The Quarter-finals of Europe’s most prestigious competition will always be a huge occasion irrespective of who’s playing. Yet, this one will be paritcularly special for English fans. Even if you’re not a supporter of any of the remaining sides, it’s always nice to see your nation’s teams performing well on the European stage. Everyone is aware of how competitive the Premier League is, arguably more now than it ever has been. Periods of dominance from the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool are a thing of the past. Despite the numerous top teams the Premier League showcases, other European clubs have made stronger arguments for being the world’s best. European success has played a major part in that. Real Madrid have ruled Europe in recent times and it’s safe to say that English clubs haven’t come closest to toppling them. This year, however, could be a sign that times are changing. English teams make up half the sides still left in this year’s Champions League and there’s a great chance that there will be at least two going into the Semi-finals.
Current Premier League leaders, Liverpool, hosted Portuguese giants, Porto, last night. Porto and Benfica have dominated domestically. Between them, they’ve won every league title for nearly 20 years, not allowing the likes of Sporting CP or Braga a sniff during that time. This complete control in their nation, though, hasn’t been enough for Porto to be considered serious contenders in Europe. This only emphasises the fierce competition the Champions League offers. In truth, it was always going to be a favourable draw for whoever they were to face. Fortunately for them, Liverpool were the side to be pulled out alongside the Portuguese champions. A lot of spectators would probably have fancied Roma to defeat Porto in the previous round, given their showing in last year’s competition. Porto did well to progress but their underdog status in that tie only further highlights the huge task on their hands in the Quarter-finals. Liverpool are levels beyond the quality of Roma. It would take something special from Porto if they hope to make a shock appearence in the Semis.
If the chances of this happening weren’t already slim enough, they most definitely are now. It took Naby Keita almost an entire season to find his first goal for Liverpool, which came against Southampton in their last game. However, the agile central midfielder now has two in as many games. He opened the scoring at Anfield in just the fifth minute. When Firmino added a second 20 minutes later, this tie looked like it could be all but over having barely begun. This would have been the main concern for the travelling Porto fans. They were witnessing their side struggling to cope with the threat of a prolific Liverpool attack. Nonetheless, they were able to subdue them after their early collapse. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if the Reds had managed to find the net again before the halftime whistle. Not only were they unable to do this, but they also failed to do so during the entire second half. As much as this was a very routine victory for klopp’s men, it has to be considered slightly disappointing when you think about how it started. A two goal home advantage should be more than enough to see Liverpool progress with the second leg yet to play. Their front three grab most of the headlines, but it’s their defence which has been the most improved area of the team. Van Dijk’s arrival has changed Liverpool. A side once shakey and insecure at the back are now one of the most solid in the Premier League. They are more than capable of defending a 2-0 lead even if they are unable to add to it when they travel to Portugal. This being said, I’m sure Klopp would have liked to have gone into the game rid entirely of any doubt. Liverpool are clearly way out in pole position but the lack of more goals in the first leg means this tie is far from over.
The other tie on offer was an all English affair between Tottenham and Manchester City. Spurs christened their new stadium with the comfortable defeat of Crystal Palace in their last game, and will be keen to turn their new home into a fortress. A low to mid-table side is always quite a nice opponent to face when opening a new stadium, but a visit from Premier League champions, Manchester City, would provide a much greater challenge. Although they currently sit in second place, a game in hand means that Guardiola’s side are just edging Liverpool in the title race. Having recently won the Carabao Cup and now secured their place in the FA Cup, the quadruple is well and truly on the cards. There is absolutely no doubt over the quality City posses. Their achievements in domestic football clearly display this, but they continue to let themselves down when it comes to Europe. Manchetser City have never managed to win the Champions League but are better equipped to do that now than they ever have been before. This is something which has led many to label them as favourites for the competition. With Real Madrid, holders and, on paper, probably their closest competitors, already out the competition, this could be the best opportunity to claim the European crown they’ve ever had. Tottenham are never an easy side to face but City are expected to win against virtually anyone they play. It’s safe to say that they were favourites for this one, even if it was just slight.
Things started well for City, who were awarded a penalty when a Sterling strike hit the arm of Danny Rose. Despite the defender only being a few yards away, the ref consulted VAR and awarded City a penalty. Whether it was the right call or not, VAR only seems to be adding confusion around handballs rather than limiting it. We saw a similar occurence in the previous round when Manchester United were handed a penalty late on, which allowed them to secure a miraculous comeback against PSG. There seems to be a real difference between European and Premier League officials when it comes to making decisions like this. There’s a good chance that neither of these penalties would have been given in English football. With VAR being introduced for the start of next season, issues like this have to resolved. Either European officials are too harsh or English ones too lenient. It has to be decided which of them is in the wrong to prevent such controversy when VAR is more widely used. Nonetheless, Spurs will feel a sense of justice in the outcome of the penalty. Aguero was unable to convert from the spot and the match remained level going into the second half. Both sides had chances but it was the home side who finally opened the scoring. Son has played a cameo role to Harry Kane for much of this season and, it truth, his Spurs career entirely. He was the hero last night though, firing home what turned out to be the match winner. Tottenham will be happy with the one goal advantage they take to the Etihad, but the match wasn’t entirley positive on their part. England star-man, Harry Kane, was caught by Fabian Delph on his troublesome left ankle, and forced off. Pochettino has already voiced his concerns that kane may have suffered ligament damage, something which could see the striker out for the rest of the season. Not only will this prove problematic to Tottenham’s hopes of finishing in a top 4 spot, but also to their chances of reaching the Champions League Semi-final. Their lead is a slender one. Preventing City from scoring across two legs is extremely unlikely meaning Spurs will most probably require more goals of their own. They’re more than capable of getting them but it’s a task which will only be tougher given Kane’s absence. This is a tie which still hangs in the balance.
Liverpool and Spurs have put themselves in great positions to progress to the next stage of the Champions League. Whilst Tottenham’s win is easily the greater achievement, it’s Liverpool who will be the more comfortable of the two sides. Porto could pose a few problems, particularly at home, but they shouldn’t have enough to overturn the two goal deficit suffered at Anfield. As for Spurs, any victory against City is a good one. But the job is only half done. Preventing them from scoring at the Etihad and perhaps scoring themselves will require an even greater performance than the one needed to win the first leg. And they, more than likely, won’t have Kane to help them produce it.