Pochettino outclasses Pep despite the odds
Manchester City were narrowly defeated against a defiant Tottenham side in an enthralling Champions League quarter-final match that will live long in the memory of the competition’s illustrious history.
The first leg finished 1-0 to Spurs after Heung-Min Son’s late strike gave the home side the advantage heading into the second leg at the Etihad stadium; some will argue that the South Korean’s sole goal should have been saved by Ederson as it was close to his body but the sheer power off Son’s left boot managed to dumbfound the Brazilian goalkeeper. Perhaps the biggest turning point of the tie was Lloris’ early penalty save from Aguero, as from then on City’s opportunities were limited by a formidable Spurs defence who were successfully able to deny the Citizens from scoring a vital away goal. The first leg of the tie was a highly entertaining clash between two sides at the peak of their powers, but nobody expected the second leg to be as engrossing as it was.
The Citizens needed to win by more than one goal at their home stadium to ensure going through to the semi-finals and despite the first leg defeat, City were still favourites to proceed to the next round, largely based on their impressive domestic successes and superior squad. Therefore, when Raheem Sterling scored in the 4th minute of the second leg to equal the aggregate score, many thought it would be a routine win for City, but these postulations were withdrawn after Heung-Min Son scored twice in quick succession to give Spurs the advantage. Astonishingly, Bernardo Silva’s deflected shot made it 2-2 within 11 minutes, and City, via Raheem Sterling again, added another before the interval to make it 3-2 on the night.
Expectedly, City began the second half putting immense pressure on the away side and their efforts eventually came to fruition after Sergio Aguero’s powerful near-post finish put City 4-2 up on 59 minutes. Spurs replied through Fernando Llorente, who became the unexpected hero after the ball bounced off his body into the net from a corner kick. In the end, the mesmerising game finished 4-3 to the Premier League champions, but it wasn’t enough as Spurs went through on away goals. The final few minutes of the tie saw Raheem Sterling score only for it to be ruled out for offside after VAR was consulted and City celebrations had already taken place in vain.
After losing their talisman, Harry Kane, through a recurrent ankle injury in the first leg, few people expected Tottenham to beat Pep Guardiola’s prestigious team but Heung-Min Son stepped up to the plate in Kane’s absence, as he has numerous times this season.
The result brings into question whether Pochettino is the better overall manager than Pep. Their rivalry stems from their time in Spain, as Espanyol and Barcelona managers respectively. Although Pep’s achievements in the game are unrivalled and has the superior record over the Argentine, Pochettino has had the lesser squad and defeated Pep in a quarter final despite not having made a signing since January 2018 and missing key players such as Harry Kane and Harry Winks.
Messi shines again as Barcelona are into the semi-finals
Barcelona were 4-0 aggregate winners against a hopeless Manchester United side as the Catalan giants made light work of the Red Devils. After a 1-0 first leg defeat in which the Mancunians failed to provide any serious threat, United were made to pay for costly mistakes in the second leg as Leo Messi capitalised twice to give Barcelona a 3-0 aggregate advantage within 20 minutes of the second leg, all but ending the tie and sending Barcelona through.
The result marks Manchester United’s largest ever aggregate defeat in a two-legged European tie, while Barcelona will go on to face Liverpool in the last four of the competition, who will surely provide a sterner test than their English counterparts.
In recent weeks, it has become clear that Manchester United’s initial upsurge in form after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment in December was only a short term reaction to the mood being lifted around the club. Since the unlikely comeback at the Parc des Princes in the competition’s round of sixteen stage, United have lost 6 of their last 8 matches in all competitions. The two games they did win (2-1 victories vs Watford and West Ham respectively) were unmerited by way of being the lesser side on both occasions. It still remains to be seen whether Solskjaer has the tactical know-how to match the enormity of the task being asked of him, which begs the question: why were United so hasty to appoint him as permanent manager, and why did they offer a three year contract, rather than a one-year rolling contract?
Meanwhile in Turin, Juventus were humbled by defeat against Dutch champions Ajax in a game in which the Italian heavyweights were strong favourites. Ajax stunned football fans with their accomplished displays against Real Madrid in the last round, and they continued to silence doubters by producing another set of proficient performances against Juventus. Ajax played Juventus off the park in both legs of the tie and if there is a stat that exemplifies the Dutch team’s dominance it is that Ajax scored three goals over the two legs, while Juventus only managed a measly three shots on target.
Ajax’s 3-2 aggregate win does not begin to tell the story of just how commanding they were over the Italian champions. However, if there can be any criticism pointed towards Ajax, it is that they are often wasteful in front of goal despite creating numerous chances. This may be partly due to not playing a recognised striker, as their front three is a combination of attacking midfielders and wingers, who are typically more involved in the build-up of goals rather than the finishing of them.
Juventus were wholly uninspiring and lacklustre for a team that was tipped as a potential winner of the competition and Max Allegri’s job has now been called into question as reputable Italian newspapers report that his time at the club could be up.
Liverpool ease past Porto
Porto were thumped 6-1 on aggregate by Liverpool as the Scousers comfortably swept aside the Portuguese champions to go on to the semi-finals. In truth, the scoreline does not truly reflect the nature of the game, in which Liverpool were made to defend for large parts to hang onto their lead. However, the result does reassert Liverpool’s defensive solidity and attacking prowess; the team is exceptional at both ends of the pitch. Liverpool defeated Porto by the same margin last season in the 16 round of the competition on their way to reaching the final and they will hope to do the same this year, although their next opponents will be Barcelona in a mouth-watering tie that promises to captivate audiences across the world as two European heavyweights go head-to-head for a place in this year’s final in Madrid.
Jurgen Klopp has not yet lost a two-legged European tie during his stint at Liverpool and his side are now faced with a tough task of keeping this record intact against a Barcelona side who have only lost three games in all competitions this season. Luis Suarez and Philippé Coutinho will return to meet their former employers for the first time since leaving Anfield, which will host the second leg of the tie on 7th May at 20:00 BST.
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