We’ve lost four teams and will lose another four in a week’s time, so now I get to tell you where managers went wrong and who made mistakes. And yes, my intros are getting lazier as I get closer to graduating. So what? Also, disregard any score predictions I make. It’s more to give a characteristic of the match than anything else, but we are going to see if I was right.
Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur FC (0-4 agg.)
In the first half, Dortmund huffed and puffed but couldn’t find a way past Hugo Lloris. Some of it was poor finishing—Paco Alcácer’s early chance comes to mind—while some of it was heroic goalkeeping, like on Mario Götze’s curling effort. Still, other times it was defenders throwing their bodies on the line, like Davinson Sánchez did when Dortmund almost pulled off the Paul Scholes corner volley play, seeing Marco Reus’ strike glance off his back over the bar. They went into the break scoreless and needed to throw more bodies forward. They made one mistake in the back, and Harry Kane scored with Spurs’ only shot on target. For all the talk of him breaking Tottenham’s rhythm, since he’s returned from injury, he’s scored three goals in three matches, and Spurs are in their first Champions League quarterfinal since Gareth Bale still wore the number 3. However, given Tottenham’s form and how this match actually went, Dortmund would have gone through if they didn’t need to chase three goals, and pulling off Reus in the 74th minute feels like a concession from Lucien Favre that this tie was over and he needs a healthy Reus to hold off Bayern Munich in the league.
Prediction: Tottenham to advance. Correct.
Real Madrid CF 1-4 AFC Ajax (3-5 agg.)
Yes, this is a different match if Raphaël Varane scores in the fourth minute instead of hitting the bar. It’s a different match if Gareth Bale’s chip goes in instead of hitting the post. It’s probably a different match if Vinícius Júnior doesn’t get hurt. But it’s most certainly a different match if club captain Sergio Ramos doesn’t get an intentional yellow card in the first leg and can actually play this match, and it’s a different match if Real Madrid’s stars actually showed a little desire in their play. The first goal came from a counter attack. It happens. But look at Ajax’s response as soon as Hakim Ziyech puts the ball away, and I’d argue that the game was probably over right there. Ajax didn’t panic and immediately took the ball to the center spot, but they celebrated. In the seventh minute of the biggest game of their lives, needing one more goal still, they celebrated. Then for David Neres’ goal, Casemiro let Dušan Tadić waltz right by him without thinking of fouling. There’s the VAR controversy for Tadić’s goal that made it 3-0, but personally I think Ajax deserved a VAR break. Marco Asensio pulled a goal back with a great finish, but Thibaut Courtois, at 6-foot-6, should not get beat from the spot where Lasse Schöne took his free kick. You probably don’t believe me, but this was the tie I was least sure about in my predictions form a couple weeks ago. This was why. Ajax are back, and although the team has drastically changed since then, I wrote about this happening two years ago after they thrashed Schalke in the Europa League.
Prediction: Real to advance. Incorrect.
Paris Saint-Germain 1-3 Manchester United FC (3-3 agg. United through on away goals)
I was initially impressed with PSG’s response to Romelu Lukaku’s opener. Thilo Kehrer made a horrible mistake with a back pass, and immediately I thought back to two years ago when PSG blew a 4-0 first leg lead to Barcelona, but then Juan Bernat tapped in Kylian Mbappé’s cross in the 12th minute. Manchester United’s three central midfielders, Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira, and Fred, were defending incredibly deep and looked scared to carry the ball out of defense, most notably with McTominay having at least 15 yards of grass ahead of him and instead playing the ball to Marcus Rashford with a defender on his back. De Gea had to save from Bernat again, and Ángel Di María, the star of the first leg, whistled a shot just wide of the post. But then, after a mistake from Gianluigi Buffon, maybe the most reliable goalkeeper of the past 20 years, Lukaku scored again. But then things went from bad to worse for United, as Eric Bailly limped off in the 36th minute, and a team that already had 10 forced absences had another injury to contend with. And PSG rolled over them, or at least should have. But Di María’s goal was waved away for offside, and when Mbappé looked certain to score from a one-on-one with De Gea, he slipped on the wet grass. And the whole time, Edinson Cavani was left on the bench, and not to toot my own horn but I did say something about it:
Mbappe's been most dangerous out in the right channel. Maybe Tuchel could've put Cavani on during that double sub and let Mbappe play where he's best? #PSGMU
— Jorge DeNeve (@Jorge_DeNeve) March 6, 2019
Then United gets a VAR penalty and goes ahead on away goals, and finally Cavani comes off the bench, and despite a couple of nervy moments, United saw this game through, even with teenagers making stupid young mistakes in managing the final minutes. To end this, I would like to take a moment to list United’s shots:
- Lukaku’s opener
- Rashford’s shot from distance that Buffon spilled
- Lukaku scoring from Rashford’s rebound
- Diogo Dalot’s long distance effort that resulted in a penalty
- Rashford smashing the penalty home
United won with every shot leading to one of their goals, all of which were easily preventable. PSG didn’t deserve the result.
Prediction: PSG to advance. Incorrect.
FC Porto 3-1 AS Roma aet (4-3 agg.)
I’m really eating my words this week. I compared this tie to Group D, in which I meant it would be boring, and therefore I have to apologize. This was every bit as dramatic in its own right. And who would’ve thought that of the four ties in the first week, Dortmund-Tottenham would be the most boring. Anyway, Moussa Marega made his presence felt after missing the first leg, crossing for Francisco Soares to tap in. Daniele De Rossi calmly stuck home, but then the Roma captain had to come off at halftime for an injury. A second player that didn’t play in the first leg, Jesús Corona, set up Marega for the second goal, which eventually sent the tie into extra time, and from there, the drama really started. Edin Džeko had two golden opportunities to win it, one of which he blazed over and the other of which was cleared off the line. Then VAR struck again when Alessandro Florenzi held onto a jersey in the 116th minute for Alex Telles to calmly put the penalty away. Iker Casillas had a nervy moment, flapping at a late cross, but Porto got the danger clear to advance to the quarterfinals.
Prediction: Roma to advance. Incorrect.
After this week, there’s a distinct possibility that the quarterfinals have four English teams, two Spanish teams, one Portuguese team, and one Dutch team. For the other Big Five leagues–France, Italy, and Germany–this would be a massive failure. But for now, what a week. And for those keeping track, yes I went 1 for 4.