The Champions League quarterfinals are only halfway done, but it sure seems like we can proclaim the winners from all four series already. Is there a way back for any of the teams trailing after the first leg?
The Champions League quarterfinals are only halfway done, but it sure seems like we can proclaim the winners from all four series already.
The first legs yielded results that remove much of the drama for the return matchups, and while nothing is set in stone yet, no series really feels like it is hanging in the balance.
The tradeoff for a lopsided quarterfinal round, of course, is a potentially riveting set of semifinals. With Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool and Bayern Munich on course for the final four, there are no potential matchups that wouldn't dazzle. A two-legged Clasico on this stage with the Messi-Ronaldo debate continuing to rage (and with another Clasico in La Liga scheduled for in between the two legs of the semifinals)? Yes, please. Any other combination would satisfy the appetite, as well. That's kind of become a running theme in the Champions League these days. For all of the hoopla surrounding the competition, it feels like it doesn't truly get good or meaningful until the semifinals, save for a high-profile earlier-round pairing here or there determined by the luck of the draw. Such is the nature of the financial haves and have nots around Europe.
But before we officially advance all four leading sides in the knockout bracket, is there a possible way back for any of the teams trailing after the first leg?
Here are the teams who trail, ranked by likelihood of coming back in next week's second legs:
Manchester City (down 3-0 to Liverpool)
The deficit is massive, and the lack of an away goal doesn't help. If Liverpool scores one, Man City needs five. In short, it's not looking good for Pep Guardiola's side, and what was hyped as a potential four-trophy season could be reduced to a less-impressive Premier League-League Cup double (which, still, is an impressive season, just not when compared to the insane expectations and possibilities).
Liverpool has found a formula to beat Man City, and it has the horses to execute it–at least at Anfield. In their one meeting this season at the Etihad, Man City ran rampant in a 5-0 victory, aided largely by a Sadio Mane red card. City can't count on a refereeing decision to help its cause, but it can go all out in the attack and simplify Guardiola's tactical approach. And while that leaves it vulnerable to one of the best counterattacking sides in the world (though Mohamed Salah's status remains unclear after he limped off with an apparent groin injury in the first leg), there's really no alternative at this point. Liverpool may have held the clean sheet at home, but its defense is breakable. Plus, Liverpool has already capitulated when holding a 3-0 lead in Champions League this season, and that came in a single match against Sevilla (although that was before Virgil Van Dijk was signed to stabilize the defense).
If Man City gets one early, look out.
Sevilla (down 2-1 to Bayern Munich)
Sevilla is ranked this high only because of basic math. It has the least work to do to overcome its deficit. That said, it yielded two away goals to Bayern Munich, and the chances of a two-goal win at Allianz Arena are slim to none. Bayern never found its best footing in the first leg, yet still emerged victorious on the road. It'll likely clinch the Bundesliga title this weekend, and as long as its players are not still battling Paulaner hangovers four days later, you'd expect a well-drilled Bayern side to take care of business at home.
That's not to completely count out Sevilla. The Spanish side has saved some of its best for the European stage, and it went into Old Trafford and won 2-1 to advance from the round of 16 (its only win in its last five games in all competitions). But Bayern Munich is miles better and more complete than Manchester United is at this point, and a repeat performance shouldn't be expected.
Roma (down 4-1 to Barcelona)
Roma has an away goal, which is nice. But the dagger of a goal conceded to Luis Suarez after Edin Dzeko's tally makes the degree of difficulty in the second leg that much higher. A 2-0 win over Barcelona at home, while unlikely, seemed feasible. A 3-0 one does not. And as soon as Barcelona, which didn't come close to hitting its top standard in the opening leg if we're being honest, scores in Rome, the hosts will need a three-goal win just to force extra time.
It all seems a bit academic.
Juventus (down 3-0 to Real Madrid)
What a nightmare for Juve. As if having a Cristiano Ronaldo goal result in its own supporters cheering wasn't soul-sucking enough, the red card to Paulo Dybala eliminates one of Juventus's top scoring threats from contention for the return leg. If there's any saving grace, it's that Real Madrid didn't win the first leg 7-0, which it easily could have based on the chances it had while enjoying its man advantage.
Coming up with a reverse scoreline (or an even more lopsided one) seems like a road too far, to the point that manager Max Allegri has called the task "impossible." Real will be without Sergio Ramos, suspended yet again for card accumulation, but the margin for error is quite large. Allegri isn't wrong.