Ronaldo ends drought to beat stellar Neuer, lead Real Madrid over Bayer Munich
- Real Madrid won at 10-man Bayern Munich, with Cristiano Ronaldo's second-half double the difference in another clutch performance for the Portugal star.
- Kylian Mbappe was the star for Monaco at Dortmund, but soccer was secondary on a night when plenty was put in perspective.
- Atletico Madrid held serve at home vs. Leicester, but will it pay the price for not being more aggressive at home?
There were an atypical three Champions League quarterfinal first legs played Wednesday, with Monaco beating Borussia Dortmund 3-2 in the rescheduled match following Tuesday’s traumatic bus attack.
In the other games, Real Madrid beat 10-man Bayern Munich 2-1 in a thrilling match in Germany thanks to a second-half Cristiano Ronaldo double, while Atletico Madrid saw off Leicester City 1-0 on the strength of an Antoine Griezmann penalty, though the door remains open for the Foxes to provide another shock.
Here are some thoughts from a compelling round of matches, beginning with Real Madrid's triumph in Germany:
Ronaldo ends drought, while Vidal rues PK miss
Two minutes on either side of halftime defined this heavyweight clash that was so full of subplots, you barely knew where to look. Toni Kroos and Arjen Robben up against their former clubs; Cristiano Ronaldo entering on a 612-minute European goal drought, Robert Lewandowski missing through injury and the small matter of Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane taking on his mentor, Carlo Ancelotti, on the opposite bench.
By the end of a compelling encounter at the Allianz Arena, it was Zidane who was the happier of the two; not that you would have known it by looking at him. Whether his team went behind, conceded a penalty, equalized, or went ahead, he looked stone-faced, unflappable. He had clearly learned one thing from Ancelotti.
Bayern started as the stronger side and went ahead when Arturo Vidal headed home Franck Ribery’s corner kick. Vidal and midfield partner Thiago Alcantatra dominated Casemiro and Kroos in the first half, and the Chilean midfielder could have doubled his tally; first he headed wide from Robben’s cross, and then he skied a penalty over the crossbar after Dani Carvajal was adjudged (harshly) to have handled the ball. The Madrid complaints after the penalty award may have played on Vidal’s mind. Studies have shown that a long wait to take the spot kick usually works in the goalkeeper’s favor.
Talk before the game was that Lewandowski was the only irreplaceable player in this Bayern side; as the second half went on, the absence of Mats Hummels at center back grew stronger. Within 97 seconds of the restart, Ronaldo ended his drought, volleying Carvajal’s cross past Manuel Neuer from around 12 yards out. Although Bayern responded well, it was Madrid who looked most likely to double the lead; Neuer, who had tipped a Karim Benzema header onto the crossbar in the first period, pushed away Gareth Bale’s header from point-blank range. You felt that Ronaldo might have put that away. The second half was end-to-end, but Bayern’s task became tougher when Javi Martinez brought down Ronaldo just inside the Bayern half on a breakaway. It was his second booking in as many minutes for fouls on the Portuguese star, and the host was down to 10 men with half an hour to play.
Madrid poured forward, but Neuer somehow kept his side in it. He stopped a first-time shot from Benzema, then an astonishing effort to keep out Ronaldo from close range, standing tall and sticking out a firm wrist like a superhero. Minutes later, he was beaten again: Ronaldo toe-poking Asensio’s cross between Neuer’s legs to win the tie and notch his 100th European goal. It could have been worse–in injury time, skipper Sergio Ramos headed home, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside. A 3-1 scoreline could have killed the tie. As it is, Madrid is the big favorite to progress, but without Neuer it would be all over. After all of that, how important Vidal’s penalty miss may prove to be...
In Wednesday's other Champions League quarterfinal first legs:
Mbappe stars on night of perspective for Dortmund, Monaco in Champions League
No one quite knew what to expect from Borussia Dortmund's postponed match vs. Monaco, coming as it did less than 24 hours after three explosive devices were set off next to the Borussia Dortmund bus as it made its way to Signal Iduna Park, the club's home stadium. Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel wasn’t sure either, saying before the game that he had hoped for more time to get over the traumatic events of the previous night. After it, he clarified that the team had been informed by text from UEFA that the game would go ahead Wednesday.
However, goals always looked on the menu, given that both sides have some of Europe’s top young attacking talents; and that previous results in this season’s competition have included Dortmund winning beating Legia Warsaw 8-4 and Monaco losing 5-3 at Manchester City. So it proved: Monaco was two goals up at halftime, and it could have been worse, given that Fabinho missed an early penalty before the scoring started.
Monaco owed its first goal to a lightning counterattack from Bernardo Silva, who ran half the pitch before teeing up Tomas Lemar to curl a ball for Kylian Mbappe to deflect into the net. Mbappe was offside, but Dortmund’s luck was about to worsen. Another cross from the left was swung in and Sven Bender, a midfielder only playing center back because of the absence of Marc Bartra–the player who required wrist surgery following Tuesday's attack–headed past his own goalkeeper.
Dortmund looked down and out at halftime, and deserves huge credit for responding so well after the break. Tuchel made changes, switching to a back three to attack Monaco’s stand-in fullbacks (as both Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe were out injured) and bringing on Nuri Sahin and Christian Pulisic, both of whom were excellent. Ousmane Dembele pulled a goal back after neat work from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Pulisic in tight space in the area. Shortly after Radamel Falcao missed a one-on-one, Mbappe showed him how it was done, running onto Lukasz Piszczek’s under-hit back-pass and finishing gloriously to make it 3-1. Tuchel described the goals conceded as “two own goals."
This Dortmund side is made of stern stuff, though, and Shinji Kagawa reduced the deficit with a smart turn and shot late on. Still Dortmund pushed for an equalizer, and Aubameyang headed a fizzing Dembele cross over.
We can never know how much this week’s trauma affected its performance, but considering the events of the last 24 hours, Dortmund’s response, as a club, and its fan community, has been phenomenal. Defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos had tears in his eyes as he applauded the fans after the game. Julian Weigl said he hardly slept all night, while Sahin said that until he came on in the second half, “my head was full of everything except football… We are human beings, there is more than football in this world.”
That all rather puts this result in perspective.
Disciplined Leicester has a shot after narrow first-leg loss to Atletico Madrid
For a team playing in the Champions League for the first time, with a coach still in his first weeks at the helm, Leicester played with smartness and discipline in the intimidating atmosphere of the Vicente Calderon stadium.
Only a converted penalty from Antoine Griezmann separated the teams, one that the Frenchman earned after a speedy counter that ended with him brought down very close to the area by Marc Albrighton. If it was a questionable decision, there was no doubt about the outcome: the other two ties had missed penalties in them, but Griezmann, who missed in the Champions League final last season, and up against Kasper Schmeichel, who saved two penalties in the last round against Sevilla, made no mistake.
It was hard not to be reminded of the Sevilla series. In that first leg, Sevilla went ahead, but it was unsure how much to prioritize pushing its home advantage and chasing more goals, over sitting tight to avoid conceding an away goal. Sevilla ended up winning that opening leg 2-1, but Jamie Vardy’s away strike proved crucial.
And so Atletico was stuck in a stick-or-twist dilemma, not wanting to commit too much to the attack, but perfectly happy to keep another clean sheet–now 16 in its last 18 games–safe in the knowledge that if Leicester pushes forward at home, it can attack on the counter.
Atletico only had three shots on target all match, with the best chance to double the lead falling to Fernando Torres, who made a mess of his effort. One worry for Leicester was the booking picked up by Robert Huth, which rules him out of the second leg. With Wes Morgan currently missing through injury, Leicester could end up with an untested center back partnership in the biggest game in its history.
It was the kind of result that left both teams satisfied–and with an intriguing second leg in prospect in six days.