Champions League Roundup: Premier League Woes, Mbappe Heroics, and Real Madrid’s Everlasting Love Affair

Coming out of the UCL quarter-finals, there were many upsets and memorable moments.

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By Carmen Gomez-Villalva

In this season’s edition of the Champions League, the perennially enticing knockout rounds once again lived up to the hype. Real Madrid was able to go the distance and beat Manchester City in a penalty shootout; Barcelona’s hard-fought efforts in the first leg were helpless to Kylian Mbappé’s second-leg heroics; Borussia Dortmund had a triumphant comeback against Atletico Madrid, securing a 5-4 win on aggregate; and Bayern Munich pushed aside Arsenal’s European dreams through a Joshua Kimmich goal at the Allianz in the 63rd minute. Europe’s premier competition showed why it’s the best, giving us competitive ties across the board.

Heartbreak for Barcelona

The clash between Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain was important for both sides: it meant Barcelona’s hopes of a UCL final for the first time in nearly ten years were still alive, and a potential first UCL title for PSG. With Mbappé searching for his first UCL title in his final season at PSG and winger Lamine Yamal looking to add to his breakout season at just 16 years old, it was sure to be a game for the ages.

The first leg started in Barcelona’s favor, as Brazilian winger Raphinha struck blood following a save by keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and a failed clearance by the PSG defense. PSG winger Ousmane Dembélé and midfielder Vitinha responded with one goal each, but Raphinha’s equalizer and center-back Andreas Christensen’s header secured Barça’s first leg victory.

Though there were goals galore, the moment that sparked outrage from Barcelona fans was when Dembélé celebrated after his goal against his former club, where constant injuries kept him from developing into the star he was expected to become. The hefty price tag and little end product brought sour relations between the two parties. Barcelona fans’ frustrations were put on display when they booed Dembélé with every touch of the ball in the return leg.

Coming out of the first leg, Barcelona was in great shape, and fans were more than ecstatic to see their team have a fighting chance at a long-awaited UCL title. Barcelona went into the second leg with momentum as Raphinha once again found his name on the scoresheet in just the 12th minute. However, any advantage for Barça faded when center-back Ronald Araujo received a red card in the 29th minute after denying PSG forward Bradley Barcola a clear goal-scoring opportunity. The fixture only went downhill for Barcelona after that, as Dembélé and Vitinha both managed to score again, putting the tie at 4-4 on aggregate. In classic Mbappé fashion, he managed to secure two goals of his own, putting Barcelona’s Champions League dreams away and moving one step closer to cementing his name amongst the greats. Seemingly like every year, Barça fans were left heartbroken in the UCL.

A Clash Between Two Giants

Going into the match, fans knew that Manchester City vs. Real Madrid would be an instant classic. City boasted an impressive roster of world-class players such as midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, striker Erling Haaland, midfielder Phil Foden, and midfielder Bernardo Silva. Similarly, Real Madrid had a young and talented roster consisting of players like summer signing forward Jude Bellingham and speedy Brazilian wingers Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr. The two powerhouses are forging something of a rivalry, with Real Madrid pulling off an incredible comeback in 2021/22 and Man City trouncing Real Madrid in the second leg in 2022/23.

Immediately, City showed they had come to play, with Silva driving an unsuspecting freekick past Ukrainian keeper Andrey Lunin’s outstretched hand in just the second minute. However, Madrid fought back with two goals through an own goal by City defender Ruben Dias and another by Rodrygo in a mere three-minute interval. Foden then displayed his superb technique when he set himself up for a shot from the top of the box, which nestled into the top left corner. Somewhat surprisingly, defender Joško Gvardiol scored his first City goal in wonderous fashion in the 71st minute to gain the lead, only to be outdone by Madrid midfielder Federico Valverede with a beautiful strike of his own in the 79th minute.

After the first leg, it seemed the second leg would also deliver a spectacle. In the 12th minute, Vinicius was able to drive into the box and cross it to Rodrygo, who managed to score on the rebound after a quick-reaction save from City goalie Ederson. Real Madrid’s defense held up for the first 75 minutes, but following a failure to clear the ball, De Bruyne capitalized and tied the game with a mere 14 minutes left to spare. The two teams exchanged a series of counterattacks and shots on goal, but the score was still even after extra time, leading to a penalty shootout. 

Longtime Madridista Luka Modric was the first to take the penalty, but missed his opportunity to put Real on the front foot. Unfortunately for City, Bernardo Silva was no better, and he shot the ball directly at Lunin. Bellingham was able to pocket his goal, putting Real Madrid back in the game. Sadly, Kovacic’s miss killed all hope for Man City. Their double treble dream had come to an end, and Real Madrid got their revenge against their perennial European rivals. 

No End to Revenge: Seven Years in the Making

Following their high Premier League finish last season, Arsenal cemented themselves as a formidable team. Though Bayern Munich are an established team with six Champions League titles to their name, this year was the first time since 2012/13 where they did not win the Bundesliga, ending their unprecedented streak of 11 consecutive titles. There was no better time for Arsenal to break down the longtime barrier between them and European success. With strong players like midfielder Declan Rice, winger Bukayo Saka, and center-back Gabriel dos Santos Magalhães, Arsenal looked more complete than ever.

Arsenal came in blazing at the iconic Emirates Stadium, with Saka scoring through three defenders with impressive precision. Soon after, Arsenal’s defense lost their composure and blundered the ball to Bayern. With two quick passes, Ganabry quickly made his way into the box, sliding the ball right past the keeper and infuriating the Arsenal faithful. Arsenal’s defense made yet another critical mistake in fouling Kane in the box, leading to a penalty that Kane easily pocketed, giving Bayern a one-goal lead. This time, an error in Bayern’s defense following a lost possession from a throw-in allowed midfielder Leandro Trossard to quickly capitalize. He shot directly into the bottom left corner to make the first leg 2-2. Arsenal dominated the first match in possession, creating five more shots, 160 more passes, and having 20 percent more possession to make up for their poor defensive performance

However, Bayern Munich came back determined in the second leg, dominating both on and off the ball. Bayern looked very dangerous early on, with many chances made in the first half by Kimmich constantly crossing the ball into the box to Kane. Many chances were missed, even hitting the bar and the post consecutively. However, Arsenal’s defense cracked once again, unable to mark Kimmich as he scored an easy header in the 63rd minute. For the first time in many years, it seemed Arsenal had a considerable chance at a UCL title. But with no response at the Allianz, Arsenal’s European road came to an end.

A Renewed Spark for the First Time in 12 Years

For the last 11 years, Dortmund hasn’t been able to make it past the quarter-finals despite many young talents such as midfielder Jude Bellingham, midfielder Jadon Sancho, and striker Erling Haaland. Unfortunately for them, they also haven’t displayed great composure in the Bundesliga this season, as they are currently in fifth place and are far short of their typical second-place finishes. Similarly, Atletico Madrid has been performing poorly in the league, sitting in fourth place in La Liga.

Very early on in the first leg, Atletico’s attack displayed great stamina, pressing hard on Borussia Dortmund’s defense. Being pressed by Morata, Dortmund keeper Gregor Kobel made a bad pass to an already surrounded defender. Atleti midfielder Rodrigo De Paul quickly capitalized on the opportunity and scored an easy goal, putting Atletico ahead very early on in the game. Just two minutes later, forward Antoine Griezmann delivered a stellar cross to midfielder Axel Witsel, who almost managed to score a backheel goal if not for Kobel’s redeeming save. Followed by another failed clearance in the 31st minute, winger Samuel Lino delivered a clean shot right into the bottom corner of the net, sweeping past Kobel’s reaching arm. For most of the second half, it seemed as if Dortmund’s forwards couldn’t get past Atletico’s ironclad defense. That was until the 80th minute when forward Julian Brandt made a quick one-touch pass to striker Sebastian Haller, who managed to control the ball and finish it into the bottom left corner. Despite winger Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and Brandt’s excellent attempts on goal to shift the momentum in the final minutes, they weren’t enough to tie the match.

In the second leg, Dortmund displayed their hunger, creating a chance early on in the third minute. However, midfielder Marcel Sabitzer’s unwise decision to take an extra touch even though he had a clear shot on goal threw the precious chance away. In the fourth minute following a free kick for Dortmund, Atletico quickly put together a counterattack, putting Morata one-on-one with Kobel. This became another wasted opportunity, as Morata chipped the ball out of bounds. In the 33rd minute, Brandt put hope back into the hearts of the Yellow Wall, squeezing a ball past Oblak and equalizing on aggregate. Atletico fell even further apart, as they were unable to stop winger Ian Maatsen from running into the box and sliding the ball right into the far bottom right, putting Dortmund ahead.

Unfortunately for Dortmund, this period of grace ended sooner than expected, with Atletico dominating the early part of the second half. Their breakthrough came in the 48th minute when Hummels put the ball in his own net and allowed Atleti to equalize. Then in the 63rd minute, Angel Correa managed to find his way into a goal following two initial saves, putting Atletico Madrid back in the lead.

Although all hope seemed to be lost, Dortmund responded with two goals in the 71st and 74th minute to put them 5-4 up on aggregate. Atletico Madrid was ultimately unable to come up with a solution to Dortmund’s lead, and Borussia Dortmund finally broke the 11-year-long curse.

The quarter-finals served as nothing less than pure excitement for fans. Following the three draws in the first leg and the very slight Barcelona lead, the second leg was just as, if not more, entertaining as the first leg. The stage has been set for the semi-finals, with Paris Saint-Germain taking on Borussia Dortmund, and Real Madrid facing Bayern Munich. Will Dortmund finally break the curse? Will Mbappe finally get his hands on an elusive UCL title? Or will powerhouses Real Madrid and Bayern Munich add to their legacies with another UCL trophy? Only time will tell.