Wolfsburg stunned Real Madrid in their Champions League quarterfinal first leg, while Manchester City emerged from Paris with a 2-2 draw vs. PSG, writes Ben Lyttleton.
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It was a night of shocks in the Champions League quarterfinals, as Wolfsburg stunned Real Madrid, evidently suffering a Clasico hangover, with two first-half goals to win its first leg 2-0 in Germany. Meanwhile, an eventful match in Paris saw Manchester City draw 2-2 at Paris Saint-Germain and head back to the Etihad with an away-goals edge in a battle of big-spending continental powers.
Here is what caught our eye on another dramatic round in the competition:
Player of the day: Julian Draxler, Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg fans were not overly delighted when Draxler was the man brought in to replace Manchester City-bound Kevin De Bruyne on the final day of the transfer window last summer. Draxler had just come off an injury-interrupted season at Schalke, an injury that was enough to put off Juventus, who was also interested, and he seemed unlikely to hit the heights of his breakout campaign in 2011-12.
That view changed on Matchday Six of the group stage, when he dictated matters in Wolfsburg’s win over Manchester United. The 22-year-old showed similar character in this win over Real Madrid, with an imperious first-half performance and a hand in both goals.
First it was his cutback that set up Andre Schurrle, who was brought down by Casemiro for a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez scored.
Then it was his superb raking pass out wide, which Bruno Henrique centered for Max Arnold to steal ahead of Sergio Ramos and double the Wolves’ lead. Draxler gave Danilo a first half to forget when he dispossessed him on the halfway line and ran to the edge of the area before he was crowded out.
Draxler played in a Champions League semifinal when Schalke upset Inter at this stage of the season in 2011, when one of his teammates was former Real Madrid striker Raul. This time Draxler was the main man in what has to go down as the biggest shock in the competition so far this season.
Moment of the day: Fernando madness gifts PSG lifeline
Manchester City did not play a perfect game by any means in Paris. For parts of the game, its defene was all over the place, and it could have given away a penalty early on had Eliaquim Mangala been called for an early challenge in the box. Joe Hart, back early from a calf injury, did face a penalty early on after that, but he dived the right way to keep out Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s spot kick. It looked like being one of those nights for Ibra when an Otamendi brain-freeze released him clear on goal but he powered the ball over the top with only Hart to beat.
Instead, the game changed on a freak moment just before halftime. City was in the lead, with De Bruyne scoring a super breakaway goal after Fernando dispossessed Blaise Matuidi in the midfield.
But Fernando was at the heart of the game’s turning-point on the other end. He was on the edge of the area and took a heavy touch from Hart’s short pass out. Fernando seemed oblivious to the fact that Ibrahimovic was closing in on him, and by the time he reacted, it was too late. Ibra stuck out his foot and the ball deflected into the net. It was all so unlikely that the French TV director beaming pictures around the world missed it live.
It made the score 1-1 and gave PSG a huge boost just before the break.
Sure enough, it was the host who started the second half better, and it went ahead when Adrien Rabiot poked in Hart’s parried save from an Edinson Cavani header. City still looked dangerous going forward and on 73 minutes, Fernandinho leveled the game with a scrappy goal after some poor decisions from Serge Aurier and Thiago Silva. This game was a compelling one, but mainly because both teams made so many mistakes in poor positions.
Major takeaway of the day: Different coach, same story for Real Madrid
It was two coaches ago when Real Madrid faced Juventus in the Champions League semifinal last season and seemed surprised by an onslaught from its opponent, eventually losing 3-2 on aggregate.
The result essentially cost Carlo Ancelotti his job, so where a potential quarterfinal exit to a side currently eighth in the Bundesliga leaves Zinedine Zidane is anyone’s guess.
If Zidane thought beating Barcelona at Camp Nou last weekend secured his position on the bench next season, elimination to a side with three league wins in its last 15 games might not look so good to sack-happy president Florentino Perez. Wolfsburg could have won this tie by a greater margin and Madrid will need to be at its best to overturn this result next week. As for Perez, maybe someone should tell him that Manuel Pellegrini is available for next season...
How the second legs shape up
An away draw at Parc des Princes, with two away goals scored, puts Manchester City in the driver's seat in this tie, but it’s hard to believe both sides can defend so badly again. On top of that, two PSG players picked up yellow cards that rule them out next week: David Luiz, who was booked after 13 seconds, then won the penalty and got in a tangle covering on the back-foot before De Bruyne equalized; and Matuidi, who could have won the early penalty and has been a crucial figure as PSG's engine this season. City has the slight edge to reach the semifinal for the first time in its history–and is edging closer to a possible fixture against Bayern Munich, coached by next season’s coach, Pep Guardiola.
Real Madrid has a history of dramatic second-leg comebacks at the Bernabeu, but based on this performance, it could lose the second leg in the Spanish capital as well. The danger for Wolfsburg is if it sits back and defends its lead. That would play into Madrid’s hand. But if Wolfsburg can score an away goal, Madrid would need four to progress. Coach Dieter Hecking showed he is not afraid to make big decisions–dropping Max Kruse and giving Bruno Henrique his first start in the club’s biggest game in its history paid off–and this time Madrid can’t afford to be complacent ahead of the game.
The danger for Zidane is that the damage has already been done.