Real Madrid vs Liverpool
UEFA Champions League royals Real Madrid started with more intent and soon enough, Karim Benzema drifted to his favored left side and got a shot away on his weaker left foot. It was tepid and easy enough for Alisson Becker to gather. The Brazilian is still spotting his corrupt police chief mustache but that is another topic. Vinicius and Ferland Mendy got the memo about Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defensive nous and decided to do something about it. Both men took turns running him ragged on the night but Vinicius’ questionable decision-making meant they could not make the most of it. However, midfield maestro Toni Kroos delivered a sublime ball over the top of the Liverpool backline and
Neymar Vinicius burst in behind to score past Hector Hernandez Alisson. 1-0.
Liverpool were not in it throughout the first half as the legendary trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Casemiro ran rings around Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho, and Naby Keita. Speaking of Keita, why was he in this game ahead of Thiago Alcantara? Coaches can be funny like that but there was nothing funny about Trent setting up Marco Asensio for Madrid’s second goal. Another glorious Kroos ball and the flailing TAA made a catastrophic decision. Asensio doubled the lead. 2-0. Klopp realized his mistake and brought in Alcantara for Keita before half-time. That tells you everything you need to know.
Liverpool gained more control with Alcantara but Kroos and Modric were giving one heck of a performance with Casemiro snapping anything that found its way behind them. 6 minutes into the second half and Liverpool half the deficit through Mohamed Salah. Remontada? The Egypt international scored his first career goal against Los Blancos in a crucial moment, finding the net from about six yards out. VAR could not stop it. Alcantara received his customary yellow card. Vinicius was having the game of his life (in terms of finishing) and in the 65th minute, he stroked an audacious Modric flick/pass between Nat Phillips’ legs and into the goal. Liverpool tried hard to score a second away goal but Casemiro was bullish, the backline resolute in the absence of Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. 3-1 it ended. The second leg awaits.
Manchester City vs Borussia Dortmund
Manchester City took control of possession like it was their birthright in the early minutes but Dortmund showed glimpses of the kind of danger they pose. After much probing and interplay, Emre Can gave the ball away and City pounced. A cutback from the in-form Riyad Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne scored. Dortmund became more aware and started to show more but were outpowered by the citizens.
Romanian referee Ovidiu Hațegan was giving his best Ovrebo impression. First, he called a penalty on Emre Can for going for a perfectly acceptable low-level ball and carded the German player. Then when VAR showed him his mistake, he rescinded the penalty but not the card. 7 minutes later and he was at it again. Jude Bellingham, full of will and skill, took the ball from the left boot of Ederson and slotted it into an empty net. The referee refused to look at VAR to see the perfect goal the Englishman had just scored. “This referee needs to be checked” the injured Jadon Sancho tweeted and rightly so. It was a shambolic decision not to give that goal.
A lifeline was thrown to Manchester City but they could not take it. They tried to score the second but were denied by Dortmund. Wanted man Erling Haaland was terrible with his holdup and linkup play as Dortmund struggled to escape City’s press but cometh the hour cometh the man. In the 84th minute, after a great move by Bellingham, he turned the ball behind into Captain Marco Reus and Woodyinho finished well. Ederson got a touch to it but it was not enough. 1-1 with 6 minutes to go. Guardiola stood up from his bench and nearly swallowed his bottle of water. He nearly swallowed his bottle this time last year against Lyon.
However, in the dying minutes of the game, City restored their lead. Former Dortmund star Ilkay Gundogan took a long pass behind the Dortmund defense down and set it up for Phil Foden to strike home. 2-1. City escaped narrowly. Dortmund have an away goal to hold but they will feel hard done. Ovidiu Hațegan should think twice before any trip to Germany.