If there is anything we learned from the second round of fixtures in the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League round-of-16, it is that English clubs still have a long way to go if they are to consistently produce champion sides. Juventus ran out close 2-1 winners over a fighting Borussia Dortmund while Barcelona, yet again, provided an English club with a footballing masterclass.
Old Lady stutters to a win
Three first-half goals were enough to settle this tie, with Juventus having to thank Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata for giving them the lead going into the leg at Signal Iduna Park. An away goal, even in defeat, is crucial as we have learned over the years and Marco Reus will be grateful to Giorgio Chiellini, whose unfortunate slip gave Dortmund a glimmer of hope. An injury to talisman Andrea Pirlo could also be a cause for concern for the Italian giants.
The Bundesliga side came into this match on the back of some good domestic form after their poor first half of the season, winning their last three. While the Serie A side are romping home with the Scudetto, having secured a nine-point lead over AS Roma over the weekend.
The home side went into an early lead, after Tevez pounced on a mistake by ‘keeper Roman Weidenfeller and opened the scoring after 13 minutes of play. However, a slip in a dangerous area meant that the in-form Reus was left through on goal to which he duly obliged by converting the chance. Juventus continued to create more chances with Morata coming close more often than once, while Dortmund looked dangerous on the counter. Two injuries on either side meant that veteran Pirlo was replaced by Roberto Pereyra in the 35th minute while Lukasz Piszczek hobbled off to give Mathias Ginter 53 minutes on the pitch. Just before the break, Morata restored Juventus’ lead after a poor defensive lapse left him unmarked to poke Paul Pogba’s cross home.
Juventus continued to attack in the second half but could not find that all important third goal to seal the match and possibly the tie. Dortmund are still in it, and Jurgen Klopp’s men will believe they can finish off the tie at home. Overall, an interestingly poised tie after the first leg.
Barcelona outclass hapless City
When your starting line-up boasts of a front three of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi, the opposition could very well be forgiven for shaking in their boots. That is something close to what happened the City back four as they were mesmerized by the front three and the brilliant Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta running the show from midfield.
Two first half goals from the returning Suarez must have made for a comfortable half-time teamtalk for Luis Enrique. Messi was running the show from the left flank while the Uruguayan started in a more central role. Not only did they score two, but also could have had more as Dani Alves struck the crossbar midway through the first half. The Spanish giants were stamping their authority over the English champions. The latter strangely started with James Milner and Fernando in the middle of midfield, giving their Barcelona counterparts enough room to string passes together. The Citizens, however, could not even manage a decent spell of possession as Suarez made them pay by scoring in the 16th and once again in the 30th minute.
Although City did pull one back through Sergio Aguero – clearly City’s best player on the pitch – in the 69th minute and Edin Dzeko came close in the beginning of the half, it must have been demoralising for the home team to see Messi running through their team with ease. The seemingly immortal Argentine had a ‘human’ moment when he could not convert a penalty in stoppage time that would have all but sealed City’s fate. Not that there is much hope for City even now, but a 2-1 defeat at home reads much better than a 3-1 one.
Bayer secure close win over Atletico
Diego Simeone’s men came into this match having not conceded a goal in the last 6 matches in the Champions League while 6th placed in the Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen had an indifferent last few weeks before playing this match.
A capacity crowd at the BayArena had to thank Turkish midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu who scored his 9th goal of the season to secure a comfortable 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid. The Spanish side who are currently third in the Liga BBVA, had a night off as they registered their lowest pass percentage completion ratio (58%) of their season so far. They were also reduced to ten men in the 76th minute when Tiago was sent off for a second bookable offence – about 20 minutes after conceding a goal to Calhanoglu.
Atletico were mostly subdued in the first half and were forced to defend most of the time. A few chances here and there, however, meant that they were still in this. Bayer could have conceded late in the first half had it not been for their keeper Bernd Leno who produced a great save to a Tiago thunderbolt. In the second half, Karim Bellarabi stole the show with his pass for the goalscorer who duly thumped it into the roof of the net. A couple of goals disallowed – rightly so – later, Atletico were still giving a good account of themselves. However, at the end of the day, the home side were deserving winners and take a 1-0 lead to the Vicente Calderon.
Of all the matches, played out in these round of fixtures, this is probably the most ‘in balance’ after the first leg. Atletico have a very good home record and it will be interesting to see if Simeone is able to re-produce last season’s run up to the final.
Monaco stun Arsenal at The Emirates
Monaco came into this match on the back of a horrible run in the French Ligue 1 where they have managed to score just two goals in 4 games prior to this. On the other hand, Arsenal have trounced their way through their last four, winning all of them and scoring a hefty ten goals in the process. Yet if one saw their performance at home yesterday, they wouldn’t believe it is the same team.
The team from the tiny principality gave the mighty Gunners a lesson or two in clinical finishing. That too in the form of ex-Tottenham striker, Dimitar Berbatov who rubbed salt into the fans’ wounds scoring early in the second half to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. Earlier in the first half, Geoffrey Kondogbia deflected a goal in off Per Mertesacker to the elation of the travelling Monaco fans. Arsenal also had their fair share of chances and will be gutted going into the second leg scoring just one home goal. Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck came closest to breaching the Monaco defence, with Theo Walcott also coming close in the second half.
Arsenal’s only bright spark on the night, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pulled a goal back late in the second half. However, there was further misery in store for the Gunners as they went 3-1 down in stoppage time thanks to a goal from Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, who had come on for Berbatov. The scoreline now means that Arsenal will have to be even more enterprising in the second leg trying to score 3 goals for any hope of reaching their first quarter finals in the last 4 attempts. More emphasis on attack should not necessarily mean more holes in the defence, as they were at home. Based on their performance last night, the Gunners’ champions league dream looks all but over.