Champions League: Chicharito saves Real Madrid; Juventus repels Monaco
Real Madrid beat Atlético Madrid for the first time this season, again in the competition that counts the most. It had been seven winless attempts for Real against its city rival since last season's Champions League final, but its narrow 1-0 win sent Carlo Ancelotti’s team into the Champions League semifinals on Wednesday, while a goalless draw did the same for Juventus.
Contentious but scoreless first halves in both games gave way to much of the same in the second. That worked fine for Juventus, which qualified for the semifinals after Arturo Vidal’s penalty gave it a 1-0 win in its home match last week.
Real pressured throughout its match against crosstown rival Atléti, but to win, it needed an assist from Arda Turan, who saw his second yellow card of the match in the second half. Not long after, Javier Hernández scored the only goal across the teams’ two matches.
We’re four matches total from the most anticipated club match of the annual soccer calendar. Some thoughts on the last quarterfinal matches of this Champions League:
Player of the Day: Jan Oblak, Atlético Madrid
After losing young and upcoming goalkeeper Thibault Courtois back to parent club Chelsea in the offseason, Atlético signed Oblak to fill in the void. The 22-year-old Slovenian has come on strong as the season has progressed, emerging from Miguel Ángel Moyà’s shadow.
He showed his chops again in a high-pressure situation at the Santiago Bernabéu, stopping all but one shot and snagging multiple crosses from Real’s wide men. His best save of the night came on Cristiano Ronaldo’s one-on-one near the end of the first half after Mario Mandžukić’s poor giveaway outside his own penalty area.
Oblak followed up with another important intervention on Hernández’s close shot after Arda Turan saw his second yellow card.
The ferocity with which he charged off his line, recklessly yet intelligently, showed the confidence world-class goalkeepers exude every week.
Even though he couldn’t keep Real out forever, through no fault of his own, his performances put Atlético in the position to have success in this competition. Without him, like Courtois last year, Diego Simeone’s team has nowhere near the chance it did.
Moment of the Day: Chicharito wins it for Real
On his seventh attempt on goal, Chicharito couldn’t miss from point-blank range with the excellent Oblak drawn out of position. The Mexican blasted shot after shot toward Oblak but couldn’t get an effort to fall until the 88th minute.
Eventually, he benefited from Ronaldo’s run into the right side of the penalty area that took Oblak off his line. Ronaldo squared the ball with a falling effort, giving Chicharito one final chance to get his just reward for his bullish efforts in a surprise start.
He wouldn’t have even started the game if Gareth Bale or Karim Benzema were fit, and he hadn’t scored in the Champions League since playing for Manchester United against Braga in November 2012.
Hernández play particularly efficiently, missing the goal completely on a couple occasions with close-range efforts.
But it finally happened for him, and Real goes through as a result.
Takeaway of the Day: Strong defenses make for tense matches
Tuesday’s matches didn’t provide much in the way of the typical Champions League drama. Both Barcelona and Bayern Munich put on the attacking shows that have personified those clubs, rolling over their opponents.
Perhaps Bayern’s performance could count as drama, if its revenge hadn’t come so swiftly and severely. Nonetheless, the predictable thing happened in both games: Barça continued to score against Paris Saint-Germain at will at Camp Nou, and Bayern picked apart Porto.
Rather than the same attacking outbursts, Wednesday’s games supplied the tension that comes with close matches in Europe’s premier competition.
It’s a high-risk approach for the teams absorbing pressure: one mistake could be deadly, as Arda Turan’s red card was. But disciplined performances such as those from Simeone’s team and, as much as he’s admonished, José Mourinho’s offer a look into some of the best coaching minds in the modern game. Unlike Mourinho, Simeone doesn’t have nearly limitless cash reserves to fund his efforts.
Despite coming up short at a very late stage once again, Simeone showed why he deserves the accolades he has received. He and fellow FIFA World Coach of the Year finalist Ancelotti went head-to-head in another epic battle of clashing styles, and despite being the clear underdog on paper, Atlético nearly prevailed again.
In Monaco, Juventus put on a classic Italian performance to keep Monaco out. Despite Giorgio Chiellini’s record first-minute yellow card, the five-back Juve held strong and progressed into the final four in a year where it hasn’t had much of a challenge in Serie A, where it is set to win its fourth straight title.
How Juventus, Real shape up for the semis
Juventus won’t be favored against any of the other three semifinalists, but any team that takes Maximilliano Allegri’s side lightly does so at great risk. Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp, whose club Juve eliminated, summed it up well: “They are a complete football team, who defend well and passionately and are incredibly dangerous in transition.”
The Turin club showed that ability on Wednesday, keeping Monaco at bay all game despite the ball being closer to Gianluigi Buffon’s goal for most of the game. Juve didn’t look all that troubled, extending its excellent record of losing just six of its 23 Champions League away matches that were scoreless at halftime.
On the other hand, Real Madrid will always be a plausible winner, no matter its opponent.
The star-studded Galácticos showed their depth on Wednesday, starting Sergio Ramos in midfield and eventual hero Hernández up top, pounding on the Atlético door until they knocked it off its hinges.
However, the likes of Bayern and Barcelona won’t concede as much possession as Atléti. If Real can’t find a way to increase its attacking efficiency, whether it’s through players returning from injury or those typically on the bench, an 11th European title probably won’t come this year.