Champions League round of 16 5/5 (1)

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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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 are games with an immediate reward. Such as the Clasico, Madrid derby and, naturally, knock out competitions.

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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Champions League returns! 5/5 (4)

Champions League returns with knock out phase! 16 of the best teams in Europe are left to fight it for the lucrative title of the best on the continent!

All contestants left are well known to the general public and used to compete in the latter stages of the competition.

Champions League round of 16 fixtures

I guess you’re all informed how the draw works but we’re quickly sum it up. Group winners are seeded teams with the advantage to play the return game at home.

Second-placed teams are non-seeded and play first match at home. At this stage two criteria that need to be considered when pairing is:

  1. Clubs that played in the same group can’t meet in the round of 16
  2. Clubs from the same country can’t meet in the round of 16

The principles really narrowed the possibilities for English clubs since all 4 of them progressed from the group stage. Spanish and German competitors also had limited options left with 3 clubs from each country earning promotion.

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France and Italy managed 2 participants each. Last spots were secured by Dutch and Portuguese representative.

This is what the urn in Nyon prepared for us:

Schalke 04 (GER) – Manchester City (ENG)

Atletico Madrid (SPA) – Juventus (ITA)

Manchester United (ENG) – Paris SG (FRA)

Tottenham (ENG) – Borussia Dortmund (GER)

Lyon (FRA) – Barcelona (SPA)

Roma (ITA) – Porto (POR)

Ajax (NED) – Real Madrid (SPA)

Liverpool (ENG) – Bayern Munich (GER)

Final triumph favorites

Based on what we saw till now in Champions League alone front-runners are Juventus and Barcelona.

Juventus didn’t have overly tough group even if Manchester United was part of it. But we all know how United performed in the autumn under the previous manager.

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Despite some shaky moments and 2 defeats, the Italian giants showed impressive strength in depth and real desire to finally get their hands on the trophy! Well, at least until topspot and qualification were granted.

Healthy advantage in Serie A allows Allegri to rotate his players domestically in order to focus on the Champions League.

In the last few years Juventus was competitive but every time lacked something. That crucial little detail that eventually swings the fortune your way.

That detail has been taken care of in the summer with Ronaldo’s acquisition. Now they can’t hide anymore. The squad is complete and it’s up to the manager to make it perform as it can.

Barcelona is a mainstay in the knock-out stages in the competition for nearly 2 decades. Not much can be said about the Catalans that hasn’t been said already. Several times!

Group wasn’t the easiest on paper with Tottenham and Inter, returning to Champions League after a prolonged period. PSV rounded it up but never had realistic chances of progression.

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Squad on Valverde’s disposal is balanced, talented and experienced. Beside the natural will to win every competition they enter, this year additional motivation is to finally dethrone the arch rivals from the Spanish capital.

Whatever domestic success Barcelona accomplished in the last 3 years, Real Madrid overshadowed it by winning Europeans’ prime competition.

Second row

Real Madrid, as reigning champion, has to be viewed as a favorite. At least in the wider circle.

Losing the technical leader and best scorer along with one of the most successful managers in club’s lustrous history left scars. Deep ones! The voids weren’t filled adequately and it shows!

There is still abundance of quality in the team, even unused. However, despite recent upturn in form, Real lost some of its fear factor.

Abysmal first part of the season granted group top spot only due to Roma’s inability to hit the target from sitters!

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Managerial change improved the performances and results, however, hardly enough to regain the crown. Other team are better equipped for final triumph!

It’s hard to predict what to expect from Manchester City in Champions League! Dominant and ruthless in Premier League, yet somewhat struggling in international competition.

A balanced group started with a shocking home defeat to Lyon and continued with hard-fought victories against Shakhtar and Hoffenheim.

Nevertheless the Citizens managed to win the group. Final standings would suggest with ease but actually it wasn’t easy. At all!

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Schalke won’t give any indication on City’s real strength, the gulf in class is just to big. However in the quarter finals we should have an answer which is the real City.

The one that gives Lyon the only win in Champions League or the one that blows Liverpool and Chelsea away.

Whatever the draw for next stages will say, if anyone beside the mentioned 4 teams wins, it’ll be a huge surprise!

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