Halfway through then. The UCL quarterfinal 1st leg rounds are done. And on we go to the decisive leg. There is a little bit of poetry in how all of this is panning out. Perhaps some may call it strange. Manchester City beat Atletico Madrid 1-0. However, there seemed very little they were happy with. In fact, there was annoyance and rather muted celebration at the Kevin De Bruyne winner. Standards perhaps.
Bayern Munich, meanwhile, let their standards drop and found no first leg return. Danjuma's goal sent the gathered Villarreal fans into a celebratory tizzy. Things could have been much more rosy had lady luck turned up. However, Bayern and luck, both remained on leave in Spain.
And as Villarreal searched for luck, they may have found it in London. Real Madrid took all of it from Spain and some brilliance as Chelsea suffered a second straight home defeat in all competitions.
Then there was Liverpool. And, of course, the poetic subplots around Luis Diaz all came true. A return to Lisbon and a hope shattering late goal. Liverpool's Portuguese sojourn bore sweet fruit. And despite all focus maintaining humility talks of Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool have one foot in the semifinal. That one foot is an unchallenged step.
UCL quarterfinal - Benfica vs Liverpool
There is no true despair without hope, they say. That is exactly what the Estadio da Luz excruciatingly experienced when Liverpool came visiting. Benfica, two goals down, made a stirring comeback in the second half of the game. There was a lot to like about the Portuguese team's fight. They had heart and desire. However, as beautiful as our game is, Tuesday was a harsh reminder that eventually these abstracts are not enough.
Platitudes are good for narratives, not enough for results. Darwin Nunez scored a goal and Benfica laid siege to Liverpool's backline. Only for all that to be undone by an 87th minute insurance goal by Luis Diaz. It was a perfect finish for the headline makers. He who returned and quashed hopes of his erstwhile rivals.
The third Liverpool goal was always coming anyway. The away side brought an unnerving sense of calm to Lisbon. The raucous crowd tried its best to play 12th man. But that played white noise to Liverpool's European conquests. Such was their dominance that at home, Benfica's goalkeeper was their best player. Odisseas Vlachodimos did his best to keep the score line respectable. And Liverpool - bar Ibrahima Konate and Sadio Mane - played their part in keeping the score down too.
The second leg, at this point, seems like a mere formality. However, Liverpool - once bitten (hopefully) twice shy - will know there is little one can take for granted here. Europe can punish slackers all too quickly. Inter Milan's Anfield victory was an eye-opener. And at home, Liverpool will be careful so as to not allow an encore.
Allow may seem a demeaning word for Benfica. But Liverpool are simply that good now. A semi final berth is in their hands.
UCL quarterfinal - Manchester City vs Atletico Madrid
Think of any Diego Simeone game in the big time. This was no different. The plan was set and the trap very meticulously laid. It had to be. Against a Guardiola team, it must always be. There is such striking similarity between the two coaches. Both are supremely obsessed with details. Both men thoroughly conscious of every half inch done right. As indeed despaired by every quarter inch done incorrect.
Yet, the two men are as different as the strongest platitude indicating stark contrast. Chalk and cheese. North Pole and South Pole. Whatever you will. Barring, of course, fire and ice. As both men are again so similar in their sudden fires amidst otherwise calm. Musings in trench coat clad rainy Manchester breaking into sudden pacing with heightened remonstrations. All known patterns and yet such theatre!
The game itself followed very known patterns. Endless passes, endless through balls. And endless blocked attempts. Accompanied by the growing sense of Etihad unease. All too familiar. And painful on European nights.
As City felt the stress, Atletico thrived. Stress is their everyday exercise. Everything about Simeone and his methods is an unrelenting torrent of intense pressure. They know the drill. What they do not know, however, is the magic of feet. That is untrainable obstacle.
Three touches and a nutmeg to a slide, all within two seconds. Nobody plans for that. It is grace and it is the singular ability of a game changer. Phil Foden turned Leo Messi shortly after sauntering on from the bench. It was the little left-footed magician's goal which De Bruyne only applied the finishing touches to.
Pep smashed a bottle celebrating City's goal at Etihad. He will hope the emotions remain same if he's onto anymore smashing as a fascinating second leg awaits at Wanda Metropolitano.
UCL quarterfinal - Villarreal vs Bayern Munich
If Lisbon did not bother Liverpool, Villarreal absolutely staggered Bayern Munich. And the Germans will be amazed when they wake up only to that solitary goal deficit. One can rarely go into a game against such a dominant side and come out disappointed with a victory. Such is the nature of a Champions League knockout tie.
Danjuma's early strike set the cat among the pigeons. And Estadio de la Ceramica into unbridled raptures. It was as though the Spanish crowd could not believe their eyes. Yet, very much within the realms of their belief. It was just that kind of night. Unbelievable. Scratch your eyes and pinch yourselves sort of.
The eighth minute strike was, at the time, a surprise lead. Giovani Lo Celso cut back a ball for Dani Parejo and Manuel Neuer had no answers as his shot was diverted in by the Villarreal winger. And the Bayern goalie did not have answers two more times on the night. Thankfully, for the German side, though, VAR and goalpost kept them in the match.
Francis Coquelin had somehow managed to cook a cross into a goal and the crowd would double their disbelief consequently. However, a VAR check disappointed the Frenchman. Shortly after, Gerard Moreno joined the disbelief party when he shot the post, instead of the back of the net.
Bayern, so poor on the night, only managed their first shot on target in the 66th minute. That would lead to better returns. The German champions pressed on in the final 15 minutes. Yet, it was Villarreal who mustered the best chance for the game's elusive second goal. In the 87th minute, Alfonso Pedraza let slip a golden chance.
UCL quarterfinal - Real Madrid vs Chelsea
With Real Madrid in the UCL, there is a sense of familiarity. In UCL knockouts, they bring an assured reliability. In an ever changing world of uncertainty, Real Madrid in Champions League ties are a feeling of throwback certainty. And the UCL quarterfinal tie at Stamford Bridge was Real Madrid's warm hug to an unsure world. They provide the comfort of continuity.
Karim Benzema is still scoring goals. Casemiro is still haring all around a football field as though his life depended on it. Toni Kroos is still spraying passes from quarterback. And Luka Modric, well Lukita is still doing what he does. Pretty much everything. Controlling a game and making football fields look like a kick around in his backyard.
It seems almost unfair that Madrid are still doing it on the European stage. Have a look at their team. It is set up to be in spiraling decline. Non performers stacked in the squad - Mariano, Gareth Bale, Luka Jovic and Eden Hazard. Yet, all of this is masked by the supreme brilliance of their number 9.
Benzema is enjoying a hot streak worthy of elevating him to king status. The goals he is scoring is worthy of Ballon d'Or status. It is all going just right for him. Yet another Champions League hattrick. If it were upto him, he would want this to last forever. And that is perhaps why he lingered on in the London rain a little after his teammates had disappeared down the tunnel. He was taking in the songs of adulation from the traveling away fans.
And in a week when Chelsea travels away, they will need similar brilliance - if not more - to turn this around. Madrid are in the UCL semifinal already!