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Seven Points in Seven Days

Roma

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Football fans everywhere are still catching their breath from what has been a remarkable week of football. It is almost impossible to narrow it down to seven talking points, but here are some of the highlights:

 

Most Dramatic Round in Champions League History?

With the possible exception of Bayern vs Sevilla, the Champions League quarter-final ties looked largely dead and buried following some very one-sided score-lines in the first legs. This was proved not to be the case in emphatic fashion. Tuesday saw Liverpool fend off a relentless Manchester City barrage; Klopp’s team found themselves behind after just two minutes, but clung on until the end of the half before regrouping at the break. They came out much more like their usual selves, and in the end managed to win the game 2-1 to produce a remarkable 5-1 aggregate result.

However, this was not the most scintillating game of the night. In the Italian capital, Roma were producing one of the all-time great Champions League comebacks against one of the all-time great sides, Barcelona. The Catalans led 4-1 going into the return leg, but had crumbled to 4-3 by the hour mark. The collapse was complete in the 82nd minute, as Kostas Manolas fired a header beyond Ter Stegen to make it 3-0 on the night and send Roma through on away goals.

On Wednesday, Juventus tried to repeat the exploits of their compatriots against Real Madrid. Remarkably, they came agonisingly close to doing just that. Los Blancos saw their three goal lead evaporate within an hour of play at The Bernabeu – this would have sent the game into extra time, but a dramatic late penalty was converted by Cristiano Ronaldo to break Juventus hearts. Buffon was dismissed for his protests, marking an ignominious end to his Champions League career. Ironically enough, it was Bayern who had the most comfortable time of qualification. Sevilla produced a relatively impressive performance in Bavaria, but never really threatened to score the two goals they needed: it ended goalless, meaning Bayern joined Liverpool, Roma and Real Madrid in the semi-finals.

 

Europa League Follows Suit

Eager not to be outshone by its big brother, The Europa League also served up some great drama. The best of this was to be found at Red Bull Salzburg, where the hosts faced the daunting prospect of overturning a 4-2 deficit against Italian giants Lazio. Incredibly, they pulled it off – a flurry of three goals in the space of six minutes shattered the visitors, who had initially gone ahead through Ciro Immobile, and the Austrian side ran out 4-1 winners to book their place in the semi-finals.

It was not such an enjoyable night for Red Bull’s primary European project, Leipzig. The German side had a slender 1-0 advantage heading into the second leg; it is fair to say that the second game was somewhat more open. Leipzig had the lead through Bruma inside two minutes, but unbelievably Marseille were ahead before the ten-minute mark had been reached. Things settled down a little after this frenetic start, but a third before half-time for Marseille left the visitors needing a goal. They got this in the 55th minute through Augustin, but it ultimately wasn’t enough: Payet weaved his way through the entire Leipzig defence to add a fourth for the French side, and Sakai sealed the deal by tapping into an empty net with Gulacsi forward for a corner. Elsewhere, CSKA Moscow and Sporting Lisbon made it uncomfortable for Arsenal and Atletico respectively, but ultimately the two favourites were able to progress.

 

The Draws

Things are perfectly poised for the drama to continue in both competitions, following a tantalising draw on Friday. Bayern Munich were drawn against Real Madrid in a heavyweight clash – just in case any more intrigue was required, Bayern’s star man Lewandowski has been repeatedly linked to Real in recent weeks. This left Liverpool with Roma: this means a return to his former stomping ground for Mohamed Salah. In his current form, Roma will not be eagerly anticipating this reunion.

The Europa League draw saw Arsenal drawn against Atletico Madrid; Wenger must have known that he would probably have to face up to this challenge at some point if he wanted to win the competition, but it will be a big test for The Gunners to overcome such an excellent opponent over two legs. Marseille vs Salzburg is less of a headline tie, but it should nonetheless be an interesting contest. It will be fascinating to see how the French side get on – having just dumped out Leipzig, for whom Salzburg essentially act as a feeder club, it would be remarkable if the Austrians came out on top.

 

Qualification Race Heats Up

This week perfectly exemplified why everybody is so desperate to be a part of European competition, and races to qualify for next season are ongoing in the big leagues all over the continent. Chelsea managed to keep some kind of heat on the teams ahead of them with a comeback win against Southampton – Conte’s men have been in abject form of late, but produced a spirited turnaround to at least keep their mathematical chances of a Champions League spot alive. Olivier Giroud played the role of super-sub, coming on and scoring twice to help take all three points back to Stamford Bridge. Liverpool responded with a comfortable 3-0 triumph over Bournemouth, in which Mo Salah moved to within one goal of the all-time record for goals in a 38-game season. He is also just seven strikes away from matching Ian Rush’s club record for goals in a single season in all competitions.

 

City Crowned Champions

Spurs, however, gave local rivals Chelsea a little bit of hope by losing out to Manchester City. Guardiola’s men threatened to let yet another lead slip, but held on for a 3-1 win to put an end to their three-game run of defeats. This alone was not enough to see them crowned champions, but they only had to wait a day to begin their celebrations – bitter rivals Manchester United went down with a whimper, losing to bottom-of-the-league West Brom to hand the title to City. Despite the somewhat anticlimactic manner of success, it is impossible to argue that Manchester City are not worthy champions: they have comfortably outclassed everyone over the course of the season, at least on the domestic front, and that is reflected in the fact that they have sealed the title with five games to spare.

 

PSG Humble Monaco

It must be that time of year. PSG also wrapped up their league, and they did so in style. They wrested it off holders Monaco in emphatic fashion, beating their only genuine league rivals by an astonishing seven goals to one. This was a clear message that order has firmly been restored, after the Principality side upset the odds last season by snatching the league title. It sums up Monaco’s day that key man Radamel Falcao was on the wrong side of the scoresheet, netting an own goal.

 

Still Life Left in the Bundesliga

The Bundesliga has already been won, but that does not mean that it is short on excitement. Its race for the top four is tighter than that of the Premier League, meaning there was huge significance attached to Bayer Leverkusen’s meeting with Frankfurt. A win for Frankfurt would have allowed them to move ahead of their rivals and temporarily into a qualification position – as it was, Leverkusen produced a big performance to win 4-1. This moves them five points clear of Frankfurt and into third.

Two of the other teams still in the frame also met at the weekend: Schalke and Dortmund came face to face in one of the most important Revierderbies in recent history. It was Schalke who triumphed, leaving them in second place and four points ahead of their rivals in fourth. At this late stage, it may well be enough to secure Champions League football for Schalke next season: an impressive accomplishment that will have them dreaming of nights like those witnessed earlier this week.

 

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