Champions League: Barca, Bayern left to ponder after surprise draws

Tuesday April 1st, 2014

Atletico Madrid substitute Diego kneels in celebration after his wondrous strike gave his side a precious away goal against Barcelona in their Champions League quarterfinal matchup.
Manu Fernandez/AP

The Champions League quarterfinals produced two dramatic games as Bayern Munich and Barcelona came back from shock deficits to draw 1-1 with Manchester United and Atletico Madrid, respectively. Here is what caught our eye from the games:

Player of the Day: Diego, Atletico Madrid

Not that Diego, either. Diego Ribas started Atletico's tie against Barcelona on the bench but was called into action after 30 minutes when the other Diego, star forward Diego Costa, limped off with a hamstring strain. If the visitor was worried that losing Costa, who had scored in his last five European games, would affect its goal threat, it did not need to. After 57 minutes, Diego fired in an unbelievable shot from 30 yards out that flew into the top corner of Jose Pinto's goal.

The Barcelona goalkeeper, in the side because of Victor Valdes's injury, was seen as a weak link in the team, but even had Valdes been alongside him in the goal, the two together would not have been able to keep it out. Although, maybe having Pinto in goal encouraged Diego to have a shot in the first place.

The strike ended a run of 260 minutes of action between these two sides without a goal - but within 15 minutes Neymar had leveled up, finishing smartly from a fantastic assist by Andres Iniesta, Barcelona's outstanding player on the day.

Barcelona beat Atletico in the Spanish Super Cup at the start of the season on away goals; then it drew 1-1 in Madrid and 0-0 at Camp Nou. It is a sign of Atletico's progress that the 1-1 draw was in Barcelona this time around: if Atletico keeps a clean sheet in the return, then it will make the last four.

Given the form of Thibaut Courtois, who kept out Neymar and Iniesta with some stunning stops as Barcelona pushed for the winner, you wouldn't necessarily bet against it.

Moment of the day: Bastian Schweinsteiger's red card

The Bayern Munich captain leveled the score for his side just eight minutes after Nemanja Vidic had set Old Trafford rocking, turning in a neatly-taken half-volley after substitute Mario Mandzukic's clever knockdown. It was his fourth goal in six games since returning from injury, but Schweinsteiger will dominate the post-mortem after he was sent off late on after a second yellow card for a tackle on Wayne Rooney.

Schweinsteiger was convinced that Rooney had made a meal of it - and in truth the tackle was no worse than Antonio Valencia's on Jerome Boateng, for which the United player avoided a second yellow - but of course it means that the German midfielder will miss the second leg next week. He will not be the only one: Javi Martinez was shown a yellow card for a clumsy foul on Javier Hernandez and will be suspended for accumulation too.

Both fouls, late on, spoke of the frustration that Bayern felt after utterly dominating the first half yet only calling on David de Gea to make one save, from Arjen Robben's curling shot. In fact it was United who came closest to an opening goal, as Danny Welbeck fluffed a 1-on-1 by trying to scoop the ball over Neuer's head. Mathematically, it was the right decision, as Dennis Bergkamp would always say that if you are looking for space, there is always more over the keeper's head than on either side. But Welbeck is not quite Bergkamp - he failed to get enough purchase on the ball and even though Neuer pushed the ball away, it was not going on target anyway.

Nevertheless, United will be happier with the result. This was the type of performance that David Moyes specialized in during his Everton days: up against a more formidable opponent, United was brave in defense and smart on the counter. For the first time, we saw a real Moyesian United side: the downside of that is that with United's status in England, it can only play like that against two or three sides in Europe. But it can travel to Munich next week with some optimism.

CREDITOR: Bayern Munich wins Bundesliga with seven games to spare

Takeaways of the Day: Spain players dropping like flies; Jones steps up

'Will he, won't he?' was the story before Atletico Madrid named its team with Diego Costa in the starting XI. So the knee problem that forced him to leave training early the night before the game had miraculously cleared up - Atleti assistant coach German Burgos insisted before kick-off that it was a real injury but as it was, Costa only lasted 30 minutes and must be considered a doubt for the second leg after limping off with a hamstring strain. Given that he had scored in his last five Champions League games, it was a blow for the visitor.

Costa had already made his influence felt, as his early challenge with Gerard Pique left the Barcelona defender writhing around in agony and, after just 12 minutes, unable to continue. Pique is Barcelona's key man at the back and was outstanding in the goalless draw against Atletico back in January. For Barcelona, Marc Bartra came on and did very well.

The two injuries, though neither especially serious, must be a worry for Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who in the last week has lost Victor Valdes to an ACL injury and might be without Bayern's Thiago Alcantara with a knee injury that could sideline him for eight weeks. No player wants to miss the big games at this stage of the season - but as the stakes increase, so does the downside in case of a dreaded injury. Let's hope Pique and Costa make it for the second leg, and the World Cup.

Phil Jones deserves mention for his heroic performance at right back, and then left back, for United. Third-choice right back behind the injured Rafael and Chris Smalling, the Englishman fared better than expected against the runs of David Alaba and Franck Ribery, with one first-half interception particularly crucial (he then lost his footing but Rio Ferdinand reacted smartly).

While former England coach Fabio Capello might have been generous when comparing him to Franco Baresi, it is easy to forget that Jones is still only 21 - and sees center back as his best position. As Sir Alex Ferguson said last season: "He may be one of the best players we have ever had, no matter where we play him."

How the second legs shape up

Schweinsteiger's red card and Martinez's suspension will give United some hope, although given the impact of Mandzukic as a substitute, Pep Guardiola could drop Toni Kroos back into Schweinsteiger's role (in the first half, Kroos made 127 passes, more than the entire United team) and put Thomas Muller or Mario Gotze where Kroos was. Either way, Bayern will miss Schweinsteiger and the injured Thiago next week.

But make no mistake: failing to win a home game, and allowing the opposition an away goal, is not an ideal result for any first leg in Europe. United may have surprised its fans and exceeded expectations by avoiding defeat, but Bayern is still a big favorite to finish the job in Munich.

Could we say the same of Atletico, which bagged the important away goal and also avoided defeat? It showed itself to be more than the 'Guerreros,' warriors, that Spanish newspaper AS had declared it was the day before the game; in fact, there were glimpses of Guardiola's Barcelona in the way Atletico pressed with intensity, and attacked with full backs Juanfran and Luis Felipe. The fact it managed to draw with Barcelona, even without Diego Costa for an hour, will also bring it great confidence.

As Courtois told Spanish TV: "We are satisfied, because I think we had a good game. It was a great goal from Diego and we defended well. 1-1 is a good result." Just like in La liga, it's advantage, Atletico - but only just.

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