Down to the Final Four


Just four teams remain in the UEFA Champions League. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Over the past two weeks, both legs of all four quarterfinal ties of the UEFA Champions League were played. After some intense and pulsating battles, we are finally down to the final four of the tournament. 

The first quarterfinal tie was Manchester City against Atletico Madrid. This was a battle of completely opposite coaching philosophies with City preferring to play attacking and free flowing football compared to Atletico’s defensive “park the bus” mentality. In the first leg, we saw Atletico essentially go into a 5-5-0 formation, rarely having possession of the ball. Atletico were sturdy in their defense and soaked up all of the pressure. However, the English champions kept on pushing and pushing. In the 70th minute, City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne finally broke the deadlock with a brilliant assist by Phil Foden. After 90 minutes, City won the game thanks to the De Bruyne goal and headed into the second leg with that critical advantage. 

Atletico approached the second leg in a more aggressive manner, especially in the second half. Tensions boiled over in the dying minutes of the game with both teams involved in a brawl. However, City was able to hold on to their aggregate lead, progressing to the semifinals despite the match ending 0-0.

Another quarterfinal was Villareal against Bayern Munich. Heading into the tie, Bayern were the huge favorites to progress to the semifinals. However, Villareal’s magical run continued, as they scored within 10 minutes to take a 1-0 lead against the German giants. Bayern tried to find an equalizer but Villareal stood firm and even had some great chances to score several more. However at the end of the night, the match ended 1-0, leaving Bayern with a lot of work to do in the second leg. 

In the second leg, Bayern were pushing straight off the kick-off with Villareal able to withstand their pressure. In the 52nd minute, Bayern found their equalizer courtesy of Robert Lewandowski to even the tie on aggregate. As the game continued, both teams had more chances but it seemed as if the game was going to head into extra time. However, in the dying minutes of the game, Villareal equalized on the night in the 88th minute with a goal from Samuel Chukwueze to stun the German giants and put them on the brink of elimination. Villareal kept their shape and when the final whistle blew, they shocked the world again by eliminating Bayern with the score on the night 1-1 and 2-1 on aggregate.

The third quarterfinal was Benfica against Liverpool. In the first leg, Liverpool opened the scoring with a goal from a corner kick in the 17th minute courtesy of an Ibrahima Konate header. Liverpool then doubled their advantage in the first half with Sadio Mane to make it 2-0 on the night. Benfica was able to pull one back in the second half with a mistake from Konate to make it 2-1. However, Liverpool strengthened their grip on the tie with a goal in the dying minutes from Luis Diaz to make it 3-1 on the night. 

At Anfield for the second leg, Liverpool opened the scoring with another Konate header from a corner to increase their aggregate score. Benfica equalized shortly after to make it 4-2 on aggregate. In the second half, Liverpool turned up the pressure and scored two goals courtesy of Roberto Firmino to make it 3-1 on the night and 6-2 on aggregate. Benfica weren’t going down without a fight, though. Within the final 18 minutes, they scored twice to even the score on the night. However it was too little too late for Benfica. Despite drawing 3-3 on the night, Liverpool advanced to the semifinals 6-4 on aggregate.

The final quarterfinal tie was Chelsea against Real Madrid. In the first leg, Madrid seemed to have the advantage and put pressure on the reigning champions. They finally broke through in the 21st minute with a brilliant header from Karim Benzema to give the 13-time Champions League winners the lead. Three minutes later, Madrid doubled their lead with another header from Benzema. Madrid’s two goal advantage only lasted for a bit as before halftime, Chelsea scored courtesy of Kai Havertz to make it 2-1. However, 45 seconds after the start of the second half, a terrible mistake from Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy gifted possession to Benzema who slotted the ball into the open goal to complete his hattrick and to make it 3-1 on the night. With this hattrick, Benzema became only the second player to score back to back hat tricks in the Champions League with the only other person accomplishing this feat being Cristiano Ronaldo. Chelsea had several big chances in the second half to reduce the deficit but were unable to get past Thibaut Cortouis in the Madrid net.

In the second leg, Chelsea were out of the gates storming, attempting to pull off a massive upset to stay in the competition. In the 15th minute, Chelsea scored via Mason Mount to make it 1-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate. Then in the second half, Chelsea scored again in the 51st minute courtesy of Antonio Rudiger, leveling the teams on aggregate. Chelsea now had the momentum and in the 75th minute, Chelsea scored their third of the night courtesy of Timo Werner to make it 3-0 on the night and put Chelsea ahead on aggregate 4-3. 

Madrid, now searching for the goal to keep them in the competition, struck back in the 80th minute when midfielder Luka Modric played a beautiful ball that landed right into striker Rodrygo’s path who smashed the ball into the back of the net to make it 3-1 on the night and 4-4 on aggregate. After 90 minutes, the aggregate score was still tied, forcing the teams into extra time. In the 96th minute, Madrid scored again through Benzema. Benzema’s fourth goal in the tie was enough to see off the reigning champions as Real Madrid punched their ticket into the semifinals with a 5-4 win on aggregate despite losing 3-2 on the night.

As for the semifinal ties, City defeated Real Madrid in a 4-3 thriller in the first leg on Tuesday, while Liverpool faces Villareal on Wednesday. As for the second leg, both are played the week after but on the other day of the week. Heading into the ties, the City-Madrid tie is a mouthwatering prospect with both teams too close to call. As for the other tie, on paper Liverpool are the favorites but as we’ve seen, Villareal has knocked out the “favorites” in their previous ties to make it here. With only four teams left, everyone is just one step away from playing in the Champions League Final.