The Champions League never fails to disappoint. We are halfway through the round of 16 and we’ve been treated to some pretty fantastic games. Here’s a quick recap of the major events.
Games of the Round
Real Mardid 1, Manchester United 1
The Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid played host to one of the most anticipated matches in Champions League history. Real Madrid playing Manchester United has always been seen as a big match up. This was no different. It, however, had the added allure of pitting Sir Alex Ferguson against Jose Mourinho, as well as being the first time Cristiano Ronaldo has faced off against his old club. This game did not disappoint. The game was even from the opening, with chances at both ends, before Danny Welbeck broke the deadlock. Welbeck’s 20th minute strike gave hope to Manchester United that they might could win this game. However, the defense never quite settled, and there was a feeling that an equalizer was inevitable. Cue Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese man leaped well above the United defense to head a perfectly placed cross home. Both sides had chances to win it, Madrid being spectacularly denied multiple times by David De Gea, and Robin van Persie getting so close with the last kick of the game.
AC Milan 2, Barcelona 0
Few people saw Milan being able to win this game, even with it being played at the San Siro in Italy. Currently sitting 3rd in Serie A, they were huge underdogs to Barcelona, who are 12 points clear of second place in La Liga. Milan were expected to park the bus and play very defensively, but they did anything but that. A tenacious midfield helped keep Barcelona away from their goal. In fact, Barcelona only had one shot on target. There was controversy in Milan’s opening goal, as a free kick coming in took two deflections, the second off of a Milan player’s arm, before falling to Kevin-Prince Boateng who lashed home. A number of Barcelona players began to protest to referee Craig Thomson, and Gerard Pique was shown a yellow card for his troubles. The second was pure class, with M’Baye Niang sending the ball to Stephan El Shaarawy, who found the onrushing Sulley Muntari. Muntari volleyed it past Victor Valdes, giving Milan a 2-0 lead that they never looked back from. They played patient, disciplined, and positive soccer, and were rewarded with a major upset victory.
Players of the Round
- David De Gea deserves special mention for his heroics against Madrid. The Manchester United goalkeeper had 7 saves. If it weren’t for his spectacular efforts Madrid could have easily run out 3-1 winners. The Spaniard has been given grief for his play in the past, but he showed his worth to everyone who tuned into this game.
- Thomas Müller was a key part of Bayern Munich’s 3-1 thrashing of Arsenal. The attacking midfielder provided the assist for Toni Kroos’s opener before scoring himself in the 21st minute. He put in a shift defensively, too, earning himself a yellow card for a challenge on Thomas Vermaelen.
- Claudio Marchisio was solid for Juventus in the midfield. He took three shots, scoring one goal, and provided an assist in their 3-0 win over Celtic in Scotland. That strong showing will be enough to see Juventus through to the quarterfinals, barring an amazing comeback.
News from the first legs
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paris Saint-Germain’s world class striker, was controversially sent off in the last few minutes of PSG’s 2-1 win over Valencia. UEFA’s disciplinary panel will be meeting on February 27th to determine if he should serve a longer suspension than the mandatory one game. “Ibrahimovic’s red card was not deserved. I don’t understand it. It’s unfair,” PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti said immediately after the game. “I think it was a normal tackle, nothing special, I was surprised to see a red card.”
- Tensions continue to run high at Real Madrid, with Jose Mourinho singling out Sergio Ramos for being at fault for Danny Welbeck’s goal. Mourinho has been at odds with Ramos, Iker Casillas, and others in the dressing room in recent months. Mourinho will reportedly be leaving Real Madrid in the summer, with a return to Chelsea or a move to PSG in France the two most likely options for the widely respected Portuguese manager.
- Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger took the 3-1 loss to Bayern Munich particularly hard, going and sitting alone in the locker room for 25 minutes after the game. He has admitted that reversing the 3-1 deficit, especially given that Bayern Munich’s goals are away goals, might be impossible. He’s set his sights on a top four finish in the Premier League this season. Qualifying for the Champions League again next year will be their priority.
The schedule for the return legs is as follows (home team listed first)
March 5th: Manchester United x Real Madrid; Borussia Dortmund x Shakhtar Donetsk
March 6th: Paris Saint-Germain x Valencia; Juventus x Celtic
March 12th: Schalke 04 x Galatasaray; Barcelona x AC Milan
March 13th: Malaga x Porto; Bayern Munich x Arsenal