Sport | Chelsea rise in Europe as United fall

This week saw another scintillating round of Champions League football with the concluding ties of the quarter-final stage, leaving some intriguing prospects for the semis.

Tuesday evening began with one of the two English hopes left for the competition, Chelsea, entertaining PSG at Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho’s men had the task of overcoming the 3-1 deficit they suffered in the first leg, and as it turned out Eden Hazard’s away goal from the penalty spot at Parc des Princes proved invaluable for the Blues.

Early in the first half it seemed luck would be against Chelsea when the influential Belgian was forced to leave the field after a picking up a knock, but the introduction of Hazard’s replacement Andre Schurrle proved to be an inadvertent masterstroke. The German was a handful from the outset and opened the scoring on 32 minutes, latching on to a David Luiz flick after Ivanovic’s long throw.

PSG rarely threatened and it seemed they were missing the threat of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The initiative was still with Chelsea in the second half, only PSG keeper Sirigu and the woodwork prevented Chelsea from levelling the tie on aggregate with Schurrle and Oscar seeing efforts rebound off the bar.

However, PSG nearly capitalised on Chelsea’s increasing urgency, as a pinpoint pass from Yohan Cabaye presented  Edinson Cavani with a guilt-edge chance to finish the tie, but the Uruguayan saw his effort blaze over the bar.

It took another masterstroke form the substitute’s bench to seal the tie for Chelsea. Both Torres and Demba Ba, were brought on late on, however it was the out of favour Ba that grabbed the headlines, as he bundled the ball home with three minutes to go. This 2-0 victory saw Mourinho reach a third Champions League semi-final with Chelsea via away goals. The Portuguese will be hoping it will be third time lucky at the semi-final stage in order to add to his tally of two Champions League wins.

In Tuesday’s other tie Borussia Dortmund hosted Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid, with the unenviable task of overturning a three goal deficit. The 2013 runners-up gave the Spanish giants a scare, however, with a determined fight-back.

Dangerman Marco Reus was the architect with two superb finishes to make it 2-0; however the Spaniards should have been living more comfortably after being awarded a penalty early on. Angel Di Maria saw his spot-kick saved by Dortmund goalkeeper Weidenfeller. Reus’ goals had rattled Real Madrid and an agitated Cristiano Ronaldo confined to the bench.

The Germans did not let up on their pressure. Dortmund went a whisker away from taking the tie to extra-time, as Mkhitaryan rounded Casillas, but his effort struck the post. Real Madrid held on to book their fourth consecutive semi-final appearance.

Wednesday saw the second of England’s interests in the competition, as under-fire Manchester United faced the daunting task of having to at least score at the home of the reigning champions Bayern Munich. After a tight 1-1 draw in the first leg at Old Trafford, the second leg was similarly cagey.

Having been written off completely, United were dogged in preventing the German champions from being their usual free-scoring best in the first-half. Valencia thought he gave the Red Devils the lead in the first half, but the goal was chalked off for offside.

The tight pattern of play persisted until the game exploded into life midway into the second half.  A cross from Valencia was cleared in to the path of Evra who rifled a shot in to the top corner off the underside of the crossbar to silence the raucous home crowd.

However, United’s euphoria was short-lived as Ribery picked the ball up from the kick off and his low cross connected with the head of Mandzukic past De Gea to equalise. After conceding United set about attacking Bayern with Rooney unable to finish off chances presented to him.

United’s defence was shaken by the equaliser and ruthless Bayern capitalised on this with Robben sliding the ball through to Muller who tucked it away with ease. The Dutchman then finished the game off himself with a jinking run and a deflected shot. Bayern eased the game out as comfortable 3-1 winners, a result which compounds a disappointing season for Manchester United and eliminates their slim hopes of qualification to next season’s competition.

Wednesday’s other tie was a mouth-watering clash between La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.  Despite the renaissance of Atletico under Diego Simeone many would still have expected Barca to delve into their Champions League experience to come out on top.

However, impressive Atletico continued their fine form even without the prolific Diego Costa. With the tie in the balance at 1-1 after the first leg at the Nou Camp, Atletico seized the initiative on home turf with midfielder Koke putting Simeone’s men into the lead early on. Within first 20 minutes the tie could have been sealed as Atletico saw numerous efforts hit the woodwork.

The second-half saw Barcelona pile on the pressure, however Atletico held to book their first semi-final appearance in the competition since 1974. For Barcelona it meant the first time since 2007 they have failed to reach the last four.


Rhys Stevens

Image courtesy of Sports Mole

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