MADRID – After four shocking upsets, four teams no one gave a chance to have gone through to the quarterfinals of the Champions League and four “great” teams will have to wait for the next season, licking their wounds and hoping to qualify for UCL group stage when it comes round again.
The upstarts; Ajax, Tottenham Hotspur, Porto and Manchester United have advanced in the tournament at expense of Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Roma and Paris Saint Germain.
It will likely take some time to absorb the defeats, but definite decisions need to be made by the leadership of Madrid, PSG and Roma in retooling their teams, especially in the case of the Spanish powerhouse, who lost, in the course of a week, almost all chances at championships for this season.
Despite a 2-1 lead in the UCL’s first leg, Madrid was stunned by a young and bold Ajax who prevailed 4-1 in the second leg held at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, to warp up a catastrophic week for the Iberian giant. Days before, Madrid had lost twice to nemesis Barcelona; first to be knocked out of the Copa del Rey semifinal and then to see the La Liga standings gap with the Catalan team widened to 12 points.
Madrid has won four out of the most recent five Champions League titles and the loss to Ajax must have made team leadership see that it is necessary to step in and make some major changes.
Pending an official confirmation, Madrid will likely fire its Argentine coach Santiago Solari by the end of the season. Spanish media has linked several big names to replace Solari at Madrid, including the capital side’s former coach, Jose Mourinho, who seems to be the best positioned among the reported candidates, and Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp, among others.
Things were no different for PSG, who squandered a 2-0 advantage it gained in the round-of-16 UCL first leg by losing 3-1 in the second leg held at the Le Parc des Princes stadium to Manchester United, who made history being the first team of the Champions League to prevail in a tie after losing the first leg at home by two or more goals.
Although the third and decisive goal came on a controversial penalty kick that the referee awarded after reviewing the play with the Video Assistant Referee – despite his first call being a corner kick – the defeat puts at risk the job of PSG’s German coach Thomas Tuchel.
Following the match, PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi backed Tuchel, but he added: “We must make decisions with a cool head, but this is not the moment. We want to calm down.”
Winds of change seem also to be blowing in yet another European capital, Rome, where Roma – who also let a 2-1 UCL round-of-16 first-leg advantage slip through its fingers as the club lost on the road 3-1 in the second leg against Porto – may be replacing its coach.
Following the Porto loss, the Italian media immediately started to speculate about a replacement for coach Eusebio di Francesco.
Meanwhile, after a stellar start to the season, Dortmund had no answer against Tottenham, who managed to defeat the Bundesliga leader 4-0 on aggregate.
The Champions League round of 16 will continue with the results of the other four round-of-16 ties to be decided in the coming week.
The other two Spanish teams – Barcelona and Atletico Madrid – hope to keep to their winning ways from the first leg continuing into the second leg, with Atletico in the first leg having defeated Juventus 2-0 on the road and the Catalan club playing to a 0-0 draw away against Olympique Lyonnais.
Manchester City, meanwhile, will try to successfully culminate its first leg comeback for a 3-2 win, when it takes on Schalke at the Eithad stadium.
A revived Bayern Munich hopes to end the 2017/2018 UCL runner-up Liverpool’s run at the tourney, having played to a scoreless first leg away at Anfield on Feb. 19.