Suarez rescues Barcelona; Bayern edges Benfica in Champions League
The first two Champions League quarterfinals are intriguingly poised after the first legs. There were wins for favored Bayern Munich and Barcelona, but only by a single goal, and neither will go to the away legs with overwhelming confidence.
The holder, Barcelona, fell behind on a Fernando Torres goal midway through the first half, but, after Torres had been sent off, Barcelona came back to win 2-1 with a double from Luis Suarez, who could himself have been sent off in the first half.
In Munich, Arturo Vidal gave Bayern a second-minute lead, but a dogged Benfica display and a surprisingly scratchy performance from Pep Guardiola’s side kept the score down to 1-0.
Here's what stood out from the day's action:
Player of the day: Fernando Torres, Atletico Madrid
Typically this is reserved for the star of the day, but such was Torres's direct impact on both team's fortunes at Camp Nou, that he merits this space.
First, there was the good: the 32-year-old has scored a vital goal against Barcelona in the Champions League before; in fact he relishes playing against Barça, having scored 11 goals against the club. This perhaps wasn’t quite as significant as his semifinal goal for Chelsea in 2012, but it was valuable enough, an away goal that forced Barcelona to come out and risk leaving gaps at the back and allowed Atletico to spoil and slow the game down even more.
The strike highlighted Barcelona’s shortcomings at the back. Koke had found a pocket of space 30 yards out, and as Gerard Pique, perhaps recklessly, pushed out to close him down, Javier Macherano and Dani Alves left a huge space behind him for Torres to exploit.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen seemed caught on his heels, and, whether by design or good fortune, Torres drove his shot through the goalkeeper's legs.
Torres then laid on a fine chance for Antoine Griezman, his shot being pushed wide by a sprawling ter Stegen.
But then came the bad: just as it looked as through Torres might be the hero, he committed a cynical lunge on Neymar, receiving a yellow card. That was in the 29th minute. Five minutes later, he barged into Javier Mascherano off the ball. An advantage was played and the referee Felix Brych didn’t return to the incident, but it was perhaps in his mind when, after 35 minutes, he clattered into Sergio Busquets and earned a second yellow card. In 13 minutes, Torres scored a goal, committed three offenses that could have earned cautions and was sent off.
Moment of the day: Vidal’s early goal
In the second minute, Kostas Mitroglou shimmered down the Benfica right and crossed. There was no attacking player in the Bayern box, though. The home side cleared. Franck Ribery swept down the left and played the ball to Robert Lewandowski. He worked it wide to Juan Bernat, who crossed to the back post where Vidal headed it in.
It was a stunning breakaway but one that drew the question of what may have happened had Benfica had somebody there to get on the end of the cross. The goal gave a slightly false indication of what was to come, though. Bayern dominated and for a time looked like building up an insurmountable lead, but once its initial storm had blown out there was a strange predictability to it.
Major takeaway of the day: Suarez a very fortunate hero
After a poor first half in which Barcelona created only once real chance, headed over by Neymar, it was superb against 10 men in the second. In the first 15 minutes after the break, Barcelona had five good attempts, including a curler from Neymar that hit the bar. Eventually, the pressure told, with Suarez diverting Jordi Alba’s mis-hit attempt over the line. He headed in a superb second after a neat interchange with Lionel Messi and Dani Alves.
But the question really was whether he should have been on the field at that point. Shortly before Torres’s second yellow, he left his foot in as Juanfran cleared and then took a swipe at the fullback with his other foot. Suarez had the wherewithal to grab Juanfran before he could go down, apologizing profusely, but it would surely have been a red card had any of the officials seen it.
As it was, Suarez emerged as Barcelona's hero on the day.
How the second legs shape up
The stats suggest there’s not a huge difference between a 2-1 win for the home side and a 0-0 draw heading into the second leg, and, in that sense, Atletico will be happy enough with its performance at the Camp Nou, even if there is a little frustration that it looked comfortable until the Torres dismissal. Certainly Atletico is more than capable of getting the 1-0 win at the Vicente Calderon that would take it through.
Benfica, similarly, will think it has a chance. It is without the advantage of the away goal, but a sluggish Bayern performance suggested there is nothing for the Portuguese power to be too afraid of.