The first-legs of four stellar quarterfinal ties were played out this week, as the eight remaining teams in the Champions League looked to keep their European dreams alive. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to pick a potential winner from the remaining sides, and some wide open first legs did little to reveal an obvious champion.
But that’s good for us, as the Champions League begins to simmer. Even the very best teams that remain seem to have weaknesses that can be exploited and in this competition perhaps more than any, things don’t always necessarily go to script.
We saw that in earnest on Tuesday evening. Manchester United were expected to be on the end of a beating by the holders Bayern Munich, for one. But the Red Devils took the lead surprise lead through Nemanja Vidic, before Bastian Schweinsteiger’s smart finish levelled things up at 1-1. In the all-Spanish affair, Atletico Madrid also sprung a surprise, taking the lead at the Camp Nou through a stunning Diego strike. But Andres Iniesta’s sublime pass released Neymar, who ensured Barcelona will be on level terms ahead of the second leg.
On Wednesday, Real Madrid disposed of a lackluster Dortmund team 3-0, all but ensuring their place in the last four of the competition. Chelsea will have an uphill task on their hands if they are to qualify though, after they lost 3-1 to French juggernauts Paris Saint-Germain.
With little time to take stock ahead of what are sure to be a sparkling set of second-leg ties, here are a few things we’ve learnt from the first-leg games.
Barcelona Will Fancy Their Chances At The Calderon
Four times these two teams have met this campaign, and they’ve drawn on every occasion. Obviously, something must separate them in the second leg, and whilst Atletico might look the favorites with an away goal secured, you have to fancy Barcelona to progress.
Why? Well, Diego Costa has been a crucial player for Diego Simeone’s team, and he limped off with a hamstring injury last night, the chances are he’ll miss the second leg. Whilst Costa’s namesake did manage to nick an away goal with the forward off the pitch, they lacked a focal point and an aggression to their play in advanced areas. Costa is their talisman and without him, Atleti’s play just looked a little bit flat.
Barca should be able to take advantage of that at the Calderon. Their style differs little regardless of whether they play at home or away, and the manner in which Simeone’s team will look to press in front of their own supporters could leave space for the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and co. to exploit.
The Blaugrana looked much more incisive when Tata Martino introduced Alexis Sanchez in the first-leg, and with the four-time champions needing a goal, it’ll interesting to see whether the Barca boss chooses to go with the dynamism of Sanchez or the playmaking sills of Cesc Fabregas.
A more experienced side would have clung on to their 1-0 lead in the Camp Nou, and you wonder if that lack of know-how might just harm Atletico in the second-leg. This Barcelona side have been in this situation many times over and in Messi, they have a player who always performs in the biggest occasions. Barca have their talisman, Atletico don’t; that could well be what finally separates these two excellent sides.