Hits and misses: Haaland falls short when it matters again in CL exit

Haaland falls short against Madrid again

Erling Haaland was unable to inspire Manchester City
Erling Haaland was unable to inspire Manchester City

The night had started well for Erling Haaland. The Norwegian was the recipient of the Champions League golden boot having scored 12 times en route to lifting the trophy last season. It was a peculiar time to be collecting the award, coming before being well-marshalled by both Nacho and Antonio Rudiger.

Despite mustering just 21 touches, the expectation was that he would emerge for extra time. There had been one moment during the first half when he accelerated away from Nacho to remind onlookers that he is a lot more than just a finisher to bring in Jack Grealish.

Haaland would have five attempts of his own, amassing an xG of 0.68 – higher than any team-mate. He would hit the crossbar and send another header over. And yet, the Etihad was stunned to see his number go up as Julian Alvarez was introduced.

Earlier in the contest, Pep Guardiola had replaced Grealish with Jeremy Doku in a move which paid off handsomely. But replacing Haaland? Even with the possibility of penalties half an hour away, it seemed an odd decision.

And so it emerged, with Guardiola confirming that the striker had asked to be replaced. Haaland’s final act came with the last touch of normal time as he couldn’t direct another header on target. Thereafter, City ran out of ideas with the low road proving easier for the Madrid defence to navigate.

“You always do everything to try and avoid going to penalties, that’s what they wanted, but it’s difficult to take,” Ruben Dias said afterwards. City’s designated taker watched on powerless from the sidelines.

Having failed to score at the Santiago Bernabeu – and across the Champions League semi-final against Real last season – those lingering doubts over Haaland’s influence on the biggest stage will grow.
Ben Grounds

Madrid somehow find a way to win

Jude Bellingham celebrates Real Madrid's penalty shootout victory over Manchester City
Jude Bellingham celebrates Madrid’s penalty shootout win

Manchester City had 67 per cent of the ball and 33 shots but still it did not prove to be enough to eliminate Real Madrid, the team Pep Guardiola calls the kings of Europe. Somehow, Carlo Ancelotti’s team found a way to progress – on penalties.

“I don’t judge the ideas of Carlo and how they decided to play,” said Pep Guardiola afterwards. It was certainly unusual to see the 14-time champions of Europe protecting their penalty box for two hours but what was striking was how good they were at it.

Real Madrid average 59.4 per cent of the possession in La Liga but this was not the day job. Facing City demanded a different approach. “They defended deeper than previous seasons,” said Guardiola. Their concentration was remarkable, every movement was tracked.

Andriy Lunin saves Bernardo Silva's disastrous penalty
Andriy Lunin saves Bernardo Silva’s disastrous penalty

Dani Carvajal was run ragged by Grealish and then Doku but he was still hugely impressive. Nacho came in for the suspended Aurelien Tchouameni and was superb. Antonio Rudiger erred for the equaliser but was otherwise magnificent and had the final say.

When it went to penalties, the reaction to Luka Modric seeing the first Madrid kick saved was noticeable – the rest of the group rallying him. It was as if nothing, from City’s dominance to falling behind in the shoot-out, would shake their belief.

Ultimately, they had their reward. It was not a swaggering display fit for a king, but the resolve had to be admired. “To win against Real Madrid, we have to be at our best,” said Guardiola. “We were at our best but it was not quite enough.” Madrid found a way.
Adam Bate

Just the start for Arsenal in the Champions League

Mikel Arteta reacts as Arsenal fall to defeat in Munich
Mikel Arteta reacts as Arsenal fall to defeat in Munich

Another chance of silverware slipped from Arsenal’s grasp in Munich.

It was another disappointing night for the Gunners following their defeat to Aston Villa on Sunday, which handed Man City the initiative in the Premier League title race.

However, while Sunday’s result left the Emirates Stadium flat and deflated as hopes of winning a first Premier League title since 2003/04 suffer a setback, defeat in Europe can be a crucial part of the building and learning process for Mikel Arteta’s young side as they look to become a real force in the Champions League.

“We have to go through the pain,” Arteta said after the 1-0 defeat at the Allianz Arena, which saw the Gunners crash out of the tournament 3-2 on aggregate. “The club has been without Champions League football for seven years and you want to play in the first year and be in the semi-finals or the final. We all wanted that so badly, but you can see in many other clubs it takes them sometimes six or seven years to get to that stage. But we were very close, that’s the reality.”

Arsenal were knocked out of the Champions League on Wednesday night, which ended their chances of playing in next season's Club World Cup
Arsenal were knocked out of the Champions League on Wednesday night, which ended their chances of playing in next season’s Club World Cup

Manchester City didn’t make it out of the group stage in their two appearances in the Champions League. They reached one semi-final in their first eight goes at it. They reached the final in their 10th crack at it and only lifted the trophy at the 13th attempt.

The point is it takes time and there’s no shame in a quarter-final exit at the hands of Bayern Munich, who reached a 14th semi-final in the competition.

Arsenal’s lack of experience showed in this tie as they handed the initiative to Bayern at a crucial time in the first leg when they were dominant. They switched off for a split second in the second and they were punished. Arteta said it himself: “There was zero margin.”

But just as sides have gone through it before them in Europe’s premier club competition, this young Arsenal side will learn from this. Arteta will learn from this, and the challenge is to keep building, keep improving and going on the trajectory they have been, and come back stronger for another crack next season.
Oliver Yew

Dier – not Kane – helps Bayern see off Arsenal

Eric Dier was key in stopping Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-final second leg, rather than Harry Kane
Eric Dier was key in stopping Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-final second leg, rather than Harry Kane

Much – if not all – of the pre-match build-up to the Bayern vs Arsenal tie focused on Harry Kane. Tottenham’s former captain, top scorer and icon taking on the old foe for his new club where a league title has slipped from their grasp to the hilarity of some.

He fulfilled the prophecy at the Emirates – even suggesting Spurs fans will want Arsenal to win for the sake of the Champions League coefficient – but was anonymous in the second leg on Wednesday.

In fact, it was another former Tottenham player in Eric Dier who had the biggest say in Arsenal’s exit.

It was a congested, tight battle in the midfield, and Dier was effective there as well as in his defensive role. He was top in Bayern’s team for tackles (4), interceptions (3) and total passes (76, with 93.4 per cent accuracy).

Dier also came under the spotlight pre-match for his comments on Ange Postecoglu, but showed confidence and big-game maturity for Bayern Munich.

Along with Kane, the pair now face the challenge of Real Madrid in the semi-finals. More of the same from Dier and consistency from Kane could help Bayern another Champions League final at Wembley.
Charlotte Marsh

Dembele relishes role as scourge of Barcelona

Ousmane Dembele sparked PSG's impressive comeback
Ousmane Dembele sparked PSG’s impressive comeback

Barcelona ran out at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys armed with a 3-2 triumph from their first meeting in Paris and when Raphinha capitalised on Lamine Yamal’s skilful approach work to fire in the opener, they had sight of the last four.

But that all changed in the 29th minute when defender Ronald Araujo was sent off for tripping winger Bradley Barcola on the edge of the area, VAR confirming the on-field decision for a red card.

PSG didn’t look back. The pressure built on the home goal and Barcelona self-imploded. Joao Cancelo, culpable for Ousmane Dembele’s goal before the break, then brought down the same player inside the box as Kylian Mbappe completed an impressive turnaround.

Xavi had hoped his Barcelona farewell would end with silverware at Wembley following a 13-game unbeaten run since he confirmed his summer departure back in January. But here he was dismissed for kicking pitchside water bottles as hopes of a fairytale ending went down the drain.

For Dembele, jeered throughout by the home supporters, this was the sort of performance which made him Barcelona’s second-most expensive signing when he joined for £135m in 2017.

When the 26-year-old moved to PSG last summer, he was earmarked as Mbappe’s replacement, but he is only just starting to replicate the attacking output required to be mentioned in the same breath as the player who, with 48 goals, has equalled Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the 10th-highest scorer in Champions League history.

For now, PSG are more than happy to have them both in search of their Holy Grail.
Ben Grounds

Xavi blows lid but Barcelona have themselves to blame

Xavi struggled to contain his emotions at full time
Xavi struggled to contain his emotions at full time

Xavi Hernandez berated the referee and said his performance cost Barcelona a chance to fight for a place in the Champions League semi-finals – but there was little in the way of injustice to the Catalans’ elimination.

Barcelona were in control when they were reduced to 10 just before the half-hour after last man Araujo was shown a red card for a foul on Bradley Barcola.

Xavi complained bitterly to referee Istvan Kovacs. “I told him his performance was a disaster.” A frank admission, but Barcelona were incapable of managing the game.

Joao Cancelo, who was deemed surplus to requirements by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, demonstrated why he is better at going forward than defending in two moments which cost Barcelona the tie.

First, he fell asleep at the far post to allow Dembele to reduce the deficit before he then fouled the same player in the 61st minute with a sliding tackle to concede a penalty that Kylian Mbappe fired into the top corner to move the visitors in front in the tie.

Barcelona’s exit from the Champions League sent Atletico Madrid to the inaugural 32-team Club World Cup in the United States next year as Spain’s second representative. All-in-all, a bleak night for the Blaugrana.
Ben Grounds

Sabitzer reminds Man Utd of what might of been

Marcel Sabitzer
Marcel Sabitzer celebrates his winner against Atlei

Marcel Sabitzer showed glimpses of his obvious talent during last season’s six-month loan stay at Man Utd, albeit not enough to convince manager Erik ten Hag to turn his short-term stay at Old Trafford into a permanent move last summer.

However, given the Austria international’s impressive display to help his side edge through to the Champions League semi-finals after a 5-4 aggregate win over Atletico Madrid, maybe United and Ten Hag erred in that decision.

The 30-year-old joined Borussia Dortmund instead in July and has so far contributed six goals and eight assists in 34 games in total, including two assists and a goal to help see off Atleti in a rousing quarter-final on Tuesday.

And just when his side needed him, Sabitzer first produced a wonderful cross from the left flank which Niclas Fullkrug headed home, before scoring the winner minutes later with a characteristic long-range strike.
Richard Morgan

Defence proves Atleti’s Achilles heel for once

When Angel Correa thumped Atleico 4-3 ahead on aggregate with just 25 minutes left to play at the Westfalenstadion, this pulsating last-eight tie appeared to have taken its final twist.

However, there was always this nagging feeling that this Atleti side did not have the usual DNA of most Diego Simeone teams in that they had appeared defensively weak throughout the two ties.

And as it proved as back roared Dortmund to score twice themselves in quick time and the post-match stats said it all as the visitors conceded four or more goals in a Champions League knockout stage game for just the second time, while they also gave up five shots on target in the first half of a Champions League knockout stage match for the first time since May 2017.

Ultimately, that was to prove decisive as Simeone’s men just could not hold on for another semi-final appearance.
Richard Morgan

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