A UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals for the Ages

It was one of the most memorable UEFA Champions League quarterfinal rounds in recent memory. Get a rundown of all the action and biggest storylines in addition to a look ahead to the semis. 

The pinnacle of club football has forever been the UEFA Champions League, but for the past few years there has been a spark missing within the tournament. Some put it down to the abolishment of the away goal rule, while others say there’s been a decrease in quality among Europe’s elite.

This year’s quarterfinal draw felt like an old school flashback where the matchups were stacked, and boy did they live up to expectations. If this is what the Champions League has to offer again, then we could safely say it’s back to its best.

Real Madrid vs. Manchester City: Sweet Revenge

The most anticipated quarterfinal pairing was Real Madrid and Manchester City. The teams alone are compelling enough — one being the perennial kings of the tournament and the other the reigning treble winners — but these two giants have history.

Last year’s semifinal saw City make quick work of Madrid, winning by a 5-1 aggregate margin, but the year before is where the real fireworks went off. Rodrygo’s last-minute heroics at the Bernabeu won’t be forgotten anytime soon, and had it not been for City’s run to their first UCL title last season those wounds would be still weeping.

This time around, a thrilling six-goal first leg in Madrid set the tone. It was a scintillating game that had end-to-end action and superstar players making superstar plays.

Tied at 3-3 and with all to play for in the second leg at the Etihad, the question of revenge or history repeating became more relevant. Last year in the same situation — heading into Manchester all square — Madrid took a 4-0 beating in the Etihad.

Los Blancos would get their revenge however, winning in penalties after drawing 1-1 through 120 minutes. They showed a resilience to defend that was not there last year. No matter how relentless City’s attack was, a second goal couldn’t materialize. A huge credit to Andriy Lunin and the defense for their efforts.

What’s Next for Both Teams?

For Madrid, this result makes them the clear favorites to win the Champions League, and one player that stood out above the rest was Rodrygo. He scored two vital goals in the tie and was a problem for the City high line across the two legs. Vinicius and Jude Bellingham are the stars of the show, but it was Rodrygo who shone the brightest.

As for Manchester City, going back-to-back in the Champions League is a near impossible task. The three-peat Madrid side was more of an anomaly than the standard. City performed like champions but in the end their best was not good enough. That is the beauty of knockout football.

Their race for a back-to-back continental treble is over. A four peat in the Premier League is not out of the question for them, however. As for UCL, this loss showed that they may need a couple reinforcements this summer to strengthen. This will not be the last time we see these two meet in the UCL’s late stages.

Bayern vs. Arsenal: Football Heritage Prevails

Bayern Munich has hit their weakest point in over a decade after losing the Bundesliga to Bayer Leverkusen this past weekend. All they had left to fight for was the Champions League, but in their way was Arsenal.

The two have been familiar foes in the past, but both sides are in completely different places than when they squared off in the mid-2010s. The then-triumphant Bayern is in disarray, with manager Thomas Tuchel being informed that he’d be leaving at the end of the season just before the first leg. Arsenal, on the other hand, is on the up. The Gunners are a young, strong, and hungry team with something to prove. So the odds would be on the London side’s favor, right?

The first leg result was the ultimate blow for Arsenal, who deep down knew how important it was to get a win at the Emirates without needing to win in Munich away. And they started the first leg on fire with a Bukayo Saka opening goal. Minutes later the capitulation happened through Serge Gnabry and a familiar North London foe, Harry Kane. Trossard would equalize for Arsenal, but the winner never came.

For Bayern, that result played into their hands, and now it was time to handle business at home. And business was handled through a late Joshua Kimmich winning header. Kimmich, who has been moved to right back, has seen a revival in his game, and this tie was evidence of that. Tuchel was able to do what he does best and cook up a winning formula in a European tie, and this time the victim was Mikel Arteta and Arsenal.

What’s Next for Both Teams?

Bayern now have to exorcise their own demons and beat the team that has dealt them the most pain in the past decade, Real Madrid.

For Arsenal, this tie was a case of a team that isn’t quite there yet. On paper, their squad can be seen as better than Bayern’s, but the experience of the moment and the mental fortitude of Bayern was too strong. And one thing they severely lacked was game changers. Tournament football is meant for the stars to rise and take the game by the scruff of the neck. Bayern’s players did it more than Arsenal’s top guys.

To make matters worse, the side might’ve lost its chance at winning a Premier League title last weekend as well, and it sits two points behind City with six matches to go.

PSG vs. Barcelona: One Step Closer

Similar to the other two matchups mentioned so far, these two teams have a history. Who can forget La Remontada at the Nou Camp in 2017 with the 6-1 Barcelona victory?

Both matchups were electric and entertaining, with the first leg in Paris being a Barcelona 3-2 win. That match had everything you wanted with great goals, and a great story to tell. PSG forward Ousmane Dembele scored against his previous club and openly celebrated, which didn’t go down too well with the Catalonia faithful. A Raphinha brace upped the intensity of the match as well. The first leg only missed one thing, Kylian Mbappe.

The French superstar was held in check by Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde, and Pau Cubarsi at the Parc Des Princes, which led to questions of his abilities.

The second leg picked up from where the first leg ended, with Raphinha picking up his third goal of the tie for Barça. However, a foul by Araujo in the first half would change the complexion of the match as he was sent off on a straight red.

PSG used the man advantage to control the game and would score four unanswered goals, including two from Mbappe. But before we go to Mbappe, it was Dembele who stole the show again. His return to Barcelona was not well received, but he dipped into his villainous side and scored PSG’s opener before winning the penalty for the goal that won the tie.

As for Mbappe, the superstar scored the last two goals, and is heading towards a collision course for a final against his potential future employer Real Madrid. But first awaits Dortmund.

What’s Next for Both Teams?

PSG have a realistic shot at winning the trophy that has been eluding them since the Qatari takeover. They have the coach and players to win it, along with a superstar who has made it his life’s mission to bring the trophy to Paris.

Barcelona on the other hand suffer another heartbreaker in Europe, but the future is promising. Because even though Mbappe and Dembele have the headlines, 16-year-old Lamine Yamal has shown he is going to be one of the world’s best very soon. He is the future of the club, and displayed against the world’s best he belongs on the same pitch. La Masia saved Barcelona once, it might do it again.

Atletico Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund: The Underdog Story Continues

The afterthought matchup of the round turned out to be one of the best UCL ties in quite a while. While everyone’s eyes were on the superstar matchups, Dortmund and Atletico gave us two impressive football matches that had everything you need in a football thriller.

At the Metropolitano, Atletico jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but could never get the third to effectively seal the deal, which allowed Dortmund to hang on to the ledge and get one goal back which proved vital for the second leg.

Signal Iduna Park is where the magic happened. A 4-2 Dortmund win was a fantastic affair from start to finish — from the missed sitters early on with Marcel Sabitzer and Alvaro Morata to the great finishes from Julian Brandt and Ian Maatsen.

Just when Dortmund was running away, an own goal from the legend Mats Hummels stopped them in their tracks. Shortly after, Angel Correa appeared to deliver the final blow from Atletico.

A Diego Simeone-led Atletico clinging to a lead on a European night, this could end in only one way. Wrong!

Sabitzer would redeem himself with a perfect cross to Fullkrug, before delivering the knockout blow to Atletico with a well taken goal himself.

What’s Next for Both Teams?

For Atletico, this was the ultimate statement that the Atletico of old no longer exists. The defensive stability of the old guard is gone, and work needs to be done. This was the opposite of how a Simeone side should perform, especially when you factor specific circumstances.

For Dortmund, the underdog run continues and they have a realistic shot of making the final. This is a fun, young team to watch, but also has veterans such as Hummels and Emre Can to provide the experience the team needs. From a team projected to finish fourth in the group of death, to UCL semifinalists. It’s been a good run.

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