The quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League concluded yesterday with drama both on and off the field dominating the headlines. Two English sides – Manchester City and Liverpool – will go head to head with two Spanish sides – Real Madrid and Villarreal – respectively. Villarreal’s stunning victory over tournament favourites Bayern Munich has created the biggest upset of the tournament so far, and Jurgen Klopp should be careful not to take the underdogs lightly in the semi-finals.
Both legs of the quarter-finals were competitive, with three of the four semi-finalists advancing through a slender margin. Ahead of the highly anticipated semi-finals, we take a look at the standout players from the quarter-final fixtures:
#5: DARWIN NUNEZ
Liverpool might have been the side to come out of the quarter-finals, but it was Benfica who received praise for their tenacity at Anfield. Leading their attack has been 22-year-old Darwin Nunez, who scored a late goal on Wednesday to scare the Reds. Nunez has been enjoying a breakout season this year, with his time at Benfica yielding substantial results.
The Uruguayan forward has scored 31 goals from 36 appearances across competitions this season and has evinced interest from Premier League clubs including Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
#4: ROBERTO FIRMINO
Liverpool survived a late scare from Benfica to progress to the semi-finals. Heading into the game with a 3-1 advantage, the hosts stumbled to a 3-3 draw that will create doubts in their quest for a quadruple. Roberto Firmino scored twice to put the Reds ahead in the second half, but the visitors exploded once Jurgen Klopp substituted his main men to manage their minutes for the upcoming FA Cup semi-final fixture against Manchester City.
The first goal came in the form of a tap-in as Diogo Jota scuffed his shot across goal, with Firmino ready to push the ball to an empty net. His second came in the form of a controlled volley at the back post from Kostas Tsimikas’ free-kick. Jurgen Klopp showed the strength of his squad with the decision to rest Mohamed Salah yesterday, and both Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino rose to the occasion.
#3: LUKA MODRIC
Luke Modric’s skills on the field are ageing like fine wine as he slowly confirms himself as one of the best midfielders the game has ever produced. Real Madrid’s experienced lineup had to go head to head with the youngsters of defending champions Chelsea, and no one rose to the occasion better than the Croatian. While Karim Benzema did much of the scoring for Los Blancos, it was Modric who excelled in the midfield to create chances.
The highlight of the second leg was his assist to Rodrygo which produced the first goal for the hosts. Chelsea were 3-0 up in the game and were leading the fixture on aggregate when Modric received a pass from Marcelo on the left flank. He then made a superb pass to Rodrygo with the outside of his foot, and the Brazilian buried the ball inside the net. The Santiago Bernabeu erupted with cheers as the Croatian ignited his team’s comeback.
#2: SAMUEL CHUKWUEZE
Villarreal’s remarkable Champions League run is fuelled by the tactics of Unai Emery, who, in the words of Jurgen Klopp, is the “king of cups”. Villarreal entered the fixture with a slender 1-0 aggregate lead from the first leg – with Arnaut Danjuma’s early goal giving the Spanish side a much-needed advantage. But Robert Lewandowski’s second-half goal equalised the scores on Tuesday, and the prospect of Bayern Munich progressing to the semi-finals looked increasingly likely.
But Unai Emery’s men remained disciplined throughout the night, not allowing Bayern to break away. Their efforts were rewarded late into the night when Villarreal winger Samuel Chukwueze scored a fairytale goal.
Chukwueze came in as a substitute in the 84th minute and made an immediate impact on the game – he raced along the right and delivered a cross only to be stopped by Manuel Neuer. Gerard Moreno’s low-cross to Chukwueze waiting at the far post was then sent into the roof of the net, as silence engulfed the stadium while Villarreal erupted in celebration.
#1: KARIM BENZEMA
Karim Benzema’s strike in extra time of the second leg sealed the deal for Real Madrid in their quarter-final against Chelsea. But it was in the first leg that the 34-year-old showed his prowess, sinking the Blues with a hat-trick at Stamford Bridge. That was the second consecutive hat-trick for the French striker in the Champions League, who earlier sank Paris Saint-Germain with a superb second-half hat-trick in the second leg of the Round of 16.
Benzema has now scored 12 goals in the competition – just one goal behind Robert Lewandowski. Real Madrid’s superb form and the belief that they built up under Carlo Ancelotti might make them the giant slayers of the tournament. Having defeated Paris Saint-Germain and defending champions Chelsea, they will now face Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the semi-finals. That would require Karim Benzema to continue his glorious run further into the tournament.
VISIT OUR BLOG TO GET YOUR FIX FOR ALL OF THE MOST CURRENT FOOTBALL NEWS STORIES & FEATURES