And then there were four. By Wednesday night of this week, each Champions League Quarterfinal matchup will have concluded, setting up the final four for the semifinals as we march closer and closer to crowning the King of Europe in what has been an exciting, unorthodox season thus far.
Paris Saint-Germain (France) 0-1 Bayern Munich (Germany) – PSG advance on away goals after 3-3 aggregate score
Last week, PSG traveled to Bavaria in Bayern’s home stadium and took the match to them, winning 3-2 after playing some textbook shock-and-awe football. Heading back to Paris, Bayern were tasked with overturning their home defeat, needing to score at least two goals. Unfortunately for Bayern, their top striker and best player, Robert Lewandowski, was still out with injury, adding to a list of other injured Bayern attackers who also missed the match. PSG was not without their injury problems either, as their captain and strongest defender, Marquinhos, picked up a knock playing Bayern last week and could not return to fitness in time.
The run of play was very similar to the first leg, seeing Bayern dominate possession and shots on goal while PSG waited for their chances on the counter. However, Bayern were missing much of the ferocity of the last match. PSG were able to comfortably play through Bayern’s high-press, as evident in the first half when the home team outplayed their opponents, creating numerous close opportunities. Neymar, in particular, had five extremely close chances, four of them coming in the first half. Unfortunately for him, one shot clipped the crossbar, another hit the post and the other two were saved by Manuel Neuer (who redeemed himself with a world-class performance today).
Ironically, it would be Bayern who took the lead with a counterattack of their own after David Alaba’s powerful low shot was saved by Keylor Navas, but Lewandowski’s replacement, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, was able to bundle the rebound into the net.
Going into the second half, Bayern continued to push for the elusive second goal, but their efforts proved futile as PSG stood firm. By the referee’s final whistle, PSG had enacted revenge on Bayern, who beat them in last year’s Champions League Final. Bayern Munich, the reigning champions, have been eliminated.
Overall, Bayern fans will hard done because of the injury to Lewandowski, but truthfully, the Bavarian club created several excellent chances to score. Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman, in particular, were very wasteful on the wings. But ultimately, Bayern’s biggest weakness was their defensive frailties in the first leg, which PSG exposed expertly.
As for PSG, this was a massive match for them. While they did not play beautiful-swashbuckling football, they played exceptionally smart—defending well and attacking at the correct times all while exposing Bayern’s weak underbelly. Their star players, such as Neymar Jr., Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and Keylor Navas, stood up for their team when they were needed most.
Finally, PSG has proved their Champions League pedigree. Despite spending millions of Euros in the transfer market, PSG had habitually failed in the Champions League knockout rounds. While they made the semifinals last season for the first time since 1995, it was under unforeseen circumstances following the pandemic, which forced the Champions League to move to single match knockout rounds. Even in that one-off match, PSG was almost eliminated by Atalanta, a team who is highly punching above their weight, before losing the final to Bayern. But now, PSG silenced the naysayers by professionally sending the reigning champions packing, and as it stands, PSG are the favorites to win the whole competition for the first time in their history.
Chelsea (England) 0-1 Porto (Portugal) – Chelsea advance 2-1 on aggregate
After losing 2-0 in what was technically their home leg, Porto had their work cut out for them, needing to find two goals to at least tie the score. On the other hand, Chelsea were already in an excellent position to advance. In totality, the second leg of this matchup was virtually a mirror image of the first. Both teams played well, were very organized, and defended strongly but still carving out a few good chances.
From the match’s beginning, Porto and Chelsea pushed each other to the brink, with neither team able to fully dominate. Following a back-and-forth run of play, the game started to get a bit choppy as tensions rose and there were numerous fouls. Then, with only a minute left, Porto snatched the win with a goal from Mehdi Taremi. However, it was too little too late, as there was no time left for Porto to score another. While it was only a consolation goal, it was a beautiful one, as a deep cross from Nanu found Taremi, who whipped the ball into the corner of the net with an outrageous bicycle kick.
While Chelsea lost on the day, they now find themselves in the Champions League semifinals, which is a considerable achievement for a team that was in such terrible form only five months ago. Problems persist up top with their summer signings, Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. However, manager Thomas Tuchel will find solstice in the fact that both Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic, who can operate as forwards, played wonderfully over these two legs.
Porto, on the other hand, ends their Champions League campaign here. While Porto fans will be upset it has come to a close, they will also be immensely proud of their team, who played some great football throughout the year and finished with their star striker scoring arguably the best goal of the Champions League this season so far.
Liverpool (England) 0-0 Real Madrid (Spain) – Real Madrid advance 3-1 on aggregate
In the other heavyweight matchup of this round, Real Madrid traveled to Liverpool, looking to defend their ephaptic 3-1 lead and fully aware that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool has a record of historical comebacks.
Right from kick-off, Real Madrid found themselves with their backs against the wall as Liverpool besieged their goal. But given their lead, Real Madrid knew all they had to do was batten down the hatches and absorb the pressure while waiting for a counter opportunity if necessary.
Within the first few minutes, Mohamed Salah scuffed a shot in the box directly towards Thibaut Courtois in goal. Shortly after, James Milner’s floated shot forced Courtois into an excellent acrobatic save, conjuring flashbacks of his similar save against Neymar in the World Cup. Before the half ended, Liverpool had two golden chances on the right flank only a few minutes apart with shots from Georginio Wijnaldum and Salah again. But unfortunately for the Reds, Wijnaldum and Salah sent their shots flying over the bar. Real Madrid was not without their chances either, as a defensive mistake from Liverpool led Karim Benzema with a clear path to goal, but his low shot smacked off the post.
Into the second half, Liverpool was unable to match the energy of the first 45, and their confidence waned as Real Madrid’s lead became more and more content. And despite having 15 shots and 11 corners, Liverpool had nothing to show for it when the referee blew the final whistle, ending the match 0-0. Liverpool did not have a whole host of clear chances, but (similar to Bayern in the other match) they had more than enough to reverse the tie, yet the lack of clinical touch among their forwards let them down. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah were uncharacteristically hesitant in front of the goal, which ultimately was Liverpool’s issue today. While Liverpool has staged huge comebacks on the European stage against Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and even against Milan all those years ago, they were unable to repeat the feat today. Unlike PSG, who got revenge against Bayern, Liverpool could not avenge their loss to Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League Final.
Real Madrid did not play that great, but they did not need to as they did all the work in the first leg when they blew Liverpool away. While Real Madrid have experienced some inconsistent form this season and have not been all that memorable in terms of quality, they have a battle-hardened and fearless spine of the team, with players like Thibaut Courtois, Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro and Karim Benzema, which can win you games nine times out of 10. Coming off their narrow win over Barcelona in El Clasico, Real Madrid are in the best form they have been in all season going into the Champions League semifinals.
Borussia Dortmund (Germany) 1-2 Manchester City (England) – Manchester City advance 4-2 on aggregate
While the 4-2 aggregate score may look like a straightforward win on paper, it was anything but in reality. In England, Man City came away with the win, but it was by the skin of their teeth, as an injury-time minute goal from Phil Foden was required to seal the win in match that saw Borussia Dortmund score a valuable away goal through Marco Reus. The return leg was more of the same.
Dormund is struggling to even remain in fifth place in the Bundesliga and will most likely not even qualify for the Champions League next season, yet they completely dominated Manchester City for the opening 20 minutes of the match. That was the same Man City who are top of the Premier League with an 11-point lead.
The keeper, Ederson, was forced into numerous saves. Still, after a striking run from Erling Haaland and a deflected shot from Mahmoud Dahoud, 17-year-old Englishman Jude Bellingham was able to curl the ball past the fingertips of Ederson and into the net, sending Dortmund up 1-0 and 2-2 on aggregate.
However, Dortmund had the away goals advantage. As it stood, Man City was on their way to yet another quarterfinal elimination. Shortly after, though, City were able to regain their shape and take control of the match, even though they were still in panic mode. From then on, the Citizens flexed their attacking muscles, bombarding the Dortmund net with shot after shot. But Dortmund keeper Marwin Hitz was having an outstanding performance, and nothing was going in. The first half ended 1-0, leaving Pep Guardiola a very nervous man.
Quickly after the restart, Man City were handed a lifeline after the referee ruled that the ball touched Emre Can’s arm in the box, meaning a penalty for the English side. While City have struggled with penalties in the past, there was no slip-up today as Riyad Mahrez cannoned the ball into the net, leaving Hitz no chance. From there on, City fans were able to slightly relax as they now held the lead again. Dortmund still did not back down, having a few close chances afterwards. With 15 minutes to go, Man City’s victory would be completely ensured, though, following a pinpoint near-post strike from Phil Foden—who once again stole victory away from Borussia Dortmund.
As Borussia Dortmund end their Champions League campaign, they hold their heads high knowing that they gave their all. For a team that experienced a managerial change midseason and have been subpar domestically, they played some exciting attacking football on the European stage with the likes of the Marco Reus, Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland (the latter of whom will definitely be the focus of endless transfer window drama this summer, as Dortmund will most likely not be playing in Champions League next season.)
Manchester City and Pep Guardiola have finally broke their quarterfinal curse, qualifying for the semifinals for the first time since 2016 and for the first time with Pep as their manager. Despite utterly dominating the English Premier League in the past few seasons, Man City have fallen short at this stage and failed even to make the semis, four seasons in a row. Their round of 16 elimination to Monaco in 2017 was somewhat excusable, given it was Pep’s first season and he was still sorting out the squad; Man City’s quarterfinals elimination at the hands of Liverpool and Tottenham in 2018 and 2019 respectively can be chalked up to unlucky VAR decisions. However, last season’s quarterfinals, when Man City were undone by Lyon (a much weaker opponent) raised some serious questions about both Pep and his players, which no doubt was in the back of their minds this time around, possibly explaining why Man City had such a hard time overcoming Borussia Dortmund.
Prior to this match, Man City were favorites to win the entire Champions League, and while they still obviously might, one has question the manner in which they just barely defeated Dortmund. But if Pep and the whole squad stay focused, there’s virtually nothing holding them back from winning everything in their path, including the first European crown in the club’s history.