The Champions League Round of 16 threw up many surprises. THE TEENAGER TODAY relives the action…Dead, revived, dead, revived. Can you find a better phrase to sum up Barcelona’s stunning comeback against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in the second leg, Round of 16 Champions League clash? Probably not.
The decimal levels at Camp Nou reached new heights. Players were running all over the pitch, fans were screaming the lungs out. Nobody could believe what they just witnessed. It was all too surreal.
Barcelona did what they had been doing for the past ten years — make it to the quarterfinal of the Champions League. No biggie, right?
When the Barcelona coach said before the match, “If they can score four, we can score six,” no one really believed him. Well, he probably didn’t believe himself, but then football happened. Barcelona scored three goals in an hour to give them the hope that they could just overturn the embarrassing defeat they suffered in Paris.
But then Edison Cavani’s blinder of a shot simmered those hopes. Surely an away goal was enough for the Paris giants to go through.
But Barcelona being Barcelona weren’t ready to give up, or even think of giving up. What did they do? They scored three more in seven minutes and 17 seconds – 88 said the clock, then 91, then 94.39. In simple terms, what they did for those 90-odd minutes will be relived for years.
Leicester fairytale run continues
Fortune so often favours the brave, and certainly, Leicester City are a brave team. The English champions overcame a 2-1 deficit from the opening leg, outplaying Sevilla to earn a convincing victory and advance to the quarterfinals.
They didn’t seem to be impressed by Sevilla’s reputation, its three consecutive Europa League titles and its stingy defensive record (five clean sheets in this year’s Champions League), the English outfit were full of purpose and set the pace right from the opening kickoff. The trio of Shinji Okazaki, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez led the Foxes’ systematic high press. Sevilla’s defenders were looking to play out of the back and through the defensive pressure down the middle, but were routinely funnelled to the flanks and out of danger.
Leicester swarmed Sevilla and was rewarded for its positive play when Wes Morgan bundled home Mahrez’s magnificent free kick played deep into the box. Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli made two notable changes at halftime, swapping out Pablo Sarabia and Gabriel Mercado for Stevan Jovetic and Mariano Ferreira. The Spanish outfit looked far more dangerous going forward as Leicester sat back deeper and absorbed the pressure. But the double switch also left Sevilla exposed at the back, which the home side duly took advantage of when Marc Albrighton scored somewhat against the run of play after Sevilla couldn’t clear its lines.
Samir Nasri’s red card for headbutting Vardy in the 74th minute seemed to seal the result. But there was still another twist when Sevilla earned a penalty six minutes later, only for Kasper Schmeichel to come up big and deny Steven N’Zonzi. Leicester was full value for the win, having unsettled Sevilla early on with their high press, and then putting on a masterclass in game management after Morgan gave them the lead.
Bayern Munich rout Arsenal, again
It was a case of déjà vu for the hapless Arsenal outfit, who endured another wretched night against a marauding Bayern Munich, capitulating to a 1-5 humiliation at the Emirates on Tuesday.
The Bavarian giants stormed into the quarter-finals with a 10-2 aggregate in the tie. The Gunners were marginally the better side in the first half and led through Theo Walcott’s strike.
It was an evening of abject misery for Wenger, who was subjected to calls for his resignation from Arsenal fans before and after one of the most chastening losses of his 21-year reign.
Wenger angrily complained that refereeing decisions had denied his team the chance of an epic fightback after Theo Walcott’s opener was cancelled out by a Robert Lewandowski penalty that led to the dismissal of Gunners defender Laurent Koscielny.
But the way his team surrendered so limply in the closing stages, conceding four more goals while fans rained boos and abuse down on Wenger, was a sign of the turmoil gripping the Emirates Stadium.
With Arsenal’s Premier League title hopes in tatters and even a top four finish far from certain, Wenger had already faced stinging criticism following his decision to drop Alexis Sanchez for Saturday’s loss at Liverpool — a move that reportedly led to a blazing row between the striker, his manager and several team-mates.
And, while the final score against Bayern may have been harsh on Arsenal, it was a defeat that did little to stem the feeling Wenger is destined for an acrimonious exit.
Asked if he would be managing Arsenal in Europe next season, Wenger, who has yet to reveal if he will extend his contract when it expires at the end of the campaign, gave a response that invited renewed speculation about his future.
“I don’t know, you always want headlines. I’m here to speak about football not my future,” he said.
“I’m don’t feel there was any uncertainty from the players. We played very well.
“At the moment we are going through a very difficult situation, but I think this club is in great shape.
“What needs to change is a good result at the weekend. We play the quarter-final of the FA Cup against Lincoln and we want to focus on that and do our job properly.”
Monaco stun Man City
Tiemoue Bakayoko’s superb header fired Monaco into the Champions League quarterfinals as a 3-1 victory condemned Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to a painful exit on away goals.
Trailing 5-3 from the first leg in England, teenage starlet Kylian Mbappe put Monaco ahead on the night after just eight minutes at the Stade Louis II and Brazilian midfielder Fabinho converted the home side’s second just before the half hour.
Leroy Sane’s 71st-minute goal handed City a 6-5 advantage on aggregate, but Bakayoko turned home Thomas Lemar’s free-kick 13 minutes from time as Monaco claimed a famous win.
Monaco go through to Friday’s draw for the last eight in Nyon carrying French hopes following Paris Saint-Germain’s shock elimination, while Guardiola suffered his earliest Champions League exit as a manager.
“We played an exceptional second half, but the first one we forgot to be there,” Guardiola said.
“In the second half we were much, much better but it was not enough. It happens and we’ll learn, we have a team with not a lot of experience in this competition.”
(With agency inputs)