Champions League quarterfinals: Drama set to unfold in second legs
A dramatic round of Champions League quarterfinal first legs has left three ties fascinatingly poised. Barcelona's 3-1 win at Paris Saint-Germain makes it the only overwhelming favorite to be one of the four teams involved in Friday's semifinal draw.
Here is what to look out for in what could be a cataclysmic couple of days across Europe:
Tuesday, April 21
Bayern Munich (1) vs. FC Porto (3)
Last week Jurgen Klopp took us all by surprise and announced he was leaving Borussia Dortmund. Will this week see something similar with Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich? It has been an astonishing few days for the German giant, which was stunned by its deserved 3-1 loss at Porto last Wednesday.
Mistakes by Manuel Neuer and Dante in the opening 15 minutes allowed Ricardo Quaresma to score twice, and while Thiago Alcantara halved the deficit, Bayern's second-half performance, in which it conceded a third, was described as worse than last season's 4-0 capitulation to Real Madrid in the semifinal stage. What happened next was just as surprising: club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt and his three-man medical team resigning en masse, claiming they had been blamed for the Porto defeat.
Among the players injured for the tie were Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, David Alaba, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez and Medhi Benatia. Guardiola and Müller-Wohlfahrt had clashed over the treatment of Thiago last season, and a video of the coach sarcastically clapping Muller-Wohlfahrt in the dugout after Benatia was injured against Leverkusen further pointed at obvious tensions in the relationship.
Guardiola was asked about that at his press conference last Friday and said, "That was just me being disappointed, it had nothing to do with Muller-Wohlfahrt."
Although Bayern is just one win away from another Bundesliga title and is in the German Cup final, Tuesday's game could decide the future of Guardiola. Despite insisting that he will be at the club next season, the final one of his three-year contract, there has been very little word from the club's senior figures. "The club's leadership has been strangely silent on this issue," wrote German publication Bild. With president Uli Hoeness serving jail time for tax evasion, another German outlet, Die Welt wondered: "Would this have happened under Hoeness?"
There is still time for Bayern to turn this around, but Porto showed it would be no pushover in Munich. After Saturday's league win at Hoffenheim, Guardiola spoke to the players for so long in the dressing-room afterwards that they almost missed the bus home.
"He was very emotional and said he was proud of us," said goalscorer Sebastian Rode. "He believes that we can overcome problems and reminded us to stay calm."
Not only will Bayern's potential Champions League rivals be watching this tie with interest, but all big clubs thinking about upgrading their coaches this summer will be too. But has this episode seen Guardiola's halo slip a little?
Barcelona (3) vs. PSG (1)
Three weeks is a long time in soccer. It was three weeks ago when PSG beat Chelsea with 10 men at Stamford Bridge: the first time the French side had beaten a top-ranked European opponent in a Champions League knockout game. Coach Laurent Blanc was praised for his success and the French media insisted he was safe, he had to be safe, in his job for next season. After all, PSG is top of the table in France, has won the League Cup final and is in the French Cup final; on course for a domestic treble that has never been done before.
But losing at home to Barcelona has changed everything again; Blanc is under pressure again.
This is despite PSG missing Marco Verratti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (suspended) and Thiago Motta (injured) and having captain Thiago Silva limp off after 15 minutes. David Luiz had been ruled out for a month 10 days earlier: he was clearly not fit yet played and was nutmegged for two Luis Suarez goals.
Anything that could have gone wrong for Blanc did. Seeing Suarez score two, while his compatriot Edinson Cavani continued to struggle for PSG, could not have helped. Blanc was asked to compare the two Uruguayans and spoke of Suarez's stellar supporting cast without mentioning that his two goals were purely self-created. They did each leave fans wondering if Salvatore Sirigu is the right goalkeeper to go deep in Europe; Petr Cech would be a popular catch for next season.
This game also marks the return of Ibrahimovic to Camp Nou; the Swede scored 22 goals in his only season as a Barcelona player, which was more memorable for his disparaging comments about Lionel Messi and his goody-two-shoes teammates who never stood up to then-coach Guardiola.
Ibra may have been taken aback by Messi's stronger approach with Luis Enrique this season.
His return will probably be too little too late for PSG, and with one season left on his contract, talk will probably soon start about his next destination.
Wednesday, April 22
Real Madrid (0) vs. Atlético Madrid (0)
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti called the first leg about right, describing it as "the best of the worst results [possible]." His team did not lose, unlike three of its previous four encounters against Atlético this season, and in the first half it would have scored if not for a series of sensational saves from the man of the match, goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Atletico boss Diego Simeone was also happy: to have weathered that Real storm and not conceded an away goal, leaving his team knowing that a scored draw will be enough to reach the semifinals.
Momentum can change quickly, and as soon as Real Madrid beat Malaga over the weekend, it was on the back foot. Gareth Bale limped off after four minutes and will miss the game, as will Luka Modric, whose knee ligament strain could very well end his season.
While Bale's absence is likely to see Ancelotti switch to the 4-4-2 many have called for this season, Modric's absence is a huge blow.
Karim Benzema has a knee strain and also a doubt. Marcelo is suspended, and Fabio Coentrao, whose link-up play with countryman Cristiano Ronaldo is a threat, will deputize.
Ancelotti knows that he will be under severe pressure if Real is eliminated, but perhaps the selection will work in his favor. Simeone will plan for either Madrid's 4-4-2 (as is usually the case without Bale) or 4-3-3 with Jese replacing the Welshman, but there is a third option: a 4-3-3 with Asier Illarramendi replacing Modric, and James Rodriguez pushed further forward in a free role around the strikers. These teams know each other so well that maybe a slight tweak in the system could make the difference. It could be a tense evening at the Bernabeu.
Monaco (0) vs. Juventus (1)
Last week Darren Tulett, the charismatic English host on BeInSport's French channel, turned to his expert panel and, with a serious expression, asked: "So can Monaco go to UEFA and ask to play this second leg away from home?" His reason was obvious: only Real Madrid and Barcelona have won more league matches away from home this season, and Monaco, playing in its half-empty Stade Louis II stadium, is simply not as good playing in front of an average of 7,901 spectators (at 43% capacity).
That Juventus was indebted to goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, whose early save from Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco was important, will give the host some hope; and it has upped its scoring rate since getting past Arsenal last month. Monaco has also leap-frogged Marseille in the race for third place and a spot in next season's Champions League qualifying stage.
For Juventus, it will be an emotional return for 33-year-old Patrice Evra, who burst onto the scene as part of the 2004 Monaco side that beat Real Madrid and Chelsea in reaching the Champions League final. Even then, there was very little atmosphere around the Principality to mark the occasion. This Monaco plays a more pragmatic style, but it could be just as big a shock if it knocks out the Italian champion.