In the past two weeks, the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal matches took place as eight of Europe’s best teams slugged it out for a spot in the semifinals. We were thrilled with some end-to-end, attacking and entertaining matches. Also, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) made sure it was not left out of the action as it got involved in some crucial moments and played its part in deciding some encounters.
So, with the quarterfinals done and dusted and as we await the semifinals, let’s take a look at what we learnt from these matches.
MANCHESTER UNITED ARE A LONG WAY BEHIND: When United were drawn against Barcelona, many gave them little hope of progression as they were immediately tagged as the underdogs in the tie, but they were expected to put up a fight and not just lie down and get run over by the Catalans. But that was exactly what they did, United offered little in the attacking sense as an unimpressive Barcelona defeated them on their turf thanks to an own goal by Luke Shaw.
Solksjaer’s men fared worse in the return leg as Barcelona ran them ragged with Messi at the forefront of the onslaught putting to bed any hopes of miraculous comeback.
AJAX ARE A FORCE TO RECKON WITH: Ajax Amsterdam have been exceptional in Europe this season. The Dutch side have exceeded expectations in their run to the semifinals. The exciting part of this fairy tale story is the fact that they defeated some of the continents elite along the way. They produced positive results against Bayern Munich in the group stage, displayed attacking zeal to outplay and outscore champions Madrid in a magnificent comeback in Bernabeu, and then in the quarterfinals they showed tenacity to fight off a Ronaldo-led Juventus in Turin.
Ajax are a hungry young side blessed with the talents of Frankie De Jong, David Neres, Hakim Ziyech and Matthijs De Ligt while the experience of Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind and Klaas Jan Huntelaar guides them through. Tottenham and indeed the rest of Europe should wary of this young side aiming to do great things.
CITY WAKES FROM QUADRUPLE DREAM: For a major part of this season, there have been talks of Manchester City clinching a historic quadruple of the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and the Champions League. While there is still a possibility of claiming the first two (they have already won the League Cup), the latter is certainly out of reach at this point.
The Cityzens defeated Tottenham at home this week but where knocked out on away goals rule as they became undone at the semifinal stage for a second consecutive season.
Pep Guardiola and his men can look at the bright side as they can still claim a treble by the end of the season then effectively use the summer to stake a claim on the quadruple next season.
JUVENTUS OVER RELIANT ON RONALDO: Last summer, Juventus purchased Cristiano Ronaldo from Champions League holders Real Madrid hoping that he will be the final piece needed to make them conquerors of Europe, but that move seems to have backfired.
In Serie A, the Italian Champions have failed to impress whenever the Portuguese is absent from the squad, this was evident again in both matches against Ajax. The Turin based side only scored twice over the two legs with their talisman the scorer of both goals as the likes of Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala failing to penetrate the Ajax defence.
SPURS FINALLY DELIVER IN EUROPE: We have waited endlessly for this and it has happened. After years of qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League and failing to progress farther than the quarterfinals, Tottenham Hotspur are finally in the semifinals following a pulsating quarterfinal tie against Manchester City.
Tottenham held City to a 1 – 0 victory in the first leg at their new stadium and fought relentlessly in the second leg for a chance of qualification. The whites were without Harry Kane for the greater part of the first leg and the entirety of the second but Son Heung Min came to their rescue with three goals in both matches to help them through to the semis.
They will come up against an exciting Ajax team who knocked out Madrid and Juventus, but Mauricio Pochettino’s men stand a chance to progress to the final if they maintain their current tempo.
…AND THEN THERE IS THE VAR: UEFA introduced the Video Assistant Referee to the competition to assist the match officials in making the right calls, but what about the drama that comes with it.
In the match in Turin, referee Clement Turpin consulted the VAR after each goal was scored to determine the authenticity of the goal before awarding it, notably pausing Ronaldo’s celebration in the process when deciding the Portuguese’ goal.
Then there was the match at Etihad, were the VAR controversially upheld Fernando Llorente’s goal following what seemed like a handball by the Spanish striker.
The most dramatic of them all was ruling out Raheem Sterling’s goal for an offside call on Aguero after Sterling, Pep Guardiola and the City bench had already gone into wild celebrations.
An advice to anyone who finds himself in Guardiola and Sterling’s shoes next time, wait for VAR confirmation before going on to celebrate. You are welcome!.