Champions League Mixer: England’s favorite Uruguayan returns to the island, while Juventus and Monaco pick up huge first-leg victories.
Suarez re-Invades England
The Etihad played background for one of the 2014/15 Champions League’s standout matches as visiting Barcelona defeated Manchester City 2-1 on Tuesday in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie. The man of the hour, Luis Suarez, tallied a brace in his first return to England since his transfer from Liverpool last summer. A second half goal from Sergio Aguero kept City within striking distance of the Catalans, while Joe Hart saved a late spotkick from Lionel Messi.
The game was eerily similar to the 2009/10 CL quarterfinal encounter between Barcelona and Arsenal at the Emirates. In both matches, the visiting Blaugrana battered the home side for the first 45 minutes, but then fizzled away considerably in the second allowing the English sides to surge. However, unlike the Arsenal game, which ended in a 2-2 draw, Barca were ultimately able to fend off the resilient Sky Blues on Tuesday.
The result presents a mixed bag for each team to chew on until they meet at Camp Nou for leg two. For Barca, an away win, in which they scored two goals, should be viewed as a sizable advantage. Although, considering the manner in which they dominated the first-half, and the missed penalty kick, they’re surely kicking themselves for not widening the gap.
For City, simply being alive is a miracle in itself. They could’ve conceded five or six over the course of the night, but somehow managed to just narrowly lose. Hell, the atmosphere in the stadium after fulltime could even make one believe that City have all of the momentum going into the second leg.
It must be said that Barcelona were excellent on Tuesday. More importantly, it should be noted that Barcelona were probably only at a 7 or 8 on their relative scale of excellence. Earlier this week, City captain Vincent Kompany chose to engage in the Anglo hyperbolic carousel of comparing Barcelona to Stoke City. If the Belgian isn’t careful, he could come face-to-face with a 9 or 10 Barca on March 18th. I wonder if they’ll resemble the Potters at all then.
Full credit to Manuel Pellegrini’s side, however. So often pseudo-aesthetes will argue that Barcelona’s playing style is boring, that it sucks the life out of the game. Of course, it’s the opposite that’s true. Barcelona’s all-or-nothing attack-mindedness exclusively lends itself to high entertainment value. It’s just that so many teams would rather sit back and defend against the Catalans out of fear, which could, and often does, result in a gridlock of sorts. City didn’t do that, not on Tuesday at least. They attacked with a similar relentless intent as Barca did. They did what they could to entertain and to score, and it culminated in a tense and engrossing affair. The return leg is now succulently poised. Let’s hope it delivers.
Juve’s Turin Trump
Juventus downed Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at Juventus Stadium on Tuesday in their CL Round of 16 first-leg. Goals from Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata for the Italians bettered the Germans’ sole strike from Marco Reus, leaving the tie wide-open.
Having been the perennial underachievers of European competition in recent years — see: last year’s Europa League failure — Juventus are carrying an extra amount of weight this season. With Antonio Conte gone, and the vultures swarming around the likes of Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal with every passing transfer period, the window for continental triumph seems to be quickly closing on the Old Lady. To makes matters worse, they now face life without Andrea Pirlo for the next few weeks after coming off in the first-half on Tuesday with a calf problem.
The burden of victory now falls upon Dortmund, who’ve carried the CL mantle respectably for the Bundesliga despite their current treacherous league campaign. They’ve dedicated themselves fully to Jurgen Klopp’s philosophy of high-pressing and breakneck-countering, which, for whatever reason, seems to hold up in European competition.
However, Dortmund were more than defensively suspect against Juve and should ultimately feel lucky to return from Turin only a goal down. And though Reus did manage an away goal for the Germans, it was a fortunate slip from Giorgio Chiellini that aided heavily in it. Quality over luck must be the modus operandi in the second leg if Dortmund plan to go through to the quarters.
A Different Shade of Rouge et Blanc
In the shock result of the CL knockout rounds so far, Monaco handily beat Arsenal 3-1 on Wednesday at the Emirates. Geoffrey Kondogbia and Dimitar Berbatov put the visitors up before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain grabbed one back for the Gunners in the 90th. The tie was then put into further exile for Arsenal when Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco struck in injury-time.
In a performance reminiscent of the Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund sides of recent CL successes, Monaco were able to dismantle Arsenal via swift counterattacking and clinical finishing. The Gunners, however, were “suicidal defensively” (in Arsene Wenger’s own words) and unable to convert on a multiple of guilt-edged chances, mostly thanks to Olivier Giroud’s many aimless efforts on the night.
The tie is now nearly foregone heading to the Stade Louis for leg two with Monaco’s three away goals providing a virtual death nail to Arsenal’s coffin. Wenger’s side will have to score at least three goals in Fontvieille, which should be increasingly difficult given that Monaco’s bus-parking unit will be in full force.
But hang on just a minute.
We’ve seen this before. We’ve seen every veritable chip stacked against one side going into a second leg — or even a second-half — and yet things still topple. (See: Borussia Monchengladbach overturning a 5-1 deficit in the 1985/86 UEFA Cup against Real Madrid.) A 3-1 advantage ahead of a home match might seem like a scot-free situation if you’re Monaco, but sometimes, the improbability of the occasion and the height of the stakes become too much for the leading contender; especially an inexperienced contender like Monaco. That’s when the chips topple. If Arsenal get a goal within the first twenty minutes at the Stade Louis, we’ll know that it’s underway.