THE Champions League quarter-finals continued to offer high drama and intrigue, with everyone’s favourite villain, Cristiano Ronaldo, providing the finishing touch to Real Madrid’s 4-3 aggregate win over gallant Juventus. Add to that the shock collapse of Barca and Liverpool’s win at Manchester City, the competition lived up to its reputation with a set of compelling last eight encounters. Only Bayern’s dull 0-0 draw with Sevilla failed to ignite the headline writers.
Miguel Delaney of the Independent commented: “The drama and spectacle we have seen in these quarter-finals reinforces the very fair idea that the Champions League now represents the very peak of the game.” He has a valid point, for the UCL certainly provides a high level of excitement that is sadly missing from national team competitions such as the World Cup.
Barcelona’s exit at the hands of Roma mystified many people, but the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson noted that the Catalans demonstrated, once more, they cannot defend. But then, he added, this lack of rearguard expertise seems to be common among clubs that are way ahead of their domestic rivals. How else do you explain that Juventus – 21 clean sheets in 25 games – can so easily concede three goals at home to Real Madrid? Barca themselves have yielded 16 goals in 31 games and Manchester City 24 in 32. In this “decadent” age, teams that are dominant at home often forget what it is to fight for a result, says Wilson.
But big, dramatic scorelines have become commonplace in the UCL, with 21 of 104 games in the knockout stage over eight years decided by a margin of three or more goals – versus eight in the eight campaigns preceding this era. Wilson adds it is harder to kill a game by spoiling than ever before.
While other writers wonder what the post-Messi era will look like at Barca, another iconic player, Iniesta, is looking to China for his next contract. In the aftermath of Barca’s shocking 3-0 defeat in Roma, there is talk the World Cup winner has played his last Champions League game. He told Sport, “There is a lot of excitement for this competition and we have failed again”.
Turning to Manchester City’s departure from the UCL, The Daily Telegraph asks if Pep Guardiola has to go back to the drawing board. James Ducker says Guardiola is “in danger of becoming a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. He last won the competition in 2011 at Barcelona and was hired to move City on in the UCL, not just to be the champion club in England. “But two defeats to Liverpool, following on from last season’s defeat to Monaco in the round of 16, suggests Guardiola has a lot to get right in his own mind before he can dream about laying his hands on the cup with big ears once again.” Ducker adds that City’s 3-0 first leg loss continued a troubling pattern in the UCL of Guardiola being too clever for his own good, highlighting his team selection at Anfield as a case in point.
Meanwhile, the German representative is quietly going about its business and former Bayern Munich and England international Owen Hargreaves named them favourites on the BBC. Deutsche Welle said the Bavarians 0-0 draw against Sevilla was not pretty put kept Bayern on course for the “treble”, a feat they last achieved in 2013. Typically, Bayern were “pragmatic” in overcoming the Spanish side.
Sources: Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Independent, BBC, Deutsche Welle.