football

REVIEW: Champions League Quarter-final Round-up

April 16, 2018

- Grant Whittington

With the business end of the season approaching, we’re already down to the last four of the Champions League. The hotly-anticipated semi-final draw in Nyon also served up two genuinely mouth-watering matches, with Liverpool set to do battle with AS Roma and Bayern Munich drawn against fellow heavyweights Real Madrid.

This followed four truly incredible quarter-final matches, adorned with sparkling football, incredible drama and two of the most memorable comebacks in living memory.

Below, we’ll look back at these games in closer detail, and ask which teams are the most likely to contest the final in Kiev.

How did the Quarter-final First Legs Unfold?

The first night of quarter-final action gave little indication of the drama that was to follow, as Real Madrid produced a classy and professional display to thump Juventus 3-0 in Turin. This seemed to be an insurmountable lead at the time, with the Cristiano Ronaldo adding lustre to the occasion with a stunning bicycle kick as part of his brace.

Over in Spain, Manchester United’s conquerors Sevilla missed a host of chances as they were edged out 2-1 by German champions Bayern Munich. Although they eventually took a deserved lead through Pablo Sarabia, the Bavarians’ experience told as a Jesus Navas own goal and a strike by Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcántara in the second half secured a narrow victory.

The following night saw Liverpool host their domestic rivals and Premier League champions elect Manchester City at an impassioned Anfield, with the Reds looking to upset the odds and edge closer towards a sixth European Cup victory.

The atmosphere certainly inspired Jurgen Klopp’s high octane side, who pressed City from the start and adopted a direct style to exploit the space behind Pep Guardiola’s defence. As a result, they raced into a 3-0 lead, with goals from Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane putting City to the sword in the first half hour.

While Liverpool dropped deeper in the second half and conceded possession to their rivals, the Citizens failed to secure an all-important away goal to take to the Etihad with them.

Over at the Nou Camp, Barca produced a typically stylish and compact performance to vanquish Roma 4-1, despite not being anywhere near their best. This was indicative of the Catalans’ season, as while they have struggled to produce their optimal form they continue to overcome their opponents.

Thrills, Spills and Surprises in the Second Leg Games

The order of the games was reversed the following week, as Manchester City welcomed Liverpool to Etihad and strived to become only the third ever side to overturn a three-goal deficit in a UCL knockout tie.

They certainly got the dream start as Gabriel Jesus fired them into a third-minute lead on the night, but a lack of composure and some serious defensive frailties (combined with some poor referring) allowed Liverpool to rebound and score through that man Salah and Roberto Firmino. This secured a 5-1 aggregate win and booked the Reds a place in the semis.

While City failed in their endeavours, however, Roma produced an almighty shock at the Stadio Olympico and did become the third side to overturn a three-goal deficit in the UCL. Stirred by a hostile crowd, the Serie A side harried Barca from the outset, and Ernesto Valverde’s struggled to cope with the pace of the game.

An early goal by former Manchester City Edin Dzeko helped to settle Roma’s nerves, before a Daniele de Rossi penalty and a header from defender Kostas Manolas sealed a truly historic result.

The following night promised to be less exciting, with Real Madrid and Bayern heavy favourites to progress. While this eventually transpired, neither side was convincing while Los Blancos teetered on the brink of elimination after a torturous night at the Bernabeu.

After a confident start, Juventus stunned Zinedine Zidane’s side by storming into a 2-0 lead, with two far post headers by Mario Mandzukic making the difference. A Keylor Navas fumble enabled French midfielder Blaise Matuidi to poke home a third, and the game was drifting towards extra-time when the decisive moment arrived.

More specifically, Juve’s Medhi Benatia brought down Lucas Vazquez in the box with just seconds remaining, with referee Michael Oliver sparking huge protests by awarding the penalty. Incredibly, Juventus veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon was sent off for his protestations, as his last chance of winning the UCL seemed to be ebbing away.

After a seven-minute delay, Madrid talisman stepped up to dispatch the spot kick high beyond substitute keeper Wojciech Szczesny, keeping Los Blancos in the hunt to win a third consecutive Champions League title.

Somewhat disappointingly, the final quarter-final drifted to a predictable conclusion in Germany, as Bayern played within themselves to protect their first leg lead and secure a 0-0 draw with Sevilla. This confirmed a 2-1 aggregate win, as Munich continue their own quest to win their first UCL since 2013.

The Last Word

This years’ UCL quarter-finals were truly fascinating matches, with the last four line-ups providing just the right balance of quality, pedigree and unpredictability.

The draw has certainly added to this, with Liverpool’s odds of winning having been slashed having been drawn against tournament outsiders Roma (who are priced at around 10/1). In the other clash, the two favourites will compete for a place in the Kiev showpiece over two legs, with both having recurring signs of vulnerability during the tournament so far.

According to bookies, the smart money is on a Real Madrid vs. Liverpool final, with these sides seeking their 13th and 6th European Cup wins respectively. For now, however, we should look forward to the semis and hope that they produce the same level of drama and excitement as the quarters.

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