There were two sides facing three-goal deficits in the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday. It was considered that one had at least a chance of success, but it was the one that did not achieve the unlikely miracle after all.
Roma overcame a 4-1 defeat at Barcelona in the first leg, scoring three unanswered at the shrill Stadio Olimpico to overthrow Lionel Messi & Co. and securing an unlikely spot in the semifinals.
Liverpool, meanwhile, after a difficult first half, finished the work against Manchester City with a 2-1 victory, advancing 5-1 in the aggregate.
The story of the day, however, was Rome. An early goal by Edin Dzeko and a penalty by Daniele De Rossi put Roma in goal with a win away from home, and the winner was Kostas Manolas with eight minutes to go. What was once an academic advantage of Barcelona became an aggregate draw of 4-4, with Dzeko's goal in the first leg as decisive.
In the Etihad, City pressed Liverpool, taking a second-minute lead through Gabriel Jesus, hitting the post and having a goal mistakenly ruled out before halftime. Pep Guardiola was sent to the stands for his protests in that decision, and City never developed the same momentum after the break. The goals of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino resolved the tie, sending Liverpool to the quarterfinals, where unfortunately, Rome joins.
Here are three ideas about the day in the Champions League:
Rome stuns Barcelona vulnerable
Only two sides in the Champions League era (plus another nine in the European Cup) had canceled some once a deficit in the first leg of three goals or more. Barcelona was one of them, overcoming a 4-0 defeat to beat PSG last season, but this was more similar to Deportivo La Coruña which won 5-4 against AC Milan in 2004. Like Depor, Roma had a goal outside the first leg. And like the Depor, nobody gave them the opportunity.
But this is not the Barcelona of 2009 or 2010, or even of 2015. He may still be unbeaten in La Liga, but it was fortunate to defeat Chelsea as comfortably as 4-1 in the aggregate, and 4-1 against Rome in the first leg seemed a margin greater than the performance deserved. This Barcelona has a good defensive record in the interior – only 16 goals in 31 league games – but did not impress Chelsea and was defeated by a simple ball on the top after six minutes, with Dzeko running to score.
Suddenly, he seemed vulnerable. Sergio Busquets, weakened by age, no longer offers the same control against all four sides. The sides no longer inspire the same terror. It turns out that Andrés Iniesta is fallible. Thirteen minutes into the second half, Roma had a second, with De Rossi converting from the spot after Gerard Pique had committed a foul on Dzeko. Suddenly, Rome was one of the goals of the away goals against a Barcelona that had lost the sense of control.
Manolas had scored a properly unfortunate goal in the first leg, his punt hitting the post, bouncing on him, and then cannonade back into the net. Here, he had a glorious redemption, throwing himself down the near post and looking on a deft header from the corner kick of Cengiz Under. Barcelona, finally, was pushed to the urgency. Pique added his height as an auxiliary center forward, but a series of long balls seemed to play against the hands of Rome and the side of Eusebio Di Francesco remained with surprising ease.
Rome is in the semifinals, while each and every one of the thoughts of a Classic semifinal or potential ending vanished.
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The return of Man City vanish
Guardiola had been a Camp Nou ball boy when Barcelona returned 3-0 to IFK Gothenburg in the semifinal of the European Cup in 1986 to win on penalties, and for a time it seemed that it could inspire a similar result as a coach. The city had to attack and settle with an amazingly attacking lineup. Guardiola used a back-three for the first time since the dead rubber group game against Shakhtar Donetsk, with Kyle Walker deployed to the right of the three with a license to move on. Fernandinho was a lone midfielder, with Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva as strikers and Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane as wingbacks, leaving Raheem Sterling to play alongside Gabriel Jesus.
Apart from everything else, that meant that Sterling was able to start the press very high, and it was he who closed Virgil van Dijk which led to the first goal after 117 seconds. The Dutch defender seemed to think that he was sanctioned and half stopped when he ran directly towards Bernardo Silva, the ball bouncing inside Fernandinho, whose pass he placed in Sterling to touch Gabriel Jesus.
With the ball boys remarkably Quick to put the ball back into play, the plan was clearly to keep the pressure on Liverpool, suffocate them, induce panic and, to a certain extent, it worked. The use of the ball by Liverpool was poor and could easily have fallen a goal further back before halftime. Luck was next to Jurgen Klopp when a shot from Bernardo Silva shook Dejan Lovren and hit the post when he was probably curling, and then Leroy Sane had a goal wrongly discarded just before halftime.
The city never developed the same momentum in the second half, exhausted, perhaps, by their efforts in the first half, and the quiet end of Salah at 11 minutes of the second half equaled the score, which, with the rule of the away goals, the draw was effectively ended. Roberto Firmino took advantage of a mistake by Nicolas Otamendi to be absolutely sure with 13 minutes left, giving Liverpool his third victory over Man City in three months in the Premier League and Champions League.
The referee stands out in Man City
Criticizing the referees is one of the most tedious tactics of the conspiracy theorists, but it is fair to say that the Spanish official Antonio Mateu Lahoz did not have a good game. His biggest mistake came with disapproval of Sane's apparent objective. Although the German end was beyond the goalkeeper Loris Karius when the ball bounced in the goal area and would normally be in an offside position, the ball bounced back to James Milner, so came into play . Mysteriously, Lahoz did not add additional time in the first half, despite booking five players.
Before Lahoz was designated for the game, Guardiola had made reference last week to his performance in the last time of last season, when Sergio Aguero booked for diving after he had apparently been eliminated by the goalkeeper. Monaco Danijel Subasic, who probably should have been sent off.
Guardiola dragged the players who were berating Lahoz when they left the field at halftime, but his fury with the official was clear, as he repeatedly pointed to his eye and then the penalty area where the incident had taken place. He was banished to the stands in the second half, the first time he was sent from the sideline in his career in the city. It is not known how the result could have been altered if Sane's objective had been allowed to remain.