Real Madrid-Chelsea, PSG-Manchester City, in Champions League semifinals
Real Madrid defeated Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals tie 3-1 on aggregate after a less than exciting 0-0 match at Anfield stadium. Chelsea saw Porto off despite losing the second leg 0-1 because of their 2-0 first leg “away” victory, with both matches played at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Sevilla due to coronavirus constraints. Real Madrid will thus meet Chelsea in one of the semifinals with the European Champion Clubs’ Cup up for grabs.
Meanwhile, Manchester City repeated their 2-1 home win scoreline at Westfalenstadion, coming back to defeat Borussia Dortmund 2-1, and take the tie 4-2 on aggregate. PSG decided to make things interesting and managed to lose 0-1 to Bayern Munich at Parc des Princes in the second leg of their tie to nevertheless progress on a 3-3 aggregate thanks to three away goals at Munich during their 3-2 win. So, Papa correctly predicted three out of four semifinalists.
In defeating Liverpool, Real Madrid followed up their clasico win by putting together two very different clinching performances. First, their best offensive outing in some time on April 6, with Vinicious Jr. playing up to his original hype, when brought across the Atlantic, and Marco Asensio showing why he should be a starter at Madrid. Then, second, after the gargantuan champions league performance on home ground, it was the second away game which was Madrid’s most surprising showing.
A team who routinely allowed lesser squads to score on them in La Liga, who were unable to keep the likes of Elche, Huesca, and second division Alcoyano from scoring on them, stopped Liverpool cold for 90+ minutes and on The Reds home turf. Mind you, they did this without Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, and Dani Carvajal on defense, or Eden Hazard on offense, or Lucas Vazquez in midfield.
Zidane has his team playing on a different plane lately. They seem to be doing for their coach on the pitch what he cannot do for himself—counter his critics and doubters. They are playing as if they had something to prove—at home and on the European stage. It is as if they feel their last Champions League trophy and last year’s La Liga win were not valued fairly and they need to show who they are all over again. That makes the likes of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Casemiro, to only name the best midfield in football, particularly tough to play against.
Chelsea coach, Thomas Tuchel, is having a wonderful honeymoon of a run with his English team in the Champions League. He has them believing and playing well above their Premiership level when in European competition. It was no surprise that they beat the weakest team in the quarterfinals. The problem is they will now meet a team that is also peaking at the right time and has a superior squad as it stands let alone when the injured return. So, expect to see Zidane’s Madrid in another Champions League finals while Tuchel remains at Chelsea to fight another year and keep dreaming about the European Champion Clubs’ Cup.
Dortmund were no pushovers and Man City took care of them convincingly in two hard-fought matches that saw the Cityzens nevertheless concede at home and away. But Pep Guardiola is on a three-part mission this season, given their eleven-point Premiership leads seems nearly unassailable and their FA Cup semifinal against Chelsea is looming Saturday at Wembley. So now, on to Europe.
Pep, who won the continental competition twice with Barcelona (2009, 2011) wants another Champions League trophy to join Bob Paisley (Liverpool 1977, 1978 and 1981), Carlo Ancelotti (2003 and 2007 with AC Milan and 2017 with Real Madrid), and Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid 2016, 2017, and 2018) as the only three-time cup winners. So, know that this Man City team will be primed to play their very best football over the next two or three matches.
If only they had not gotten here by only beating the two Borussias we might have a better sense of their true capacity. What we do know is that Pep knows Mauricio and Zinedine and relishes the chance to get one over on them both. He will have his team ready for each game.
PSG’s Kilyan Mbappe, Neymar, and company, together with coach Mauricio Pochettino, stand before the Manchester juggernaut and simply do not feel like fretting. They know they have the team to win this tie and they too are on a mission, if, granted, not playing as well as City in their pursuit. But this is the PSG that demolished Barcelona and Bayern Munich to get here. Frankly, PSG should have beaten Bayern 5-1 in Paris, if Neymar had not hit the post and crossbar and missed two tap-ins, and Mbappe had hit but one of his two should-have-beens.
Now think for a moment of a path to the UEFA Champions League trophy that takes you successfully through Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, and Real Madrid, and anyone would tell you to dream on. Pochettino is looking forward to playing Pep, his Premiership nemesis, and then Zidane, the man who came in when Mauricio would not risk-taking on the Madrid project. What a Hollywood ending this could be for him if three games down the line he is the one holding the European Champion Clubs’ Cup. Roll camera!