UEFA Champions League

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Three teams last week made big steps towards qualifying for the Champions League semifinals, “big steps”, in the sense that they will still be in the last four even if they lose by one goal in this week’s return legs. Chelsea earned the biggest advantage of all, beating Porto 0-2 as guests (in neutral Seville), PSG beat Bayern 2-3 in Munich, Real Madrid did very well against Liverpool at home (3-1), leaving Manchester City (2-1 at home over Borussia Dortmund) with the smallest advantage among the four teams that won the first legs a week ago.

Chelsea “host” Porto in Seville, same place where last week they won 0-2 as guests. If this return leg were played in London, let alone with fans in the stands, then Chelsea would have every reason to feel that… 75% of their job would be done after last week’s 0-2. It is exactly the fact that the game is played at a neutral venue without fans, that probably allows Porto to keep dreaming. Chelsea have lost just one of their last 18 matches (that… insane 2-5 to West Brom something over a week ago, a game in which they played with 10 men for more than an hour), which gives you an idea how tough Porto’s mission is, not just beat a team like Chelsea, but by at least two goals. Not impossible, especially an early Porto goal would… spicy things up at Sevilla’s home, but no doubt, Chelsea are the big-big favourites here.

Last week’s 2-3 in Munich, among other things, showed the difference between this season’s Bayern and Barcelona (yes, Barcelona). The Blaugrana got embarrassed by PSG at home in the first leg of the previous round, proving unable to deal with PSG’s back-to-back strikes, ending up losing 1-4. Bayern on the other hand, despite somehow finding themselves 0-2 down in the 28th minute, managed to equalize in the 60th. PSG still won, 2-3, but you need to be a seriously die-hard over-optimistic fan of theirs to believe that “it is all over”. Last week’s game in Munich showed that Bayern can score the goals they need to turn the situation around. The question is, what will PSG do offensively. You may remember, their approach to the return leg versus Barcelona in the previous round left a lot to be desired, they played to “protect their lead”, not to “win again as if the first game had ended in a draw”, as they had claimed before kick-off. Bayern’s “never quit” mentality, in combination with PSG’s… dubious approach to return legs after positive results in the first ones, may actually do the trick for the Bundesliga champions in Paris…

Borussia Dortmund host Manchester City, probably still with a bittersweet taste in their mouth. There is little doubt they were second-best on the pitch last week, but somehow found themselves drawing 1-1 in the 84th minute, being super close to leaving Manchester with an advantage ahead of the return leg. City needed a late-late goal to restore their lead and travel to Germany with a small, at least, advantage. Score-aside, even Dortmund’s biggest fans must be admitting that City are a better team, and with Pep Guardiola leading them, you know they are not going to sit back and just try to… waste time. Dortmund will need to play probably their best game of the season if they are to have a real chance at reaching the semifinals. On Saturday they beat Stuttgart 2-3 away from home in the Bundesliga, their first win in four matches, a morale boost ahead of this massive game against City, who actually lost last weekend to Leeds, 1-2, at home,  their second, only, defeat in their last 36 matches(!).

Last but most certainly not least, Liverpool host Real Madrid, with their back against the wall. Salah shortened the gap to 2-1 early in the second half last week, the Reds actually kept pushing for an equalizer, but Real Madrid found a third goal in the 65th minute and that 3-1 has made them favourites in this tie. At Liverpool they have been repeating for some time now that their main target is to finish in the Premier League top four (they are currently 6th), but… they are in the quarterfinals, a single game away from the semifinals. This won’t be a “no big deal” for them if they get eliminated. Real Madrid on the other hand, are going through their best period since the start of the season, having paired their 3-1 win over Liverpool with a 2-1 over Barcelona last weekend, in La Liga. For the first time in months they are just one point behind leaders Atlético Madrid, they are one step away from reaching the UCL finals and best of all, they play like… Real Madrid, no matter if they are still missing key players to injuries.

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