Champions League takeaways: Real Madrid’s defense delivers; Haaland drought continues with quiet night

The UEFA Champions League semifinals are now set following Wednesday’s action. A day after PSG and Chelsea advanced to the last four, Manchester City and Real Madrid joined them, setting up a wild last four that will begin play later this month. At the end of April and in early May, the semifinals will see PSG face Manchester City and Real Madrid take on Chelsea in two-leg affairs. 

Real Madrid drew at Liverpool 0-0 to cruise through on aggregate, 3-1. City were able to come from behind to win at Dortmund, 2-1, advancing somewhat easily into the next round.

Following the action, here are our takeaways from the day:

With Courtois behind them, Real’s thin defense delivers

One would think that when you are down your main pair of center backs, you are in trouble. After all, we’ve seen the trouble it has caused Liverpool as they are out of the competition and struggling to be a top-four team in the Premier League.

But Real Madrid is just built differently. Rich in depth, even while playing a natural fullback at center back, and a natural midfielder at fullback, Real’s defense has continued to deliver. While Thibaut Courtois has been very good, it’s been all about Nacho and Eder Militao. Neither of them are Raphael Varane or Sergio Ramos, both of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last couple weeks.

But what Zinedine Zidane has done is find a pair that can serve as a bridge until they come back. In the last 270 minutes of action, which includes both legs against Liverpool and El Clasico against Barcelona, Real Madrid have conceded just two goals. 

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While Militao has been the muscle in defense, Nacho has been the brains, positioning himself in superb spots to cut off quality looks on goal. Credit goes to Real Madrid’s midfield for their work defensively as well, but Militao and Nacho have seem to have formed a quick bond that has them on the same page. 

And the fact that Real has this type of depth has to be concerning to Chelsea and potentially whoever they play in the final, if they end up advancing. 

As for Liverpool, they gave it what they could. 37 crosses didn’t result in a whole heck of a lot, and their players looked like they were practicing field goal kicking with so many shots over the frame. In the end, this team didn’t have nearly enough to compete, they generated only 1.20 expected goals from their 15 shots which just isn’t enough when you come into the match needing two goals to have a shot at advancing You never want to go out of a cup, but at least now they can shift focus to the Premier League and look for a strong finish to the season.

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Dortmund did not play to their strengths

Here’s today’s lesson: If you want to score goals, you need to get your best player involved. 

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So, for Borussia Dortmund to overcome Manchester City, they really needed to get Erling Haaland going. Just like in the late moments of any other sport, when you need to score, you go to that person who you can rely on. Whether it is the Los Angeles Lakers needing a bucket and going to LeBron James or Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking for Rob Gronkowski, just give your guy a darn shot. Haaland didn’t get that shot. The superstar striker had just one shot in the first leg and matched that in the second leg. Now, it isn’t that he was doing anything wrong, nor was it that City defended particularly well. Haaland was a bit too deep by design, spending a lot of time defending corner kicks and free kicks. It’s as if Dortmund were comfortable up 1-0 and then before they knew it, the tie was gone.

Haaland should have been sitting himself at midfield for the entire game, knowing his speed and a ball over the top could end up in something. That’s obviously not to say the outcome would have been different, but goodness me, give it a chance. This is why Dortmund are where they are — heading home to watch the rest of the competition later this month like you and me. 

At 1-1, it never felt like Dortmund or Haaland were going to get back into it. And they never did.

City-PSG is the foreign money-fueled clash that is perfect for this era

Look, traditionalists like me will kind of hate this but I like to think I’ve grown to accept it. While City and PSG are two teams with very little history among the big boys before the turn of the century, I’ve now accepted this is where we are in the sport. Fueled by foreign money to convert themselves into global brands, Manchester City and PSG are now two of the biggest clubs in the world when you talk about their results, resources and more. 

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One will get into the final with City looking to for the first time, and PSG looking to get back after that heartbreaking loss to Bayern Munich last season. But one thing is for sure — in this era of the sport, there is no two-leg tie more entertaining on paper.

Whether it be Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden or Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, this is going to be at least 180 minutes that will rival what we saw between PSG and Bayern Munich. 

My early expectation is for City to dominate the chances, and that means Keylor Navas is going to have to be near perfect. With Marquinhos set to be back and perhaps nobody playing better than Mbappe, the winner of this will be the favorite for the May 29 final. 

You may not want to accept it, but it is time to. The future of the sport rests with clubs like these, the new giants of world soccer, and while it may not rub you the right way, it will still be a treat to the eyes that we can all appreciate. 

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