Nunez passes the Premier League test
Benfica striker Darwin Nunez’s performance will leave the club hierarchy rubbing their hands together as their star player added millions to his asking price.
Newcastle, Arsenal and Manchester United have all been linked with a £60m move.
The Uruguayan striker has achieved great reviews, scoring 32 goals in 37 games this season.
If this was a test for a player to see if he could cut it against elite opposition in the Premier League, he managed to pass it with flying colors at Anfield despite the lack of service he could feed on.
He’s a striker fully prepared to take on the rigors of English football. He can run, he can carry the ball and at Anfield, he showed he can finish the match. Potential suitors watching will be impressed with his ability to play through the middle or out, too. Another day he could have walked away with the match ball in this strange clash in the Champions League where Liverpool were in complete control but managed to conceded three goals and got two more for offside.
Records will say that Nunez scored only one goal, but put the ball in the net three times, showing his killer ability to finish the competition. It was unfortunate that he was a bit ahead of the play on both occasions which led to the assistant referee’s flag being hoisted. There was another great drive from the edge of the zone that forced Allison to tackle a very low baby.
He is a player.
Atletico’s hateful approach
The tactical approach of Atlético de Madrid is completely legitimate. Against perhaps Europe’s most formidable team, they were one shot away from Angel Correa to take the match into overtime in front of their fans after more than three hours of football.
But this does not mean that the behavior of Stefan Savic and Felipe in this tie is condoned. It would be a mistake to conflate their aggressive tactics – high concentration and low ball – with the antics that ended the quarter-final match with Manchester City with such intensity.
There is always a place for tactical diversity. That’s what made this legged bow tie such a sucker watch. But Felipe’s fault on Phil Foden who drew blood from his head? The overly aggressive Savic seems to enjoy? The game has little need for that.
It’s very easy to say it’s part of what makes Atlético so good. Here, with them chasing a late equaliser and City looking uncomfortable under the pressure, distracted and distracted by what the Correa players and Diego Simeone were trying to do.
A Man City win has a price
Pep Guardiola can be proud of how his team faced the test. City could not keep the ball in the second half. He will hate it. But there were lumps. There were quiet heads in the Atlético cauldron. The top teams come through tough tests. The city did it here.
Guardiola’s problem – perhaps because of their brilliance – is that they cannot afford to turn their attention to the Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid. They have internal affairs, too.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team leads 12 points at the top of the Spanish League and is eliminated from the King’s Cup. City meet Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Saturday feeling they may also need to win every Premier League game to win the title.
The injuries sustained by Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker in Madrid – after both played the full game against Liverpool on Sunday – underscore how difficult it is to continue to play three different competitions, let alone win them. This victory may have a price.
Gorgeous Tuchel, Giant James
We do not do management evaluations here at Sky Sports – Only for the players – but if we did, Thomas Tuchel would be close to 10/10 for one of the greatest Champions League comebacks.
Chelsea were putting Real Madrid to the test, beating them in large portions and outselling them for the most part. In their own backyard. It stemmed from Tuchel’s plan to play bravely to hurt the La Liga leaders in search of goals but also to keep Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema calm at the other end after the pair were decimated at Stamford Bridge in the first half. It worked magic.
A great manager needs great players to carry out such instructions.
And Tuchel has plenty of these at his disposal.
His team played with amazing discipline but also blended that with pulsating energy throughout the pitch that didn’t allow Real Madrid’s key players time to raise their heads and work their magic. Well, they probably allowed such occasions twice.
It was a pity that Luka Modric, Vinicius Junior and Benzema are of such quality that they are talented enough to take half the chances. Modric’s ball for Rodrygo’s decisive equalizer can take you to soccer heaven every time you watch it.
Rhys James summed up Chelsea’s tactically savvy performance with the way he handled Vinicius Jr.
There were other champions from Chelsea as well. Mason Mount ran until his feet stopped running and scored a superb goal, Ruben Loftus-Cheek adapted his style very skillfully to play in a Massey midfield and supported James when he needed it, while Marcos Alonso provided his usual but backed up his usual abilities. Error-free performance.
But it was James who stole the show.
His defensive prowess was to stifle the Brazilian despite being booked after just 10 minutes of being ridiculed at times. He made eight tackles per night – no other Chelsea player has made more than four. This showed how much defense the academy graduate was asked to deal with. Even as Benzema ventured into James’s area of the field, he was there to block him, flapping the ball away from the striker with his finger to deny the Frenchman a clean shot into the net from eight yards.
After the match, Benzema asked for James’ shirt, which said it all.
Emery’s magic touch in Europe
Arsenal fans may not have the fondest memories of Unai Emery, but the recent killing of European giants Villarreal is a reminder of his extraordinary pedigree in the continental competition.
Emery, who led Villarreal’s successive attackers to European League glory against Manchester United last season, has now led the club to the Champions League semi-finals for the second time ever.
Villarreal’s Europa League victory last May was the fourth in Emery’s coaching career, and the 50-year-old deserves credit for taking that success into the Champions League this season.
Villarreal scored a stunning 3-0 away win over Juventus to secure their place in the quarter-finals, but their elimination over Bayern, who were nine points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, was even better.
Emery outplayed Julian Nagelsmann in the first leg and Tuesday’s second leg performance, in the cauldron of the Allianz Arena, where Bayern scored 20 goals in their previous six matches in all competitions, was even more impressive.
They defended flawlessly, blocking out the spaces Bayern love to work in and forcing them instead to resort to a series of promising passes from wide areas. Then, when they had opportunities to step forward, they did so with confidence and conviction.
The word “Master-class” is easily pervasive in modern football, but Emery’s two-legged coaching performance, against one of Europe’s strongest teams, should go down as one.
Bayern dominated the ball and territory in 180 minutes but Villarreal dominated and held them in Spain, except for a period of about 20 minutes after the break on Tuesday night, they did the same in Germany.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool could be next, but they won’t fear Villarreal – not when they have a European specialist like Emery leading the way.
Lewandowski’s last transfer in Europe for Bayern?
Bayern Munich’s match with Villarreal ended with a heartbreak for the German giants but not before Robert Lewandowski once again made clear why he is one of the world’s deadliest strikers – if not. The The deadliest.
The Poles suffered a frustrating first half against Villarreal central defenders Raul Albiol and Pau Torres, struggling to put themselves in the game, but when his chance came shortly after the break, he seized it in typical clinical fashion.
His goal, a low shot and an early shot that bounced into the net from above the post, was his thirteenth goal in the Champions League this season, an astonishing number that could earn him the Golden Boot despite Bayern’s quarter-final exit.
It was also his 30th in the competition’s playoffs, making him the third player to reach that achievement after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But the question now is whether he will continue his pursuit of Champions League glory at Bayern or elsewhere next season. Barcelona are very interested in signing him and it is unlikely that he will be his only fiancé this summer.
Bayern’s early elimination from the competition he so desires won’t help them keep him while he contemplates his next move.