Champions League takeaways: Conservative Real Madrid get the job done; Dortmund still alive against Man City

Manchester City and Real Madrid both put one foot into the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday with wins in the first leg of the quarterfinals. City got a late goal from Phil Foden to beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at the Etihad, while Real tore apart Liverpool’s defense to take a 3-1 win to Anfield ahead of next week’s second leg. 

Here are three takeaways from the action. And don’t forget, you can see more UCL action, including Wednesday’s big PSG vs. Bayern Munich match, on Paramount+.

Real play conservatively and it pays off 

This Real Madrid-Liverpool tie felt like it would come down to whose thin defense steps up in the absence of superstars. Both teams were without their usual center back pairing, with Sergio Ramos and Raphale Varane both out for Los Blancos, with news of the latter having just tested positive for COVID-19 coming only hours before game time. Virgil van Dijk’s big knee injury sees him still on the road to recovery.

Well, the answer was clearly Real Madrid. While Liverpool’s defense was horrific overall, Real’s looked sharp by design. That is because Zinedine Zidane provided assistance with Casemiro sitting in deeper and Ferland Mendy also staying back, as Jurgen Klopp’s team managed just one shot on goal. 

Take a look at the image below, where Casemiro is just a few yards in front of the backline while the Reds are in possession in the final third, which shows you just how much cover he provided at times. 

Casemiro sat just ahead of the backline to provide cover.
CBS Sports

So how much help were they? While Mendy was solid, it was Casemiro who shine brightly with eight tackles, two interceptions, 17 duels and recovering the ball a game-high 10 times.

Expect a similar look in the second leg for Zinedine Zidane.

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Dortmund still alive and well

City will be happy with the 2-1 win since they looked headed for a draw, but don’t count out Dortmund just yet. Sure, their form has been horrific in the Bundesliga, and they showed very little until late, but the chances were there to be had. While they were robbed by the referee of a goal early in the second half thanks to a blown call, they continued to sit back and try to spring the surprise going forward with Erling Haaland. They did that late, as the Norwegian striker played this delightful ball to Marco Reus:

A 2-1 defeat isn’t all that bad for Dortmund, and this tie isn’t close to being over. It sets up a tasty second leg where Dortmund have to score, and they will try to be on the front foot a bit more at home. City will get their chances, but Dortmund will feel confident in being able to strike early and give them the type of shock Lyon provided last season.

The Reds’ horrendous defense has them on the verge of exit

Going from Van Dijk to Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Phillips is like leaving the Premier League for the Azerbaijan first division. The drop off is massive, and the inexperience showed. Whether it was getting beat on the first goal with a ball over the top to the last goal seeing them fail to put pressure on a wide-open Vinicius in the box, it was like an introductory class for how not to defend.

Take a look at the lack of reacting:

This all came after the team had been performing well at the back, conceding just twice in six games. But the attack of Arsenal, Wolves and RB Leipzig aren’t up to the level of Real. And maybe we should all have seen this coming, because comparable attacks have destroyed Liverpool. Man. City put four past them recently, and Manchester United put three past them. Against top attacks, this patched up defense has had no chance, and Tuesday was another example.

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