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Champions League quarterfinal review

Posted: Apr 14, 2022
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Oooff! Champions League football, wow! This competition never fails to amaze. Quite amazing. And the Champions League quarterfinal second leg lived up to the billing. At least the first night. It lived up to every billing ever. A team completed the most improbable comeback. No sooner did the other team revert Champions League normalcy. Or as we have known normalcy in Champions League to be over the last ten years.

From normalcy to absolute abnormalcy. Manchester City engaged in a fight of fists with Atletico Madrid. And lo and behold, the English team came up trumps. No winners on the night but Phil Foden's nimble feet in the first leg and irritating presence in the second coupled with Ederson's two smart saves saw City through.

City's great recent foe Liverpool saw themselves through after an entertaining Champions League night at Anfield. They allowed the opposition to score five times, three stood. However, they had scored three themselves by then. And so a tie in the tie meant Liverpool reached their third Champions League semi under Klopp.

Then there was another tie, which ended in a tie. And nobody - even if you were a Villarreal fan - would have predicted that outcome. Bayern Munich knocked out at home? These things do not usually happen. It takes the European performance of a lifetime for teams to turn up at the Allianz Arena and go back satisfied. And if you are Villarreal, forget satisfaction, you would not sleep the whole night lest it all be a dream.

Champions League quarterfinal - Villarreal vs Bayern Munich


Samuel Chukwueze Villarreal"Small Club", Villarreal's English Twitter handle let the world know. In bold with the hashtag UCL. It was a dig at everyone who ever doubted them. And that would pretty much be everyone outside the Submarinos. There really was little doubt in the world's collective minds that Bayern Munich would waltz into the semi final. And status quo of opinion remained after the first leg defeat too.

A similar outcome eventualized in Austria last round. It was no big deal as Bayern pumped seven past RB Leipzig in their Bavarian sojourn. Cakewalk one would call it. But, this time, a stunned Allianz Arena watched on in shock. Football was once again doing its thing. Shocking the fans into awakening.

It was all very poetic eventually. Villarreal missed a golden opportunity in the 87th minute of the first leg to insure their lead. At 1-0 down, one felt Bayern were still in control. And they were for most of the night. Or so it seemed. Unai Emery, much akin to a certain Diego Simeone, does not mind not having the ball. He thrives in suffering on the football pitch. Perhaps that is his control. An adage from Diego Torres's biography of Jose Mourinho comes to mind. "Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake."

And a minute after the first leg's insurance squander, Villarreal won the tie with a second leg goal. As though the cycle of life was playing out in real time. Giovani Lo Celso, under pressure, found Gerard Moreno who looked up and then glanced right to find Samuel Chukwueze. He was rapid enough and careful enough to stay onside. A scuffed shot and moments later, yellow delight!

A result befitting the theatre that is the Champions League.


Champions League quarterfinal - Real Madrid vs Chelsea


UCL quarterfinal BenzemaFor those who paid for a ticket and even for those who watched through whichever electronic gadget, they got two for the price of one. The way this game played, it beggars belief. It was not one of those platitudes either. Not a game of two halves. It was a team resurgent, bull dog in its approach. Chelsea was that team that could not be killed. Like that annoying guest who refuses to leave. And yet they had to leave. However, there was honour in defeat for the London club.

As for Madrid, they only needed to turn up late in the piece. And it was the evergreen Luka Modric who produced the most outrageous pass to take the game to extra time. It was as though light shined upon suddenly. And the world of football was enlightened. A 36-year-old strutting around the pitch, with a halo around his head. Or was it is headband. It is difficult to tell and you would be right either way.

And that Croat found range with the outside of his right boot. At the very point ball left his boot, the game was heading to a Chelsea victory. There was no opening and no reason for anything to change. But that, in essence, is Luka Modric. He just sees the game differently. And even that is not his greatest point of differentiation. He executes the outrageous with panache and grace. There it was then. 3-1. And the stage was set for a King Karim tie winner which came in extra time.

So Real Madrid live to fight another Champions League night. And like Chelsea refused to relent at Bernabeu, Los Blancos refuse to let go of the tournament they have serially won. Cannot just be football. It is the incorrigible immovability of champions!


Champions League quarterfinal - Liverpool vs Benfica


Champions League FirminoThe Portuguese team was tasked with an impossible feat. Beat Liverpool by three clear goals or by one less and take the game to overtime. Not any Liverpool side though. This is a Liverpool side still chasing a dream. The dream? An unprecedented quadruple. Funnily enough, Benfica still did manage to make quite a fist of it, only if one looks at their side of the scoreline. They turned up at Anfield and scored three. That is not something many teams can boast of. However, by the time they scored the second and third, their opponents had already finished their quota of three. The tie was over.

And so Liverpool's collection of artists and artisans move yet another step closer to that improbable dream. Jurgen Klopp had named a much changed team for the game. That resulted in the expected rustiness. It was strange to see. The usually smooth gears took stutters and jolts. However, a mirror image of Estadio da Luz set everything back into motion.

A corner from the left. That meets a downward header. And an Ibrahim Konate opener. Took four minutes more in England but a carbon copy of the opening goal in the first leg. And the fancied Merseyside reds had suddenly hit stride.

Immediately after half time, Roberto Firmino added a second. Klopp responded to his own move by throwing in a Mo Salah led cavalry. Firmino, as though to say, "hey I am here" added a third. That prompted Anfield to turn up the European volume. And so, despite a late Benfica flurry, Liverpool were never really in any peril. There were two offside goals ruled out for Benfica but nothing else really.

Giants Liverpool vs giant killers Villarreal in the Champions League semis next!


Champions League quarterfinal - Atletico Madrid vs Manchester City 


Champions League FodenThis was a proper street fight. There is no better way to put this Champions League game across. One that these bunch of City players may never have come across. But one that will make them very wise. These are the games where a team learns to gather Champions League pedigree. It may have looked really ugly on screen. And it was as far away from a Pep Guardiola performance as any. But if City do manage to go all the way, this is the game they will remember. Very dearly.

And lest one forgets, this English team is chasing a treble themselves. The treble dream, though, for a decent part of the night under the Wanda Metropolitano sky seemed to be faltering. Until probably Felipe was the first to crack. The game was simmering. And tempers were smoldering. It was a surprise that the skirmishes took so long to unfold. But when it did, the scenes turned really ugly.

City, however, did keep their head. And the man who came closest to losing his was the bandaged one of Phil Foden. The tie's difference maker. In more ways than one. A look at Foden and he comes across as a rather affable flyweight. 90 more minutes and one will be certain he is a little bit of a magician. Technically superior and just can play football. However, the 90 minutes in Spanish capital showed a different side of him.

Imagine, of all people, Foden getting under the skin of the continent's most disruptive team. He sent the Atletico players over the edge. And by looking at Simeone's frantic clapping, head nodding and pacing in the final minutes, even he was a bit mad. That was really the game. No goals. But just so much of theatre. Not always very watchable for the purists. But still a tantalising watch.

Real Madrid next for Pep then!