All to play for in return leg of Champions League quarters
With no team winning by more than two goals, all Champions League quarter-finalists will fancy their chances going into next week’s return-legs. “The good news is there’s another game. I don’t know if we can do it but I can promise you we will give it a proper try,” said Liverpool coach Juergen Klopp after the 1-3 loss to Real Madrid. First-leg losers Bayern Munich, Porto and Borussia Dortmund will agree.
Defending champions Bayern need to be sharper in front if they are to overcome Paris St Germain after the 2-3 loss at home. Bayern had 31 shots to PSG’s six and Thomas Mueller summed up the night when he said: “If we had shown our usual killer instinct, we’d seen a completely different game.”
Even with Leon Goretzka and Niklas Sule, both injured against PSG, unlikely along with Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry, Mueller said there is hope. “If we play this well in Paris, chances will come. We need to be there and take them,” he said. Equally worrying for Bayern was their high line defence not being at its most compact and there were gaps in midfield that allowed PSG to play between the lines.
PSG can’t afford to misjudge as many high balls as they did in Munich. And they certainly can’t have Bayern take that many shots. Neymar not tracking back enough after half-time also left a yawning gap between the midfield, which had dropped deep, and the frontline where Kylian Mbappe shone in the snow.
Also needing to take their chances would be Man City, who beat Dortmund 2-1. Phil Foden outshone Erling Braut Haaland in the battle of 20-year-olds but Foden alone could have put the tie to bed. Ruben Dias kept Haaland quiet but along with Rodri and Joao Cancelo, the centre-back too needs to be sharper as a 1-0 win for Dortmund will mean another early exit for Pep Guardiola’s team.
Dortmund are having a terrible domestic season --- they are fifth, 21 points behind leaders Bayern --- but so were Lyon last term when they met City. Marco Reus got an important but they will need to avoid the kind of sloppiness from Emre Can that led to City’s first. And the slip in concentration that allowed Foden a late winner. “We weren’t concentrating for two seconds and they scored,” Reus told broadcaster DAZN.
Like Dortmund, Liverpool’s league campaign is in disarray. Sadio Mane’s goals have dried up. Mane has 12 goals in 2020-21 after toting up 20, 26 and 22 in all competitions for the past three seasons. From scoring every 140 minutes in the Premier League in 2018-19 and every 153 minutes in 2019-20, Mane has struck every 323 minutes this term. Like with so many of Liverpool’s problems, this has to do with what is happening at the back. There is no Virgil van Dyke or Jordan Henderson to play those long balls and possibly because the central defensive pair of Nathaniel Phillips and Ozan Kabak is new, full backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson don’t venture up much. Starting Naby Keita backfired and the midfielder had to be replaced before half-time. By then, Real were 2-0 up.
Liverpool overturned a 0-3 deficit against Barcelona in 2018-19 but not being able to trouble a makeshift central defensive pair of Nacho Fernandez and Eder Militao in the first half doesn’t bode well going to an empty Anfield. Real will need to improve their possession stats (45%to 55%) and keep trying to beat Liverpool’s press by using the width of the park. Casemiro moving up and allowing Luka Modric and Toni Kroos to play Andrea Pirlo-like midfielders is helping Real create from deep and that’s just another proof of Zinedine Zidane knowing his chops.
Beating Porto 2-0 away after losing 2-5 to West Brom was the kind of statement new Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel would expect. They were solid at the back, blocking four of Porto’s 12 shots but the defence’s passing needs to be better than 15 of the 34 balls going to the frontline. Chelsea will hope Timo Werner’s more involved (15 touches in 65 minutes V Porto) but Porto know that barring the final 30 minutes, they were in the game. The clean sheet, Tuchel said, needed a bit of luck.