Whether it was Juventus turning the tide around or Manchester City and Barcelona crushing their opponents, it was as if all our prayers were answered. With pulse-pounding performances aplenty, here’s a look at some of the best players of the midweek.
#6 RAHEEM STERLING
Manchester City breezed into the quarter-finals with a monstrous 7-0 win over Schalke. The English forward continued his brilliant form with season with another inspired performance. It was crystal clear that he was as sharp as a tack in this game. He was invulnerable in his own wing and similar in other parts of the field as well. He played a cheeky backheel pass to Aguero from the right edge of the box to Sergio Aguero, who netted the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs.
Unsurprisingly, he continued his efforts throughout the game. As the goals kept on piling, it was finally his turn and he executed brilliantly. In a night filled with spectacular goals, his was perhaps the best of all. Leroy Sane’ played a suave pass to Sterling, who converted his chance with an unstoppable finish, the scoreline reading 4-0 at this point.
At the end of the day, Manchester City came off with a display of utter genius with Sterling and Sane’ at the forefront of that( more on Sane’ later). A scintillating performance from a top-notch player and somehow, that’s still cutting it short.
#5 SADIO MANE
Calling the Senegalese striker ‘Big Match Mane’ ’ would be cutting it short. The Liverpool attacker led his side to a memorable 3 - 1 victory over the dreaded Bayern Munich. Simply put, Mane’s is a striker who delivers. He has aggression, passion, agility, stamina and skill in spades and he wasn’t afraid to use it in this match. The biggest evidence of that was his goal in the 26th minute. A turn Johan Cruyff would be proud of, right in front of the keeper, resulting in a well-deserved goal; nothing short of a contender for the Puskas award.
Things were looking touch and go after Bayern equalized within the first half. A sensational header from honourable mention, Virgil Van Dijk put the Reds back in the lead. Taking a cue from Van Dijk, Mane’ scored a soaring header off a cross from the Dutch centre-back, ensuring Liverpool’s advancement with a 3-1 victory.
#4 FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI
Things were not looking easy for Juventus as they entered the second leg 2-0 down against possibly the toughest defence in world football. Juventus weren’t ready to crumble. One man that was instrumental in Juventus turning the tide around was Federico Bernardeschi. He was one of the sharpest men on the pitch. His read on the game was off the charts, constantly vying for the ball, trying to create opportunities.
It was evident from the game that he gave it his all and then some. He delivered some fantastic passes and crosses. One of his big highlights was a stunning cross to Cristiano Ronaldo, who headed the ball into the back of the net in the 26th. He also had some great attempts, most noteworthy of which was a blistering overhead kick that was a tad off-target. His pursuits and exploitations continued till the 84th minute where he drove into the 18-yard box on a spectacular run, forcing a foul out of Correa.
This was perhaps the most crucial point of the game as it ended in a penalty kick. Cristiano Ronaldo converted the penalty, leading the Bianconeri to victory. Juventus thus reached their 12th UCL quarter-final, overthrowing a 2-0 deficit for the first time. A truly historical night with sensational performances.
#3 LIONEL MESSI
Barcelona added to the already immense goal tally of the week with quite a spectacular showing of their own. The man to lead the charge was none other than their talisman, Lionel Messi. There’s a reason why he is ranked among the greatest of all time and his performance exemplified that. He had some great attempts. He kicked the game into high gear by scoring a level-headed penalty. In the 78th minute, he made a fantastic run with the ball towards goal confusing defenders and finished just as brilliantly - dribbling at it’s finest.
The contributions did not stop there as he played a beautiful cross towards Pique while entering the penalty box. Pique put the ball into the back of the net with ease from the left side. He capped off the night with another assist to Ousmane Dembele who scored from the left again. In the end, it was an awe-inspiring performance from a man worthy of being compared to the all-timers.
#2 LEROY SANE
Manchester City showed utter dominance with a mammoth 7-0 victory over Schalke 04. They showed no mercy from the get-go with an unrelenting offence that simply overwhelmed the German opposition. Ironically, this near-invincible display of football was orchestrated by former Schalke man, Leroy Sane’. He was making brilliant runs left and right, running circles around the defence. His excellence didn’t go unrewarded as he was able to score in the 42nd minute off an assist from Zinchenko making it 3-0.
The destruction only escalated with his exceptional wing play and aggressive advancement. This culminated in a magnificent assist to Bernardo Silva who scored an equally magnificent goal making it 4-0. Sane’ still had more in him and he continued his attack, showing something akin to 360-degree vision with a sublime through ball from the near the left edge of the box to Bernardo Silva, who hammered the ball into the back of the net. It was 5-0 with 20 minutes to spare. Man City still scored twice in those 20 minutes adding a nice cherry on top to what was simply a sensational night for the German youth.
#1 CRISTIANO RONALDO
Turin erupted with celebration as CR7 led them to a history-defying 3-0 victory over Atletico Madrid courtesy a mesmerizing hattrick. Ronaldo proved beyond a shadow of a doubt why clubs would break the bank ten times over for a fraction of his talent. All odds and predictions were stacked against Juventus after suffering a 2-0 loss to Atletico in the first leg. Atletico hailed as arguably the strongest defensive side in the world were heavy favourites to clinch the quarter-final spot. Juventus hopefuls had their eyes on Cristiano Ronaldo, the top scorer in Serie A, the man Juventus spent 100 million on. Cristiano Ronaldo showed how much he thrives under pressure.
The first goal came in the 26th minute with Cristiano Ronaldo’s towering header, thanks to a clinical cross from Bernardeschi. His aerial presence was unmatched throughout the entire game as he made another brilliant attempt sometime after. Ronaldo then doubled down in the 49th minute with a leaping header, almost as if he was in a different plane altogether. He did not give Atletico GK Oblak a moment’s rest with his relentless attacking prowess.
Juve kept up the pressure on Atletico till the 84th minute where Bernardeschi was fouled by Correa in the 18-yard box after a brilliant run, leading to a penalty. With one of the best penalty conversion rates, there was really a no better choice than CR7 to take it. With the fans biting their nails, Ronaldo, level-headed as ever, bolted the ball into the bottom left corner, completing his 8th record-tying Champions League hattrick.
Juventus ended the night on a glorious 3-0 comeback with Cristiano Ronaldo proving once again why he is deemed not only the greatest player in the air but possibly the greatest player in UCL history. A truly joyous occasion for The Old Lady that Turin will not forget anytime soon.