The Giants Survive

Bayern 6 Porto 1 or: The Munich Massacre

Thiago. Little guys like him should not score headers like this…

I could’ve talked a little bit about Bayern’s defeat in Portugal one week ago immediately after it happened – but I preferred not to. First of all, it’s because going down 1-3 in an away game means very little for a team capable to rip Shakhtar to shreds 7-0 at Allianz Arena. After all, we’re talking about the team that has already won 14 home games this season with scorelines good enough to eliminate Porto if they were applied on Tuesday! But this wasn’t the only reason. Danilo and Alex Sandro, two Brazilian pillars of Portugese Dragons, were both suspended for the rematch in Munich. How good they exactly are? One of them was already unveiled as new Real Madrid’s player, while the other one provided an assist to Jackson Martínez to settle the score of the first leg – not to mention some of the most solid, defensive work one can pull off against team as strong as the Bavarians. Obviously, in a team like Dragões, such stars could never been replaced by players of similar quality. A bit short on personnel, Julien Lopetegui had to rely on Bruno Martins Indi (clearly the weakest link in Netherlands’ defence during 2014 World Cup) and Diego Reyes (who’s played only three games for the team prior to the Bayern rematch and was eventually subbed off quickly on Tuesday, after a nightmarish performance). A suspicious situation, to say the least.

What could’ve turned out bad, turned out straight-up horrible. 40 seconds after the kick-off, Porto lost the possession due to Juan Bernat’s interception – and they never recovered it. Well, almost never – not in any way that would matter, for sure. German champions were as good at passing the ball as ever, but with the looming requirement of scoring in the back of their heads, they’ve added much more pace and decisiveness to their play. Not faced with the relentless aggression from Porto this time, they comfortably brought the danger down the wings, as well as on the counterattack. Within ten minutes, Müller managed to break away from his man, reach the through ball from Lewandowski and hit the goalkeeper with it. Polish striker, who collected the rebound, hit the post of the open goal. It was already a bad sign – the visitors abandoning their bus-parking approach and nearly getting punished – but few people expected what will happen next. 6 foot and 3 inches tall Maicon decided to mark 5 foot 8 inches tall Thiago from behind and when the latter headed the ball from Bernat’s cross into the back of the net – there was no answer. What was up with Porto not dealing with balls floating into the box anyway? First corner they’ve conceded, ended with another goal for Jérôme Boateng. And this was something Bayern wouldn’t let slip anymore.

25 minutes in, Bayern had 7 attempts on goal to Porto’s 0. They weren’t done, though: Lahm’s cross fell on Müller’s foot who flicked it high up in the air and we’ve witnessed yet another header with Porto’s defenders being merely the spectators. What happened down the Porto’s flanks was catastrophic – and the misery wouldn’t stop. Dragons’ tragedy got comical for a second when Müller’s deflected strike went in between the legs of Fabiano, who was already lying down to make a save but couldn’t react well enough to the altered trajectory of that shot. From that point on, there wasn’t really much to add. Jackson Martínez, who fell down on the pitch, twitching in anger and despair, should be enough to describe what mental state his team was left in. He was soon booked for diving and eventually scored a consolation goal for his team when it already didn’t matter. It’s strange, but it’s true: Robben-less, Ribery-less Bayern side scored six goals in a single CL game, advanced to the semi-final and, regardless of who’s healthy and who’s not – they shall be favourites of any draw they can possibly get. Especially with their top-class wingers: Robben is expected to return to action in four days, while Ribery will only wait another weeks before he’s back from his damaged ankle treatment.

 

Barcelona 2 PSG 0 or: The Catalan Chillout

As expected, it was easy for Barcelona. Enough said.

 

Real 1 Atletico 0 or: Chicharito’s Way

Hard-fought derby once again. This time, Godin’s headers weren’t enough.

Apparently, not enough water went down the bridge for a clash like this to be any different than usual. Los Colchoneros didn’t change much. Los Blancos – despite having Modrić and Benzema sidelined – did not change either. It was all the same as in the first leg: a hard-fought game, quite significantly dominated by Real in all areas but lacking the goalscoring ability on their part. Diego Simeone has chosen even more defensive strategy than usual, placing Jesús Gámez as a left-back and deploying Saúl Ñíguez to the left wing. But how much caution is too much? In this game, Atletico was so useless going forward, it looked totally depressing for a neutral. Way too many nervous, hasty clearances from visitors’ defenders early in the game set the tone for the rest of 90 minutes: despite having Mandžukić working hard, Rojiblancos had little hope of delivering this one, dream goal that would’ve send them through. 6 shots to Real’s 23; 4 corners to Real’s 10; 7 dribbles to Real’s 10: those numbers explain it all. Even forced to reassign Sergio Ramos to a midfielder role, Los Merengues were in a serious cruise control, possibly more so than they used to be on Vicente Calderon. The only question was whether they can get anything from this amount of pressure or Atletico is going to escape the axe again to try their luck in the penalties?

Yesterday, a lot was up to Javier Hernández: possibly the most frustrated striker on the planet these days. Kept completely away from big football, he spent this season as a bench-warmer, forced to watch Karim Benzema’s career peak, as well as Jese’s slow rise to the status of a back-up #9 striker. Uncertain to stay in Madrid, unwanted in Manchester, Mexico’s international was gifted a perfect chance to prove himself and maybe find a new employer for the next campaign. Whoever was watching out for him, though, needed about as much of a patience as he himself had this season. After being sent through by Ronaldo in 12th minute, Hernández fired rather ridiculous shot from a narrow angle, missing the net by miles. Later, the striker narrowly missed one decent header and we had 0-0 during the break. Shortly after it ended, he was set up beautifully by Isco, who found a lot of space in the penalty box. Chicharito, unmarked, aimed for a far post. His little chip was deadly, as it went past Oblak. However, it was also inaccurate: the ball went few centimetres wide. Same happened in 80th minute: James Rodríguez’s dribbling effort was wasted when his fellow striker missed an one-on-one attempt from the right side of the box. It really did seem like nothing is ever going to go the Mexican’s way in this game.

Ancelotti, though, was patient. With every single aspect of the game working favourably for his team, he kept his #9 on the pitch. The reward came less than 120 seconds before stoppage-time clock started ticking. After a terrific one-two between Ronaldo and James Rodríguez, the Portuguese legend cruised past all Atletico defenders and sprayed an easy pass to unmarked Hernández. It was a simple tap-in nobody could really miss: even an outstanding form of Jan Oblak in the visitors’ goal could not possibly be enough to stop it. Real players had their moment of joy – and it was provided by the man who, according to various sources, is going to be hunted by several Premier League sides this summer; the man, whose €10 million buyout clause won’t be paid by Florentino Pérez; the man, whom Louis van Gaal does not consider as MU’s attacking option in view of the ambitious Memphis Depay / Edinson Cavani transfer plans. Whoever gets the guy, though, will likely be delighted with such signing, because this player does not stop his goalscoring pursuit until the final whistle is blown. And Atletico? In a year or two, they’re going to be forced to transition out of Tiago + Gabi midfield deadlock for good. Then, we will see if Simeone’s lads still can remain competitive enough to provide their defensive magic.

 

Monaco 0 Juventus 0 or: The Helping Hand

 The moment when Steven Gerrard realized what he should’ve done…

Prior to this game, the main news in media was that Carlos Tevez is unhappy in Turin and wants to return to his homeland of Buenos Aires, to play for Boca Juniors again. Few newspapers even suggested that there’s already a €5 million bid on the Argentinian placed by his former domestic employers: a bid that would allow Juventus to regain at least some of the money invested in Tevez before his two-year contract expires in 2016. Carlitos, who’s been showing the signs of great longing for his family and friends left in Argentina’s capital, admitted that he doesn’t want to renew his contract with bianco-neri and that, despite his phenomenal form this season, he’s going to stay in Italy for only one more campaign. A gossip or not, it didn’t change the fact that Tevez had an average game on Wednesday, popping up for the first time as late as in 45th minute to win a free kick and a booking for the player that fouled him. To be fair, this game made him suffer: Monaco has a pretty much bulletproof backline and keeping two Zebrette strikers quiet was a priority for the French eleven, since one goal from them would for Mouthinho & Co. to score three. How motivated will homesick Tevez be in the next few weeks in the CL semifinal? How will Juve deal with his departure? Those were questions being asked in Turin regarding the distant future…

Alas, regarding the closest future, it could’ve started with a catastrophe for Juventus when their captain, Giorgio Chiellini, slipped in his own defensive zone 40 seconds into the game. He was immediately pressed by João Moutinho and, in desperation, he decided to salvage himself with a handball. This last-resort action ended with a yellow card – only yellow, because Leonardo Bonucci was still behind his unfortunate teammate when he committed the offence. Nevertheless, it was an encouraging moment for Monaco players: they already had one of Juve’s defensive powerhouses booked this early in the game. Kondogbia tried to capitalize on that with a decent long-shot after just five minutes, but it went wide. Meanwhile, hardly entertained by this cagey game, people all around the world started to photoshop Chiellini’s blooper into various situations – including slam-dunks, swimming competitions, epic Superman-like poses and many more. To their disappointment, bianco-neri top defender had no more trouble handling himself in this game and he’s done a reasonably good job, taming Bernardo Silva down the wing. Portuguese winger almost broke away from his opponent after 20 minutes, when he had Martial and Ferreira-Carrasco aiding him with some footwork – but Andrea Barzagli cleared his final cross away from danger.

 

Unlike Real or Bayern, Monaco weren’t really pressing the game enough to earn the goal that would bring the aggregate score to a tie. Instead of dynamic play, fouls and tackles were what set the pace of this game. Pirlo found one astonishing way to get the ball to Stephan Lichtsteiner, but Subašić collected it in the nick of time. At the other end, Moutinho and Kondogbia had one decent dribbles each, both ended with rather awkward, unsuccessful shots. And that was about it for the first half – Monaco kept the ball well, Juventus sat back protecting the 0-0, people in front of TVs falling asleep. Leonardo Jardim tried to wake them all up by bringing Dimitar Berbatov for Jeremy Toulalan, but it was hardly a convincing attempt. Bulgarian giant had a nice chance in 55th minute, when a rebound fell to him – but Gianluigi Buffon, determined as usual, proved that even at the age of 37, he can sweep the balls away from the goalline like nobody’s business. Soon after that, Morata blew the best counterattack chance by not looking for Tevez when it was about the time to do it – but it didn’t matter. Juventus will play in the CL semi-final for the first time since 2003. Their chances to win it all are slim. Their attacking powers are lacking. But they have no league to worry about and very few injury concerns…

Maybe it’s going to be their season this time?

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