Friday, March 19, 2021

Premier League in Europe: Chelsea Shines; Liverpool and Real Madrid Renew Acquaintance; Manchester City Draws Dortmund and Haaland; Spurs Implode; United Foil Zlatan; Gunners Barely Hit Target

Chelsea was a 2-0 victor over Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge, closing out their Champions League tie with the La Liga leaders. The Blues held Atletico scoreless in both matches of the tie as Chelsea continued its excellent defensive play under Tuchel, conceding just two goals in his 13 matches with the club. The opening goal in Thursday’s match also hinted of yet unrealized possibilities in attack as Kai Havertz triggered a breathtaking counterattack, taking the ball from Atletico and passing to a racing Timo Werner whose cross found Hakim Ziyech for the goal. Defender Emerson, a late substitute, added the second goal for Chelsea.  Chelsea will face Porto in their quarterfinal draw with the winner taking on the victor of the Real Madrid v. Liverpool tie.

Liverpool, after their tidy elimination of RB Leipzig in the Round of 16, face Spanish giant Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals.

The two clubs most recently met in the 2017/18 Champions league final which Real Madrid won and in which Mohamed Salah was controversially injured on a questionable challenge from Sergio Ramos. The two giants on the European stage have both faced some adversity in league play this year, Liverpool more than Real which is currently third in La Liga.  Manager Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool impressed in posting consecutive 2-0 victories over RB Leipzig in the last round.  After a late winner in a 1-0 opening leg match with Atalanta in the Round of 16, Real Madrid were more decisive 3-1 winners over the Italian squad on Thursday.

Manchester City had little trouble eliminating Borussia Monchengladbach, triumphing 2-0 in both legs of their Champions League Round of 16 matchup. The Citizens now move on to face another Bundesliga side in Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund’s attack is led by Erling Haaland who has 10 goals in 6 champions league appearances this season and has been rumored as a possible Manchester City transfer target.  Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho will be facing his former team in the Citizens.  Manchester City, one of the Champions League favorites this year,  has won only once in its last six quarterfinal appearances in all European cup competitions.  Should  Pep Guardiola’s side advance and continue this year’s chase for a “quadruple” of titles, the next round opponent will be the winner of the tie between Bayern Munich, who Guardiola once managed, and PSG.

Spurs exited Europa League in spectacular fashion, imploding in the second half of their match against Dinamo Zagreb.  The London team held a 2-0 aggregate advantage heading onto the second half of Thursday’s game only to yield a hat trick to the Croatian sides’ Mislav Orsic, the last of Orisic’s goals coming in extra time.  Dinamo Zagreb were playing without manager Zoran Mamic who left the club earlier in the week to begin serving a prison sentence for fraud.  It was Spurs, however, who were fraudulently impersonating a Premier League team on Thursday as Manager Jose Mourinho did not parse his words in post-game comments where he questioned the commitment of his players. While the skies are darkening for Jose and Spurs supporters, the club still has a League Cup final against Manchester City in its future and the team remains in competition for a European qualification in the league table.

Manchester United received a rare goal from the enigmatic Paul Pogba in a 1-0 win to advance, 2-1 in aggregate, past AC Milan in their Europa League match at San Siro on Thursday.  Pogba’s second half substitution paid immediate dividends in livening a Red Devil attack which had struggled in the first half.  AC Milan continued to struggle with its own attack until Zlatan Ibrahimović, a late substitute for the Italian team, soared above Luke Shaw only to have his header guided away from the net by Red Devil goalkeeper Dean Henderson.  The victory puts Manchester United into the quarterfinals against Spanish club Granada, currently eighth in La Liga.  A semifinal matchup awaits against the winner of the Ajax versus Roma tie.

Arsenal A 1-0 loss at the Emirates allowed Arsenal to eliminate Olympiakos 3-2 in aggregate and advance the Gunners to a Europa League quarterfinal matchup with Slavia Praha.  Slavia Praha, victors over Rangers in the Round of 16,  had eliminated Premier League side Leicester in the round previous.  If Arsenal can get by the Czechs in the next round, their semi-final opponent will be either Dinamo Zagreb, conquerors of Spurs, or Villareal who are managed by former Arsenal boss Unai Emery. 

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