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Three titles on the line after City, Liverpool hold on to reach Champions League semis

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PARIS: Manchester City and Liverpool moved a step closer to adding to the legacy of their modern rivalry when they advanced to the semi-finals of the Champions League. Cross the last-four hurdle and the English rivals will be clashing for European football’s top prize in Paris on May 28.

And despite their performances in the second legs of their respective quarter-finals on Tuesday not at vintage levels — City holding out for a goalless draw against Atletico Madrid in the Spanish capital to advance 1-0 on aggregate and Liverpool suffering a defensive collapse in a 3-3 draw with Benfica at home before going through 6-4 overall, a third all-English final in four seasons seems highly likely.

Neither manager, though, delved too much on the prospects of that happening just yet. There is Spanish opposition to be overcome for both sides.

After a nerve-wracking draw at the Wanda Metropolitano overshadowed by a brawl on the pitch and in the tunnel between both sets of players, City manager Pep Guardiola was only looking forward to their last-four clash against 13-time champions Real Madrid.

“They are the Champions League kings, I’m looking forward to it,” Guardiola told reporters as his side look to make up for their loss in last season’s final against Chelsea.

Atletico pushed hard for a goal that would have taken the game to extra time and Guardiola said City would have to raise their game as the club go in search of a first European title.

“Atletico are the champions of Spain and they played with energy and in second half were better than us and we were lucky we didn’t concede,” he said. “It is the third Champions League semi-final in our history and the second in a row, but if we play like we did in the second half against Atletico, forget it. We won’t have anything to do against Real.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp oversaw a leaky performance from his side against Benfica at Anfield where they also saw two efforts from the visitors ruled out for offside. But they made it through to a clash against Unai Emery’s Villarreal, who first knocked out Juventus in the last-16 round before upsetting Bayern Munich in the last eight.

MADRID: Atletico Madrid’s Felipe (top) heads the ball during the Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.—AFP
MADRID: Atletico Madrid’s Felipe (top) heads the ball during the Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.—AFP


“I saw the results, the game was very impressive. I only picked up pieces but to beat Juventus and Bayern Munich they deserve to be in the Champions League semi-finals,” said Klopp, who termed Emery the ‘King of Cups’.

Emery won the Europa League three times with Sevilla and triumphed in the same competition with Villarreal last season.

“Unai Emery is the king of the cups, it is unbelievable what he is doing. But give me a bit of time to prepare it properly,” Klopp added with a grin.

Guardiola and Klopp have built sides that, in a world where they didn’t have to compete with each other domestically, would dominate any of Europe’s top leagues. On Saturday, they will face each other in the FA Cup semi-final.

Having already won the League Cup, Liverpool are chasing an unprecedented quadruple of trophies while City can still win the treble as they hold a one-point lead over Liverpool in a tight Premier League title race with seven matches to play.

A Champions League final meeting, though, would be the icing on the cake for their rivalry. They headed into this week’s second legs on the back of an enthralling 2-2 draw in the Premier League.

And Guardiola was left counting the cost of these high-intensity fixtures one after the other with City losing influential playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and full-back Kyle Walker to injury in the second half against Atletico.

“We are in big trouble, so we can’t forget we played three days ago, travelled, come here, have a lot of injuries now and I don’t know what will happen in the next weeks,” said Guardiola. “We came from a difficult game on the weekend with no time to prepare to this one. But today we are celebrating getting through.”


The feisty game ended with tempers flaring as Atletico desperately tried to level the tie.

Atletico defender Felipe was sent off after receiving a second yellow card before the teams played out 12 minutes of added time.

Scuffles broke out among the players following Felipe’s dismissal for kicking out at Phil Foden and continued after the final whistle as the teams went down the tunnel, with the police having to intervene to restore calm.

Video footage showed Atletico’s Stefan Savic shouting at City’s Jack Grealish while an incensed Sime Vrsaljko had to be held back from confronting Walker. At one point, Vrsaljko appears to spit across the tunnel in Walker’s direction.

UEFA are yet to confirm whether they will open an investigation into the incidents.

Neither Atletico’s Diego Simeone nor Guardiola wanted to comment on the behaviour of their players during the match or in the tunnel.

“I didn’t see it,” said Simeone. “I was on the pitch applauding the fans. By the time I went inside there was nobody there.”

Guardiola opted not to get involved in a war of words with his Spanish opponents.

When asked if he thought Atletico had gone too far, and targeted Foden in particular, he said: “Nothing to say. I don’t know I cannot talk about what other people do, I don’t know.”


Liverpool were on cruise control for long spells but had to hold their nerve before advancing after an uncharacteristic meltdown in the closing stages.

Ibrahima Konate put Liverpool ahead before Goncalo Ramos equalised late in the first half. When Roberto Firmino netted twice after the interval, the tie looked all but over. However, Roman Yaremchuk and Darwin Nunez struck for Benfica to briefly give the visitors hope of an astonishing escape act, before Liverpool finally restored order.

“When I’m not over the moon about qualifying for the Champions League semi-final, something is really wrong and maybe I should quit!” Klopp, who made seven changes to the team which drew with City at the weekend, said.

“The situation was the defence had never played together and it was about details, staying 100 percent concentrated. We were 6-2 up on aggregate. The players are human beings, they were like ‘Ok job done’. But Benfica kept fighting and I respect that.

“It was not exactly what we wanted but it is absolutely not important. If we played the best game of the season tonight it wouldn’t have made it more likely to get to the final. We are through and that’s all that matters and I’m really happy.”

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2022

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