“Football Bloody Hell!” — Sir Alex Ferguson’s aphorism may have eluded his own side in the UEFA Champions League (UCL), but the tournament, with its jaw-dropping upsets and golden goals, has justified the old man’s words.
The quarterfinal played in two legs on April 6, 7 and on April 13, 14, saw the exit of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 champions – Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
Karim Benzema was the outstanding player of the round, scoring four goals, which played a significant role in Real’s success. His hat-trick in consecutive matches put him on an elite list that has three other members in Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo (2016/17) and Luiz Adriano (2014/15). Benzema had scored three in the 3-1 win over PSG in the second leg of the Round of 16.
Real avenges loss to Chelsea
Thomas Tuchel had taken charge of the London side when Los Blancos visited Stamford Bridge last year. Chelsea beat the 13-time UCL Champion 2-0 at home and went on to win the title.
This year, when Real returned to the “scene of the crime” as written by AS, it left no survivors. Captain Karim Benzema scored three goals in 46 minutes in the first leg, becoming the first player to score a European hat-trick against the Blues.
In the second leg, Chelsea returned for vengeance and almost got it. Mason Mount led the scoring chart with an early goal in the 18th minute and Antonio Rudiger doubled it in the first minute of the second half.
Timo Werner silenced a packed Santiago Bernabeu until the old warhorses made a comeback. Luka Modric delivered a sublime assist for Rodrygo in the 80th minute and Karim Benzema scored a golden goal to put the game to bed.
‘Yellow Submarine’ sinks Bayern
Villarreal caused a major upset when it beat Bundesliga giant and current league leader Bayern Munich over two legs to enter the second semifinal in the club’s history.
Bayern had entered the quarterfinals unbeaten in 22 matches (17 wins, five draws) — a Champions League record. Its last away loss in the competition came against Paris Saint-Germain in September 2017.
The PSG manager then was Unai Emery. This time Emery returned against the old opponent and was its nemesis again.
In the first leg, Villarreal drew first blood, scoring within nine minutes as Arnaut Danjuma nicked in Dani Parejo’s effort past Bayern’s goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
In the second leg, though the Bavarians made it level on aggregate with a Robert Lewandowski goal, ‘super-sub’ Samuel Chukwueze scored an 88-minute stunner to make history, eliminating the 2019-20 Champions League winner out of the tournament.
Manchester City pips out Atletico
Manchester City, the runner-up last season, entered its third Champions League semifinal and the second under manager Pep Guardiola with a 1-0 aggregate win over Atletico Madrid. Man City hosted Atletico in the first leg. Despite creating several chances, it struggled to get past the Spanish side’s defence with goalkeeper Jan Oblak guarding the goal. Guardiola subbed on Phil Foden for Riyad Mahrez in the 68th minute and that made the difference.
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The 21-year-old dribbled the ball along the right flank, serving it to Kevin De Bruyne on a plate, who scored to give the decisive goal to the Cityzens in Manchester.
In the second leg, despite Atletico’s attempts to make a comeback with Joao Felix initially and then Luis Suarez in attack, the match ended deadlocked at 0-0, giving City the passage to the next stage.
Too little too late for Benfica
Liverpool beat Benfica 6-4 on aggregate as Bela Guttman’s curse continued to haunt the Eagles, eliminating them from the tournament. The 2018-19 UCL champion had an easy trip on the road against Benfica, where Luis Diaz was the star of the show against its former side FC Porto’s city rival. Notching up an assist and a goal in the first leg, Diaz extended his unbeaten run against Benfica to eight games.
READ: Champions League: Firmino fires Liverpool into semis despite Benfica rally
In the second leg, the Portuguese side made a valiant attempt to make a comeback, with goals from Goncalo Ramos, Roman Yaremchuk and Darwin Nunez. However, a brace by Roberto Firmino was enough to steer the Reds clear of Benfica for their 12th semifinal appearance in the tournament.
What to expect in the semifinals?
Pep Guardiola became the manager with the highest number of Champions League semifinal appearances (9), surpassing Jose Mourinho (8) and Carlo Ancelotti (8) and will aim for a successive final when his side takes on Real Madrid in the semifinal.
Real has beaten Lionel Messi’s PSG and defending champion Chelsea with phenomenal turnarounds.
Man City, on the other hand, has won each of its last five encounters (on aggregate) against Spanish sides in the knockout stages of the Champions League. It will, however, have to be cautious of Real’s big match temperament, and its clinical attack headed by Benzema.
Liverpool and Villarreal will play a replay of the Europa League 2015-16 semifinal and Jurgen Klopp’s side will hope to get a familiar result this time too. It had won that contest 3-1 on aggregate.
With two sides each from England and Spain in the semis, it will be interesting to see whether the final will be an all-English one (same as last year), all-Spanish one (last happened in the 2015-16 season), or one from each country (one that last happened in the 2017-18 season).