Who: English sides Liverpool & Manchester City clash and Spanish powerhouse Barcelona visit Italian stalwarts Roma.
When: Today at 2:45pm eastern.
Why: For a spot in the semi-finals of arguably the most prestigious club soccer tournament in the world, the UEFA Champions League.
How: Last week in the first leg, Liverpool hosted Man City and gave them a proper drubbing to the tune of a 3-0 score line. Superstar Mohamed Salah opened the scoring (12′) by cleaning up a lose ball just outside the 6-foot box. Then, an absolute firecracker from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had City warming up the bus in only the 21st minute. Finally, a perfectly placed cross from Salah allowed Sadio Mane to head one home (31′) and cap off a brilliant first half for the boys in red. It was a scoreless second half, and Liverpool couldn’t be any more pleased with the home result.
Meanwhile over in Spain, it was a 4-1 result that seemed to be played inside of a pinball machine rather than the Camp Nou. The scoring opened late in the first half with Iniesta attempting to play Messi, but Daniele De Rossi put it into the back of his own net (38′) with a sliding interception attempt that turned into a perfectly place shot toward his own goal. Ten minutes into the second half, Barca did well to play the ball into a dangerous area and the knee of Kostas Manolas produced a second own goal (55′) after his own clearance attempt hit the post, then his knee, then crossed the goal line. Just four minutes later, a shot attempt by Roma inside the Barca box was blocked by Pique and the counter was on. A nice one-handed save by Roma keeper Alisson Becker rebounded directly to the foot of, who else, Pique for a tap-in goal (59′). Roma found some life from the foot of Edin Dzeko posting up a smaller defender and tapping in a cross to bury the all-important away goal (80′). Rather than take that momentum into the home match today, Roma failed at clearing once again with Luis Suarez latching onto a blocked cross loose in the box. A quick, precise first-touch strike into the corner of the netting (87′) had Barcelona riding high following leg one.
Leg 1 Review: Given these results, different strategies will come into play with the advancing team needing to win on aggregate scoring. It will be interesting to see how Liverpool and Barca begin the matches. I imagine each will play a more conservative, possession focused game and perhaps counter attack as the desperate sides do everything they can to put goals in and apply pressure.
Leg 2 Preview: It may sound crazy, but you could make the argument that Barca really shouldn’t have scored any goals in the first leg. Two own goals and two from deflections. In each case, Roma was present and defending fairly well. If the ball bounces slightly differently, it likely doesn’t result in a goal. With that being said, keeping Barca off the score sheet is very difficult. They only have 1 loss this season, coming in a Copa Del Rey match. Roma has their back against the wall here. I think they will strike early and give Barca fans a nightmare inducing 0-2 defeat. The announcers will bring up last year’s epic comeback against PSG, but Barca will hang on and go through to the Semi’s.
As for Liverpool v City, I just don’t think City cares about the Champs League following the first leg. I have absolutely no way of knowing that, and they will probably win 5-0 because I’m typing this. I think the first 20 minutes will decide this one. If either team scores quickly, I think the other will be frustrated and try to do too much, allowing the other team to capitalize. What I think will happen is no first half goals, and City bag one in the 70th minute or later, an ultimately meaningless goal.
Liverpool 0 – 1 City
Barcelona 0 – 2 Roma