We are at the halfway point of the Champions League quarter-finals and there were plenty of talking points in all four games, with VAR very much at the forefront of proceedings. Games are still in the balance, with very few goals in it; but taking a look at Champions League winner odds, Barcelona at 5/2 are the favourites to win the competition outright. Ahead of the second leg ties next week, let’s take a look at how our quarter-finalists got on.
Liverpool 2-0 Porto
Liverpool are well in command of their quarter-final against Porto and go to the Estádio do Dragão with a two-goal advantage. It took just five minutes for the Reds to go ahead in this one, with Naby Keita calming any nerves the Anfield faithful may have been feeling. Roberto Firmino then tapped home the second on 26 minutes, following some brilliant play by Jordan Henderson to pick-out Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Porto go into the second leg without that much-needed away goal, but they did create chances – Mousa Marega failing to convert the best of them, with Alisson between the sticks denying him on the half hour mark, before the Malian failed to connect with a volley from just eight yards out.
VAR was needed when a save from the Liverpool keeper was alleged to have hit Alexander-Arnold on the arm. But after the incident was reviewed, the referee awarded Porto a corner, rather than a penalty. It was used again in the second-half, after Mohamed Salah went in hard and high on Danilo Pereira, but the review was inconclusive and no foul was given.
Luck certainly wasn’t on Porto’s side and in 20 attempts, the Portuguese side have never won away at English opponents. They have it all to do in the second leg.
Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Manchester City
Manchester City may have been favourites going into the clash, but Tottenham Hotspur at their shiny new stadium were worthy winners of this close encounter.
There was controversy again when the referee turned to VAR to find out the outcome of a dubious handball. Danny Rose was judged to have handled Raheem Sterling’s shot in the box after 10 minutes. None of the visiting players appeared to protest, but the penalty was awarded after the referee reviewed the footage – with Sergio Aguero’s spot-kick lacking any power and easily saved by Hugo Lloris. The Citizens were left to rue that miss, when 12 minutes from time, Son Heung-min’s low strike eluded Ederson.
But Spurs will have to go into their second leg – and potentially, the rest of the Premier League season – without star-man Harry Kane, who injured his ankle following a clash with Fabien Delph. He left the field to be replaced by Lucas Moura and was later seen leaving the stadium on crutches, while wearing a protective boot. City may not have got their away goal, but Kane’s absence could well be the difference between Spurs progressing and City dominating the second leg at the Etihad.
Ajax 1-1 Juventus
Ajax may have been on top in their clash against the current Italian champions, but they had to come from behind to secure a draw to set up a tasty second leg in Turin.
Cristiano Ronaldo got Juventus’ away goal and also cemented his position as all-time top scorer in the Champions League with 125 goals, when he connected to João Cancelo’s cross with a diving header on the stroke of half time. The goal was against the run of play but Ajax came back out for the second-half in the same spirits and got their much-deserved goal straight after the restart – with David Neres’ curling effort from 15 yards hitting the back of the net.
Ajax can’t feel disheartened though, they were great in possession, with 61% of the ball and the shots rained in on Wojciech Szczesny’s goal (six on target and 19 overall). They will also remember their heroics in the last round, where they lost at home in the first leg of their round of 16 match against Real Madrid 2-1, but went on to win resoundingly 4-1 at the Bernabeu. A similarly big performance is needed again, to set-up a semi-final against the winners of the all-English tie.
Manchester United 0-1 Barcelona
VAR reared its farcical head at Old Trafford where Barcelona won by a solitary goal. Barça certainly weren’t at their best here and by his own usual high standards, Lionel Messi was quiet. But the breakthrough was made on 12 minutes. The Argentine set-up Luis Suarez and his far-post header deflected off United defender Luke Shaw. Having initially been given as offside, VAR confirmed the goal.
Like Ajax, the Red Devils will need to pull it out of the bag and provide a performance similar to their win over Paris Saint-Germain. They managed to overturn their first leg 2-0 defeat with a 3-1 win in Paris and will need to do the same here, this time in Catalunya. But they’ll need to register a shot on target, more than the managed midweek.