Best of the Rest

So much drama

I wrote over 4000 words on Liverpool advancing over Manchester City yesterday so if you want to read about that go check it out. But now I am going to focus on the craziness of the other 3 games of the quarterfinals.

Coming into the second legs there wasn’t a lot of thought that we would get too much drama. Liverpool had a 3 goal lead, Real Madrid had a 3 goal game going home and Juve would be with out Paulo Dybala, Barcelona took a 4-1 lead to Rome, and the closest one was Bayern with a 2-1 lead over Sevilla, but with 2 road goals and how impossible they are to beat at home and especially with how below average Sevilla has been this year there really wasn’t evidence to think that this was going to amount to anything here.

Hell most people thought if any of these ties would turn around it was Man City against Liverpool, which we know that didn’t happen, but what happened with the rest is a reminder of why the Champions League is the best competition in the world in any sport. This was as good of drama as we could have dreamed of.

It reminds me of a little Twitter debate I had a couple weeks ago when someone was trying to tell me that the World Cup was better than the Champions League. I basically laughed at the person and wondered if they were high.

1. Real Madrid/Juve

No one gave Juventus a chance going into this one. They lost the first leg 3-0 at home and to make matters worse Dybala who is their best player was suspended after picking up a red for losing his mind in the first leg.

The first leg wasn’t as nearly as one sided as the score said it was. Juve played well but didn’t have anything to show for it. No doubt they should have but that’s this sport, there is always a great element of luck that goes into these things and luck just wasn’t on Juve’s side in the first leg.

So coming into Wednesday’s second leg I don’t think even the most biased of Juventus fans thought they actually had a chance to even make this something, but boy were all of us wrong.

Anytime you’re in these situations where a giant come back is needed in the second leg the most important thing is for the trailing team to get an early goal.

Juve was able to do that and do it real quickly. Just like Man City did the day before Juve got a second minute goal and then all of a sudden us neutrals were like hmm okay this could be at least entertaining but still not truly believing that Juve could actually do this .

Juve was going to have to do something which isn’t really in their DNA which was go all out and attack. And to do that against Real Madrid could be risky business.

Real Madrid is vulnerable defensively but at the same time they have so much attacking talent that the risk you take going all out on the attack is basically playing Russian Roulette.

Real Madrid is not as good as they were last season and they aren’t a very good team defensively. Then you add into the fact that Sergio Ramos was suspended for this for a yellow card suspension there vulnerable defense became that much more vulnerable. Say what you want about Ramos but the man is a warrior and is the key to this squad defensively.

Throwing in Jesus Vallejo who was making only his 9th start this season and 4 of them were in Copa Del Rey matches. Also, this was his first start in the Champions League. So, to say the least there was a bit of a drop off from Ramos to Vallejo, but the hope was with a 3 goal cushion with the 3 goals being road goals and being at home for this would be enough to overcome any deficiencies that Vallejo may bring.

The tactical approach from Juventus boss Max Allegri was a difference maker in this. Without Dybala he went with a 4-3-3 with Higuain playing his normal central role, he had Mario Mandzukic on the left wing and Douglas Costa on the right wing.

Allegri then went with a 3 man midfield of Blaise Matuidi, Sami Khedira, and Miralem Pjanac. Those 3 really bossed the game. This allowed them to outnumber Madrid’s 4-4-2 diamond. Which early on it was obvious they were effective at clogging up the middle and using that advantage to find space for the wingers of Mandzukic and Costa. It also helps that Gonzalo Higuain likes to drop back into midfield which also gave more space for the wingers.

Pjanac played his normal deepest midfield a spot which he has excelled for Juve and it was obvious his loss in the first leg was a huge factor in this tie, especially with how he played today.

He is so efficient and so smart on the ball always getting the ball moving from the midfield. He is always making the right pass, if it’s outside to the wingers or linking up with Matuidi or Khedira. His play from the center of the park is where it starts at for how Juventus was in this game. For the game he was at his efficient best putting up a monster performance by completing 64 passes at a 90% clip.

With the midfield already clogged up it also allowed Khedira and Matuidi to get forward to give Juventus numbers but it also opened up more space for Costa and Mandzukic on the outside.

Khedira who hasn’t had his best season this season played one of his better games of the season. He was getting more advanced and causing legit issues for Madrid, it was the type of performance from Khedira we have grown accustomed and Matuidi was his normal box to box beast. These two were causing fits for Madrid.

But the biggest problem that Madrid had was with Douglas Costa. I am a huge fan of his, but his biggest problem is his inconsistency, some games he’s unplayable which is when he has the space to take advantage of his ridiculous pace, but then there are the other games where you don’t even realize he was even know the pitch.

Today was one of those days that he was at his best. He was using his pace and skill to run at the Madrid defense causing problems time and time again. I have no problem giving Mandzukic man of the match for his first half brace but to me Costa was the best player on the pitch. He was on the ball a lot and every time he got on the ball it was a real problem for Madrid. He really exposed the deficiencies of the Madrid defense.

Costa played out on the right which lined him up against Marcelo for how good he is defending isn’t his strong suit.

Costa was 7 for 8 on dribble attempts and completed 25 passes at a 78.1 percent clip. If you couldn’t tell by your eyes how dominant he was those numbers should .

When Mario Mandzukic completed that brace with a 37th minute tally it was game on. The lead was down to one goal and we still had 53 minutes to play and Madrid looked rattled.

This went from no way in hell this is happening to holy shit this might happen.

The first half really the entire game in general was a real end to end tilt. Real Madrid had more possession and looked to attack any chance they got which they did have their chances. Ronaldo was actually very good throughout this game, it wasn’t his typical invisible type performance where he bags a brace, he was actually influential and was a problem throughout.

Casimero, Modric, Bale, and the back 4 weren’t at their best, so Madrid relied heavily on Isco, Kroos, and Ronaldo. Especially Kross their entire attack rolled through him. He completed 97 passes at 97% he was bossing the game for Madrid which was important especially when others were poor.

It was definitely a back and forth game there were potential for more than the 2 goals Mandzukic scored but Juve had the better of the chances and Madrid was lucky they didn’t complete the comeback by the half.

They completed the comeback in the 60th minute when Blaise Matuidi took advantage of Keylor Navas misplaying a rebound and Matuidi jumped on it to complete the come back.  The funny thing Navas was overall very good in this and made some huge saves to keep Juve from getting more but that type of mistake is the type of mistake that can cost you a tie.

Like the first 60 minutes the last 30 was just sublime football. The two teams going end to end to put on one helluva show.

At this point you could say honestly that either team could have won. It was totally up for the grabs. The one key thing at this point was that if Juve has gotten a 4th then Madrid would have had to score 5 due to the road goal rule.

So much credit goes to Allegri, his midfield, Costa, and Mandzukic for getting the game to this point. They were by far the better team on this day. Sure, Madrid had their moments but when you’re playing against Madrid you’re going to have to dodge some bullets.

It looked so good for Juve at this point they had been the stronger side throughout and you had to like their chances going into extra time but if this game wasn’t crazy enough it gave us one of the crazier moments we have seen in years.

We were in extra time it looked like an extra 30 was coming and possibly penalties. I wanted an extra 30 cause this was so good I wanted 30 more minutes of this.

But as he always does Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up to the plate and did something incredible to break hearts.

He was able to win a header at the post and somehow head it back to Lucas Vazquez who referee Michael Oliver decided was fouled by Medhi Benetia. Now this is where the real craziness begins….

Juve of course didn’t agree with the call, they went nuts, it was a moment straight out of Copa Libertadores. Basically the entire Juventus team surronded Oliver at this point he showed a red card to Juventus goalie Gigi Buffon. I loved it, it was absolute madness, but unfortunately for Gigi he was shown the red. I actually had less problem with the red to him than I did the penalty. I felt like he probably made contact with Oliver which is a no no and was absolutely in his face losing his mind. It’s tough but I never had a problem with giving red cards for players who act like this, despite it being amusing. This was obviously a problem because there was still a penalty to be taken that was likely going to decide this tie so Juventus had to bring Wojech Szczesny to save the penalty.

Ronaldo hit a perfect penalty hard and to the top corner that no goalie on the planet could have saved to escape late with a 1-3 loss in the second leg but advance on 4-3 on aggregate.

So, was this a penalty? I thought it was soft. I don’t think it should be called, especially under those circumstances and more than that gets let go all the time. There was contact Benatia had his hands on him and reached around with his leg but I really didn’t think it was enough.

However I can see why it was called. It was soft and all but I think Benetia doing what he did probably prevented Vazquez from scoring.

Its about as hearbreaking as a team could possibly lose. To come all the way back and lose it in this fashion is absolutely devastating. They have been chasing this Champions League crown the past 4 years. They want this thing so badly and they really wanted to win it this year to send Buffon out on top, but for it to end this way is so devastating. I hate it for them, you can’t not feel for them losing it in this fashion. They probably should have gotten more out of the first leg but they didn’t which came out to haunt them. Not saying they deserved this more than Madrid but this was a toss up, it wasn’t just the second leg. This was tight throughout the full 180.

For Madrid it is another step towards the 3 peat. I think Munich is the favorite and Real and Liverpool are even, but it’s anyones game at this point .I know plenty will say it’s going to be easy for them but they are flawed and vulnerable I wouldn’t count them out but it’s also not a lock either.

2. Roma/Barcelona

I will be honest I didn’t pay attention to this game as much as I normally would have I had it on but all of my focus was on the Liverpool game.

But this was as big of a shock of anything I’ve seen in a long time.

Barcelona has been flawless this season. Their only loss came in the first leg of a Copa Del Rey against Espanyol when they were playing a heavily rotated side, so to think that they were going to blow a 4-1 lead against Roma almost seemed impossible.

But if you look back at the first leg Roma was very unlucky to lose by the score they lost. That was a very tight game and the score was not a true reflection of the game played last week.

So, maybe that gave them some hope coming into this, but I don’t think anyone really believed this could actually happen.

The thing with Barca this year which has been talked about by many is that Ernesto Valverde has brought in a much more pragmatic approach. He played a 4-4-2 in order to protect the midfield which was exposed plenty of times last season and was torched in the Spanish Super Cup to start the season against Real Madrid.

Using this formula has taken away some of the beautiful football Baraca is known for. It’s caused them to rely heavily on Messi to have Messi deliver for them which he has time and time again. It’s why I think this has been one of Messi’s best seasons in his iconic career, they’ve also relied heavily on Ter Stegen to come up with big saves and their center back pair of Umtiti and Pique who all have been incredible.

Back to the first leg again. If we look at it now that Roma completed the comeback it really isn’t that surprising. Roma played well in the first leg and they were by far the better team in the second leg so they no doubt deserved it.

That formula Barca has used this year has worked but it came to bite them in the ass in the second leg.

First of all no one on Barca had a good game. They were all terrible, including Messi. This is as bad of a game as I have seen him play. You were just waiting for the moment for him to do something special to pull this tie out but unfortunately for him and Barca it never came.

Earlier I talked about Barca’s midfield and they were exposed on this day. Roma played a 3-5-2 and their midfield was incredible they dominated the game. De Rossi sat in front of the back 3 and controlled the game from there. Nainggolan and Strootman provided box to box support, they worked their tales off. Florenzi and Kolorav provided width at wing back.

This set up was the perfect set up for to beat this Barcelona team. They outnumbered Barcelona all over the pitch.

No doubt despite all that took place it still took a miracle and they needed someone to step up and as I mentioned in my preview for this that Eden Dzeko was the one guy that if they were going to do this would be the guy who had to step up.

And step up he did. He scored their goal in the first leg, he got the early goal to give them life. Then he drew the penalty to get them within one.

That was the point Liverpool had put City away so I started paying attention to this game more. I expected at this point Barca would wake up and take over the game. But they never came to life.

It is so easy to blame managers so many do it all the time. I generally tend not to do this but in this one I think Valverde takes a lot of blame.

His pragmatic more defensive approach has worked all year but it didn’t work too well here. It was an approach that was way to conservative in this leg. They needed one goal and it was over but they sat back too much and really gave Roma a chance to take it to them.

I said back when they played Chelsea they would need Dembele’s pace on the outside to help open things up, but Valverde decided to play Iniesta and Sergi Roberto on the outside which was definitely part of this conservative approach and definitely bit them in the ass.

Even when Roma got within a goal Barca didn’t change they couldn’t turn the switch and Roma kept bringing it to him. Ter Stegen was terrific he kept them in it, which was incredible to see Barca holding on against Roma. A team that hasn’t had the best season.

Then the moment that will go down as one of the best moments in the history of this great club, that moment came in the 82nd minute when Kostantinos Manolas made a great near post run and headed home the Cengiz Under to send the entire city into ecstasy. The amazing thing about this is they beat Barcelona 3-0. Like I said their only loss was a Copa Del Rey loss, this is just incredible and if you beat anyone 3-0 you deserve to move on.

The scenes afterwards had to warm your heart. Watching the celebrations after the game were incredible and really showed what the sport is all about.

3. Bayern/Sevilla

Bayern and Sevilla played to a 0-0 draw in their second leg. The first leg was a 2-1 win for Bayern at Sevilla but it was a rather lucky win. Both of their goals were own goals and Sevilla missed chances that they could have scored.

At this point I think Bayern is the favorite to win this, but based on this round they’re vulnerable.

Sevilla is 7th in La Liga with a -11 goal differential, they were by far the worst team left in the competition. What I thought would be a walk in the park for them was far from that, like I said they struggled in the first leg and we’re lucky to have a lead going home and today wasn’t exactly a dominant performance either.

Maybe they were just doing enough to get by, but then again maybe it was a real struggle for them and if it was I would be concerned if I were them.

Obviously this was going on at the same time as the Real Madrid/Juventus craziness so I was trying to watch this game but it was hard because something was happening every other second in Madrid.

I will say it was a professional performance from Munich, but then again they didn’t look like their normal dominant selves.

You never really felt like Sevilla was going to be a real threat even though they hit the post once and had some other chances.

I’m sure it was tactical by Munich, keep the ball and dont give Sevilla many chances to get back into this. They didn’t allow any shots on target so they really they did a good job at doing what’s needed to close out the stage when in the position.

It was mature from a team that has struggled at times in these positions in the past. They may not be winning with the wow factor but they’re showing a maturity that it takes to win this competition.

 

 

 

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