For the first time in 16 years, the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals will not have Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. Barcelona could not overturn a heavy first-leg defeat drawing 1-1 in Paris despite many chances including a missed penalty by Lionel Messi after a fantastic goal. FC Porto pulled off the shock result of the round as they eliminated Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus. Sergio Conceicao’s team exemplified the grit of their captain Pepe and the guile of their talisman Sergio Oliveira.
Liverpool saw off Leipzig with ease with 2-0 results in both legs. Julian Nagelsmann’s side has their eyes on a Bundesliga title race and the DFB Pokal Cup from which Bayern Munich has been sent packing. Borussia Dortmund finished the job against Sevilla who continue to struggle away from the Europa League. Erling Haaland scored twice against the team from Seville to become the fastest player to hit 20 goals. The Norwegian has done it in 14 games. Here are a few talking points from the completed round-of-16 games.
Haphazard Juventus Lose To Gritty Porto
Andrea Pirlo should not be handling a club like Juventus at this stage of his coaching career, that much is true. This is like buying a new game and trying to play it on the most difficult level on your first try just because you have been watching many of your friends play the game.
The level is proving too difficult for the Italian midfield maestro to start with. His 4-4-2 shape looks distraught and hapless, the midfield is almost non-existent. It showed on the night as Juventus’ main source of creativity was right-back Juan Cuadrado who whipped in 33 crosses. Jesus Christ! (pun intended). Despite Mehdi Taremi’s idiocy in collecting a second yellow, Juventus could not capitalize.
Taremi won a penalty off Demiral’s unbridled aggression and midfield maestro Sergio Oliveira scored. Federico Chiesa put in the performance of a lifetime, scoring 2 second-half goals between Taremi’s madness. Then in extra-time, the unthinkable happened. A free-kick in dangerous territory. The wall was tall enough but it was on the ground that their problems lay. Cristiano Ronaldo jumped and left all the space on the ground for the Oliveira who shot low to beat Wojciech Szczęsny. Pepe put in a world-class performance at 38, showing the world why he is one of the best defenders of his generation.
The Old Lady’s decision to sack Maurizio Sarri did not come as a surprise, it was not working. Their decision to hire Pirlo though was silly. His tactics display his infancy in the game and the team replicates his naivety. He might get the sack when the season is over especially if they do not get their hands on the Scudetto which Inter Milan is running away with. The squad is low on world-class players and desperate for a UEFA Champions League title, it does not work that way.
Erling Haaland is a Freak of Nature Designed to Dominate This Game
It was in the 47th minute when the Norwegian striker picked the ball up on the left and drove towards the Sevilla goal. He played a slick 1-2 before steaming into the box but then Fernando came cross to body-check him and bounced off him and into the ground. In the tight space that was left, Haaland still managed to squeeze his effort past Bono. VAR disallowed the goal but the striker’s freakish power, speed, and incredible finishing came to the fore. After scoring his penalty which sparked a raucous, Haaland became the fastest player to hit 20 goals, doing it in 14 games. He is also the youngest to do so (20 years, 7 months, and 19 days), beating out Kylian Mbappe (21 years, 11 months, and 19 days) who beat out Lionel Messi (22 years, 8 months, and 21 days).
The 20-year-old striker scored both of Dortmund’s goals in a 2-2 draw against Sevilla. He also scored twice in the first leg as Dortmund secured passage to the quarter-finals with a 5-4 aggregate score. There was also a moment of pure madness. After the Haaland goal was ruled out, the referee brought play back and awarded a penalty to BVB for a foul on Haaland in the build-up to the goal. Foul? Doubt it. Haaland fired his penalty towards the bottom right of the net but Bono palmed the ball out.
Bono celebrated it by screaming in Haaland’s face too soon. Another VAR review and the Moroccan keeper was adjudged to have jumped off his line early. Haaland had to retake it and it allowed him to make amends and this time his effort found its way past Bono into the same corner he had previously been aiming for.
That is now 10 goals in 6 UEFA Champions League games and 19 in 19 Bundesliga games. Machine!
There Shall Be No Remontada
Despite holding a healthy 4-1 lead over Barcelona, you would forgive PSG for still showing nervousness after the events of March 8, 2017. Ahead of the fixture, Parisians must have been delicate in their emotions, with nightmares of their horror showing in Camp Nou playing on their minds. These emotions were overflowing into the game as PSG struggled to show any sort of composure in the early moments of the game. Luckily, Ousmane Dembele did not have any composure either as he squandered chance after chance to put Barcelona in the lead. If you’d like to know why English Premier League referees are being ostracized from top competitions, what happened in the 31st minute was a clear indication of why.
Layvin Kurzawa squared a cross into the box but Marc-Andre Ter Stegen collected easily. Behind him Clement Lenglet and Mauro Icardi were coming in to take care of anything that spilled through. Both men had eyes on the ball but Lenglet inadvertently tripped Icardi in the process. There was no intention, it was not a chance, not even a half chance, it was a nothing situation. But Anthony Taylor awarded PSG the penalty and Kylian Mbappe scored to end the tie. If you thought Lionel Messi would go down without a fight then you know nothing about that little Argentinian Man. The Barcelona number 10 thundered a strike into the top corner only six minutes later. Unfortunately for him, his glaring weakness as a footballer came to the fore again.
Kurzawa gave away a penalty (what’s new?) for a miskick that brought Antoine Griezmann down. Messi stepped up and fired to Keylor Navas’s right but the Costa Rican made the save. Shades of penalty misses against Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League and Chile in the Copa America. PSG struggled some more in the second half but it would remain 1-1 until the end. The damage in Camp Nou was enough.
Oh, Keylor Navas is still one of the best goalkeepers around. He prevented things from breaking down with magnificent saves against Dest, Dembele, Busquets, and Messi. Marquinhos put in one heck of a block to prevent a Messi shot. It was not the first time he had put in such a brilliant block against Barcelona, this one though required mastery and world-class timing to execute. Mbappe skinned Lenglet in one deadly counter before crashing his shot into the bar. Speaking of Lenglet, he is in a rot right now isn’t he? Anyway, there was no remontada as PSG secured qualification despite Neymar Jr’s absence.