excellent football on a tight budget for eight seasons on the bounce is barely on the radar.


Team to watch: Club Brugge
There were plenty of upturned noses, mainly from Anglophiles, when the Europa Conference League came into being. Did we really need a third-rate European competition? There’s certainly a case to be made that we (as in Premier League teams) didn’t and shouldn’t have teams entering something they should dominate by dint of their extraordinary wealth in comparison to their opponents. West Ham fans would give that particular opinion short shrift, and Aston Villa fans would no doubt be of a similar mind if they go all the way this season.

But really, the Europa Conference League is for teams like Club Brugge, who ordinarily get dumped out of the group stages in Europe having been turned over by teams they have no hope of beating. The Belgian side will be through to their first European final since 1978 if they overturn a 3-2 first leg deficit against Fiorentina at home on Wednesday.


Player to watch: Vitinha
If any one player exemplifies The New PSG, it’s Vitinha. Kylian Mbappe’s departure this summer will bring the Galacticos era to an end at the Parc des Princes, as Luis Enrique attempts to build an actual football team on the back of years of superstar-led nearly moments in the Champions League, with the French giants typically undone by a lack of unity from a bunch of incredibly talented but insular footballers.

This season may turn out to be a winning mix of superstardom and cohesion, and while Mbappe is undoubtedly still the go-to guy, as he’s able to score or create something out of nothing, it’s Vitinha who’s the heartbeat of Enrique’s side. Everything goes through him as the calm but creative force in midfield, and he bucks the trend as a PSG playmaker who seems unfazed by what’s going on around him.

Marco Verratti, brilliant though he was, had a tendency to crumble in adversity, sometimes entirely losing the plot when his team merely needed him to do what he did best – keep the ball moving and grind out a result. Vitinha, at just 24, is a player who knows when to play and when to manage a game of football, which is among the most important qualities – so lacking in PSG teams for such a long time – for Champions League success.

Borussia Dortmund are 1-0 up after the first leg, but even in that Signal Iduna Park cauldron, faced with The Yellow Wall, no player completed more passes than Vitinha (82), who also made four tackles and three interceptions. He’s a brilliant all-round midfielder, and PSG’s progress to the final is arguably more dependent on him playing well than the last remaining Galactico.

READ MORE: Jadon Sancho adds himself to list of reasons for Man Utd to sack Ten Hag after Champions League riot


EFL game to watch: Peterborough v Oxford
Having spanked Peterborough 5-0 in the league less than a month ago, Oxford are probably wishing they had saved up a couple of those goals (or all five) for the home leg of the play-off semi-final after they came away 1-0 victors on Saturday. Peterborough will now fancy their chances having claimed their own comprehensive home win in the return league fixture – they beat Oxford 3-0 at London Road in December.

The winner will likely take on Bolton in the final after Wanderers claimed a 3-1 away win over Barnsley in the other semi-final.