UEFA Champions League Quarter-Finals: 1st Leg Roundup

The most exciting and arguably the best club football competition returned this week. The UEFA Champions League quarter-finals were set to be memorable, because for the first time since the format change in 2003, all of the group stage champions qualified for this knockout round. All of the matches had the potential to be epic battles, but after this first leg, it seems some teams made a bigger statement than others.

The all-Spanish quarter-final between FC Barcelona and Atlético Madrid ended in a  1-1 draw, consistent with their matches this season: 1-1 and 0-0 in the Spanish super cup and 0-0 in the Spanish league. Both teams lost one key player in the first half, with Gerard Piqué and Diego Costa being forced to leave because of injuries, the latter being Atlético’s top-scorer this season. Diego replaced Costa, and the move would turn out to be important for the Madrid side. A well-fought first half exhibited a dominance in possession from Barcelona, but a superb Thibaut Courtois proved why he’s set to become one of the world’s best goalkeepers. The second half was back and forth, but in a moment when Barcelona seemed to be nearing a goal, Diego shot from well outside the box and beat Pinto with a majestic goal. Courtois would then be bombarded by the blaugranas and in one excellent maneuver, Iniesta found the perfect spot to give Neymar the ball which successfully beat Courtois. Barcelona fought until the end in order to turn the odds in their favor, but Courtois kept his goal safe until the final whistle. Atlético have the advantage, since the away goal is worth gold in this stage, but Barcelona will do everything in its power to obtain their seventh successive semi-final appearance.

The other Tuesday match between Manchester United and defending champions FC Bayern Munich also left us with a 1-1 draw. A match that was set to be an easy win by the unbeaten Germans, who were recently crowned Bundesliga champions with 7 games left. On top of that, United’s poor form in the Premier League in a season marked by the departure of legendary manager Alex Ferguson, had everyone thinking Bayern’s semi-final appearance was a done deal. However, this competition has graced us with stunning upsets throughout its history. Bayern had 73% of the ball possession in the first half, but United stayed strong in defense and was dangerous when it had the chance to get close to Neuer’s net. The second half had more of Bayern pinning back United, but a poorly marked corner kick gave Vidić a chance to put the Old Trafford side in the lead. This wouldn’t last long, since a solid opportunity for Bayern left Schweinsteiger with enough space to shoot a powerful volley into the back of the net. The defending champions have the advantage with the away goal, but after this upset and with Schweinsteiger and Martinez suspended, United will not exit this competition without an epic fight.

The Wednesday matches were considerably different in results from the previous day. PSG and Chelsea had an equal chance of advancing to the semi-finals, with both teams performing well in the Ligue 1 and the Premier League respectively. It didn’t take long for the Paris side to get ahead, since a bad clearance by Chelsea gave Lavezzi a great ball that he volleyed into the back of the net. The London side responded later in the first half with a penalty scored by Hazard. It wasn’t until the second half that PSG would take the lead again, after David Luiz sent the ball into his own net. Chelsea kept fighting for another goal to give them a good result for the second leg, but Pastore performed a beautiful individual play during stoppage time and beat Čech. With a 3-1 lead, the French side have everything in their favor, but Stamford Bridge will not be an easy ground to conquer.

On the other hand, Real Madrid played Borussia Dortmund in what was set out to be a rehash of last year’s semi-finals showdown between the two, which granted Dortmund a spot in the final. With numerous injuries and with striker Robert Lewandowski suspended, Dortmund were a very different team from last year’s battle. Madrid sought out to avenge last year’s upset. With Di María’s last minute problems and with Marcelo injured, Isco and Coentrão completed Madrid’s starting 11. The Spanish side took the lead early, when Benzema found Carvajal at the corner of the box and assisted Bale, who slightly touched the ball into the back of the net. Dortmund managed to find some space to make some damage, but Pepe and Casillas were superb in maintaining the clean sheet. Before the end of the first half, Xabi Alonso intercepted a Dortmund play and Isco found the ball just outside the box and put it in a spot that Weidenfeller couldn’t reach. In the second half, Modrić had enough space to approach the box and give Ronaldo a perfect ball that culminated in a goal. Dortmund still scared Madrid a few times, but 3-0 would be the final result. Real have a solid advantage, but Germany has proved to be a very tough place for them to play at, all will be resolved next week.

Overall the UCL never ceases to impress with its high-level matches. This first leg, while impressive in results, still leaves plenty of chances for all of the 8 teams to find their spot in the semi-finals. Wednesday teams will play next Tuesday and the Tuesday ones on Wednesday, let the search for glory continue.

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