Benzema keeps Real Madrid’s ‘Road to Istanbul’ dream alive 

Karim Benzema keeps the Madridistas alive in the battle for the Champions League finals with a volley in the 29th minute of the match played at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano against Chelsea. 

Photo credits: & Fran Santiago for Getty Images

By Daphne Seberich

It was an exciting and even match of Champions League semi-finals between Real Madrid and Chelsea at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano, which ended in a 1-1 tie. Christian Pulišić and Real’s Pichichi Karim Benzema both made it onto the scoresheet, but their goals were not enough to secure the win for their clubs.  

Los Blancos managed to keep their unbeaten streak going and added one tally to their 17 matches undefeated in all competitions. The Madridistas fought their way back from 0-1 to a draw to secure an advantage ahead of the tie in West London on Wednesday next week. Zinedine Zidane’s team has to win the match at Stamford Bridge with one goal difference to keep their dream of the 14th Champions League title alive. 

Zinedine Zidane surprised everyone when he announced the lineup ahead of the match. The Frenchman opted for three center-backs in defense, with Marcelo and Dani Carvajal playing as wing-backs respectively on the left and right. Vinícius Jr. was preferred to Marco Asensio at the front alongside Benzema for the starting eleven.

Photo credits: UEFA Champions League

In the first minutes of the match, Chelsea was the team capable of pressing their opponents in their half and creating scoring chances. Ex-Red Bull Leipzig superstar Timo Werner, who transferred to Chelsea in last summer’s transfer session, had some good opportunities to score the advantage. 

It was American Christian Pulišić who brought the Blues ahead. He was the first to make it onto the scoresheet at the 14th minute. The Pennsylvania native, served by a perfectly calibrated cross by Antonio Rüdiger, rifled a shot, which deflected off Raphaël Varane’s back into the goal. Courtois, who was well outside of his posts, couldn’t prevent the ball from hitting the back of the net. Pulišić made it into the Champions League books as the first American to score a goal in the competition’s semi-final stage. 

Video credits: UEFA Champions League

Real Madrid, who until then were suffering multiple attacks from the Blues, fought back with Benzema hitting the woodwork of Mendy’s goal at the 23rd minute. The Frenchman’s shot glanced off the right post. This action revived the Madridistas’ spirits, who went ahead to put great pressure on the Blues. 

The breakthrough came on the 29th minute for the Merengues. A short-played corner kick led Marcelo to cross into the box. Casemiro and Éder Militão kept the ball alive with their headers until finally serving Benzema, who drew the score level with a brilliant volley. The Frenchman oozes talent and is one of the players Zidane can trust over and over again. 

Photo credits: Real Madrid C. F.

In the second half, the pace dropped considerably compared to the exciting and eventful first 45 minutes. The Madridistas regained control over matters, pressing high and preventing Chelsea from breaking deep into their half of the pitch. 

The hosts, although, couldn’t break away and score the advantage. Coach Zidane decided to bring on ex-Chelsea forward Eden Hazard, who played for the first time against his former team, for Vinícius Júnior. Álvaro Odriozola and Marco Asensio followed shortly after, respectively replacing Carvajal and Marcelo. 

Photo credits: UEFA Champions League

Zidane’s changes in the second half didn’t deliver and brought little to no spark to the team. The Madridistas had to settle for a draw ahead of the return leg in West London at Stamford Bridge, leaving the outcome of this semi-finals still wide open. 

Real Madrid will have to attack and not concede on Wednesday next week to make it through to Istanbul’s final. The trip to Ataturk Stadium is only one game away for the Madridistas. Can they raise the Champions League trophy for the 14th time in their history?

Resilience at its best

Real Madrid’s top shape period continues with a successful draw against Liverpool. The Blancos move on to the next stage of the 2020/2021 Champions League competition. 

Photo credits: Real Madrid C.F.

By Daphne Seberich

Real Madrid are back in the semi-finals. For the eighth time in the last ten years, the Blancos are on track to raise the trophy with the big ears for the 14th time in their history. A brilliant first leg allowed the Merengues to fly to England with a significant advantage over their British competitors. The draw at Anfield against Liverpool was enough for the Madridistas to make it through to the last four of the 2020/2021 Champions League competition. 

Strikers Vinicius Jr. and Marco Asensio determined the fate of their team when it mattered the most, punishing Alisson with three goals during the first leg of the quarter-finals. The Madrid-based team is definitely on a high, coming from a 3-1 triumph at the Alfredo Di Stéfano against Liverpool and a 2-1 win against their rivals Barcelona at the almighty Clásico

Thibaut Courtois was a crucial asset for the Merengues. The Belgian proved to be in superb shape, impeding Liverpool to score an advantage. A particular moment in the match between the two giants of football was an incredible save by the Blancos’ goalkeeper. Courtois neutralized a dangerous attempt by Salah when he stroked the ball away from his goal with his left foot with incredible class and elegance.  

Photo credits: David Klein for REUTERS

Soon after, the Belgian goalkeeper had to perform another big save against James Milner. It was clear that the Reds would not leave the Champions League without giving a proper fight to the Blancos, especially at Anfield. The Madridistas’ efforts, although, were superior and allowed them to remain untouched for the first half of the match.

Benzema came close to putting the definitive nail in Liverpool’s coffin. A brilliant solo effort from the Real Madrid striker, who already scored a “work of art” goal at the Clásico the weekend before, almost put the Blancos ahead. The on-target shot was, although, not finalized, as the ball hit the post of Alisson’s goal. 

The strong performance of midfielder Kroos, Casemiro and evergreen Modrić allowed Real Madrid to get back on track in the second half. Even though their opponents were constantly pressing them in their half of the pitch, the trio assured their teammates by displaying resilience. 

Photo credits: Real Madrid C.F.

The Merengues almost put the game to bed with an attempt by Vinicius Jr., served by tenacious Fede Valverde, to pierce Alisson’s net. The Brazilian goalkeeper read the situation right away and came off his line to cleared the ball. 

The Spaniard came to this crucial match just barely having recovered from an ankle injury. His attendance came off as a surprise as Zidane’s starting eleven was announced to the public. Furthermore, Valverde was set to play for the first time as a  right-back in the typical 4-3-3 Real Madrid lineup.

Real Madrid will now face Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea in the semi-final of the Champions League. The Blues’ coach has well-renowned experience with the final stages of the competition, having reached last year’s final with PSG. The Blancos have acquired an enormous amount of experience, having lifted three trophies with the big ears for three years in a row. Zidane’s accomplishments speak for themselves. Can he succeed in becoming the most successful Real Madrid coach in the team’s history?

Photo credits: Real Madrid C.F.

The Old Lady and CR7: a match made in heaven

Juventus annihilates the Blaugrana to earn the top spot of the Champions League Group G ranking, beating them 0:3 thanks to two penalty kicks scored by the one and only CR7. Never had an Italian team scored as many goals against Barcelona at Camp Nou. 

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By Daphne Seberich

What a stellar night it was for Juventus. The decisive Matchday 6 game was the last opportunity for the Bianconeri to secure the top spot of the Champions League Group G, allowing them to play in the round-of-16 with the 2nd best team ranked in the other groups. Juventus had a colossal task to be able to beat Lionel Messi and his team to 1st place. They needed to score at least three goals and have a two-goal difference to pass the group stage as leaders.

Barcelona was unbeaten in 38 UEFA Champions League home matches, a run that started in September 2013. On the 8th of December 2020, over seven years later, the winning streak came to an end, thanks to a historical team effort of the Italian club. 

It was the night of the exes. Miralem Pjanić, who played four years for the Old Lady and was considered as one of the pillars of the team, was part of an exchange deal undergone by Barça and Juve last summer. The 30-year old Bosnian player got transferred to the Catalan team. Arthur, the young Brazilian prodigy, arrived in Turin to play for Juve. 

Before the Matchday 6 game between the two rivals, Miralem Pjanić released an interview to La Gazzetta Dello Sport, voicing criticism against his new coach Koeman and the atmosphere at the Spanish team, sparking rumors of him wanting to move back to Italy. 

Photo credits: El País

That did not help the Spaniards to keep a united front against the Bianconeri. The Blaugrana struggled the whole match. Keeping up with the high pace of the game was not an easy task for the strained team. Their current performance in La Liga is not helping the morale of the team either. 

Right from the get-go, the Old Lady set the pace, dominating the field. The Catalans were like puppets in the hands of the Juventini puppeteers.

Shivers came down the back for the Barça supporters in the 12th minute of the match.

CR7 was fowled in Barça’s penalty area, letting Tobias Stieler award a penalty to the Bianconeri. Cristiano Ronaldo’s talent and knowledge from the penalty mark allowed him to score what would be the first of three goals of the match. 

Soon after, a perfect pass from Cuadrado turned into an assist for McKennie, who blasted the ball mid-air into the goal defended by German Ter Stegen. Juventus scored two goals in the first twenty minutes of the match, something that no one could have seen coming.

Photo credits: El Comercio Perú

The Bianconeri were striving, thanks in particular to Álvaro Morata’s deadly counterattacks, which put loads of pressure on the Catalan club. The intensity was at an all-time high. 

A first-half-last-minute scare was McKennie knocking down Messi in the Bianconeri’s penalty area, but the VAR demonstrated that the foul was an accident and not intentional. No penalty was awarded.

The second half of the match saw Barça fight back, but the Italians were just on another planet. McKennie, who in my opinion was the man-of-the-match, kicked a challenging ball towards Ter Stegen’s goal, which the German, by a miracle, managed to punch off the pitch. The VAR showed Lenglet touching the ball with his hand far off the sides of his body inside of his penalty area. Tobias Stieler decided to concede the second penalty of the match to the Juventini. 

Photo credits: Outlook India

CR7 did not disappoint and scored the second penalty and final goal of the game. Juventus had earned the needed advantage to secure first place in the group ranking.

The legendary Italian goalkeeper Buffon, who replaced Szczęsny for this match, saved the Juventini from a potential goal at the 65th minute of the game, proving that he still is one of the greatest, even at age 42.

Photo credits: Getty Images

Bonucci managed to score a fourth goal for Juve, which unfortunately did not get validated due to Ronaldo’s offside. He had served the Italian defender the ball.   

Juventus was playing their best football of this season. The team looked united, supporting each other and fighting for every ball, no matter which position the players were supposed to be playing. Even CR7 gave it a go sweeping the ball off Messi in his penalty area during the second half of the match. 

FC Barcelona is in big trouble. Potentially, they could draw a top-ranked team that could cut their Champions League path short, letting them miss out on a substantial amount of money, of which they are in desperate need.

Now, we can only wait until the 14th of December to find out against which team Juve will play in the round-of-16. Fact is, they will have an easier task than the Spanish rivals to make it to the quarterfinal stage of the 2020/2021 Champions League.

Photo credits: Il Corriere dello Sport

Thomas Müller – the pillar of Bayern Munich

The deciding factor that determined the fate of both teams was Hans Flick’s smart move to exchange Javi Martinez for Bayern legend Thomas Müller. As soon as he entered the field, he proved to be a pillar of the Bavarian team. 

Photo credits: TyC Sports

By Daphne Seberich

It only ended in a draw between the Colchoneros and the German giants in the 5th matchday of Group A at the 2020/2021 Champions League tournament. Bayern München has secured first place in Group A with two games to spare, while Atlético de Madrid has to deliver at the last face-off against RB Salzburg in Austria to secure a spot in the round-of-16 of this year’s elite football tournament.  

Bayern proves to be a title contender for this year’s cup-with-the-big-ears tournament. Even though they weren’t playing with their top team, young stars like 17-year-old Musiala shined on the pitch of the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid. The superiority of the German isn’t abysmal, but the Spaniards couldn’t avenge themselves. The Colchoneros took a beat in the match held in Munich, losing 4-0 against the Bavarian team. 

The German giants had extended their competition record run of victories to 15 this season, following the home defeat of Atlético with wins at Lokomotiv Moskva and Salzburg. A 3-1 home victory against the Austrians sealed the top spot of the ranking to move on to the knockout stage. The draw ended their winning streak.

In 2020 Bayern has prevailed in 38 of their 41 matches. After a 0-0 draw at home to Leipzig on the 9th of February, they were on a run of 23 successive competitive wins – a new German record – and 32 matches without defeat, until a 4-1 loss against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on the 27th of September brought their accomplishments to an end.

The first half of the match saw Atlético Madrid be more of a threat to the Group A ranking leaders, showing off their Portuguese no. 7 player João Félix (the new Cristiano?) and other assets like Correa and Carrasco. 

An ingenuity from defender Süle offers the youngster from Viseu a chance to pierce the net defended by Neuer’s replacement Alexander Nübel at the 26th minute of the match.

Then it was Bayern’s turn to show off their upcoming player Musiala, which they bought from Chelsea in 2019. The Brit hit the back of the net, missing out by a hair on a potential first goal in the Champions League

The second half of the game saw Bayern pick up the slack from the first minutes of the match, assuring their dominance on the pitch. Hernandez had a big occasion from a corner, just missing out on a head strike if it wasn’t for a miraculous intervention by the Colchoneros’ defense. 

João Felix makes the Bayern supporters shiver. In the 58th minute of the match, he blasts the ball onto the post of the German team’s goal. 

Bayern continuously attacked the Colchoneros, putting a lot of pressure on Simeone and his players. On the 85th round-of-the-clock, the match completely changes. Müller, the new entry for Bayern, who was well in the penalty area of the Spaniards, got knocked down by a naive Felipe, securing a penalty for his team. Oblak guessed the corner that Müller chose, but the ball surpassed the goal line and awarded Bayern the needed goal to avoid their first defeat in the Champions League since 15 consecutive wins.

The Germans are undoubtedly the favorites to raise the cup with the big ears for the second time in a row. Will they succeed? Only Real Madrid in the 2016/2017 season and AC Milan in 1989/1990 managed to defend their title. Could Bayern join those football giants in this exclusive statistic?

Photo credits: Milenio

Juventus bounces back after Barcelona loss by beating Ferencváros 1:4

Juventus earns three more points to consolidate their second place in Champions League’s Group G qualifying round, after losing against Messi’s Barcellona 2:0 in the last tournament game.

By Daphne Seberich

Accessing the knockout stage of the competition seems what the future has in serve for Andrea Pirlo’s team. The Juventini beat a dull Ferencváros 1:4 which, especially in the second half of the game, made unbelievable mistakes that brought Juve to scoring two inconceivably easy goals. Sergi Rebrov’s team never really had the chance to succeed, but the Hungarian fans at the Puskás Arena were not giving up cheering on their players until the last minute of the match. It was refreshing to see 20.000 spectators on the tribunes during these challenging times. 

Juventus got off to a great start, pressing the Hungarian players constantly into their half of the field. The intensity was high and the Juventini were seeking their first goal of the match without a break.

After only seven minutes Juve player Álvaro Morata, who was served by a brilliant Cuadrado, scored his first out of two goals of the game, his 5th goal in his 2nd Italian campaign.

Soon after, Pirlo’s team was pursuing a goal that could have secured a big enough advantage for them to manage the rest of the match with more confidence. The Rhythm was high, but Ferencváros started to gain pace and kept up with the Italians. They had their first try at the target in the 12th minute of the match, but Sczęszny managed to keep the ball out of the goal.

That occasion helped the Hungarian players to regain trust in their abilities and on the 26th round of the clock Zubkov almost tied for his team. CR7 had his chance at the 35th minute, but Miha Blazic swept the ball off his feet two meters ahead of the goal. The intensity dropped drastically moments after and wouldn’t pick up until the end of the first half.

With the start of the second halftime, Andrea Pirlo was forced, due to health concerns, to make multiple changes to the formation, but that didn’t stop Juventus from being dangerous against their opponents.

Eight minutes after the start Ronaldo unbelievably misses, just by a hair, the right top corner of the Ferencváros goal.

Even though CR7 didn’t score, Morata sealed the deal on minute 60’ with a brilliant kick, demonstrating what an astounding shape the nr. 9 player currently is.

Paulo Dybala entered the field to substitute the Spanish goalie and right away scores an easy goal, encouraged by a horrendous mistake done by goalkeeper Dibusz, trying to pass the ball to Blasic. Not even eight minutes after, the same thing happens again between Dibusz and Dybala, gaining, yet another, easy point for Juve, which was validated as an own goal for Ferencváros.

The last action of the match showed a lucky Boli scoring the final goal of the game for his team. 

Juve now only needs to win the next match against the Hungarians in Turin to automatically pass to the round of 16 of this year’s Champions League tournament.

Photo credits: Corriere dello Sport

Real Madrid-Inter 3-2: Lautaro and Perišić can’t save the day, Inter sees rocky road ahead

Despite not having Lukaku play against the Blancos, Inter fought hard to win against a lucky Real Madrid, but it wasn’t enough. The road to the Champions League knockout stage gets hard, but not impossible for Antonio Conte’s team.

By Daphne Seberich

Missed opportunities? Check. Horrendous mistakes? Check. After a disappointing loss for Inter, coach Antonio Conte has to reflect a lot on what happened in the Champions League round 3 of Group B’s qualifying stage. This was a decisive match for Real Madrid’s 2020/2021 campaign. They needed the win to keep the dream of raising the Champions League trophy alive. Conte’s team could have ended Real’s championship path last night in Madrid. But it didn’t.   

The first minutes of the match would indicate a high-paced, high-intensity game. The Blancos were putting a lot of pressure right from the get-go with multiple threatening attempts in the first seven minutes. Inter fought back with Barella, Lautaro and Vidal, who incredibly missed the target.

The Italians made it way too easy for the Spaniards in the 25th minute of the game by allowing Benzema to stand alone in front of Handanovič, who was well outside of his penalty area, with only Inter’s empty goal ahead. The French player didn’t disappoint and went on to score what would be his 55th goal in the elite tournament with the Blancos. The chance was presented by an unbelievable mistake by Hakimi, who went on to play one of his worst games of the season.

This shook Inter deeply, permitting Sergio Ramos, served from a corner shot by the German Toni Kroos, to score his 100th goal in his Real Madrid career with a brilliant header in the 33rd minute of the match. The advantage didn’t last too long as Inter bounced back with an incredible Lautaro kicking the ball into Thibaut Courtois’s left-bottom corner of his goal. 

The second half of Real Madrid-Inter showed a drop of intensity by the Spanish team, of which Inter took andvatage of to reopen the match with a sensational goal scored by Perišić at the 68th minute of the game. Inter’s hope rekindled and fueled the players with energy. Multiple phenomenal occasions for the Interisti happened subsequently. Lautaro and Perišić put great pressure on the Spaniards.

A tie would have been what both teams deserved, but a clever change by Zidane: to swap out Asensio for the young Brazilian Rodrygo, ended Inter’s chances of winning. Soon after entering the field, Rodrygo sealed the deal for Real at the 80th minute of the match.

Now the road for Inter is full of challenges, but Antonio Conte is confident: “Inter thinks like a big team, there’s hope.”. They need to win the next three games against the other Group B teams to continue their Champions League journey.

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