For Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinals’ first legs, Grantland’s Brian Phillips and Chris Ryan each watched one game and exchanged e-mails, keeping each other abreast of the action. Brian kept an eye on Real Madrid vs. APOEL, while Chris watched Benfica vs. Chelsea. Relive all the drama below.
Chris: Brian! I have heard this Chelsea lineup described as resembling Andre Villas-Boas’s “suicide note!” Drogba is on the bench, Torres is starting, and I just ate a turkey sandwich and feel like Frank Lampard. Chelsea is winless in its last five away Champions League matches and Benfica is unbeaten in its last 10 European home matches. Unleash the Champions League anthem! And the Heineken! And John Terry’s leadership capabilities. Not quite live (blog-speaking), from Estádio da Luz in Lisbon, it’s the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals. How’s it going on your patch of land?
Brian: Chris! I was actually starting to get a little bummed about not getting to watch this Chelsea lineup in action, but then I saw Real Madrid doing that warm-up where they all skip forward and twist their torsos in sync, and they looked exactly like a girls’ hopscotch team getting ready to ‘scotch it out, and it was fierce as hell, and now I’m 10 times more excited about this match. APOEL have spent 1/45 as much as Madrid assembling their team, which is the only relevant stat here, apart from the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 45 goals this season and might score 45 more Tuesday night. We are in Cyprus, there is an underdog in the stadium, and everything is amazing.
Chris: Raul Meireles is really committing to this beard. It’s rural folk singer-scruffy. That’s about all I got for the first 10 minutes. The Chelsea midfield partnership of Raul the Mohican and Mikel is well, have you ever heard Metal Machine Music? And now that we’re really talking, respect to Benfica’s manager Jorge Jesus. His wavy, aging hair-metal bass-player coif is truly something else. Sounds like a thousand jets taking off at once in this stadium, by the way.
Brian: Here in Cyprus it sounds like somewhere between 11 and 40 people are cheering passionately from maybe 100 miles away — I assume they’re in southern Turkey? Or possibly on a barge in the ocean. Anyway, they haven’t had much to cheer about. APOEL defender Marcelo Oliveira went down with a knee injury he apparently sustained after coming too close to Ronaldo’s aura. He was stretchered off the pitch, and then watched, from his stretcher, as Ozil hit a roundhouse volley from 10 yards out that was barely saved by a person who will probably be consistently known as “APOEL’s acrobatically diving goalkeeper, Dionisis Chiotis” during this game.
Brian: Possession stats through 20 minutes — APOEL: 28 percent, Real Madrid: 7,834 percent. I think I saw Casillas touch the ball at one point, but it could have been a hallucination brought on by the sight of Sergio Ramos. While I was typing that, by the way, Ronaldo dinked the ball onto his left foot, darted through three APOEL defenders, and scythed in the sort of shot that leaves sheaves of wheat neatly bound in its wake. It was narrowly saved by APOEL’s acrobatically diving goalkeeper, Dionisis Chiotis.
Brian: “Sergio Ramos is the barley that trips the wind, flips it off while it’s down, and then protests when given a yellow card.” —Yeats
Chris: This might be the best half of football I’ve seen Ramires have in a Chelsea shirt. Admittedly, I do not have a Ramires Tumblr. At least not one I’m willing to share. Interesting contrast in styles going on here, with Chelsea emphasizing their “athleticism” (I use the term loosely) and Benfica playing short, little passes, going after the Ashley Cole/John Terry wing. This is surprising because Paulo Ferreira and David Luiz are patrolling the opposite side of the pitch. I didn’t even know Ferreira still owned shorts.
Oscar Cardozo and Terry have had two headfirst collisions, by my count. At this rate, they are going to solve world hunger by halftime.
Brian: We’ve had a couple more acrobatic saves from APOEL’s ADGDC, but the big news here is that Benzema just missed a hilarious sitter. Ronaldo teed him up with a pristine cross two feet in front of an empty net, all he had to do was poke it in, and the ball just flubbered up off his toe 30 feet in the air. Ronaldo scowled like a Tiger Woods wingman circa May 2010: World-class players aren’t supposed to need that much help.
Chris: Was it a “You insult the oxygen I breathe” scowl? Or a “You are not fit to hold the Glaceau water of the man who holds my Glaceau water when I visit Mallorca nightclubs” scowl? Important distinction. I know Nicolas Gaitan is the main attraction here, in terms of Benfica players who will probably be playing in London or Manchester next season, but Dwarf Lord Pablo Aimar is putting on an absolute clinic right now. Chelsea don’t really know what to do with his zigzagging runs. Plus, he’s got the resilience of a pinball. Can’t say the same for Torres, who has probably cursed out the referee in every known dialect from the Iberian Peninsula already.
Meireles just kicked the ball pretty hard. He must have been imagining his barber’s face on it.
Brian: Sorry, what’s that? I couldn’t hear you because the camera just zoomed in on Sergio Ramos, and I went to my Safe Place. Which, coincidentally, is a grassy meadow where Fernando Torres is cursing out a referee.
Tactics corner: APOEL are countering Madrid’s 4-2-3-1 with a very, very narrow 4-4-1-1. This has left the following areas of the pitch exposed: both flanks, the middle.
Brian: Halftime in Nicosia, still 0-0. All things considered, it’s astounding that APOEL have kept this thing level. Real Madrid had 75 percent of the possession, took 11 shots (to APOEL’s zero), and generated 1,200 times the value of APOEL’s stadium in monogrammed motorbike seat-warmer sales. APOEL are getting roflstomped by any conceivable measure, but dude, I don’t know. This thing could break in a lot of funny ways. Given that Madrid is on the pitch, it’s stupid for me to have any hope whatsoever, right? Help me protect myself.
Chris: Whistle blows and we’re done for a half. Some really nice work from Aimar, some really dangerous tackles by Meireles and Gaitan, some extraordinarily impassioned complaining from Torres and a some great one-man-dinner-theater-show gesticulating from Jorge Jesus. I have little to comment on. Like APOEL, Chelsea must be happy to still be in this. Benfica have been all over the ball and looked the more likely side to score. Unlike APOEL, Chelsea have acrobatically diving forward Didier Drogba on the bench. Have to assume temporary touchline wanderer Roberto Di Matteo isn’t going to leave him there for much longer. Get your swearing in while you can, El Nino.
Did CR7 and Benzema make up yet?
Brian: They did some very emotional, very honest running through the APOEL defense like it wasn’t even there, and I think the relationship is back on track. By the way, the second I expressed a sliver of hope for APOEL just then, my TV cut to a Wrath of the Titans commercial. Is Lampard in the stadium? Have there been reaction shots?
Chris: Not sure, but I did see him at Lawry’s Carvery downstairs getting a side of mashed potatoes, so I would be impressed with the speed of his commute if he was. No, he’s there. Be interesting to see how long he sits in Di Matteo’s doghouse after his, “We’re not as good as we used to be,” interview. Maybe RDM is “saving him” for Aston Villa.
Brian: You wrote “RDM” when you meant “JT,” right?
Chris: I meant EBJT: England’s Bravest John Terry. The first words I heard when I turned the volume back on were, “lack of pace.” Chelsea! Back to the action and Pablo Aimar just went full Greg Louganis over David Luiz’s only somewhat outstretched leg. I smell a goal coming. Benfica really getting after it now.
Chris: Now that I think of it, I kind of hope the Chelsea program starts listing the Blues as being managed by RDMEBJT. It’s like some kind of shuttered Department of Defense program that involves rescuing Cold War double agents in Budapest.
Brian: John Terry would be an amazing double agent, in that he would not just double-cross the commies, he would also sleep with their wives, STONE COLD JAMES BOND STYLE. DO YOU HEAR ME, SEAN CONNERY? Admittedly, he’d wear sweatpants.
Chris: And flip-flops with socks and very, very, very cool T-shirts with skulls painted on them. Tactics watch: Benfica are going all “
Columbus Cortez Burning His Boats on the Shores of the New World.” I don’t think Chelsea’s been in Benfica territory for more than six seconds this half. Funny thing though, Benfica are now playing much more physically: lots of crosses to Cardozo, who seems to be testing Luiz as much as Terry now.
Brian: The second half in Cyprus opens with APOEL’s ADGCDCFHS (those extra letters don’t stand for anything, but Jesus, he’s earned them) narrowly saving a shot from Benzema, followed by Ronaldo missing with a rocket from 30 yards. “To be fair, it is a very dry pitch,” says the commentator. As if on cue, Kaka begins his warmup.
Chris: Martin Tyler just called a Paulo Ferreira pass “one of those curling crosses we used to associate with him when he played more regularly,” and I could have sworn I heard a Duke Ellington song playing somewhere in the background.
Brian: Quick anecdote: A few nights ago I was carrying out my normal Wednesday routine of drinking The Macallan and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I saw this episode in which the Enterprise encountered a species of aliens who existed only in two dimensions. They had height and depth, but no width. This suggests that the APOEL defense will eventually become sentient.
Chris: JUAN MATA! Wearing electric orange-pink boots rounds the keeper and fires a shot into the side woodwork! I forgot he was on the pitch and here he is striking out against the logging industry. Torres is now doing a really good impression of a background character in the film Gomorrah. Really excellent hand-work with his swearing. If APOEL become sentient like say, SKYNET, does that make you Linda Hamilton?
Chris: I should clarify: Fernando Torres is not shooting automatic weapons into a quarry.
He’s just complaining a lot.
Brian: Good, because there might be a child or a piece of priceless pottery 20 yards to the left of the quarry. Also, I think Madrid would beat Skynet. Although in fairness, Skynet hates a dry pitch.
Chris: Petr Cech pretty much keeping Chelsea in this one right now. Lampard coming on to replace Jim Morrison right-before-he-died (a.k.a.: Raul Meireles).
Brian: Not a lot I can say, analysis-wise, about the second half so far. Madrid are advancing the ball any way they want to, gang-rushing the APOEL box, and then being stymied at the last second by one of A) AADGDCSADKHFJ, B) heroic defending from a last-ditch centerback, or C) Benzema’s aim, which he tuned by listening to fan-recorded Johnny Thunders outtakes. A couple of minutes ago, Benzema and Coentrao tried to run onto the same wide-open ball and ended up accidentally defending each other. I don’t know if I have hope or just a terrible sense of humor. Also Kaka is now on the pitch.
Chris: Kaka’s presence provides me with an opportunity to link to this.
Brian: BENZEMA SCORES! 1-0 Madrid. Undefendable diving header from a foot away set up by a delicate little Kaka cross. What a crackly, lacy little cross that was. I’m queuing up L.A.M.F. in that goal’s honor.
Chris: I TAKE IT ALL BACK, EL NINO. Fernando Torres fends off the Benfica right back, stumbling and bumbling down the flank and crossing for Kalou, who puts it in past the keeper. 1-0 Chelsea. They get an away goal. Don’t ask me how.
Brian: I’m scared, you guys. Also, some Yakuza boss just pocketed next month’s sedan money. Kaka and Torres: Gentlest-seeming players ever to be involved in simultaneous Champions League goals? Is Bambi’s mom going to score for Milan on Wednesday?
Chris: I expect Zooey Deschanel to come running onto the field to a soundtrack of Belle & Sebastian’s “Fox in the Snow” at this point. Anything is possible. Javi Garcia gets a yellow for falling on top of Paulo Ferreira’s kidneys. Real, actual football analysis: Not sure if Chelsea have the midfield chops to hold the ball or the defensive quickness to keep Benfica from scoring.
Brian: KAKA SCORES! 2-0 Madrid. Marcelo took the ball all the way to the byline, zipped a cross to the middle of the area, and not even the most acrobatic dive of the night from Dionisis Chiotis could stop the Kaka tap-in. Bambi’s mom is totally going to set up Ibrahimovic for a back-heel on Wednesday. At which point, Ibrahimovic will shoot her in the mouth.
Chris: ZLATAN DOESN’T AUDITION.
Brian: That’s probably game, set, match, life, eternity for APOEL, whom the commentator just sorrowfully called “Cypriot minnows.” Tough to see them coming back from two away goals down at the Bernabeu. Although I’m checking Wikipedia to see if minnows are maybe like 10 feet long in Cyprus.
Sorry, APOEL. You battled bravely. I tried to fall in love with you. But you were just so, so boring to watch.
Chris: Chelsea all over this now, with Daniel Sturridge possibly the fastest person to ever set foot in Portugal. They’re jumping all over Benfica on the break. Mata still shooting like he’s got a serious cough syrup addiction, though. Third game in six days, after all. Bosingwa on for Ferreira’s kidneys, by the way. I’ve seen three or four appeals for handballs and free kicks from the Benfica players. Not much of a strategy, to be honest. They seem a little disillusioned. Must be seeing Terry’s bravery up close.
Brian: It’s been known to cow lesser men. It’s the emotional equivalent of an expertly swung Steven Gerrard beer mug to the face.
Brian: And it’s 3-0, Real Madrid. Ronaldo -> Ozil -> Benzema. Easy doink past APOEL’s mournfully staring goalkeeper Dionisis Chiotis. APOEL’s glassily frozen goalkeeper Dionisis Chiotis. APOEL’s Elisabeth-Kubler-Ross’s-five-stages-of-grief-experiencing goalkeeper Dionisis Chiotis.
Chris: Nemanja Matic just hit a 3 ½ half mile, cross-field pass to hit Gaitan on his big toe. It won’t matter, but that was seriously an incredible pass. Fun fact to impress possible first dates with: Matic is a former Chelsea youth team player.
Chris: Five minutes of added time. Cole nearly scores an own goal but it goes just wide. Somewhere, Fernando Torres silently pumps a fist in approval.
Brian: And there’s the whistle in Nicosia. Final score: 3-0 Real Madrid. Mudville stays muddy; Goliath tears out David’s heart and uses it to crush the ant that everybody knows can’t lift the rubber-tree plant because its budget is only 1/45th that of the rubber-tree plant. I just switched to Benfica-Chelsea in the hope of seeing a replay of that Matic pass and was rewarded with a shot of Terry rallying the team around him and apparently applauding himself.
Chris: It’s all over but the crying and the John Terry-led assault on Lisbon nightclubs! Chelsea get a huge away goal, Di Matteo gets more and more comfortable paying for those “Chelsea manager” business cards and it’s time for another turkey sandwich on my end. Brian, it’s been operatic. I will see you Wednesday for the wonder that will be Barcelona-AC Milan!