Real Madrid is looking to become the first side since Bayern Munich in 1976 to win the title for a third successive season. It got off to the perfect start as Ronaldo capitalized on lax defending to jab in after three minutes – the earliest in a game he’d ever scored in the Champions League.
But it was his second, 19 minutes into the second half, that will be remembered, and the tie was surely settled as Paulo Dybala was then sent off and Marcelo added a third.
Bayern Munich gained the upper hand in the day’s other quarterfinal, winning 2-1 at Sevilla despite a slightly lackluster performance. Pablo Sarabia put the home side ahead but a Jesus Navas own-goal leveled the score five minutes later. Thiago Alcantara headed the winner midway through the second half.
Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League:
Cristiano Ronaldo lives in Juventus’s nightmares
When a home crowd applauds an opposition goal when there is still half an hour of a game remaining, you know you’ve seen something special.
Ronaldo’s first goal was impressive enough as he generated remarkable power and accuracy with a flick of the outside of his right foot, but the second was another level. The chance seemed to have gone when Gianluigi Buffon acrobatically recovered and saved Lucas Vazquez’s shot, but as the ball was returned to the center, Ronaldo leaped, with his back to goal, and shaped an overhead kick just inside the post. Such goals are rare and tend to fall into one of two categories – either a ball smashed as hard as the player can in the general direction of the goal, or a ball guided in, hooked rather than hit. This, though, had both pace and precision, the purest of strikes.
Ronaldo’s first goal of the night meant he had scored in a record 10 straight Champions League games. His second was his 39th of the season, his ninth in six games against Juventus, his 119th in the Champions League (padding his all-time record) and the 649th, total, of his stellar career. Laying on Marcelo’s goal means he also has 36 Champions League assists. When it comes to productivity, there’s been nobody better.
Juventus shows its vulnerability again
The game against Tottenham had offered a warning. Juve then had defended deep and in numbers and because it won, thanks to a 10-minute burst in each leg in which Tottenham dozed off, its performance was hailed by many as an example of classic Italian defensive nous. To an extent perhaps it was, but there was a sense that the Juve retreat was less part of a plan than forced upon the club, that it had been overpowered by Tottenham, and had survived less because of any structural plan than because of the courage and desire of its experienced back line. That can carry a team only so far, though, and the softness Tottenham exposed but was unable to fully exploit was on display again.
Ronaldo is hardly a secret weapon and yet, 168 seconds in, he was left unmarked to dart across the near post and score. But it wasn’t just the neglect of Ronaldo that should cause concern. Two defenders went to Marcelo leaving Isco free on the left so he had time to measure his cross. It can at times feel too easy to keep making the argument that when a team dominates its league as Juventus does–for all Napoli’s efforts this season, it is now four points clear and on course for a seventh straight Serie A title–it forgets how to defend, but that is the sort of goal no top side should be conceding. A record of 21 clean sheets in its last 25 games should worry not only Juventus but Italian football as a whole.
The goal changed the dynamic of the game. Madrid thereafter was quite happy to sit back, avoiding the mistake Tottenham had made of over-committing, and the result was a slightly tepid first half. Toni Kroos struck the bar with a long-range effort and Keylor Navas made a fine reflex save as Gonzalo Higuain met a left-wing free kick, but the sense endured that Madrid was playing rather within itself.
Brilliant as Ronaldo’s finish was for the second goal, it stemmed from a mix-up between Giorgio Chiellini and Buffon, and any doubt about the result disappeared as Dybala, already booked for a dive in the first half, was sent off after picking up a second yellow for a high foot on Dani Carvajal. Marcelo then added the third, all but sending Real Madrid on its way to another semifinal.
Bayern Munich wins, but doesn’t reach top gear
Adding to the sense that nobody can defend anymore was Sevilla’s opening goal against Bayern. Sergio Escudero’s cross from the left was dangerous, but Juan Bernat was dozing as Sarabia took the ball down and finished calmly. Replays suggested he had controlled the ball with his arm and the goal probably shouldn’t have stood, but that doesn’t excuse the weird lack of urgency and decisiveness on the part of the Bayern left back. Again, the temptation is to wonder whether defenders might be more alert if domestic leagues weren’t so one-sided.
Bayern seemed a little rattled, but five minutes later, it was gifted an equalizer as Franck Ribery’s cross deflected off the luckless Navas and squirmed in at David Soria’s near post. Bayern was far from its best, but another Ribery cross brought a second-half winner, the ball looping to the back post where it was turned in by a diving Thiago.
Sevilla will be hard-pressed to overturn that deficit in Munich next week.