Juventus talking points as Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick inspires memorable comeback against Atletico Madrid

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Juventus needed something special to overturn a 2-0 result in the first leg at Atletico Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t disappoint.

The Portuguese scored a hat-trick against his old foes to fire his the Bianconeri into the quarter-finals of the Champions League with a 3-0 victory in Turin, ensuring a 3-2 result on aggregate.

Even though Juventus were controversially denied a goal in the opening five minutes, Ronaldo’s exceptional header in the 27th minute saw them draw first blood. The 34-year-old was at it again four minutes into the second half, again nodding home at the back post.

After Federico Bernadeschi was felled inside the area five minutes from time, Ronaldo converted from the spot to complete a memorable hat-trick.

RONALDO HEADLINES JUVE FIGHTBACK

The Champions League offers the best players in the world a platform to shine and Ronaldo rarely passes up an opportunity to take centre stage. The odds were stacked against Juve ahead of this round of 16 second leg, yet there were suspicions that the first half of the script had only served to set up a dramatic climax.

Having signed Ronaldo in the summer primarily in an effort to finally attain an elusive third top-flight European title, the Portuguese had thus far disappointed in the competition that has historically brought the best out of him, scoring just once in six appearances during its latest edition.

But with the stage set and Juventus in desperate need of a European special from their main man, Ronaldo couldn’t help but oblige. He was fired up from the start, embodying his side’s urgency, rallying the home support at every opportunity and it was only fitting that he made the breakthrough.

The manner of his first goal was a spectacle in itself. There appeared to be no danger as Juanfran had Ronaldo covered at the far post as Federico Bernadeschi wound up for a cross but, as the delivery came in, the forward showed immense strength, determination and athleticism to dominate his man in the air and bury an emphatic header past Jan Oblak.

He continued to threaten throughout the encounter and his second came from another superb aerial effort, using his phenomenal leap to tower over defenders and nod the ball over the line – just.

Bernadeschi had a tremendous game, only outshone by Ronaldo’s heroics, and his mazy run late on earned a penalty and with it the opportunity for a Ronaldo hat-trick. No-one was surprised when he dispatched it with aplomb, firing it into the bottom corner and Juventus into the quarter-finals – thus fulfilling the prophecy.

Cristiano Ronaldo header

VAR CONTROVERSY

An intense start to proceedings from Juventus made for a pulsating opening few minutes and even with the encounter in its infancy, a goal for the hosts seemed inevitable. Low and behold, the ball was in Atletico’s net in the fifth minute but referee Bjorn Kuipers immediately blew for a foul on the goalkeeper.

Ronaldo and Oblak pounced for a loose ball inside the six-yard box and both seemed to get a bit of it. The Portuguese’s challenge kept the goalkeeper from scooping up the ball and it fell to Giorgio Chielini who slotted home. Wild celebrations from the Juve players were quickly cut short by the official in the middle who adjudged Ronaldo to have fouled the visiting custodian.

Even though replays suggested that Oblak wasn’t in control of the ball, VAR sided with the on-field decision, even opting against having the referee review the incident on the touchline screen.

While the technology or system are certainly not to blame in these scenarios, it has brought to light the discrepancies in how the rules are interpreted by various officials.That’s something UEFA must address to ensure consistency across the competition.

Chiellini's goal was ruled out

ATLETI HAVE THEMSELVES TO BLAME

Diego Simeone is a vastly experienced manager and Atletico as a whole should’ve known exactly what to expect when they made the trip to Turin. Whether they were overwhelmed by the electric atmosphere inside the Allianz Stadium or the occasion was simply too big for them, they never looked like they believed they would progress.

The Spanish outfit started slowly and sat far too deep without really posing a threat on the counter-attack. Their game-plan was evident – grind out a result at all costs. However, it only served to invite Juventus onto them and if you get the ball to Ronaldo enough times in and around the box, he’s sure to do some damage.

The tactics were disappointing from Simeone, it has to be said, but the lack of grit in defence and teeth in attack were startlingly uncharacteristic. Alvaro Morata’s header over the bar in the first half when he was unmarked from eight yards out meant the visitors didn’t register a single shot on target all night.

Following a passionate display at the Wanda Metropolitano it’s a shame that their European journey has ended with a whimper.

Diego Simeone

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Toothless Thomas Lemar and reckless Angel Correa earn 2s in Atletico Madrid ratings

Matt Jones 13/03/2019
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Atletico Madrid were dumped out of the Champions League as a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Juventus roared into the quarter-finals.

The visitors might have hoped for a quiet night in Turin but a feverous home crowd were up for this game and they rose the roof when Ronaldo capitalised on early pressure to power the hosts ahead with a towering header midway through the first half. Another header made it 2-0 – Jan Oblak looked to have made a stunning one-handed save but goal-line technology ruled it had crossed.

Ronaldo’s hat-trick – his third a penalty after substitute Angel Correa stupidly felled Federico Bernardeschi – saw their 2-0 first-leg advantage eroded as Diego Simeone’s gutless approach contributed to a meek exit.

Here’s how we rated Los Rojiblancos’ players:

ATLETICO MADRID (4-4-2)

Jan Oblak – 7: Lucky to win a foul as Juve’s early goal was ruled out? Perhaps. Seemed he’d made a stunning save from Ronaldo.

Santiago Arias – 5: A busy night patrolling right flank and keeping tabs on marauding Spinazzola and Matuidi. Struggled to do so.

Jose Gimenez – 5: Made only two passes in first half. Team leading 10 clearances. Impetuous at times.

Diego Godin – 6: Important early block, kept a cool head in an early white-hot environment, but couldn’t shackle Ronaldo.

Juanfran – 4: Dominated by Ronaldo – no shame in that – for the opening goal. Looked every one of his 34 years thereafter.

Koke – 6: Grew into the game after Juve smothered him and Saul in the opening 45. But not his best night. Five tackles, three clearances showed his appetite.

Saul Niguez – 5: Like midfield partner, simply outshone by relentless Juventus press. Insipid.

Rodrigo – 5: Worked tirelessly in the midfield, making four clearances, but simply overawed, as were many team-mates.

Thomas Lemar – 2: Brought into the team and was quickly back on the bench after an anonymous outing.

Antoine Griezmann – 3: Knew he’d be in for a lonesome night up front. Got involved defensively. Horribly isolated.

Alvaro Morata – 4: Missed a golden chance to equalise on the night against his old side when he headed over. Biggest contribution was spat with Chiellini.

SUBS:

Angel Correa – 2: Push for penalty was soft but such a reckless thing to do in the box. Absolutely no need. Crazy.

Vitolo N/A: Brought on to supply Morata but simply couldn’t get involved. A grand contribution of 10 touches.

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Barcelona v Lyon Key players as Lionel Messi looks to polish his Champions League numbers

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Lionel Messi

Last week saw big guns like Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain crash out of the Champions League despite enjoying an advantage after the first leg. Spanish giants Barcelona will be hoping that they get the job done against Lyon following a goalless draw in the first leg. 

Ernesto Valverde’s men forgot their scoring boots in Barcelona when they drew blank in Lyon last month and failed to do justice to all the chances created by the midfield. Lyon on the other hand clearly missed the suspended Nabil Fekir and looked lost in the final third. 

The tie is wide open and 90 minutes – or possibly more – at the Camp Nou will decide which team will be advancing to the quarter-finals. We take a look at the key-players who can make the difference in this potential nail-biter. 

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 

Lionel Messi is usually the difference-maker in most ties involving Barcelona, but this game is different. The Argentine has rightly been accused of ghosting in crunch Champions League fixtures in the past couple of seasons and this is his chance to come clean.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner failed to inspire his team and prevent a debacle against Roma last season. In the 2016/17 season, Barcelona were knocked out from the competition by Juventus in the quarter-finals and Messi was unable to stamp his name on the big stage yet again. 

After being named the captain of the team, Messi famously addressed the Camp Nou crowd and promised that the team would do everything to bring the Champions League trophy back to Catalonia this season. In light of that, this could be his most important game of the campaign so far. 

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

The potential absence of Ousmane Dembele means that Messi will have to step up a notch and have to power Barcelona to the quarter-finals. The 31-year-old is definitely aware that this is Barcelona’s best chance to win a sixth Champions League, with some of the big guns out of the picture. Messi will be looking to take advantage of this situation and provide the Camp Nou crowd a night to remember. 

Nabil Fekir (Lyon) 

Nabil Fekir has arguably been Lyon’s best player in the Champions League this season. The Frenchman – who missed the game due to suspension – was sorely missed in the first leg in which the hosts failed to create any clear goal-scoring opportunities. 

Fekir registered about 2.6 key-passes per 90 minutes in the group stages of the competition. Only Messi (3.6) and Neymar (3.6) created more. 

One goal from the visitors will leave Barcelona needing at least two. The past few seasons are witness to the fact that the Catalans are bad at chasing a game in a crunch European fixture. 

A chart showing how the forwards have performed in the Champions League this season

A chart showing how the forwards have performed in the Champions League this season

Fekir will be looking to link attack and defence and perform as the focal point of Lyon’s attack while having a goal at go himself if needed. The Frenchman can definitely hit the headlines on Thursday morning after an inspiring performance against the tournament favourites. 

Arthur (Barcelona) 

Lyon’s midfield outplayed a one that was coached by Pep Guardiola earlier this season and that is probably one of the biggest compliments they can get. On Wednesday, Arthur will be tasked to control the tempo against such a midfield. 

The visitors are bound to press hard to get an early goal and Barcelona will be looking to get the press-resistant Brazilian on the ball very often. The pressure on the midfielder will be immense and it will be interesting to see how he will react. 

Tanguy Ndombele and Houssem Aouar have impressed in midfield this season and are already attracting interest from top European clubs. With Nabil Fekir adding extra pressure, this could very well prove to be Arthur’s biggest test in midfield.  

Arthur

Arthur

The Brazilian completely dominated the likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric twice this season but the stakes are much higher now. 

Should the Brazilian assert his dominance in the centre of the pitch, Barcelona will be handed a significant advantage in terms of controlling the flow and tempo of the game. He needs to assist Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets in order to dominate Lyon’s midfield. 

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