Ruthless Monaco, defiant Juventus round out Champions League semifinals
- Monaco–and 18-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe–continued to impress, while Juventus made sure there would be no miracle Barcelona comeback at Camp Nou this time around.
For the third time in four seasons, Barcelona has been eliminated from the Champions League at the quarterfinal stage. Juventus, 3-0 up from the first leg, never looked like capitulating as Paris Saint-Germain had in the last round and went through with a goalless draw at Camp Nou on Wednesday.
Monaco, meanwhile, beat Borussia Dortmund 3-1 to complete a 6-3 aggregate success. Early goals from Kylian Mbappe and Radamel Falcao effectively settled the tie in the first 17 minutes, although Marco Reus did pull one back in the second half. Valere Germain sealed Monaco’s progress in the 81st minute, 21 seconds after coming off the bench, sealing the competition's final four.
One of Juventus, Monaco, Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid will reign as kings of Europe.
Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League:
Monaco convincing as it continues its run
It seems increasingly clear that the first leg of Borussia Dortmund’s game against Monaco shouldn’t have been played. Asking Dortmund to play 24 hours after a bomb attack on its team bus seems, in retrospect, astonishingly callous. Who knows what might have happened in more normal circumstances, or what impact the attack is still having? But on Wednesday night there was a huge gulf between the sides.
Last week’s events, of course, cast a shadow. Dortmund had to wait for 22 minutes on the team bus while additional checks were carried before getting the O.K. from local police to enter the stadium. Understandably, its coach Thomas Tuchel spoke of “a queasy feeling” at the delay. Generally, the atmosphere was of unity with Monaco fans joining in a pre-kick-off rendition of the Dortmund anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Once the game started, though, Monaco was ruthless. It was ahead within three minutes, with Mbappe calmly knocking in the rebound after goalkeeper Roman Burki had patted away Benjamin Mendy’s drive.
Nuri Sahin whipped a free kick against the post, but after 17 minutes, Monaco went 2-0 up, a rapid exchange of passes on the left leading to Thomas Lemar crossing for an inadequately marked Radamel Falcao to head in. Ten minutes after that, Tuchel took off Erik Durm for Ousmane Dembele, an admission that, as in the first leg, he had got his tactics wrong.
Dortmund did pull one back, with Reus knocking the ball home after a fine run down the right from Dembele, but the game was settled after Lemar seized on a weak pass from Lukasz Piszczek and fed the substitute Valere Germain with nine minutes remaining.
More success for rising star Mbappe
It took Mbappe just three minutes to score against Dortmund, making him the first player ever to score in his first four Champions League knockout matches. He is only 18 and is clearly an immense talent, but what impressed about his finish was his composure. Young players are often quick or skillful, but Mbappe showed extraordinary presence of mind, side-footing the ball past an off-balance Burki when the temptation must have been to lash at the dropping ball.
Mbappe’s precociousness is astonishing. Since the beginning of February, he has scored 16 goals in 16 games for Monaco. Leonardo Jardim had been cautious in his use of Mbappe earlier in the season but now he cannot leave him out. Comparisons have been made with Thierry Henry, and given his grace and pace, they’re understandable. But it was only later that Henry became a center forward; he began life as a winger and became a prolific goalscorer only after joining Arsenal.
That’s not, of course, to say that he will become a better player than, or even match, Henry, but Mbappe is a very special talent.
No more miracles for tetchy Barcelona
Barcelona’s comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 will never be forgotten, but it turns out the only practical effect of that 6-1 win was to set Luis Enrique’s side up for its defense to be exposed by a more robust side. Barcelona had chances in that first leg to get back into the game and remain a side of great attacking prowess but only after the essential imbalance of the side had been exposed.
It had chances Wednedsay as well, but having failed to score in a frenetic opening 20 minutes, it never looked like getting back into the game. And, as so often in the past, when things went against it, it reacted badly. It was one thing to refuse to stop the game when Mario Mandzukic went down injured, but quite another to refuse to give it back after Juventus had put the ball out.
Andres Iniesta, an ever more diminished presence, was booked for an ugly lunge, while Neymar, in particular, seemed frustrated. He’d already been warned by referee Bjorn Kuipers for protesting about the non-awarding of a free kick when Messi was dumped in an aerial challenge by Miralem Pjanic. Before Kuipers had had a chance to blow his whistle, Neymar had clattered into the Bosnian to earn a yellow card that will mean he misses Barcelona’s next Champions League game through suspension.
Juventus, having conceded just two goals in its first nine Champions League games this season, was never likely to let in three in the 10th, and Barcelona ended up exiting a little tamely, failing to score in a two-legged European tie for only the second time in nine years.