The return legs of the Champions League produced no real surprises as all the victors from the first leg safely went through to the next stage.
All of the four matches that were played during this midweek had a sense of inevitability about them as all of the four home teams had won their away legs a fortnight back. Still with the world class stars on show and the possibility of a comeback kept everyone’s attention firmly on the action.
Atletico Madrid outclass Italy’s finest
Throughout the nineties and the first half of the noughties, Italian clubs had been the envy of Europe’s finest and a dream destination for all the best players around the world. But a sense of terminal decline has set in which shows no sign of abating. Not only do they seem incapable of tackling the European powerhouses of today like Barcelona, Bayern Munich, et al. but they are also inferior to some of the less renowned teams.
Italy was left without a representative in the Champions League quarter finals for the first time in 5 years following AC Milan’s 4-1 defeat at Atletico. The most depressing thing for the Rossoneri was that they were outdone by a team which has no real stars but is defined by a ‘one for all and all for one’ approach. Despite a brace for Diego Costa there seem to be no airs about the recently turned Spain international. Maybe this team spirit is what AC Milan are lacking.
After their late win at Milan all Atletico needed was a goal and they got it early through the outstretched left leg of Costa. Though Milan equalized through Kaka and managed a spell of domination it seemed like only a matter of time before the home side would eventually wrest back control. The second goal for the Rojiblancos was a little bit fortuitous as Arda Turan’s shot left Christian Abbiati with no chance following a defection of Adil Rami.
Late goals by Raul Garcia and Costa added gloss to the scoreline for the home side but for Milan they just highlighted the gulf that now exists between them and Europe’s elite.
Bayern Munich are a cut above the rest
There is no side in the world that would leave Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller on the bench for a round of 16 2nd leg match against one of the top sides from the English Premiership. But then Bayern Munich are no ordinary side, they are probably the best side in Europe and on current form it would take a brave man to bet against them being the first team to defend the Champions League.
In all honesty though, Bayern rarely had to come out of second gear as Arsenal were perhaps satisfied in finishing the match with a respectable score line.
For Bayern this match was all about showcasing their strength in depth. Thiago Alcantara, who replaced Toni Kroos from the team which played the reverse fixture in London was imperious in midfield. This match highlighted why Guardiola was so insistent on bringing the Spanish international to the Allianz Arena in the summer. His performance also show that Bayern have a ready replacement for Kroos should the German choose to leave at the end of the season.
As far as the match was concerned, the first half was all Bayern without them creating any clear cut chances. The goal though arrived just after the break when Franck Ribery cut in from the left and his pass left Bastian Schweinsteiger with the easiest of goals from close range. Arsenal were jolted into action after the Germans took the lead and they quickly equalized through an angled, rising effort from Lukas Podolski. The winning goal though never arrived despite Bayern winning a penalty in the closing stages. The normally unflappable Muller missed from the spot but in the end it was all academic as Bayern had already done enough in London to progress through to the next stage.
PSG stroll into quarters
The last time that Bayer Leverkusen reached the knock out rounds they were steam rolled 10-2 by Barcelona. They were destroyed this time too despite the final aggregate being a little bit more respectable at 6-1. Their conquerors – PSG, are the dark horses for the Champions League this season but on current form all of Europe would want to avoid them when the draw for the final eight is made.
After a convincing 4-0 win in Germany a fortnight ago all chances of a Leverkusen fightback were just mathematical. The German though to their credit did begin impressively and took the lead when Sidney Sam headed in Giulio Donati’s cross after just six minutes. Their joy was short lived as PSG equalized just seven minutes later when Marquinhos scored from a corner.
Leverkusen though could have retaken the lead but Simon Rolfes fluffed his lines from the penalty spot. The match thus was all square at half time but the home side quickly retook the lead after the break when former Napoli man Ezequiel Lavezzi struck through a crowd of players to beat Bernd Leno. The scores remained the same till the final whistle but there was no doubt from the beginning about who was going through to the next round.
Messi to the fore as Barcelona triumph over Manchester City
For all the talk about Barcelona’s and Messi’s falling standards this season, both are having respectable seasons. But that is the thing, for these two entities respectable is not enough, they have to be outstanding – no, out of the world every week.
And for flashes this Wednesday night they showed why some consider them the best club side and best player of all times. With the Catalans the thing is where they were so dizzyingly consistent a couple of seasons ago, now they need an occasion to rise to and the visit of Manchester City provided that. For Messi all he needs to function at that God mode of his is a Barcelona playing well.
The little Argentine tore into City straight away and he should have got a penalty inside the first ten minutes following an ill timed challenge by Joleon Lescott. Four minutes later he almost scored from the dead ball line following another jinky run past two defenders. The Argentine was again in action when he was involved in a brilliant Barcelona move which ended with Neymar being incorrectly ruled offside.
After the break Messi picked up where he left of and nearly scored the opener when his low shot cannoned off the base of the post. But he was not to be denied for long as he chipped Joe Hart in trademark style following a school boy error from Lescott. Messi continued to dazzle after the goal and in one particular move he spun to leave captain Vincent Kompany on his backside and drove past two other players before playing in Cesc Fabregas.
Manchester City though equalized right on the stroke of ninety minutes when Komapny stabbed home from three yards following a corner. Barcelona though were not to be denied as just over a minute later Alves rifled in a shot following a neat cut back from Andres Iniesta.