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Uefa Champions League semifinal ties are evenly balanced after first legs

Uefa Champions League semifinal ties are evenly balanced after first legs
Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City celebrates scoring his side’s second goal during the Uefa Champions League Group C match between Manchester City FC and FC Barcelona at Etihad Stadium in this file photo. (Photo: Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)

Following the collapse of the European Super League before it even kicked off, attention turned back to the existing European premier club competition, the Uefa Champions League (UCL).

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

The 2021 edition of the UCL is nearing a climax, with just three more matches left to play after the first legs of the semifinals dished up some enterprising football.

Real Madrid and Chelsea played out to a 1-1 draw, while Manchester City mounted an impressive comeback to claim a 2-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).

Thriller in Paris

It’s the first half and the favourites to claim the crown, City, are cornered on the ropes and blocking left swings and right jabs from last season’s losing finalists, PSG.

Brazilian superstar Neymar and his Argentine teammate Ángel Di María are delivering pinpoint corners as the Parisians launch attack after attack on the English champions-in-waiting.

Eventually, after yet another inviting corner from Di María, PSG captain Marquinhos evades the Citizens’ defence to glance in a header and land a blow that sends City tumbling to the floor.

Manchester manage to pull themselves off the ground after that blow and avoid any more deadly hits for the rest of the first round.

For the second 45 minutes they came out a completely different side and showed no ill effects from being initially dominated.

Now it was their turn to dominate. No doubt Pep Guardiola, twice a winner of the Champions League, had given his players an earful for the lax display.

Key components to the City mechanics such as Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez came to the forefront to capitalise on an exposed PSG side.

By the 71st minute they had taken advantage of the Parisians’ weak defensive stance and landed key strikes to leave PSG recoiling in disbelief at how they’d squandered the tie from a position of dominance.

“It is difficult to explain why they were better but we were better in the first half… We didn’t show the energy you need,” said PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino on his team’s lacklustre second-half showing.

Although it is now advantage to City as the teams gear up for the second leg in Manchester, the match is far from over, as Guardiola was quick to point out after the game.

“I was happy that in the locker room afterwards, the players were so calm. No cheering, just calm, because we know anything can happen in the second leg,” said the Spanish tactician.

Whatever happens, football fans are sure to be enthralled once again as two exciting sides go toe to toe.

Werner you going to score?

If you’re Timo Werner right now, it does rain. In fact it pours – just not goals. The German forward once again provided a lesson to budding strikers on how not to finish as he passed up a great opportunity to hand Chelsea a commanding lead 2-1 going into the second leg of the two sides’ semifinal tie.

There was hope that Werner, despite his early season struggles, would start showing the form that saw him terrorise defences in the colours of RB Leipzig in Germany.

That hasn’t been the case and wasn’t so either on a rainy night in Madrid as Werner, already short on confidence, squandered a glorious chance with the ball simply requiring a tap-in and the goal agape.

“There are millions of people who have harder things to deal with than chances that you miss,” commented Chelsea’s manager, Thomas Tuchel, on Werner’s woes.

“So, the good thing about sport is that no one cares tomorrow. Today we were sad and angry in the moment – this is normal. He is sad, he is angry and disappointed.”

If Chelsea are to oust the 13-time European champions they will have to be more clinical than they were in this first leg. But it won’t be easy. Zinedine Zidane’s side has been there, done that and won the trophy over and over again.

“There are struggles because you’re up against another team, it’s a Champions League semifinal and you’ve got to dig in, but I’m delighted for the players because we’re still in it and we now know that we have to go to London and score goals and try to win the game,” Zidane said after the game.

PSG will clash with City again on Tuesday, 4 May. Chelsea and Madrid lock horns in London the next day. Kickoff for both games is 9pm. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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