The Final Four are Set

Barcelona and Man City hopes for a treble end in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

A few weeks have passed, and the Champions League has returned, but this time with much more on the line. In the quarter-finals, eight teams faced off with the four winners booking tickets to the semifinals. The teams returned with a hunger and drive that was evident in their play and which made the matchups much more intriguing than those of previous rounds.

Liverpool (England) vs Manchester City (England)

Most believed that Liverpool was dealt a tough hand when they drew Manchester City, and rightly so. The English Premier League title holders had cruised through their domestic competition due to the intricate passing they have adopted since manager Pep Guardiola’s arrival. Their mesmerizing passing as well as the incessant runs made by their pacey attackers have given them the tools to dismantle most teams’ defenses. That would not be the case against Liverpool.

Before the game, Liverpool had been the only team to beat City in the Premier League all season, edging them 4-3 in a scrappy game. However, many considered the victory a fluke and attributed it to complacency on the part of Manchester City since they are so far ahead in the league standings. Naysayers expected Liverpool’s poor defense to crumble so much that even their deadly trio up top would not be able to keep up, but their defense was a problem of the past.

Since their acquisition of Virgil van Dijk in January, Liverpool has solidified their backline. That, partnered with their young full-backs, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, being in great form as of late, was just too good for the Cityzens to break down. Liverpool won 3-0 at home without conceding an away goal, which would have turned the return leg in City’s favor. After an early goal from the PFA Player of the Year, Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain smashed one in from outside the box, and Sadio Mane sealed the deal with a third goal. The second leg was more of the same, as Liverpool cruised to a 2-1 victory and advanced 5-1 on aggregate.

The story of this win, however, wasn’t Liverpool’s attack. They have been great at scoring goals all season, with Mohamed Salah scoring 40. The real shock was how well they defended. Conceding only one goal against City over two games is respectable for any team, especially Liverpool, given their recent defensive woes. It seems that Liverpool has overcome these defensive struggles and now has the potential to go all the way to the final and possibly pull off an incredible win.

Real Madrid (Spain) vs. Juventus (Italy)

Similar to the City-Liverpool matchup, this draw was highly anticipated. A rematch of last year’s Champions League final (which Madrid won 4-1), this game would be very different. Much has changed since then, with players leaving and joining both clubs. Having just regained the top spot in Serie A while Madrid was still struggling in La Liga, Juventus was confident going into this one. After all, it makes sense that that small boost of confidence would be enough to edge them through. Soccer doesn’t usually work that way. Madrid scored in the third minute via Cristiano Ronaldo. Shortly after, he scored his second goal with an unbelievable bicycle kick that almost broke the Internet.

To make matters worse, Paulo Dybala, Juventus’s best player, got a red card, causing him to miss the second leg. Madrid cruised to a 3-0 victory in Turin. With that, Madrid proved their superiority and went into the second leg with a newfound confidence. However, in the week leading up to the second leg, Juventus players assured their fans that they still had a chance. Many blew these words off as failed attempts to save face. But again, the Champions League brought drama. With Madrid’s captain and strongest defender Sergio Ramos suspended for accumulating too many yellow cards, manager Zinedine Zidane was forced to field youngster Jesus Vallejo. While a strong defender and great future prospect, Vallejo’s inexperience showed. Juventus scored three goals, with Mario Mandzukic scoring two in the first half before Blaise Matuidi pounced on a loose ball from Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas to even the aggregate score (sum of scores from both games).

This marked the beginning of a nail-biting final 30 minutes that had fans on the edges of their seats, with Madrid pushing for the goal that would qualify them to the semi-finals while Juventus defended for their lives. At first, Juventus was successful, but late in the game, they took a turn for the worst. Center back Medhi Benatia took out Madrid’s winger Lucas Vazquez in the box, giving away a penalty in extra time. Angered by the (correct) decision, Juventus’s veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon screamed at the referee, earning himself a red card in possibly the last Champions League game of his decorated career. Wojciech Szczęsny replaced Buffon in goal to attempt to save Ronaldo’s spot kick. Ronaldo would not be denied. After calming himself, he sunk the ball into the back of the net, pushing Madrid to the next round and ending a rather eventful tie that included some debatable calls and lots of goals.

Bayern Munich (Germany) vs. Sevilla (Spain)

Here we go again. Another season and another Bayern team showing its quality on and off the pitch, right up there with Europe’s elite in pursuit of the coveted Champions League trophy. But here comes another Spanish team, the pain in Bayern’s behind for the past four years. Of course, Sevilla is not Real Madrid or Barcelona, but it is still one of the most dangerous teams in Europe. Just ask Manchester United fans what happened when they decided to sleep on Sevilla last round.

Nonetheless, Bayern flew into Spain as the favorite against the Spanish locals. It was a nightmare from the start for the Bavarians. Pablo Sarabia’s clean finish at the near post in the 32nd minute put the Spaniards on top. The nerves began to kick in as Bayern once again saw themselves down to a Spanish side. But then, under player-favorite interim manager Jupp Heynckes, Bayern pressed higher and got the equaliser from a Jesús Navas own goal in the 37th minute. They continued to pile on the pressure and were rewarded with a goal from Thiago in the 68th minute off a beautiful cross from Franck Ribery. Bayern won the away leg but not without some trouble.

For the second leg in Munich, the two teams played an uneventful match. There were not many significant changes throughout the game, and Bayern, being the team that often dominates possession, advanced on a 2-1 aggregate scoreline into the semi-finals. No disrespect to Sevilla, but Bayern did not play up to their own high standards. They are consistently considered one of the top three clubs in Europe, but they didn’t show it in this fixture. While they may have gotten away with it against a smaller club like Sevilla, with Real Madrid looking across at them in the semi-finals, this type of performance just won’t do. Real Madrid has the mentality, the quality, the experience, and this guy named Cristiano Ronaldo, if you’ve ever heard of him, that will make Bayern pay for every single mistake they make. If the Bavarians want to win their sixth Champions League title, they will have to turn it up a few notches.

FC Barcelona (Spain) vs. AS Roma (Italy)

It was almost agreed upon that Barcelona got the easiest draw in the quarter-finals by drawing Roma, who most people thought were just happy to be there. Well, the Romans showed the Catalans that they were there for anything but to concede defeat.

The first leg was in Barcelona, and to no one’s surprise at the time, they won 4-1 at home. The scoreline does not represent how the game really played out, however. Barcelona scored off of two own goals in the first half. Even though they got two additional goals, they did not seem as threatening as previous Barcelona teams have. Their play looked dull, and their ball distribution was way too one-dimensional for a Barcelona team. In addition, Roma got an away goal via striker Edin Dzeko. This away goal would prove to be crucial, as in the case of a tie in the aggregate score, the team with the more away goals advances. Even though they lost by three goals, Roma was not afraid to press or attack Barcelona. At the end of the first leg they sensed weakness in the Catalans.

When the second leg came around, nobody was ready for the massive comeback they were about to witness in Rome. Dzeko scored early in the sixth minute to quickly get the Roman crowd into the game, knowing they had the all important away goal on their side. As they continued to press and attack, Roma was awarded with a penalty in the 58th minute, which was tucked away by their captain Daniele De Rossi. By that point, panic began to settle in as fans realized Roma only needed one more goal to advance. And that was exactly what they got from defender Kostas Manolas in the 82nd minute with a curling header off of a corner. Just like that, Barcelona’s hopes of the treble (winning your league, domestic cup, and European competition in one season) were flushed down the drain.

It was one of the greatest choke jobs in Champions League history. That day in Rome, Barcelona played in a way that made Johan Cruyff (Barcelona and Dutch legend as a player and manager, often credited as the founding father of the modern passing game) turn in his grave. There was no presence of tiki-taka passing or the explosive offense that have become synonymous with the Blaugrana. Coach Ernesto Valverde simply refused to make adjustments to a Roma team who was playing desperate offense. Finally, no matter how great he is, there is still a M.I.A. out for Lionel Messi, who was uncharacteristically silent during the entire game in Rome.

For the third straight year, FC Barcelona failed to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League. Hopefully, two trophies will be enough for them this year, because that’s all they can get.