Comebacks seems to be the theme of UEFA Champions League in the last-16 stage. Just last week, the world witnessed Luis Enrique’s Barcelona making a historic comeback from 4-0 down to going up by 6-5 on aggregate. This week it was defending English Premiere League Champions Leicester City and Ligue 1 side AS Monaco who came from behind to book a spot in the quarter-finals of the tournament.
Leicester City- The fairy tale continues
When Gianluigi Buffon was asked which side he wishes to avoid in the Champions League quarter-finals, the Italian World Cup winning goalkeeper said, “I want to avoid Leicester. They have enthusiasm and passion, but also the weapons to hurt a side that wants to take the initiative. We’d have everything to lose against them.” Buffon had just been part of Juventus’ 1-0 win (3-0 aggregate) over Porto. Still, the 39-year old preferred he could avoid Leicester and not teams like Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich or Barcelona.
The Foxes showed their tenacity on Tuesday as they went from 2-1 down to 3-2 ahead on aggregate to make their way past Sevilla. The three-time Europa League winners Sevilla were knocked out by an English side, whom they expected to be an easy challenge with their struggles at home and managerial issues this season.
Leicester’s fortunes and form has changed ever since assistant manager Craig Shakespeare took over the reigns of the club after the ouster of former manager Claudio Ranieri. The out-of-form strikers such as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have regained springs in their step as they find traces of form in domestic circuit.
Facing Sevilla at King Power Stadium on the back of two consecutive victories in EPL gave the side the boost of confidence which Jorge Sampaoli’s side could not tackle. A 27th minute nick by the Captain Wes Morgan from Mahrez’s free-kick put the side ahead with an away goal advantage. Just when it looked Sevilla could catch up with Shakespeare’s side in the second half, Leicester frustrated their opponents further with midfielder Marc Albrighton scoring his first goal of the season.
The frustration led to former Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri, who is on a loan spell to Sevilla, headbutting Jamie Vardy in the 73rd minute and being sent off after getting his second yellow card. Talking about the incident after the match, Nasri said, “He (Vardy) was the one who came to my face, and then went on the floor. He played it well. I didn’t touch him. I didn’t do anything with my head… If he was a foreign player, English people would say he is a cheat.”
If one red card wasn’t enough, Sevilla’s manager Sampaoli was also sent off to stands soon after Steven N’Zonzi’s penalty was saved by Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel in the 80th minute, who became the only player in history to save penalties in both the legs of Champions League knockout stages. A disappointed manager after the defeat said, “The two missed penalties damaged us a lot… In football everything is determined by the small details. In that aspect we were worse.”
Leicester moved further in the tournament, becoming the only English side to still survive in the tournament. The returning form of several of Foxes’ key players and the team’s determination to survive can make them a tricky opponent for any side. Buffon is right to assert that which ever team is drawn against Leicester, should not take them lightly.
Manchester City stunned by Monaco’s speed
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, after the 3-1 defeat against Monaco, blamed the team’s performance in the first half of the game for the loss. “That is my only sad thing. You can play and the opponent can beat you, but we were not there. In the right moment, we should be there,” Guardiola said. Playing against the French side in an away game at the back of a solid 5-3 lead in the first leg, Man City expected to make it past Leonardo Jadim’s side, especially with the dangerous striker Radamel Falcao out of the game with a hip injury.
But The Blues were left stunned with Monaco’s speed up in front as the back four failed to contain runs from Kylian Mbappe-Lottin, Thomas Lemar and Fabinho. Mbappe and Fabinho scored a goal each in the first 30 minutes, taking the aggregate to 5-5 as Monaco led in front on away goals by the end of the first half.
A solid start by Manchester City in the second half saw Monaco chasing down Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero. Monaco’s goalkeeper Danijel Subasic made stunning saves to keep their noses in front, but the former Real Madrid players failed to contain Leroy Sane’s goal as Manchester City regained their lead in the 71st minute. Monaco immediately launched another counter attack, and City’s defense stumbled again after a free kick by Lemar saw Tiemoue Bakayoko heading it past Willy Caballero, once again giving the lead to Monaco.
After the comeback victory against Man City, Monaco manager Jardim hoped he could continue his successful European campaign this season. “Today is one of my best moments as a coach but I hope it will not be the last,” he said after the match.
Other results: Juventus 1-0 (3-0 agg) Porto; Atletico De Madrid 0-0 (4-2 agg) Bayer Leverkusen