The top tier club competition in European football, the UEFA Champions League is finally back yet again, this time with the much-anticipated Quarterfinals. With only eight teams left, this is usually the most exciting part of the season as we get closer and closer to crowning the king of Europe. Although this season seems to be particularly interesting as there appears to be no clear favorite. This midweek, all four matchups started off with their first leg, with the return match scheduled for next week.
Real Madrid (Spain) 3-1 Liverpool (England)
A rematch of the 2018 Champions League Final, Real Madrid welcomed Liverpool to the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium in Madrid, given that their normal venue, the Santiago Bernabeu, is currently being renovated. Both teams went into this game not at full strength; so far both sides have had subpar seasons by their high standards and they each had their own major injury crisis, specifically in defense. For example, both Real Madrid and Liverpool are arguably without their best players and most reliable center backs, Sergio Ramos and Virgil van Dijk, respectively. These two major absences at the back were evident in the match as both sides struggled defensively at moments. However, while Real Madrid looked vulnerable on occasion, they were by far the better team and they proficiently blew away Liverpool after yet another tactical masterclass from manager Zinedine Zidane.
Straight off from the referee’s whistle, Los Blancos dominated the match, especially in the midfield as the trustworthy trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos absolutely bossed their Liverpool counterparts. Kroos in particular had a match to remember, starting with his wonderful ball over the top which found Vinicius Junior in the first half. With expert ball control, Vini Jr. was able to slot the ball home, sending Real Madrid up 1-0. Shortly after, another long ball from Kroos and a terrible miss-pass from Liverpool’s fullback, Trent Alexander-Arnold, left Marco Asensio with a clear path to goal, to which he lightly dinked the ball over Liverpool’s keeper, Alisson.
When the second half started, Liverpool were motivated to get back in the game. With a series of desperate attacks, they forced the ball into the net after Mohamed Salah was able to steer in a deflected shot from Diogo Jota. Just as the momentum was swinging in Liverpool’s favor, Real Madrid killed the game off after a great build-up saw Modric set up Vinicius Jr. with a low cross, which he passed into the corner of the net. For a player who is often criticized for his poor finishing, Vinicius Jr. had a magnificent night in front of goal.
While the tie looked to be equal heading into this match, Real Madrid have a huge advantage heading into the second leg. However, this leg is by no means over as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side are historically experienced when it comes to comebacks on the biggest stage.
Manchester City (England) 2-1 Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Billed as the best attack vs the best defense, Manchester City’s match against Borussia Dortmund at the Etihad Stadium was much closer than Pep Guardiola would have liked. Based on recent form, both teams are in very different positions as Man City won nine out of their last 10 matches in all competitions while Dortmund have only won five, losing their most recent match to Eintracht Frankfurt. Though the stats all pointed to a thrashing by Man City, Dortmund were definitely up to the task.
After Dortmund had a few close chances early on, Man City swept across their opponents half, carving apart their defense before Kevin De Bruyne easily opened the score with a side-footed shot. With City’s early goal, most thought it was only a matter of time before Man City puts Dortmund to the sword, but credit to them, they held on. Man City still dominated the match but Dortmund were always in it, and with only six minutes left, all their hard work paid off as slick holdup play from Erling Haaland and priceless experience from Marco Reus saw him curl the ball past City’s keeper, Ederson, for what would be only the second goal Manchester City conceded this entire tournament. But ultimately, the immense talent of the Citizens would prove an obstacle too large to overcome as the cross-field connection from Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan led Phil Foden to smash home the winner with the clock reading 90 minutes.
While City were able to snatch the win at the 11th hour, Borussia Dortmund were no pushovers even though most expected this matchup to be a mostly straightforward affair. Manchester City are undoubtedly the better team and will likely advance but Dortmund still have the makings for an upset. Especially, when you consider that Man City have fumbled at this stage before, getting eliminated in the quarterfinals in the past three seasons by weaker opponents.
Bayern Munich (Germany) 2-3 Paris Saint-Germain (France)
In what was expected to be the headline matchup of the round, this game, which was a rematch of last year’s final, completely lived up to its expectations as football fans were treated to one of the best matches of the entire season. If Real Madrid vs Liverpool was two wounded giants facing off, Bayern Munich vs PSG was a heavyweight matchup between two superpowers at mostly full force. Going into this match, Bayern are arguably the best team in Europe, even if they aren’t reaching the heights of last season when they won the Champions League. PSG, on the other hand, have not had the most stable season, yet they possess a forward line littered with world-class talent in Neymar Jr., Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria among others. For PSG to have any chance, they would need a gargantuan performance from one of these players, which is what would ultimately happen.
As the snow came cascading down in Bavaria, Bayern and PSG played out an extremely exciting game, a perfect advertisement for this tournament as the action was truly end-to-end. After Bayern’s striker, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s header smacked off the crossbar, PSG instantly hit Bayern on the counter and a defense-splitting pass from Neymar found Mbappe wide open on the right flank. The Frenchman sent his shot flying straight at Bayern’s keeper, Manuel Neuer, but unfortunately for Neuer, he mishandled the shot and the ball slipped through his legs trickling into the goal. Bayern pushed forward but yet again, PSG were able to exploit their high line as another world-class pass from Neymar found the defender, Marquinhos, who stayed up-field after a set-piece. Failing to play the offside trap, Marquinhos was left one-on-one with Neuer, where the Brazilian defender calmly put his team up 2-0. Bayern were left shellshocked, their defense had crumbled under PSG’s speed and dynamic shock and awe tactics on the counterattack, leaving the manager, Hansi Flick to shuffle his cards and change formations.
The switch in formation and personnel had almost immediate results as a looping cross from Benjamin Pavard found Choupo-Moting who professionally drove the ball into the back of the net with his head, pulling Bayern right back into the game. From there on, the match was anyone’s for the taking; Bayern continued to relentlessly pressure PSG, but the Parisians still looked lethal on the counter. The second half resumed right where the first ended, but with 30 minutes left in the match, a wonderful set-piece delivery from Joshua Kimmich was headed in by Thomas Muller who tied the match 2-2. At this point, Bayern looked dominant and it looked very likely that they would inevitably take the lead. Yet before Bayern could achieve that, Mbappe marauded down the left side after he was released by Di Maria, finding himself running directly at Bayern’s center back, Jerome Boateng. With shades of Lionel Messi’s mortification of Boateng back in the 2015 Champions League, Mbappe faked a shot sending Boateng off-balance before slotting the ball behind his legs and towards goal. Neuer, who was also duped by Mbappe’s trickery, shifted all his weight to his left and had no time to react as he haplessly watched the ball roll past him and into the net. Just like that, PSG took a commanding lead in Bayern’s home stadium, a lead they would hold on to despite many desperate attempts from Bayern to equalize.
Overall, PSG were able to beat Bayern because they played extremely smart, not to mention they did somewhat benefit from luck as well. PSG utilized their speed to expose Bayern’s defensive drawbacks and were very clinical. By the end of the match, PSG had six shots on goal with five of them being on target and three of them scoring. By comparison, Bayern had 31 shots, 12 on target, yet only two goals to show for it. Bayern as a whole did not play poorly by any means, as on any other day they would have scored many more, but their wingers were not nearly as sharp as usual and their whole defense was woeful at times. Bayern were extremely unlucky though, as their best player, and arguably the best player in the world last season, Robert Lewandowski, was out with injury. His replacement, Choupo-Moting, did an admirable job, but he isn’t Lewandowski; one suspects that the scoreline would have been very different if the Polish striker was in the lineup, especially with all the chances Bayern created.
As for PSG though, their star players showed up when they needed them most as Mbappe was on fire with both Neymar and Di Maria pulling the strings. In goal, Keylor Navas saved a plethora of shots, making save after save and proving why he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
With this result, PSG are slight favorites to advance, but Bayern are far from out. One could easily see Bayern score a few goals and turn this tie around in the return leg. Bayern will also be extra motivated after seeing PSG crush Barcelona in the first leg of the Round of 16 in Spain, only for Barcelona to travel to PSG’s home stadium and thoroughly outplay them. If not for Navas, Barcelona would have eliminated PSG last round, and one would expect Bayern to be far more ruthless. So all is to play for next week.
Porto (Portugal) 0-2 Chelsea (England)
In the last matchup of this week, Chelsea traveled to Portugal to face Porto, the clear underdog in this round. Many expected Chelsea to eventually overcome Porto but everyone also knew that this would be no easy task as Porto are a well-drilled and resolute team. Underestimating them could be detrimental, just as Juventus found out last round. However, Chelsea entered this match coming off a surprise 5-2 loss to West Brom, and as Chelsea’s attackers continue to underperform, the idea of Porto being a potential banana skin loomed larger and larger.
With possibly some fear of capitulation in their minds, Chelsea started the match off with their backs against the wall as Porto took the game to their English opponents. With several dangerous set-pieces and shots from far, Porto really troubled Chelsea. However, towards the end of the first half, Jorginho found Mason Mount on the edge of the box, and with a beautiful turn and shot, Mount put Chelsea up 1-0 against the run of play. With this goal though, Chelsea slowly started to grow in power as the match went on. By the second half, Chelsea looked comfortable in their win, even as Porto still worked tirelessly to grab something from this match. Unfortunately for Porto, all their hard work would be for naught as Tecatito Corona feebly gave the ball away to Chelsea’s full-back, Ben Chilwell who was able to gallop towards goal, evade the sprawling hands of Porto’s keeper, Agustin Marchesin, and stab the ball into the net, finishing off the match in Chelsea’s favor.
While it was not easy, Chelsea got the job done and they welcome Porto to London next week, already one foot in the door of the semifinals. Although unlikely, it is still possible for Porto to make a comeback, so Chelsea would be wise to give their opponent the respect they deserve and keep their foot on the gas. Going forward, however, it should be concerning to manager, Thomas Tuchel, that in yet another game, his star attackers were very lackluster in front of goal. If Tuchel can get Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech in some consistent form while giving Christian Pulisic the game time he needs, Chelsea could be serious contenders for the Champions League this year.