Ronaldo ends drought to beat stellar Neuer, lead Real Madrid over Bayer Munich
There were an atypical three Champions League quarterfinal first legs played Wednesday, with Monaco beating Borussia Dortmund 3-2 in the rescheduled match following Tuesday’s traumatic bus attack.
In the other games, Real Madrid beat 10-man Bayern Munich 2-1 in a thrilling match in Germany thanks to a second-half Cristiano Ronaldo double, while Atletico Madrid saw off Leicester City 1-0 on the strength of an Antoine Griezmann penalty, though the door remains open for the Foxes to provide another shock.
Here are some thoughts from a compelling round of matches, beginning with Real Madrid's triumph in Germany:
Two minutes on either side of halftime defined this heavyweight clash that was so full of subplots, you barely knew where to look. Toni Kroos and Arjen Robben up against their former clubs; Cristiano Ronaldo entering on a 612-minute European goal drought, Robert Lewandowski missing through injury and the small matter of Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane taking on his mentor, Carlo Ancelotti, on the opposite bench.
By the end of a compelling encounter at the Allianz Arena, it was Zidane who was the happier of the two; not that you would have known it by looking at him. Whether his team went behind, conceded a penalty, equalized, or went ahead, he looked stone-faced, unflappable. He had clearly learned one thing from Ancelotti.
Bayern started as the stronger side and went ahead when Arturo Vidal headed home Franck Ribery’s corner kick. Vidal and midfield partner Thiago Alcantatra dominated Casemiro and Kroos in the first half, and the Chilean midfielder could have doubled his tally; first he headed wide from Robben’s cross, and then he skied a penalty over the crossbar after Dani Carvajal was adjudged (harshly) to have handled the ball. The Madrid complaints after the penalty award may have played on Vidal’s mind. Studies have shown that a long wait to take the spot kick usually works in the goalkeeper’s favor.
Talk before the game was that Lewandowski was the only irreplaceable player in this Bayern side; as the second half went on, the absence of Mats Hummels at center back grew stronger. Within 97 seconds of the restart, Ronaldo ended his drought, volleying Carvajal’s cross past Manuel Neuer from around 12 yards out. Although Bayern responded well, it was Madrid who looked most likely to double the lead; Neuer, who had tipped a Karim Benzema header onto the crossbar in the first period, pushed away Gareth Bale’s header from point-blank range. You felt that Ronaldo might have put that away. The second half was end-to-end, but Bayern’s task became tougher when Javi Martinez brought down Ronaldo just inside the Bayern half on a breakaway. It was his second booking in as many minutes for fouls on the Portuguese star, and the host was down to 10 men with half an hour to play.
Madrid poured forward, but Neuer somehow kept his side in it. He stopped a first-time shot from Benzema, then an astonishing effort to keep out Ronaldo from close range, standing tall and sticking out a firm wrist like a superhero. Minutes later, he was beaten again: Ronaldo toe-poking Asensio’s cross between Neuer’s legs to win the tie and notch his 100th European goal. It could have been worse–in injury time, skipper Sergio Ramos headed home, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside. A 3-1 scoreline could have killed the tie. As it is, Madrid is the big favorite to progress, but without Neuer it would be all over. After all of that, how important Vidal’s penalty miss may prove to be…
In Wednesday's other Champions League quarterfinal first legs: