The Champions League returned in spectacular fashion this week, as the first legs of the four quarter-final ties produced 14 goals and some impressive individual performances.
Here we pick out our Champions League Team of the Week…
GK: Keylor Navas – Real Madrid
While Cristiano Ronaldo rightly grabbed all of the headlines in Turin, Real Madrid fans will be extremely grateful for the heroics of Navas with the score at 1-0. The Costa Rican produced a stunning save to deny Gonzalo Higuain from close range, which preserved Madrid’s clean sheet.
RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool
A real coming-of-age performance from the 19-year-old, as he kept Leroy Sane, arguably the Premier League’s most in-form youngster, quiet on the biggest stage. Alexander-Arnold made a game-high seven interceptions and 10 clearances as Liverpool hammered Manchester City and kept a vital shut out.
CB: Dejan Lovren – Liverpool
With Joel Matip ruled out for the rest of the season, Lovren – much maligned for his performances in big games – started alongside Virgil van Dijk and produced a defiant defensive display. The Croatian made four clearances and won two aerial duels as the Merseysiders prevented Pep Guardiola’s men from recording a shot on target throughout the 90 minutes.
CB: Gerard Pique – Barcelona
Pique’s impressive display was capped with Barcelona’s third goal of the night. Defensively, the Spanish international did superbly well, winning four aerial duels, making five clearances and blocking two shots, as Ernesto Valverde’s men recorded a convincing 4-1 win against AS Roma.
LB: Marcelo – Real Madrid
Another fine European display from the Brazilian. The left-back’s clever pass allowed Isco to tee up Ronaldo for his opening goal of the night, before getting in on the act with a goal himself. The 29-year-old showed great composure to lift the ball over Gianluigi Buffon and tap home from close range for Madrid’s final goal in Turin.
CM: James Milner – Liverpool
Up against his former club, Milner had an important part to play in all three of Liverpool’s goals. After setting Mohamed Salah away in the build-up to the first, Milner then grabbed his record-equalling eighth assist of this season’s Champions League campaign for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal. For the third, Milner won the ball off Nicolas Otamendi to start the counter. A real combative midfield performance.
CM: Thiago – Bayern Munich
With a 92 per cent pass success rate, Thiago was in control of the first leg, dictating play from midfield. With two tackles and two interceptions, the Spaniard contributed defensively while also scoring the winning goal to give Bayern Munich the advantage ahead of the second leg next week.
CM: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Liverpool
The former Arsenal man enjoys playing City at Anfield. After a fine goal in the Premier League battle between the two, Oxlade-Chamberlain rifled home a stunning strike to double Liverpool’s lead on the night in this clash. His tireless workrate denied the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva time on the ball as the Etihad Stadium club had no answer to Liverpool’s intensity.
RW: Mohamed Salah – Liverpool
Pep Guardiola opted to play Aymeric Laporte up against Salah at Anfield, but just like so many before him, he was unable to stop the Egyptian. After grabbing his 38th goal of the season with a close-range finish, Salah then teed up Sadio Mane with a teasing cross to make it 3-0 just after the 30-minute mark. Simply unstoppable, it seems.
LW: Sadio Mane – Liverpool
With a game-high six dribbles, the Senegalese international gave the visitors’ defenders a torrid time. Deserving of a goal for his workrate alone, Mane showed his commitment to the cause in the second-half, working tirelessly as City tried to find a way back into the game.
ST: Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid
Madrid’s man main loves the Champions League. After becoming the first player to score in ten consecutive games in the competition with his first of the night, the Portuguese international then scored arguably his greatest ever goal with an overhead kick that made it 2-0. 14 goals in nine Champions League games so far this season tells you all you need to know about Ronaldo.
There is no love lost between Barcelona and Real Madrid most of the time but so extraordinary was Cristiano Ronaldo‘s overhead goal against Juve in Tuesday night’s Champions League quarter-final that it even has Blaugrana players in awe.
After Barca’s own-goal assisted 4-1 win over AS Roma on Wednesday night, midfielder Ivan Rakitic was asked about Ronaldo’s “worldie” and he couldn’t help but enthuse.
Seeming to remember the fierce rivalry between the Spanish giants halfway through – Rakitic checked himself and began to temper his praise, noting that Los Blancos are not the current focus of Barca as there is still a second leg to play against Juve next Tuesday at the Nou Camp – as much as a formality as that would now seem following the three goal advantage from the home leg.
Buoyed by their home support, Liverpool raced to a 3-0 lead in just over half an hour with goals from Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Sadio Mane. They held on with surprising resolve as Klopp outwitted Guardiola yet again.
Goals – 3
Shots – 9
Possession – 34%
Tackles – 24
Dribbles – 19
Goals – 0
Shots – 11
Possession – 66%
Tackles – 22
Dribbles – 15
Klopp went with his usual 4-3-3, with the big call being entrusting Trent Alexander-Arnold with a starting berth in a match of this magnitude so soon after the young right-back’s poor display against Manchester United.
The youngster did well but this performance was all about his attacking team-mates. A classic Klopp performance as Liverpool pressed and harried City’s pass masters, and countered to perfection to take control of the tie.
Guardiola had a decision to make with his pick for left-back, and he opted for £57million centre-back Aymeric Laporte to deputise at that position. The other big call was leaving Raheem Sterling on the bench and picking Ilkay Gundogan to start, choosing midfield control over attacking explosiveness.
It didn’t work as for all of City’s possession, they couldn’t break Liverpool down and had no answer to the Reds’ counter.
Gerrard on Liverpool: "I think the word to use is 'perfect'."— DaveOCKOP (@DaveOCKOP) April 4, 2018
TACTICAL TALKING POINTS
LIVERPOOL LEARN GAME MANAGEMENT
Klopp has gotten stick during his Liverpool tenure for seemingly never being able to get his team to take its foot off the gas. On Wednesday, having raced out to a 3-0 lead, Liverpool showed another side to their game.
They came out of the halftime break knowing they’d have to defend, and they soaked up the pressure with aplomb. No ill-advised attacking forays, no unnecessary pressing. Knocked out of their usual style, Liverpool sat deep and kept out City’s vaunted attack with remarkable ease.
NO PLAN B – GUARDIOLA’S OLD FAILING RETURNS
Guardiola insists he’s not an ideologue who only knows one way, but history has shown otherwise and Wednesday was another example.
Picking Gundogan over Sterling may have proven to be the wrong call but swapping the two in the second half wasn’t exactly an inspired substitution. Sterling has plenty of ability but he was never going to offer anything different to what City already had on the pitch – and Liverpool had a handle on that. The truth is, Guardiola had nobody else to turn to.
0 - Manchester City failed to direct a single shot on target in a game for the first time since 26th October 2016 (v Man Utd in the League Cup). Blunt.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 4, 2018
Klopp’s trust in a young player paid off, as Alexander-Arnold got the better of his duel with Leroy Sane. His team’s intensity and pressing stunned England’s supposed best side yet again. And Liverpool have a 3-0 lead. Klopp’s night couldn’t have gone better.
Rating – 9/10
Guardiola has historically struggled against Klopp and this performance showed he still hasn’t found an answer. His selection didn’t work, he had no counter for Liverpool’s press, and he couldn’t coax any improvement out of his team. One of Guardiola’s worst nights as a manager.
Rating – 3/10