On Friday night, the continent’s most prestigious club competition, the UEFA Champions League, returned with all its enthralling twists and turns.
Fans, who were counting down from the 11th of March, finally got to see their favourite teams and stars in action, saw them celebrating and breaking down, under the beaming floodlights in Manchester and Turin.
Real Madrid’s game of blunders
Manchester City 2-1 Real Madrid (4-2 aggregate)
European royalty, Real Madrid, have won the Champions League a record 13 times — thrice under Zinedine Zidane himself. So, every time they walk out to the pitch on a tense Champions League night, expectations, quite naturally, start to soar.
Last night — despite carrying a 1-2 deficit from the first leg — was no exception. Yet, despite their best attempts, they came out second-best, got thoroughly outplayed by Pep Guardiola’s Sky Blues.
Sergio Ramos’ absence was always going to be a decisive factor. Eder Militao’s lack of experience made him an “obvious” weak link. However, it was his experienced, World Cup-winning partner, Raphael Varane, who gifted the two goals to Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus.
Make no mistake, Real Madrid were the second-best team on the pitch, by a noticeable margin, but Varane’s errors are hardly excusable.
Manchester City, literally and figuratively, pressed Real Madrid out of play. They didn’t let the visitors settle on the ball, which eventually led to Varane’s horrendous mistakes.
The three-peat winning midfield of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Casemiro was exposed by Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, and Rodri, with the latter trio never looking like letting the match slip away.
After serving months on the touchline, Eden Hazard got the nod to start on the left flank. Now, looking at the way played out, we have to say that the Real Madrid coach made a grave judgement call there — a call that contributed heavily in his first-ever Champions League elimination as Los Blancos coach.
Hazard’s link-up play with Karim Benzema is usually a key element of Real Madrid’s build-up. However, thanks to Manchester City’s extraordinary midfield, the two got, and remained, isolated for the entirety of the match.
It was the teen right-winger, Rodrygo, who made that goal for Real Madrid and Benzema, not the Premier League-winning Chelsea sensation.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s fight goes in vain
Juventus 2-1 Lyon (2-2 aggregate) | Lyon progress on away goals rule
Serie A winners, Juventus, came into their match with a simple objective — score a couple of goals, keep a clean sheet, and march on to the next round.
Like Real Madrid, Juventus, too, came into the second leg with a one-goal deficit, but, at home, they were always the favourites to progress.
After the suspension of Ligue 1, Lyon didn’t get the chance to take part in a competitive fixture. They trained indoors and trained hard, preparing to go deep into the competition for the first time since 2009-10, which marked their only Champions League semi-final appearance.
Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur gave away a controversial penalty to the visitors in the 11th minute. Lyon, who got the opportunity to get the all-important away goal, sent Memphis Depay to slot it home, and the former Manchester United man never looked like missing it.
After Depay’s spot-kick, Juventus needed to score three to have a shot at heading into the quarters. Unfortunately, barring their talisman, the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo, no one looked like taking the game to the visitors.
The Bianconeri, despite enjoying over 60% of the ball, lacked the zipping passes that split defences open. They still looked the same clueless side that got bested by Udinese, Cagliari, and Roma in three of their last four Serie A matches.
Maurizio Sarri is yet to find a system that works for him, and we’re afraid he might not even get the opportunity next season.
Cristiano Ronaldo, the record goalscorer of the competition, was the only beacon of positivity for Juventus. He restored parity from the spot in the dying minutes of the first half, giving Juve a fighting chance.
He got on the scoresheet once again on the 60th minute to propel Juventus ahead, but couldn’t find it in himself to find the third.
With his second goal, he became the club’s highest all-time scorer over a campaign, surpassing Felice Borel’s tally of 36. Ronaldo’s brace won the Old Lady the match, but the aggregate 2-2 scoreline went in favour of the visitors, thanks to Depay’s invaluable away goal.
Quarter-finalists, Manchester City and Olympique Lyonnaise will fight for a spot in the semi-finals on the 15th of August in Lisbon.