Barcelona and Porto each scored three goals on Wednesday to take substantial leads in their respective Champions League quarterfinal series against Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich. The second legs take place in six days, when the first two of the competition’s final four will be decided.
Porto’s incessant pressing unsettled Bayern and gave the Dragons a 2-1 lead at halftime on Ricardo Quaresma’s double, before Jackson Martínez scored in the second half. Thiago scored what could be a crucial away goal for Bayern, which trails 3-1.
Barça isn’t hurting for away goals, as Neymar scored one in the first half and Luis Suárez added two in the second to give their team a 3-1 lead. PSG got a consolation goal from Gregory van der Wiel, helped by a heavy deflection, to give it some hope next week, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be available after sitting out Wednesday through suspension.
Here is what stood out as the Champions League quarterfinal first legs wrapped up:
Player of the Day: Luis Suárez, Barcelona
Suárez’s two second-half goals could have effectively ended the series against PSG. Both were magical individual efforts that victimized David Luiz, who made an unexpected return from injury in place of captain Thiago Silva when he suffered his own.
In the 67th minute, Suárez picked a ball up on the right wing and nutmegged David Luiz to start the move. Under heavy pressure, he cut back and slalomed through defenders Marquinhos and Maxwell before slamming a shot that Salvatore Sirigu couldn’t keep out.
He again nutmegged David Luiz, this time the last defender, for his second after checking back from the center-forward position to play a neat one-two with Javier Mascherano. With time to pick his spot, Suárez curled a shot neatly into the top right-hand corner.
Barcelona had been dominating the game before Suárez’s brace, going up through Neymar in the 18th minute, but his goals ensured they would not leave Paris with a disappointing result despite their total control.
Moment of the Day: Bayern’s disastrous start stirs up bad memories
Before anybody could pinch themselves to make sure they weren’t dreaming, Porto went up 2-0 on Bayern. It looked a lot like last year’s semifinal second leg, when Real Madrid went up by two on Bayern in the first 20 minutes and ended up winning 4-0.
In the third minute, Quaresma buried a penalty after Manuel Neuer fouled Martínez in the box. Seven minutes later, Quaresma created and finished a similar chance by himself, this time taking advantage of a heavy touch by Dante in the back.
Bayern’s recovered much faster this time, scoring before halftime after Jérôme Boateng’s low, curling cross found Thiago at the far post for a tap-in. Porto, which is still unbeaten in this season's Champions League, also dropped off a bit after going up, unlike Real, helping Pep Guardiola’s side find its way back into the game.
Nonetheless, this pattern should concern the Germans. This is the time of the season when Bayern normally has the league all but won, and the weekly pressure to win that the team feels at the start of the year isn’t quite at the same intensity.
Guardiola and his team apparently took their lessons from last year’s massacre, though, looking much more capable and again keeping the majority of possession after conceding twice. This could be the wake-up call Bayern needs to remind it that in the Champions League knockout rounds, nothing is ever assured, regardless of a rift in quality between two teams on paper.
Major Takeaway of the Day: Cruyff disciples still dominate the game
The entertaining football on display Wednesday was no coincidence; it all came from the same school led by the legendary Cruyff. All eight teams left in the competition except Atlético Madrid base their game model on having as much of the ball as possible.
Possession-based teams almost always win major competitions, and the positive soccer they play is what fans pay good money to see. When it comes off, the flow of a team that passes well and pings the ball through opponents at will offers the most enticing display in all of sports.
Beyond just endlessly keeping the ball, Barcelona’s model also calls for high-intensity pressure the likes of Porto’s that buried Bayern early.
Whether a coach asks his players to possess or press, Cruyff pioneered the kind of deliberate tactical choreography all four teams displayed.
However, as Bayern well knows, the risks associated with the possession style are treacherous. When players can’t handle the ball or the pressure of the game or just simply have an off night, their teams can lose badly.
While Barça takes a comfortable lead back to Camp Nou, Bayern will be preparing for an intense match at the Allianz Arena next week. Guardiola’s men can’t afford a similar display then, whether Porto pressures with the same intensity or drops off, because two goals won’t come from missed connections and poor giveaways.
How the Second Legs Shape Up
Bayern and PSG might both be down by two, but they sit in starkly contrasting positions ahead of their second legs. Bayern returns home with the knowledge that a 2-0 victory wins the series on away goals, and that could easily happen.
Porto has not been shut out away from home in the Champions League since losing to Atlético Madrid, 2-0, in 2013, but the upcoming match will be by far its sternest test on the road this season.
With Bayern’s high-powered attack and possible returns for Franck Ribéry and Bastian Schweinsteiger from injury next week, it’s hard to count the Bavarians out.
On the other hand, PSG looks all but finished. It doesn’t seem likely to come away from Camp Nou with a heavy victory, even if Ibrahimovic plays to his usual standard in a return from suspension.
Thiago Silva’s new injury will cause concern as well, as the defense showed its frailty without its captain. Barça outplayed PSG in every aspect on Wednesday, which Porto can’t say about its match against Bayern, leaving one of the series seemingly decided while Guardiola’s men could still pull off a comeback.