World class players, some of the heaviest hitting owners and some of the biggest spenders in club soccer…Everything was set up nicely for quality soccer in Champions League quarterfinal ties on Wednesday.
No doubt, living up to the lofty and entertaining set of games played on Tuesday wasn’t going to be easy at all. But, one doesn’t need a 6-4 scoreline or to win going away 5-1 on aggregate to be entertaining.
Instead, one just needs to be playing appealing soccer. It should’ve been something easily done in the final two matchups of the quarterfinals, but the beautiful game we’ve all come to know and love was wholly un-beautiful on Wednesday night.
Dare we say it set the world of Champions League soccer back a few years even?
All four teams playing on Wednesday were finalists at one point in time during this current incarnation of the Champions League. All four had major stars — you know, like Cristiano Ronaldo, Chicharito, Moutinho, Andre Pirlo, Patrice Evra and Carlos Tevez — and all combined to produce exactly two goals in 360 combined minutes of play.
The AS Monaco/Juventus tie was the epitome of boring, defensive and brutal to watch soccer. Juventus was expected to be more defensive in the match, and held up that end of the bargain with just one shot on goal and five overall shots on the night.
However, Monaco, playing at home and down 1-0 to the Old Lady, mustered up just one shot on goal and 12 overall shots. That’s simply unacceptable from a squad looking to get in to the Champions League semi-finals. It may not be all that surprising though, as Monaco’s leading goal scorers on the season have a combined 14 goals (seven each for Anthony Martial and Dimitar Berbatov).
Still, it was a match that saw both sides commit more fouls than shots on goal. Monaco mustered up 1414 fouls, while Juve had 17 on the night. Not exactly the hallmark of attractive soccer.
Things were even worse in the return leg of the Champions League version of the Madrid derby.
One could expect chippy play and difficult defending from both sides, but what happened on Wednesday was purely brutal to the eyes. Instead of playing the beautiful game the beautiful way that Los Blancos are capable of, Real Madrid nearly made Atletico’s defensive and counter-attacking scheme work to brilliance.
Javier Hernandez, a.k.a. Chicharito, was a particularly lucky man on the night. His goal in the waining moments of regulation will go down in Los Blancos lore, but taken as part of an entire match it’s hard to say he wasn’t disappointing.
There were multiple easy chances either hooked wide of the net, sailed over the bar or simply hit right at Atletico’s keeper. Chicharito has two big time second half misses that would’ve looked even worse without the late winner and only goal between the two legs of the Madrid derby.
One has to wonder just how much of an effect the red card on Atletico’s Arda Turan in the last few moments, as the goal was something of brilliance that few could’ve stopped from happening thanks to Ronaldo’s amazing assist.
Just how defensive and brutal was this match overall? It took 28 minutes for either team to put a shot on net, and ironically it was Atletico breaking that seal. Atletico had just one other shot on goal in the match, a shame because manager Diego Simone actually put out a pretty attack-minded lineup for the match.
He replaced captain Gabi with 20-year-old attack-minded Saul, but as the match got going his team fell in to a defensive approach that Simone was all-too-happy to play.
Let’s also speak of the constant flopping, diving and ref manipulation that Real Madrid attempted to get the match going there way when the side was clearly being frustrated by Atletico’s defensive tactics.
After watching brilliant attacking soccer, and yes at times shambolic defensive performances on Tuesday, it was a harsh contrast and a sharp reminder that anything is possible in the UEFA Champions League.