The quarters are complete in the Champions League, and now we look forward to the semifinals. The four remaining teams harbor legitimate aspirations of winning the whole trophy, so let’s see who’s in the best position.
Roma 3-0 Barcelona (4-4 agg.) Roma advances on away goals
Roma: Everything went right for the Romans – they’ve beaten Barcelona and are onto the first Champions League semifinal in the club’s history and only the third semifinal in any European competition. Daniele De Rossi controlled the midfield, and Edin Džeko caused problems for Barcelona’s defense, but at the end of the day, Roma simply worked harder. For a match against Barcelona, Alisson Becker had little to do, and most of that was in the final ten minutes once Barcelona had to push for a goal.
Barcelona: It’s unclear whether Barcelona was nervous, complacent, or both, Whatever it was, they weren’t good enough. It’s one thing to go out to another big team, but to be eliminated by this Roma side, especially in the way they did, is an embarrassment. Twice, a long ball over the top to Džeko was too much for one of Barcelona’s center backs, with Samuel Umtiti inexplicably pulling up jogging as Džeko took his touch for the opener, and Gerard Piqué pulling Džeko down for De Rossi’s penalty. The lack of marking ability from the outside backs showed. Roma consistently won headers inside the six-yard box, forcing Marc-André ter Stegen to make a point blank save against Stephan El Shaarawy before Kostas Manolas scored the third goal from a corner. Any close looks Barcelona had came through Lionel Messi, and with the Argentinian turning 31 in the summer, it’s time for Barcelona to start preparing for life without him, or, based on this performance, they’ll cease being a powerhouse.
Manchester City 1-2 Liverpool (1-5 agg.)
City: For a while it looked like they had it. Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring two minutes in, and City mounted more pressure on Liverpool as the match progressed, but when Leroy Sané’s second goal was wrongly disallowed for offside, the wind seemed to leave City’s sails. The fact that Sergio Agüero didn’t even get onto the field until the 66th minute, given that City had already needed to score four goals for the ten minutes before, is shocking. Some of the blame for this defeat must go on manager Pep Guardiola for a couple of questionable decisions he made. Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius left the match mostly untested, and the Manchester club will have to wait another year for a shot at European glory.
Liverpool: Mohamed Salah’s equalizer sealed the tie, and Roberto Firmino’s clinical finish took all the air out of the stadium as City would have needed five goals in fifteen minutes. That being said, Sadio Mané nearly caused his side trouble at City again. In September, Mané’s challenge on City goalkeeper Ederson left his team a man down and led to a 5-0 drubbing. Here, he could have easily been sent off for a late challenge on Nicolás Otamendi, leading to a similar result. A huge slice of luck took away a second from City when the referee somehow mistook James Milner’s knee for Gabriel Jesus’ foot and called Sané’s goal back, but the second half settled Liverpool’s nerves, and they held at the back for the victory.
Bayern Munich 0-0 Sevilla (2-1 agg.)
Bayern: It was nothing special from Bayern, but they bled the game out and progressed to the semifinals once again. Unlike the other big teams in this round, Bayern had no drama, and if their attack explodes, they can cause problems for anyone.
Sevilla: They fought hard but couldn’t produce the same things that sunk Manchester United. A night of frustration and futility ended with a red card for winger Joaquín Correa, and Sevilla is left with a lack of Champions League football for next year, a true shame for a team that progressed to the quarterfinals.
Real Madrid 1-3 Juventus (4-3 agg.)
Real: They had their chances to make it a little more comfortable, but after missing a few early, Juventus grew into the game. One wonders what Marcelo’s responsibility was, since all three crosses came from Juventus’ right side. Not having captain Sergio Ramos showed in the way they defended those crosses, goalkeeper Keylor Navas made a terrible mistake for the third, and at the end of the day, Real were bailed out by Medhi Benatia’s challenge in the box during stoppage time. Lucas Vázquez, for whatever reason, looked to be taking Cristiano Ronaldo’s knockdown on his chest instead of just trying to header in from the edge of the six yard box, but he won the penalty. Ronaldo then fired into the top corner to seal Real’s passage and score in not only his 11th straight Champions League game, but every match this season.
Juventus: They nearly did it, but in the end, were undone by their own mistake. Benatia’s challenge was desperate and poorly timed, and despite all their fightback, Juventus’ dreams were crushed as soon as Vázquez crumpled to the floor. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, while understandably incensed at the soft, albeit correct, call, got himself stupidly sent off for dissent when his team needed him most, as if the prospect of a Ronaldo penalty wasn’t dire enough. Juve needed all the help they could get, and the prospect of facing the legendary Buffon in goal could have given Ronaldo pause. He’s lucky Juve hadn’t used many subs, because Wojciech Szczęsny was able to come off the bench, but the Polish goalkeeper doesn’t scare anyone like Buffon does, and Ronaldo calmly fired into the top corner. Still, looking over the past four years in the competition, Juventus has reached two finals and has only been eliminated by three teams: Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid. Not a bad record.
Liverpool v. Roma
After Liverpool dispatched City, they’ll be flying high, but Roma proved they belong with their trouncing of Barcelona. Liverpool’s defensive frailties may be exposed if Roma can execute long balls over the top to Džeko as well as they did against Barcelona, but Liverpool will enter this tie as favorites to advance to the final behind the front three of Mané, Firmino, and Salah. The second leg being at the Stadio Olimpico does complicate matters a bit for Liverpool though.
Bayern Munich v. Real Madrid
Here’s the tie of the round. Two teams with Champions League pedigree get to battle it out to see who makes it to Kiev, and as usual, they’re evenly matched. Bayern may still have some bad blood from refereeing decisions made in the quarterfinal between these two teams last year, and James Rodríguez facing his old club is a fantastic side note, but as far as the road through the competition, Bayern has seen off Beşiktaş and Sevilla, while Real went through PSG and Juventus. Ronaldo has still scored in every Champions League match this season, and with question marks still looming over goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s fitness, the champions looked primed for a third successive final.