After the first two instalments of this mini-series in which we covered the Europa League quarter-finals and took a look ahead at the juicy fixtures that are awaiting us in the semi-finals, we are now going to focus on the Champions League, Europe’s elite competition. For starters, we will take a look at the action that took place in the CL’s quarter-finals.
Now, we haven’t seen all of the Champions League knock-out stages in history and even of the many we did see, we don’t remember all of them. Nevertheless we are fairly confident in betting that there has rarely been a more upsetting and surprising set of quarter-finals in the competition’s entire or at least “recent” history. For the neutral supporter especially, it has been simply magnificent. For those who’d gambled on certain results both before and in-play then very large returns from the bookmakers were potentially available. You can find an overview of the results below and we will go over each game in a bit more detail below that.
ATALANTA 1 – 2 PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
We’re kicking this one off with probably this season’s Champions League surprise package, Atalanta Bergamo, against Qatar-backed Paris Saint-Germain. When the 90th minute appeared on the scoreboard, the Italians were still leading 1 to nothing, thanks to a delicious Chelsea-loanee Mario Pasalic goal just before the half-hour mark. Both teams were relatively equal throughout the game in terms of attempts on goal and ball possession, and it way PSG forward Neymar especially who squandered a considerable number of chance. While Atalanta played their trademark attacking style of football with a dynamic front three and tireless wing-backs, most of the Parisian’s strategy was seemingly based on getting the ball to their Brazilian talisman up front, especially since their other superstar Kylian Mbappé started on the bench due to an injury.
It was the introduction of the French wonder kid that turned the game around. PSG coach Thomas Tuchel brought him on in the 60th minute to try and force something, and he did, albeit very late on. The Italian side was obviously getting heavy legs and Mbappé’s speed seemed too much for them at times. They still managed to keep the situation under control, until added time. First it was Neymar who found defender Marquinhos for the 1-1 and just a minute later it was Mbappé who went deep, received the ball, and found ex-Stoke man Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting to complete Atalanta’s heartbreak. The Italians can be extremely proud of their Champions League run nonetheless, while that that other CL revelation RB Leipzig awaits PSG in the semi-finals.
RB LEIPZIG 2 – 1 ATLETICO MADRID
Where Atalanta eventually did not manage to continue their impressive Champions League run, that other underdog RB Leipzig did. Just as in the Atalanta-PSG game, the single tie was decided by some late drama. The first half wasn’t extremely exciting, though Leipzig did their best to make something out of their domination of the ball. It was the Spanish side who fabricated the best chances though, but to no avail. No goals were scored in the first half and seeing as RB recorded their first attempt on target in ‘added time’, most people were likely expecting much of the same for at least a considerable part of the second half. That wasn’t the case.
Just six minutes into the second half, the Germans set up a good attack and got the ball to Marcel Sabitzer. His cross found the not-that-tall Dani Olmo in the area, who headed home the opener. Atletico tried to up the tempo from their side, but were worryingly incapable of really doing so against an extremely dynamic Leipzig side. It was a Joao Felix run into the area and a late Lukas Klostermann challenge that changed things. The Portuguese youngster took it upon himself to take the shot and scored from 18 yards. For the remainder of the game, it looked like both teams were mostly afraid of conceding, until an incredible Kevin Kampl one-touch pass with the outside of his right foot in the 88th minute found ex-City wing-back Angeliño in space on the left. His low cross found the talented Tyler Adams in the area, whose deflected shot beat Atletico goalie Jan Oblak. There was no way back for Diego Simeone’s men, who had to witness how the German club reached the first Champions League semi-final spot in their history at their cost.
BARCELONA 2 – 8 BAYERN MUNICH
So you might say, wow, two encounters and two pretty spectacular encounters for different reasons, incredible. Well, hold on, because we haven’t finished yet, not by a long shot.
Where “embarrassing” wasn’t an adjective applicable to either of the two games reviewed above, it certainly is for this one. In regard to FC Barcelona, that is. A historical night in Lisbon saw the unacceptably un-dynamic Spanish giants succumb to a more than superior Bayern Munich side. It had been since the year 1946 that Barça had not conceded more than 4 goals in an official European game and if we’re being honest, it could well have been 10 or 12 on that faithful August 14th evening.
The Catalan nightmare started as early the 3rd minute, when Thomas Müller combined with star striker Robert Lewandowski to score the first for Bayern. A David Alaba own goal soon after should have given the Spanish side some confidence and energy, but it didn’t. Instead, Bayern shifted into a higher gear. Barcelona did create a few opportunities early on as well, but a powerful Ivan Perisic strike in the 21th minute seemed to suck all life out of them. Serge Gnabry and once again Müller followed the Croatian’s example in the following 10 minutes. First blood in the second half was for Luis Suarez as he pulled one back in style, but it was all in vain. The German opposition remained faster, stronger, and much better organised, and by the time the final whistle rang and the Bayern storm passed, the scoreboard read Barcelona 2, Bayern Munich 8. The end of an era in the north of Spain, while Hansi Flick’s footballing machine now needs to prepare for their semi-final against Manche… Oh no wait, Olympique Lyon!
MANCHESTER CITY 1 – 3 OLYMPIQUE LYON
On the 26th of June, a day after Liverpool were crowned champions of England, Manchester City declared the Champions League their primary priority and the FA Cup as secondary priority. On the 18th of July, soon after the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, City coach Pep Guardiola stated that the following weeks would solely revolve around winning the Champions League, for the first time since his appointment in the skyblue side of Manchester. On August 15th, just a few days ago, City unexpectedly crashed out of the Champions League against a heroic Lyon, turning the club’s 2019-20 campaign into a lost season despite the League Cup win earlier in the season. Since his appointment in February 2016 and despite spending close to a billion pounds on transfers, serial cup winner Guardiola has not yet managed to make it past the Champions League quarter-finals with City.
The Spanish coach inexplicably strongly adapted his successful starting eleven and game approach to the French side’s set-up. The likes of Mahrez, Foden and the two Silvas were all benched in favour of a bolstered central midfield, which also led to their best player Kevin de Bruyne being positioned on the right wing. Lyon resisted the intermittent English pressure with relative ease in the first half and after a slightly fortunate situation in the 24th minute, Maxwell Cornet put the French in front. In the second half, De Bruyne returned to his natural central role and Guardiola brought on Mahrez for Fernandinho in the 56th. It led to more dominance for the Cityzens and KDB slotted the first 1-1 behind Lyon goal Lopes in the 69th minute after a fine attack and ditto Sterling pass.
It nevertheless didn’t last long, as substitute Mousa Dembélé scored just 10 minutes later, not at all in accordance with the game’s flow at that moment. The decisive moment of the game came in the 86th minute though, when Raheem Sterling rashly blew a shot over an open goal from 3 yards, possibly this season’s biggest and most decisive miss. To make matters worse for the English superstar, it was Lyon’s Dembélé who netted for a second time by tapping in a rebound to break City hearts just a minute later. The Skyblues will undoubtedly be spending big again this summer in the hopes of making the Champions League theirs next season, while Olympique Lyon, after eliminating Juventus and City, will be facing Bayern Munich in a few days time for a spot in the final.