The joined actions of some of the most powerful figures in modern football unwittingly created an ever mightier alliance on April 18, 2021.

The announcement of a new European Super League united Manchester, with fans and players of United and City joining those invested in the fortunes of Liverpool and the three London giants of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham in opposition.

Although the reaction in Italy and Spain may not have been quite as damning, the protests that followed over the course of an extraordinary few days were enough to derail the plans.

A year on, Stats Perform looks back on one of the most controversial proposals in the sport's history and where it stands now.

What is/was the European Super League?

The past week has shown exactly what makes the Champions League great, whether Villarreal's upset of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid withstanding Chelsea's fightback, a thriller between Liverpool and Benfica in a tie widely considered over or the blood and thunder of Manchester City's defeat of Atletico Madrid.

But Arsenal and Tottenham did not qualify for the Champions League this season, while Barcelona and Milan failed to make it beyond the group stage.

In another season, another superpower – the clubs whose names and riches have made the Champions League what it is – might miss out on these great games.

That was the fear of a dozen leading sides, anyway. Barca had a prominent role, along with Real Madrid and Juventus, as the European Super League was launched.

The competition was to be backed by United States-based investment bank JP Morgan and managed by the owners of the founding clubs, who would be guaranteed entry to the competition.

Three clubs were hoped to join the initial 12, followed by five others qualifying each year to form a 20-team tournament, which would be split into two 10-team leagues prior to a knockout stage.

The idea was for the Super League to replace the lucrative Champions League, rather than domestic leagues – hence its inception on the eve of Champions League reforms. The interested parties even claimed the money raised would benefit "the wider football pyramid".

But the reception was widely critical, while there were notable absentees in the form of Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, the previous campaign's Champions League finalists.

PSG had spent too much time – and, of course, money – establishing themselves among European football's elite to risk it all in the breakaway.

Meanwhile, Bayern, like most German clubs, are partly fan-owned. And it would soon become clear football fans in general were not enthused by the prospect of seeing Europe's best teams slog it out in a closed-shop tournament.

Then what?

The 12 clubs must have imagined some sort of response, but what followed appeared to stun those involved.

Their own players and coaches announced opposition, with many frustrated these plans had provided such a distraction at a key stage in the season. Notably, Jurgen Klopp fumed when Leeds United, Liverpool's next opponents, told the six-time European champions to "earn it" if they wanted to play in the Champions League.

The rest of football appeared united against those who had sought to cut loose, as former Manchester United captain Gary Neville called for the Old Trafford club to be relegated along with Liverpool and Arsenal.

Unsurprisingly, UEFA, FIFA and even the UK government railed against the Super League, too.

But most importantly, the fans – particularly in England – made clear they would not stand for this apparent betrayal of the sport and its roots.

Chelsea were the first team to back out of the European Super League while Petr Cech attempted to negotiate with furious supporters blocking the team's entrance to Stamford Bridge prior to a drab goalless draw against Brighton and Hove Albion.

With protests following at stadiums up and down the country, the Premier League clubs soon quit the breakaway competition, and they were joined by Inter, Milan and Atletico Madrid, as the Super League was declared dead mere hours after its birth.

Football had won, it was widely acknowledged.

And they all lived happily ever after?

Well, not quite. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus have continued to pursue the European Super League, their owners refusing to relent.

The huge debts racked up during the coronavirus pandemic contributed to their desperation to land this lucrative deal, with Barca since forced to let club legend Lionel Messi leave on a free transfer due to their inability to afford a new contract for the 34-year-old.

Those who backed out of the controversial plans have at least returned to the European Club Association, in which PSG were huge beneficiaries of their reluctance to follow their elite rivals. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the PSG president, now leads the ECA in a role that previously belonged to Juve chief Andrea Agnelli.

But even Barca, Madrid and Juve have been able to continue playing in UEFA competitions – those they have qualified for, anyway. Madrid have made the Champions League semi-finals as they bid for a record-extending 14th European crown.

And sceptics could be forgiven for wondering if the new Champions League format sounds a little 'European Super Leaguey'.

As of 2024-25, the group stages will be no more, replaced by – yes – a league. And although the competition is increasing in size to 36 teams, two of the additional four slots are reserved for clubs who have the highest UEFA coefficients but have qualified only for one of the organisation's lesser competitions.

Barca, who toiled in the early stages of this season, or Juve, facing a fight for a top-four finish in Serie A, would have to slump significantly not to be assured of a seat at the time.

The Super League is dead... but long live the Super League?

Rodrygo led a Real Madrid fightback for the second time in a matter of days before declaring only the LaLiga leaders were capable of such turnarounds.

Madrid capped a stunning week by beating title rivals Sevilla 3-2 at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan to move 15 points clear at the top of the table – albeit with Barcelona still to play on Monday.

Los Blancos had been two goals down at the break before Rodrygo responded five minutes after the restart, then late goals from Nacho and Karim Benzema completed a sensational comeback.

That result followed a 3-2 defeat to Chelsea, which was enough to secure Champions League progress.

Madrid were heading out when they trailed 3-0 to the reigning European champions but similarly rallied, again through a Rodrygo goal that set up extra time and a decisive Benzema header in a 5-4 aggregate success.

Rodrygo has scored in consecutive matches for the first time in his Madrid career and could hardly have done it at a better time.

The half-time substitute, who also assisted Benzema's winner in Sevilla, said: "We head away with an incredible feeling, we always fight until the end.

"We knew this would be a very difficult game, but I'm thrilled to have got on in the second half, scored a goal and provide an assist to help my team.

"We should really value these three points because nobody else has won here, but we've managed it. It's three points that edge us closer to our goal, which is to win LaLiga.

"The coach told us to play a bit more because we struggled in the first half and they were better than us.

"These are things only Real Madrid are capable of doing. I'm incredibly proud to be part of this team and to be involved in these comebacks."

This was the first time Madrid had won in LaLiga after trailing by two goals since another 3-2 victory over Villarreal in February 2017, but they have repeatedly recovered results this season, earning a league-high 17 points from losing positions.

Sevilla came into the match unbeaten at home in the league this season, while this was the first time they had lost at home in the competition after leading at half-time since a 4-2 reverse at the hands of Barcelona in February 2019.

In fact, they had not lost anywhere having led at half-time since a 2-1 loss to Athletic Bilbao in October 2020.

Not since September 2019 against Eibar, another 3-2 defeat, had Sevilla let slip a two-goal advantage in the top flight.

Paris Saint-Germain's Achraf Hakimi hailed team-mate Kylian Mbappe as "one of the best in the world" and hopes the forward will stay at the club.

However, the Morocco international said he will support Mbappe in whatever decision he makes at the end of the season, with the striker's contract set to expire in June.

Across all competitions, Mbappe has recorded 31 goals and 18 assists – both club-highs – in 39 appearances this season as PSG close on the Ligue 1 title.

The club suffered a disappointing Champions League exit to Real Madrid last month, however, furthering speculation that Mbappe could swap Paris for Los Blancos when his deal expires.

Hakimi is desperate to see Mbappe extend his five-year stay in the French capital.

"Mbappe is one of the best in the world and he is my friend," Hakimi told Telefoot. 

"I want him to stay here, he knows. He will decide what he thinks is best for his career, and I will support him."

Holding a 12-point lead at the top of Ligue 1, PSG can take a huge step towards claiming an eighth league title in 10 years when they face second-placed Marseille in Sunday's Classique, and Hakimi highlighted the importance of winning that clash to appease the club's disgruntled fans.

Indeed, despite PSG's last 11 Ligue 1 goals being scored by the brilliant attacking trio of Mbappe, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, the latter duo have faced jeers from their own supporters since the Parisians' 3-2 aggregate defeat to Madrid.

"I know there is a particular expectation and a lot of rivalry [between PSG and Marseille]," Hakimi added. "I experienced it the first time at the Velodrome [a 0-0 draw in October]. It is a game that can decide the fate of the championship. 

"Our fans deserve this victory and this tenth league title [in the club's history]. We have had a very bad few weeks. 

"It's hard when your fans don't support you. Winning against Marseille is the best we can do to keep them cheering us on until the end of the season."

Over a month has passed since the team's Champions League collapse at the Santiago Bernabeu, where a Karim Benzema hat-trick eliminated PSG after Mbappe had netted once in either leg, but Hakimi says he still cannot explain their European exit.

"It is difficult to realise that we are out of the Champions League," he added. "We had the mechanisms to get ahead. The truth is that I cannot explain it. Even today, when I think about it, I don't understand it. I understand that the fans are sad, so are we. 

"At this level, small details make the difference, we have to correct them next year. That's what will make us champions."

PSG enter Sunday's crucial clash with Marseille having lost just one of their last 19 Ligue 1 meetings with their rivals, recording 14 wins during that run and keeping clean sheets in five of the previous seven.

Jurgen Klopp was overjoyed after seeing Liverpool beat Manchester City 3-2 to reach the FA Cup final in their pursuit of an unprecedented quadruple, convinced they beat the world's best team.

Liverpool secured their spot in the English football showpiece for the first time since 2012 with a thrilling victory at Wembley on Saturday, though for a while it looked set to be far more comfortable than it ultimately proved.

The Reds were 3-0 up at half-time thanks to an Ibrahima Konate header and Sadio Mane's double – his first punished a Zack Steffen lapse, before then lashing in an excellent volley for his second.

City pulled one back through Jack Grealish and forced a tense finish when Bernardo Silva made it 3-2 in stoppage time, but Liverpool held on to leave Klopp jubilant.

"Oh absolutely proud, it's incredible," he told BBC Sport. "I think the first half was one of the best we've ever played.

"We did all the right stuff, scored at the right moments, we played an incredible game in the first half, I have to say. I loved every second of it.

"The second half started with the City goal and then it opens up. The quality of City is insane and you could see it was a much more open game.

"We had our situations. [TV pundit] Micah Richards said it was all City situations, but we had our counter-attacks and we could have closed the game there, but we respect the quality of City so much.

"It's so difficult to win against them, but because of these boys in my dressing room, we have a chance. It's enough for me to give it a try."

The victory means Liverpool remain on course for the quadruple. They have already won the EFL Cup, are into the Champions League semi-finals and continue to push City in the Premier League title race.

Klopp stressed that prolonging their season makes winning the quadruple tougher even if it is the only way to secure a clean sweep, but he appeared to be relishing the challenge after defeating the team that he believes sets the bar for everyone else in world football.

"Quadruple talk… I can't believe it," he continued. "With this game now, I'm not sure we have another full week before the last matchday, so it's all difficult.

"But who cares, we came here wanting to go to the final, we knew about the problems, but the quadruple – qualifying for this kind of final makes it even more difficult.

"It's the only way to do it but makes it more difficult too, so it's a strange situation. But all good, we are over the moon. We beat the best team in the world and that's a pretty special moment."

Liverpool will find out their opponents for next month's final on Sunday, when Crystal Palace and Chelsea tussle at Wembley.

Cristiano Ronaldo reached the remarkable landmark of 50 hat-tricks at club level as he propelled Manchester United to victory over Norwich City.

Ronaldo, who has managed 60 trebles when his goals for Portugal are added to the count, remains an arch predator at the age of 37, and his display at Old Trafford rescued an off-key United team in Saturday's encounter with the Premier League's bottom side.

After reaching 49 club trebles by hitting three against Tottenham last month, Ronaldo brought up a half-century with a close-range strike, a header from a corner and a 25-yard free-kick.

It was his third United treble (one in 2008, two in 2022). He hit three hat-tricks with Juventus and an incredible 44 during a stellar nine-year spell at Real Madrid.

Ronaldo moved to 21 goals for the season in all competitions, going through the 20 barrier for a 16th consecutive campaign, and he now has 99 Premier League goals in his career.

His goals can be broken down further, with all three of his hat-tricks for United coming in the Premier League, while with Juventus he hit two trebles in Serie A and one in the Champions League.

During his time at Madrid, spanning 2009 to 2018, Ronaldo hit 34 hat-tricks in LaLiga, seven in the Champions League, two in the Copa del Rey and one in the FIFA Club World Cup.

He managed five goals in a LaLiga game twice for Madrid, against Granada in April 2015 and against Espanyol in September of the same year, and also plundered five four-goals hauls in the same competition.

Ronaldo also hit four for Madrid in a Champions League game against Malmo in December 2015.

Julian Nagelsmann revealed he regularly receives death threats in the aftermath of Bayern Munich matches and his mother is also targeted.

Bayern were eliminated from the Champions League in midweek after a 1-1 draw at home to Villarreal resulted in a 2-1 aggregate quarter-final defeat.

It means Die Roten can only win one major trophy in Nagelsmann's first season as head coach, though a nine-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga with five games to go means that trophy looks reasonably secure.

Nagelsmann said receiving threats is not out of the ordinary as he opened up on the abuse when previewing Bayern's weekend fixture with Arminia Bielefeld.

"I get them after every game, regardless of whether we win or lose. I only ever see the first line and then delete them all at once," he said.

"They even shoot at my own mother, who doesn't play football at all. That's a little wild.

"There are more death threats when we play a back three. How do I deal with it? I don't give a f***. I cannot understand. As soon as you turn off the TV, people forget their decency. But that's all useless. They think they're right, that's the bizarre thing.

"I don't think the club is increasing security. You also move as a private person. I don't want to provoke anyone now."

Club legend and former CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge spoke about how uncertainty over the contracts of several big-name players may have proved a distracting factor in Bayern's European demise.

Nagelsmann says it is easier to accept criticism from such quarters.

"I am aware that you have to put up with criticism from all sides. That's normal, part of it. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's criticism is manageable for me. I can handle that," he added.

"Maybe not quite as good with the 450 death threats on Instagram. But I don't read them all, of course that's a bit irrelevant.

"Of course, if you are eliminated in two out of three competitions, a coach will also be criticised. But I can take it and keep working."

Nagelsmann also stated he had held constructive talks with Bayern's hierarchy following the Villarreal setback.

"We sat together for two hours on Wednesday and talked about the game. I picked out the most important things again, but again our game was good. We lost it in the first leg," he said.

"I had a long phone call with [chief executive] Oliver Kahn yesterday, also about the squad and my ideas. He wants to have a picture of what the coach is thinking. The exchange has been very good so far. 

"We are very good at planning, but implementation is not that easy. The squad planning changes every day, you imagine something. Two days later it looks very different. That's where the fast pace of business comes into play."

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe has sympathised with Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp, but acknowledged the Reds will have to "bite the bullet" amid scheduling concerns.

Klopp expressed his annoyance with the Premier League calendar and broadcaster BT Sport after it was confirmed Liverpool will visit Newcastle in the early kick-off on Saturday, April 30.

That leaves less than 72 hours to recover from the first leg of their Champions League semi-final with Villarreal before the return meeting three days after the visit to St James' Park.

With the Merseyside club still in contention for the Premier League, one point behind leaders Manchester City – who they also face in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday – Klopp called for "common sense" to be used.

While Howe appreciated the German's frustrations, the Magpies manager suggested the scheduling problems were a result of the success of Liverpool, who have requested the fixture to be moved.

"It's a very difficult situation. They've been very successful this year, they've ended up playing a lot of games, so I understand it from their viewpoint," Howe told reporters on Friday.

"I’d probably have the same opinion if I was them.

"For us, we've been in their position many times over the years where you look at it and you think, 'How has it ended up this game being moved to this time or this day?'.

"But we have very little say in the fixtures in terms of when they come and how they sit, and you just have to react and deal with it.

"I have every sympathy with Liverpool, but they're winning lots of games and they're in lots of competitions, naturally it's going to be that way."

Asked if a fixture change would be unfair on Newcastle, Howe added: "We get told when to play and we'll turn up and do our best. It's not up to us to decide when games are played.

"We ended up with four away games in very quick succession recently, which was far from ideal for us, but we had to bite the bullet and get on with it.

"As I said, we don't decide the fixtures, we'll play the game. But I do have every sympathy."

Thomas Tuchel is relieved Chelsea have the opportunity to quickly get back on track in their FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace, for which Romelu Lukaku may be available.

A huge week for Chelsea has been a difficult one so far, as their outstanding performance away to Real Madrid in a Champions League quarter-final was not enough to advance.

Trailing 3-1 from the home leg, the defending European champions were heading through when Timo Werner put them three up, only for Madrid to respond with goals from Rodrygo in normal time and Karim Benzema in extra time.

With Chelsea relatively secure in third place in the Premier League, their main focus now is on the FA Cup.

The Blues at least came through the Madrid second leg unscathed, with Tuchel's only update before the Palace game on the potential return of record signing Lukaku.

"Romelu was back in training yesterday [Thursday]. Let's see if he has any reaction or not," Tuchel told a pre-match news conference. "Then everybody should be okay."

The Chelsea coach will be looking to preserve his fine semi-final record, having won 11 and drawn one of his 12 previous such matches.

And Tuchel believes Chelsea will benefit from being thrust straight into another big match – this their first FA Cup tie against London rivals Palace since 1975-76, with the two teams each winning two of the four prior meetings.

"I think we are all a bit in between," Tuchel said. "Confidence wise, I think it's a huge boost, but still it's a disappointment to go out of the Champions League in the quarter-final.

"It's not a big drama, not in this kind of way, but still it's a big disappointment, because we feel like we could be one of the four teams in the semi-final.

"It's a weird feeling, because we had a huge task to go to Madrid, needing to win with a minimum of two goals to make it to extra time. We were three goals ahead.

"In a knockout game in the Bernabeu, it's a fantastic performance and stays like this. But it tastes bitter, because we're out of the Champions League.

"In both legs, we did too many individual mistakes, too many mistakes that were punished by individual quality.

"It's still a little bit in between for me, but we bounced back from the two results and the two performances against Brentford and Madrid at home.

"We won both games after that and there's a big knockout game coming at Wembley, which is, in my opinion, a good thing. There's a huge reward coming with it, so it's not a normal game in the Premier League to collect points, but it's straight away another knockout match."

Chelsea have plenty of experience of matches of this magnitude, too. Having lost the EFL Cup final to Liverpool earlier this season, they are playing multiple games at Wembley in a sixth consecutive campaign, with this their 40th appearance at the national stadium when used as a neutral venue.

Indeed, only Arsenal and Manchester United (both 30) have more FA Cup semi-final appearances than Chelsea (26).

The Blues have lost their past two FA Cup London derbies, although both were to Arsenal. Their past six FA Cup defeats to teams from the capital were against Arsenal.

A Liverpool fan taken ill prior to the Champions League quarter-final against Benfica at Anfield on Wednesday has passed away, the club has confirmed.

According to reports, the man in his 60s was taken ill around 20 mins before kick-off, received swift medical attention and was rushed to hospital.

A statement on the club's website confirmed on Thursday: "It is with great regret that Liverpool Football Club can confirm that a supporter who was taken ill ahead of last night's fixture against Benfica has sadly passed away."

In addition, a club spokesperson said: "First and foremost, the condolences and the thoughts of everyone at the club are with the supporter's family, loved ones and friends.

"We would like to thank the emergency services for their heroic efforts in providing urgent care and our appreciation to our medical professionals, stewards and all supporters in the vicinity of the incident for their assistance."

A statement released to the media by Merseyside Police confirmed the man's next of kin have been informed.

 

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp labelled Villarreal counterpart Unai Emery "king of the cup competitions" after the Reds set up a Champions League semi-final tie with the Spanish side.

Klopp's team played out a thrilling 3-3 draw at home to Benfica to seal a 6-4 aggregate victory in their quarter-final tie on Wednesday, reaching the competition's final four for a joint-record 12th time amongst English clubs (level with Manchester United).

They will meet Villarreal in next round after Emery's men sealed an incredible 2-1 aggregate victory over Bayern Munich one day earlier, setting up their first Champions League semi-final appearance since the 2005-06 season after Samuel Chukwueze's late equaliser in Bavaria.

Speaking to DAZN in Germany after watching his much-changed side progress at Anfield, Klopp was wary of the threat posed by Villarreal in the next round, calling Emery the "king" of the cups and noting they deserved their spot in the last four after eliminating two top-class opponents.

"I think Villarreal definitely deserved to go through both rounds," he said. "Whoever kicks out Bayern and Juventus [a 4-1 aggregate win in the last-16] deserves to be in the semi-finals. 

"I know that Unai Emery is a bit of the king of cup competitions. It's incredible what he pulls off.

"They'll have a clear plan. And by the time we meet, we'll have one too."

Emery has earned a reputation as a cup specialist throughout his career, winning four Europa League titles with Sevilla (three) and Villarreal (one), as well as lifting seven trophies during his time with Paris Saint-Germain.

The former Arsenal boss will compete in the Champions League semi-finals for the first time later this month, advancing to this stage in his seventh season in the competition. 

Klopp, meanwhile, has reached the final four for the fourth time in his career, three of which have come with the Reds (the other with Borussia Dortmund). Only Sir Alex Ferguson has reached this stage more times (seven) as the manager of an English club.

Meanwhile, Liverpool's two meetings with Villarreal will take place either side of a Premier League trip to Newcastle on April 30, and Klopp made clear his frustration at having to face an early kick-off on Tyneside between the two legs. 

"I've just spoken to BT Sport [who will televise the Newcastle game] and pointed out to them again that this is a c**p kick-off time," Klopp added.

"We want to play all the games that are coming up, no problem at all. But it doesn't have to be that they let us play 12:30 on Saturdays and then see how it goes, for no reason. I will never understand that."

The 54-year-old did, however, acknowledge that Liverpool's congested fixture list was the result of an exceptional season to date, and was something to be embraced.

"It's the best end-of-season run you can have," he added. "Because we only play so many times because we get so far in the different competitions."

Liverpool remain in the hunt for a historic quadruple after overcoming Benfica, and face Premier League title rivals Manchester City for a place in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Darwin Nunez insisted his focus will remain on Benfica for the rest of this season after displaying his obvious potential in a Champions League quarter-final tie against Liverpool.

Along with Paris Saint-Germain, striker Darwin has been linked to a host of Premier League clubs, including Manchester United, Chelsea and Newcastle United.

Two matches against Liverpool were therefore seen as something of an audition – one Darwin passed with flying colours.

The 22-year-old scored in both legs as Benfica were beaten 6-4 on aggregate, putting the ball in the net three times in Wednesday's second leg at Anfield, only for the offside flag to twice intervene.

The two goals that did stand took Darwin to 32 in 37 matches in all competitions this season, a significant leap after 14 in 44 last term, when Benfica failed to qualify for the Champions League.

Following the first leg, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp described the Uruguay international as "a really good boy", who "has a big career ahead of him".

Having netted again against Klopp's men, Darwin told CNN Portugal: "Benfica are a great team that can give much more. It's difficult to play here [at Anfield], not just anyone comes here to do what we did.

"We congratulate Liverpool and we'll go with our heads held high, that we've given everything.

"What the Liverpool coach said is a compliment, but my mind is on Benfica until the end of the season. I'm leaving everything for Benfica and for these fans, who are incredible.

"My job is to take advantage of this luck that is happening to me. Last year I didn't play at all, but this season has been incredible. The credit goes to my team-mates, too."

Darwin's 24 goals in Portugal's Primeira Liga have been scored once every 68 minutes on average, with ex-Benfica man Jonas the last player to net more in a campaign (34 in 2017-18).

But it is in the Champions League where Darwin has really caught the eye, hitting six goals against elite opposition in Liverpool, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. No Benfica player has ever scored more in a single campaign.

Having had chances worth just 3.14 expected goals, his over-performance of 2.86 ranks fifth in the competition – behind Karim Benzema (5.54), Christopher Nkunku (3.17), Roberto Firmino (3.11) and Cristiano Ronaldo (3.07).

Among players with five or more goals, Darwin's shot conversion rate of 35.29 per cent also puts him fifth. Sebastien Haller (45.83), Firmino (45.45), Robert Lewandowski (41.94) and Nkunku (41.18) are all ahead of the Benfica sensation.

Diego Simeone appeared to suggest he felt disrespected by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola at the end of an enthralling Champions League quarter-final tie.

There was only one goal across the two legs, scored by Kevin De Bruyne in the first match at the Etihad Stadium.

But Atletico pushed City all the way in a goalless draw at the Wanda Metropolitano, despite losing Felipe to his second red card of the campaign in a frantic finale.

The two teams registered just six shots on target over the whole tie – the fewest since four between Deportivo La Coruna and Porto in 2003-04 – yet City held firm, becoming only the fourth team since the introduction of the last 16 to keep a clean sheet in both legs of the first two knockout rounds.

While it was City's defensive strength that saw them through, Simeone seemingly took issue with Guardiola's assessment of Atletico's own largely conservative approach. Atletico had frustrated their opponents in Manchester while not attempting a single shot.

"I have no reason to give my opinion about what someone else says, good or bad," Simeone said after Wednesday's draw.

"Very intelligent people with a great vocabulary can, while using words of praise, show they despise you. But those of us who don't have the same vocabulary are not stupid."

Guardiola insisted he had not criticised Atletico, speculating whether the reporter who quizzed him on the topic had in fact been "one of those who said the time of Cholo Simeone was over".

"Don't tell me," the City boss replied. "I have always had good words of praise for this club and for this team. Cholo can play how he wants, obviously. I've said I appreciate it and you saw it here."

But Guardiola still focused on the difficulties of playing a team who approach the game like Atletico.

"They did what they do very well," he said. "It's been like this here before, it was like this tonight and it will be like this for goodness knows how long.

"They're a team that knows how to play this way like no one else in the world."

Simeone was certainly content with the way Atletico handled their task, if not the end result, while he refused to question City's apparent time-wasting – an issue that bristled with club captain Koke, who said the LaLiga champions would be accused of "anti-football" for following suit.

"I think that football has a lot of different dimensions and I'm not going to comment on how Manchester City behaved," Simeone said.

"It is you [the media] who are very capable, you see everything very clinically and obviously you always express an opinion, because football is full of opinions, but we keep ours to ourselves.

"I think playing against possibly the best team in the world and showing that we were able to compete very well doesn't leave me feeling okay, it doesn't leave me feeling happy at all, because the only thing that leaves me happy is winning.

"I feel f***ed, but it gives me the peace of mind that when I go to bed I will say that today my father, Luis Aragones and those who passed away in the pandemic will have seen from above their team continues to compete extremely well."

Jurgen Klopp took responsibility for a chaotic Liverpool defensive performance as they beat Benfica but insisted he could not be anything other than delighted with progress to a Champions League semi-final.

With an FA Cup last-four showdown against Manchester City on the horizon, the German made seven changes to a team looking to defending a 3-1 aggregate lead in Europe's premier cup competition.

A topsy-turvy game ensued, with the hosts coming through as 6-4 victors on aggregate following a thrilling 3-3 draw.

Klopp later blamed his changes for on occasionally ragged showing at the back, saying: "I made seven changes, the last line never played together like this, I decided that yesterday. 

"So we had 15-20 minutes to try and put it right. The majority of times they did really well, I liked the way we played football, the only problem was when we lost the ball our protection was obviously not perfect. 

"If you defend in a Champions League quarter-final it's about details. I didn't see the offside situations back, but it's part of defending to put the opponent offside. 

"Tonight that didn't work out too well we have to admit, but that is my fault because I changed seven times. 

"Benfica was still on fire and I respect that a lot. They scored really good goals, but it should not be as easy as it was tonight."

Klopp was more keen to focus on the positives overall, however, including a third Champions League semi-final appearance in five seasons.  

He added: "It is great, absolutely great. We never take something like this for granted. I am really, really happy. 

"I know we will talk about the game and the things that happened, the goals we conceded, but the day I am not over the moon about getting to a Champions League semi-final then something is really wrong and maybe it would be the right time to quit."

Next up for the Reds in this competition is a meeting with surprise package Villarreal, who stunned Bayern Munich to secure progress to the last four on Tuesday.

On the prospect of facing the Spaniards, Klopp said: "Tough, tough, tough. Both games they deserved to get through. 

"I didn’t analyse them because you watch the game and you try to figure out both teams. But [they have] real quality and Villarreal has probably the most successful cup competition manager in world football, so he knows what he is doing. 

"The team is really strong, two different approaches away and home, it's clear that they defended in Munich even more than they did in Villarreal. 

"It will be difficult, but it is semi-final of the Champions League, if it wouldn't be difficult then something would be really wrong."

Diego Simeone was satisfied his Atletico Madrid players gave "everything" they had as they exited the Champions League quarter-finals at the hands of Manchester City on Wednesday.

The LaLiga side put in a spirited second-half display at the Wanda Metropolitano, yet a goalless draw meant they suffered a 1-0 aggregate defeat.  

The tetchy match spilled over in the closing stages, with both sets of players clashing after Felipe's foul on Phil Foden – a challenge that saw the defender receive a second yellow card.

Simeone was also booked in stoppage-time after entering the pitch in an apparent attempt to calm down Stefan Savic, who was involved in running battles with City players throughout the game.

The ugly scenes continued in the tunnel after the game as videos circulated on social media showing the players being separated by police.

Simeone did not want to be drawn on the controversy, instead hailing the efforts of his side and the contribution made by the home crowd, who gave the players a rousing reception at full-time.

"The reaction at the end shows the pride of seeing a team that competes," he told Movistar. "It gives us the peace of mind that we have given everything to get through the tie.

"The crowd was enormous throughout the match. The team responded to what the people were looking for and that relationship is difficult to see in the stadiums, that people respect you after being eliminated.

"What is clear to me is that we are proud of who we are, of how we compete. We are out and it hurts, but I love seeing people celebrate when things go well and not so well."

Asked if his attempts to encourage the crowd to clap in the closing minutes was in response to City's perceived time-wasting, Simeone said: "No, please. I was applauding people because I was appreciating the effort the team was making. How can I not applaud people like that?"

The result means Atleti are now winless in their past eight home games in the Champions League.

However, goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who only had one save to make on Wednesday, believes Atleti did enough over the two legs to progress to the last four.  

"It's a shame," he said. "We made a great effort, a great match, we deserved more. We are disappointed, but we did everything we could to score and win the match.

"In the first game, they were better and in the second, we were better. If you put the two games together, we've had more chances. In the end, it wasn't enough to go through to the semis."

It is perhaps the thrilling attacking play of his teams that has led to the common misconception that Jurgen Klopp is something of a risk-taking manager.

Any recent Liverpool highlight reel is likely to show an adventurous brand of football that would support the idea that this group of players are instructed to simply throw numbers forward at any opportunity.

In truth, though, their manager has proven himself to be more conservative when it has come to making his biggest calls at Anfield.

As much was evident from the fact that his obvious first priority upon arriving at the club in 2015 was to implement a sound defensive structure.

It could also be seen in Klopp's unwavering preference for a settled line-up in the biggest competitions - occasionally to his detriment, as in the case of a Diogo Jota knee injury suffered in a dead rubber against Midtjylland last season. 

For these reasons, a team selection showing seven changes for this evening's quarter-final second leg against Benfica felt hugely significant.

It is not like the reigning Portuguese champions were completely out of the tie, with a 3-1 aggregate cushion hardly worthy of being described as comfortable.

What's more, Nelson Verissimo's men had caused plenty of problems for their opponents en route to conceding a late sucker-punch goal in Lisbon last week.

Perhaps the key takeaway from this surprise selection, though, was not that Klopp has suddenly elected to embrace risk in the latter stages of a season that promises so much. 

Rather, it is that the German no longer believes that making sweeping changes represents a risk at all.

The opening goal certainly supported that line of thought; back-up left-back Kostas Tsimikas crossing for third-choice centre-half Ibrahima Konate to head home.

Tsimikas also went on to provide another assist in the second half and ended the game with three key passes, 11 regains and having been involved in 14 duels (with a 71.4% success rate)

Konate, meanwhile, posted a match-high 94 passes, two tackles and five regains, ably supported by fellow fringe figures James Milner, Naby Keita and Joe Gomez.

And, while a late flurry from a Benfica side with nothing to lose made for exciting end to a six-goal game at Anfield, the hosts' laxness was clearly a direct result of their knowing the tie itself was never in doubt.

Of course, for all that the contributions from the wider squad and the chance to rest key men made the night a satisfying one overall for Klopp, it is worth noting that a similar level of rotation remains unlikely between now and May.

The aggregate advantage, Anfield crowd, and the fact that Liverpool had only lost at home by more than one goal in the knockout stages of this competition twice before all fed into an unfamiliar line-up being named.

With an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City next and neither the Premier League or Champions League likely to offer opportunities for major changes, this was probably Klopp's last chance to truly mix things up. 

However, this manager is far too experienced to believe that there won't be plenty of need for his back-ups in the weeks ahead. 

While it is now unlikely there will be any repeat of last season's injury nightmare, it would be optimistic in the extreme to expect no further issues at all.

The legginess resulting from this most gruelling of campaigns is sure to tell at some point, enhancing the importance of every substitution.

That Klopp now has a deeper trust in his alternative options suggests Liverpool are well-equipped to handle the challenges to come.

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