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Atlético Madrid Stuns Liverpool as Coronavirus Pierces Champions League

Inter’s Europa League game against Getafe, scheduled for Thursday night, had already been postponed: the first leg was due to be held in Milan, judged impossible with Italy in lockdown. It was not clear when Inter, Getafe or UEFA intended the game to be held.

Juventus, meanwhile, is scheduled to play Lyon in the Champions League next week. Juventus trails by a single goal after the teams’ meeting in France two weeks ago. With the team in quarantine, and with little or no elasticity in the soccer calendar, it is difficult to know when that game might be played.

If it cannot, then the Champions League — like the Europa League, which has also seen Sevilla’s meeting with Roma on Thursday called off — must be at risk of being postponed or, perhaps, canceled.

Simeone would not be drawn on that at Anfield on Wednesday; Klopp might have some sympathy for his opposite number in that case, as a man who has regularly bristled[1] — occasionally unnecessarily — when asked for his views on the coronavirus crisis. It is, after all, above both managers’ paygrade.

It is for UEFA, the competition’s organizer, to muster a cogent response, a coherent plan of action, a way through a situation that has exposed just how fine are the margins on which global soccer operates.

The current approach — of piecemeal measures, a miasma of games played without fans (including Paris Saint-Germain’s victory over Borussia Dortmund) and ad hoc cancellations — cannot hold, not least because Rugani’s positive test adds weight to the argument of the various players’ unions that their members should not be presumed immune.

There are options: None of them are especially appealing; none of them free from legal complications or financial considerations; and none of them especially important in the face of a pandemic. Easiest, perhaps, would be this summer’s European Championships being postponed and the season extended to allow for a genuine break from action during the peak of the crisis. That would, certainly, be more palatable to UEFA than declaring this year’s Champions League null and void.

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    Classic Exchange stories: Liverpool comeback stuns Barcelona causing carnage in the markets

    In the first of a new series looking back at events that saw huge prices matched on the Exchange, Dave Tindall revists Liverpool's stunning Champions League comeback against Barcelona...

    Setting the scene

    Barcelona and Liverpool both went into their 2019 Champions League semi-final in superb form.

    Barca, hosts for the first leg, were unbeaten in 22 matches and on a streak of eight straight home wins while Jurgen Klopp's Reds were undefeated in their previous 19 in all competitions.

    Path to the final

    The Catalan giants had topped Group B, dropping their only home points in a 1-1 draw with eventual finalists Tottenham after qualification had already been wrapped up.

    In the knockout phase, they'd cruised past Lyon 5-1 on aggregate in the last 16 and brushed aside Manchester United 4-0 over two legs in the quarter-finals.

    Liverpool, after their thrilling run to the final in 2018, looked to be suffering a Champions League hangover as they lost all three away group matches to PSG, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade.

    But a trio of home wins - including a nervy 1-0 success over Napoli in the final group game, a match remembered for Alisson's dramatic injury-time stop to keep them alive - saw the Merseysiders scrape through.

    A 0-0 home draw with Bayern Munich in the last 16 again put Klopp's men on the back foot but the former Borussia Dortmund boss masterminded a superb 3-1 win in the return in Germany, Sadio Mane scoring a brilliant opener and sealing the Reds' progress with a flying header.

    A favourable draw pitted them with Porto in the last eight and, despite some early pressure in the return leg following a 2-0 victory at Anfield, Liverpool ran out 4-1 winners on the night to cruise through 6-1 and set up the showdown with Barca.

    May 1st, 2019: Barcelona v Liverpool - first leg

    With home advantage, Barcelona traded at [1.95] to establish a first-leg lead. Liverpool were [4.4] while The Draw was [3.8].

    What our previewer said:

    Michael Cox: "Barcelona start as favourites for this Champions League semi-final, but Liverpool are capable of matching them across the park, and tactically they have every chance of standing up to Ernesto Valverde's side, and taking them on in a good, open game of football.

    "Tactics, though, can sometimes be rendered less important - because, of course, Barca have Leo Messi in their ranks, and if the Argentine brings his best form here, he makes every kind of tactical plan almost irrelevant."

    A prescient Cox added: "He remains a master of through-balls, has scored 10 goals in the Champions League this season, and has improved his free-kick taking to become the most dangerous set-piece taker in Europe. Sometimes, he's simply unstoppable."

    But Cox concluded: "I fancy Liverpool over the two legs here, and even a 2-1 defeat at the Camp Nou might be considered a decent result, giving the Reds the opportunity to progress with a 1-0 victory at Anfield. I'll bet on the tie rather than the first leg, and back Liverpool to progress at 2.22."

    Result: Barcelona 3-0 Liverpool

    The nightmare scenario for Liverpool unfolded. Not only did former striker Luis Suarez find the net to put Barca in front, the visitors were subject to some Messi brilliance which looked to have put the tie beyond them.

    Suarez poached an opener after 26 minutes and, after Liverpool had more than held their own, Messi doubled the lead with 15 minutes left after tapping home a Suarez shot which had struck the woodwork.

    And then, seven minutes later, came the moment which surely buried Liverpool's hopes. The hosts won a free-kick 30 yards out and Messi curled a brilliant shot past the outstretched hand of Alisson for his 600th Barcelona goal.

    When Mo Salah struck the post from close-range after Roberto Firmino's shot was cleared off the line, their fate seemed sealed although it could have been even worse.

    In the desperation to grab an away goal, Liverpool were left stranded upfield from a corner and Messi set up Ousmane Dembele to add an easy fourth. But, having only just come on as a sub, the Frenchman fluffed his shot. How crucial that would prove.

    Nevertheless, Liverpool trudged of the pitch wondering how on earth they'd lost the match 3-0. After falling to Real Madrid in the previous year's final, it looked for all the world that it was the turn of the other Spanish giants to end their hopes this time.

    May 7th, 2019: Liverpool v Barcelona - second leg

    With Barcelona in such a dominant position, Messi and co were just [1.06] to progress to the final.

    Liverpool were favourites at [2.26] to win on the night but surely they couldn't pull off the impossible.

    What our previewers said:

    Betfair Brand Ambassador and Barcelona legend Rivaldo: "Barca must be careful about Liverpool and go to England with the aim of scoring a goal, meaning the Reds will have to score at least five times."

    Jack Lang: "It's not easy to be positive after the result of the first leg, which leaves them needing a miracle or two. Jürgen Klopp's side are well capable of scoring three times against any team, but it's also a big ask to keep Barça quiet for 90 minutes, and if the away side score, their task starts to look positively Sisyphean.

    "If Liverpool fans are looking for reasons to be hopeful, they should look at their side's recent home record: the Reds are unbeaten in 19 matches at Anfield in all competitions (W16 D3 L0), scoring 52 times across that run. The atmosphere will be fervent, and you can be sure Klopp will be willing his charges to channel some of the crazed energy that got them to last year's final.

    "Are they capable of winning this game without two of their usual front three (Firmino and Salah were ruled out)? Probably, and odds of [2.26] might hold some appeal when you consider that Barcelona are far less of a force away from home than at Camp Nou. But there's a reason that the Blaugrana are [1.06] shots to qualify: Liverpool need something very, very special if they are to turn this around."

    Result: Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona

    Something very, very special then eh! Anfield has witnessed some incredible European nights but this topped the lot.

    By kick-off, Barcelona had been backed at just [1.04] to qualify while Liverpool had traded at [25.00] to make the final in Madrid.

    An early goal was a must for the Reds and, with the familiar Anfield roar behind them, they got it. A sweeping move ended with a Jordan Henderson shot being parried out to Divock Origi who fired home after seven minutes.

    All good but there was still a mountain to climb and there were scares at the other end as Liverpool went into the interval just 1-0 in front.

    The mix of tension and excitement then gave way to absolute frenzy early in the second half as Gini Wijnaldum netted twice in the space of 122 seconds - the second with a thumping header - to put the tie level at 3-3.

    Liverpool were now an unstoppable force and, with the stadium rocking, a rattled Barcelona fatally switched off after conceding a 79th-minute corner.

    With the local ball-boys instructed to get play re-started quickly, the quick-thinking Trent Alexander-Arnold spotted that sleepy Barcelona hadn't yet set up defensively, whipped in a low cross and Origi side-footed it first time in off a post and into the back of the net.

    Bedlam! One of the Champions League's classic moments and Liverpool had pulled off a miracle.

    Incredible Reds slashed to odds-on

    The 4-0 scoreline had been backed at a whopping [120.0] on the Betfair Exchange while Liverpool went from being [36.0] to win the competition to [1.48] favourites as they awaited the winner of Spurs and Ajax in the other semi.

    Barcelona, who had been as short as [1.45] to be crowned champions, had buckled horribly, Messi's haunted expression as he left the pitch summing up the visitors' pain.

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    Manchester City Must Not Underestimate Real Madrid in UCL, Says Ilkay Gundogan

    Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

    Ilkay Gundogan has warned that Manchester City[1] must not underestimate Real Madrid[2] if they eventually play their UEFA Champions League last-16 second leg. 

    The Sky Blues won the first leg 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu last month. Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne scored in the last 12 minutes to turn the game on its head after Isco opened the scoring on the hour:

    The return leg at the Etihad Stadium was supposed to take place on Tuesday but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic:

    Per Marca[3], Gundogan said he is hopeful the fixture will eventually be played, and he made it clear City cannot be complacent against "one of the best teams in Europe" despite their two away goals:

    "I only know that the tie isn't decided yet. We'll see if we can play, let's hope so. The most important thing is not underestimating Madrid. We've only played half the tie and the difference is only one goal, so you can't get relaxed. Madrid are always dangerous."

    The Germany international added that City only need to look to some recent precedents to know that the tie is far from over:

    "Knockout ties in recent seasons have seen incredible comebacks that no one expected. We have to be careful. Even more so with Madrid."

    In both Champions League semi-finals last season, the team that lost the first leg ended up reaching the final.

    Tottenham Hotspur[4] booked their spot by beating Ajax[5] 3-2 in Amsterdam after losing 1-0 in London, and Liverpool[6] beat Barcelona 4-0 at Anfield to advance despite a 3-0 loss at the Camp Nou.

    City, meanwhile, were themselves victims of an impressive comeback by Monaco in the last 16 of the 2016-17 tournament, when the French team advanced despite losing the first leg 5-3.

    That was in Pep Guardiola's first season in charge, and the Spaniard has been unable to launch a serious tilt at Europe's biggest prize since moving to the Etihad Stadium.

    During his Barcelona tenure, he won the Champions Leagues twice in four seasons, and though he could not repeat that success in three campaigns at Bayern Munich, he did reach three semi-finals.

    So far with City, Guardiola has only got as far as the last eight, but in 2019-20, the Champions League is now his top priority given it is all but impossible for the Sky Blues to defend their Premier League title:

    After their first-leg result against Real, City are in a superb position to advance again to the quarter-finals, and assuming the 2019-20 season can eventually be finished, they will be well backed to go much further. 

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