Champions League first leg round of 16 has been played. There are no more easy games or adversaries.
The gloves are off! Knock out phase started and every team has to show everything it’s capable of to advance.
Let’s take a look at the games to see who was bluffing and who’s the real deal.
Manchester United vs Paris SG 0 – 2
Surely one of the most anticipated games! Not beginning of December when the draw was made but United’s resurrection in the last couple of months turned the heat on.
Solskjaer lifted the spirits and the team responded with results. 10 wins and a draw made sure the team felt self-assured and optimistic heading into the contest.
Moreover, guests from the French capital missed 2 greatest assets of 3 they possess; Neymar and Cavani. Dominance in domestic competition, despite virtually already won, faded a bit following the loss against Lyon. Everything seemed to go in United’s favor.
Everything except performance on the pitch! PSG dominated and controlled the game, from start to finish!
Thiago Silva read the game organized the defense as very few in the business can do. Verratti, albeit somewhat rusty, controlled the tempo and Mbappe terrorized the defense even while still in the locker room.
As a result, Buffon spent a surprisingly uneventful evening for a Champions League match. A wet dream for every manager!
Manchester confirmed what was obvious; results were coming but to compete against continental’s best much more is needed!
As we already established, “baby-faced killer” set free the attacking arsenal at disposal but haven’t given them a clear identity. Yet.
The idea to force the left side of PSG defense, counting on Kimpembe’s limited experience at this level, wasn’t a bad one. However, no real threat derived from it.
Pogba got sent off late in the game and won’t participate in the return encounter but even with him in the squad, Solskjaer couldn’t mastermind deficit overturn. But it’ll serve him as much needed lesson.
Roma vs Porto 2 – 1
Very balanced fixture with the Italians slight favorites before the kick-off and eventually confirmed the same on the field.
Porto perhaps got more than deserved out of it and despite losing can be satisfied with the outcome.
Contrary, Roma won but can be fully satisfied with the result. However, can be satisfied with the birth of a new international superstar!
Nicolo’ Zaniolo is the youngest player ever to score a brace in Champions League!
The Portuguese side is also the only candidate Roma stood a chance in this phase of the competition.
Eventually, the Penisola representative holds an advantage and has a good prospect of progression.
But at the end of the day, whichever teams earn the right to participate in the quarter-finals, will reach its limit.
Ajax vs Real Madrid 1 – 2
Defending champions proved just why they still have to be seen as one of the favorites! No matter how the match is played or what is going on, Real ultimately gets what they want!
Ajax started the contest brightly, held possession, pressed high up the pitch, even threatened to score but has only an honorable defeat to show for all their troubles.
Immense experience and individual quality eventually prevailed. Along with unerring will to win when it matters most.
That’s basically Real’s secret to success in Champions League.
There’s no intent to take any credit away from Solari and his work. He’s done very well up to now.
Anyway, the feeling is that the teams’ only motivations
Tottenham vs Borussia Dortmund 3 – 0
The winner perhaps isn’t a surprise however, the extent of the win surely is!
Admittedly, Borussia mistimed its off moment of the season, as also results in domestic competitions suggest.
Nevertheless, remaining virtually without advancing possibilities after the first leg is a severe blow!
Such a hammering indicates that a lot of things went wrong and little excuses can be found.
The London outfit should have no problems obtaining progression to the next round, contrary to all predictions before the match.
Liverpool vs Bayern Munich 0 – 0
Probably the most anticipated match! Free-flowing, high scoring, last year finalist and Premier League dominating Liverpool faced somewhat disappointing but visibly improving European heavyweight.
As expected the Reds took the initiative, pressed from the off and maintained the high rhythm throughout the game. Created some interesting situations and half-chances but couldn’t manage to find a way past Neuer.
Bayern went for a prudent approach, kept it tight at the back and got what they came for. The fact that goal-scoring machine, Lewandowski, didn’t have a single attempt on goal says it all!
Bavarians went home happy with the job done, but having to win to progress, I’d keep the champagne in the fridge.
Even if Munich is the venue of the return fixture, my money is on Liverpool! Also because Klopp has some unfinished business with Bayern in the Champions League
Lyon vs Barcelona 0 – 0
7th match in this year’s Champions League and still undefeated! The statement, strangely, stands for both teams!
On the other side, it is Lyon’s 6th draw, also. And to make it even stranger, the only victory arrived in the first match of the campaign in Manchester. Against City!
At first sight very unbalanced head-to-head with all the quality swinging in Barca’s favor. And the difference was there for all to see!
Despite all the dominance and 20 shots on goal the Catalan giants couldn’t hit the back of the net. Poor finishing and some bad luck almost cost them at the end when Ter Stegen and the crossbar prevented home team wins.
At the Camp Nou teams will start from scratch, which, of course, sees the Blaugrana firmly in command.
Atletico Madrid vs Juventus 2 – 0
Regular participants of Champions League knock out stages. Teams with clearly defined identities and both devoted to controlling the proceedings with defensive stability and ruthlessness in attack.
Initially, everything went by the script. Obsessive pressing from the Spaniards occasionally caused some difficulties to Juve to build from the back but finally, beside some long-range shots, both keepers were quite safe.
Whatever happened in Italy’s reigning champions locker room in the interval needs to be thoroughly investigated. Same for Atleti!
After the break, Allegri’s men just couldn’t keep up with the opponents!
Unbelievable psychological and physical drop by Juve led to Atletico earning a precious and fully deserved triumph.
You can argue that the first goal had to be disallowed for Gimenez’s foul on Bonucci, but nobody can claim that the lead was undeserving!
Simeone’s substitutions in quick succession before the 60th minute might disrupt Juve’s game-plan up to a point, but the total collapse Juve suffered can’t be explained with tactical changes.
Anyhow, such performance in the most important match of the season will need deeper analysis by bianconeri’s people in charge. And the conclusion most likely won’t go down well with Allegri.
Unless he performs a miracle in Turin in three weeks’ time.
Schalke 04 vs Manchester City 2 – 3
Another heavily uneven contest on paper!
Schalke has enough problems watching their back from relegation in Bundesliga to even consider posing any kind of challenge for City.
The result perhaps proposes another view but the Germans scored both goals from the penalty spot and allowed the opponents, down to 10 men for the last 20 or so minutes, 15 shots on goal.
Tight defeat could be even more than they hoped for. And the next game will be their last in Champions League for some time.
After the first games, 5 fixtures already seem to be decided. One, Barcelona, too strong for the opponents, no matter the result.
Only 2 contests, Porto vs Roma and Bayern vs Liverpool, realistically, still have all possible outcomes viable.
Juventus is the only favorite that seemingly blew its chances to go far in this year’s Champions League edition. But, honestly, also the only one against a deserving opponent.
All others are in a good position to progress. As expected.