Josh & Vijay return with a look at the Champions League heading into matchday 5 before taking a peek at the top tables in Europe.
Josh & Vijay return with a look at the Champions League heading into matchday 5 before taking a peek at the top tables in Europe.
Happy FIFA Day! Fire up your PS4 and turn The Counter Press up to ignorant levels! Josh and Vijay are back with friend @MindofDharma to talk about the opening month of the soccer season, from Champions League to domestic cup failures in England and a whole lot more!
Follow Josh: @highbiscuits
Follow Vijay: @VJVemu
We are inching ever so close to having Champions League football back in our lives. The draw a few weeks ago helped us take one giant step towards us hearing “The Champions” blaring across our TV screens. The results turned out to be quite interesting. Sure some of the groups are real cakewalks (looking at you, Manchester City and Bayern Munich) but the rest of the teams surely have their work cut out for them.
There are some amazing matchups we are going to get during the group stages. Let’s take a look at the narratives in each of the eight groups along with who will make it to the Round of 16.
This is a good group if you want to watch two clubs with some young talent on display. Monaco and Borussia Dortmund both are well known for developing some of the world's best young players and selling them for mass profit. Atletico Madrid got younger too with the signings of Thomas Lemar and Rodri in the midfield. Lemar will have a reunion game as he faces his former club when Atletico and Monaco collide on Matchday 1.
Both Dortmund and Atleti will be looking to bounce back in the Champions League after crashing out in the group stage last year. It didn’t turn out so bad for them in Europe as Dortmund reached the knockout stages of the Europa League while Diego Simeone’s team lifted the trophy when it was all said and done. Atletico looked stronger than ever in the UEL final and in the UEFA Super Cup, beating Real Madrid 4-2. Dortmund had a huge win against RB Leipzig last week then followed it up with a 0-0 dud against Hannover. Lucien Favre has this team playing better than last year but they need to step it up a notch if they want to impress in Europe.
Club Brugge are the team from Pot 4 in this group. The good news for the Belgian side is that they have basically two weeks off before their first matchday and the only game in between is against Lokren, who are 14th in the Belgian Pro League. Then things get a bit tough as they have to play in all three competitions right after. Dortmund in the UCL, Gent in league play, and a Round of 32 cup clash against Deinzel all come in quick succession. They will fight hard in group play to snatch points against the big guns. Their best bet is nabbing some against Monaco.
Madrid and Dortmund are the favorites and rightly so, they are the two most talented squads. Monaco should be expected to finish around third with Brugge coming in the final spot.
Atletico Madrid and Dortmund advance
After impressing in the group stages last season (remember that 3-0 scoreline against Real Madrid?) Tottenham will be looking to do the same in this group. A summer with no transfers gave a lot of worry as to the squad depth of Spurs but they have started out the season in top form. We will truly get a sense of how much their lack of activity in the summer costs them as they try to advance deeper into cup tournaments along with fighting for a top 4 spot in the Champions League.
After getting a come from behind win against Lazio to get into the UCL, Inter Milan was rewarded by getting into a group with two of the top clubs in Europe. Inter have gotten a lot better in the transfer market, picking up additions such as Radja Nainggolan, Stefan De Vrij, and Keita Balde Diao. With Mauro Icardi up top and Ivan Perisic on the wings, Inter has solid threats in front of goal. They will be a much tougher out than many think and are certainly capable of an upset result in the group stages, especially at home in the San Siro.
PSV Eindhoven has a great young player in Chucky Lozano and he will be someone to watch for in the group stage. Lozano and Steven Bergwijn both possess talent on the wings. Even with PSV likely to finish last in the group, they should provide some highlights.
It’s not hard to determine who the best team in this group will be and it’s Barcelona. The Catalans are ready for a deep Champions League run, especially after the collapse they had against Roma. One of the topics Leo Messi talked about in his captain's speech to the fans was about winning the Champions League. It’s clear they want the Champions League title and should be favorites. With a summer of bringing in talent to solidify the bench, Barca is a deep team. It also helps that young starlet Ousmane Dembele has gotten off to a fast start this season. He scored the game-winning goal in the Spanish Super Cup and has been a menace on the wings every time he has featured for the Catalans thus far. He looks a lot more confident and could show those promising steps in development many Barcelona fans hoped for when he first signed with the club.
This will be a tough road for the top three teams but Barcelona will make it out of the group as winners. The Catalans should get enough points early to see their way through. Inter Milan will put up a fight but ultimately Tottenham should finish second. We will get to see some drama in the later matchdays of this group, including the final one where Barcelona will play Spurs. This could possibly decide who finishes first in the group.
Barcelona and Tottenham advance
This features a group with three strong attacking teams so look for some really high score lines on their given matchdays. We all know about Liverpool and their potent attack. With Sadio Mane and Mo Salah on the wings, they are a constant threat to burn your back line on counter attacks. Roberto Firmino does a good job as the central striker and his pressing defensively helps make Jurgen Klopp’s system run more smoothly. Liverpool also ramped up their midfield with the arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho. Keita will be instrumental in their success against Europe’s elite. They shocked the world by reaching the Champions League final before running into the buzzsaw which is Real Madrid. While back to back appearances to the final is highly unlikely, they can make some noise. Their defense has seemed stable so far in Premier League but they will be facing two teams with explosive attacks of their own. Both Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli can punch a couple of goals into the back of the Liverpool net if they are not careful.
PSG have had a great start to the Ligue 1 season as they look to dominate the French league once again. Like Liverpool, they have a big three of their own in Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappe. It will be a nightmare for the rest of the three to try and stop Paris. They cruised in group play last season despite having giants such as Bayern Munich in their group. The real goal for Paris however, will be in the knockout stages. They will be pushed in this group stage as there are three legit teams who all have a shot at advancing. Questions are going to be asked about their defense as well as their depth in the middle of the park. They still haven’t totally gotten over the loss of Blaise Matuidi and need a real box to box player to solidify things. While the Parisians should be favorites to win the group, as they have the best side, it’s not certain.
Napoli had their share of losses too this summer with Maurizio Sarri and Jorginho heading to Chelsea. It doesn’t mean they have taken numerous steps back, however. Carlo Ancelotti still inherits a very talented squad and despite crashing out of the group stage last year, they have a puncher's chance to advance. It was clear from the onset last season they were more focused on the league and decided not to pursue any other trophies because of it. We will see this season how Ancelotti rotates the squad in Europe. At the very least they are slotted at a solid third. Red Star Belgrade will be a tough place to play and the atmosphere will be great. Against these three teams, however, it’s hard not seeing them finish anywhere other than last.
Liverpool and PSG have the most offensive firepower while their defenses seem more stable than Napoli’s at the moment. The Partenopei will be right with them step for step, though. If either of them slips up, Napoli will be waiting to pounce at a chance of reaching the knockout rounds.
PSG and Liverpool advance
Out of all the groups in the Champions League, this is the one which is a toss-up. This is actually a pretty crazy group when you think about it as it’s not often you see four teams all with a shot at advancing. There aren’t any European giants or any real minnows in group D. It looks to be an all-out slugfest.
The four teams will be Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray, and Lokomotiv Moscow. If anything, it will be a group which requires a ton of traveling as both Porto and Lokomotiv will have to travel across Europe to play each other. None of these teams are particularly overpowering over the other so it will be hard to tell who is the favorite heading into the first matchday. Both Porto and Schalke have experience in the knockout rounds. Galatasaray and Moscow are tough away fixtures. If both are able to churn out a result or two on the road, it will go a long way in their hopes of finishing in the top two or even the Europa League spot. The team to watch out will be Schalke. They have gotten off to a shaky start in Bundesliga play with two losses to begin the season. Things could get even worse with a fixture against Borussia Monchengladbach awaiting them. A good start to their European season would calm down some of the voices of worry but you have to wonder if they will be able to handle both Champions League and Bundesliga simultaneously.
Out of all the teams in the group, Porto is the ones who are the most likely to advance given their pedigree in Europe. Hector Herrera still runs the midfield and Vincent Aboubakar will poach some goals in this group. Second place is honestly a toss up but in the end, talent tops all. Schalke should have enough to barely scrape by for second place. Lokomotiv will surely be in the battle for second too and are a dark horse to watch in this group. After making the Round of 16 in Europa League last year, it will be a big jump in talent for the Russian side. If there is a group where they can raise some eyebrows, this is the one.
Porto and Schalke advance
Now we enter the first of the two cakewalk groups. It’s a common joke to say the Bundesliga is essentially Bayern Munich and everyone else. It applies to Group E as well.
It’s clear the Bavarians are through and out the heavy favorites to win this group. Even after looking like they took a step back quality wise in the Champions League, Bayern still has enough depth in the middle of the field to keep things chugging along. Their 5-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt should ease concerns too. This will be the first real test for Niko Kovac, Bayern Munich’s new manager. Carlo Ancelotti was immediately sacked after their blowout loss to PSG so it shows you how seriously they view their form in Europe. Luckily for Kovac, there isn’t an opponent of the Parisians quality in their group. Bayern should comfortably finish first.
The battle for the second place spot probably won’t be a drama-filled one either. Despite both having to play in the playoff rounds to reach the group stages, there is a gap of quality between Benfica and Ajax. Like Bayern, this should be an easy group for the Portuguese side to navigate. Finishing second won’t be a hard task for Benfica.
This now leaves the third place spot between Ajax and AEK. The Greek side barely scraped by in the play-off round as well and Ajax fought in a tough two-legged battle against Dynamo Kiev. There are gaps in quality between everyone in Group E. The battle for third place is no different. Ajax is the better side and should make their way into the Europa League.
Bayern and Benfica advance
All you need to do for Group F is take one look at the teams lined up and know who will top it. Manchester City is far and above the best team and should have it all wrapped halfway through the group stage. Even with the injury to Kevin De Bruyne, the Man City machine keeps plugging along. Pep Guardiola’s side has played stellar and has done so despite the likes of Leroy Sane getting off to tough starts. With the addition of Riyad Mahrez and a healthy Benjamin Mendy, Man City have so much firepower to work with. Bernardo Silva looking more comfortable in the system is a boost too. Last year they got bamboozled by Liverpool in the quarterfinals and looked pedestrian during the tie. Guardiola should have this side motivated and ready to go from the start. They are favorites to not only win the league but are in the mix of teams who can win the entire competition.
Now for who will finish behind Manchester City in the second spot is another open-ended question. Shakhtar, Lyon, and Hoffenheim all have what it takes to rally a couple of strong results together and stumble into second. At the same time, there are numerous questions surrounding the consistency of the last two in the group in Lyon and Hoffenheim. You don’t know which versions of these teams will show up on a given matchday. Lyon, for example, has a very underrated attack with Memphis DePay at the helm but they can’t seem to find the back of the net often. A lot of times for Lyon it’s been a lot of low-quality chances from outside the box and on the counter. Hoffenheim have started their season on an ok note but the jury is still out on how they will stack up against tougher competition in Europe. Shakhtar Donetsk should be the leader of the pack in this race for second. Like Porto, Shakhtar has done well in Europe as of late. While they won’t necessarily trouble Manchester City, they should be favorites to finish second.
Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk advance
Last season was a magical Champions League campaign for both Roma and Real Madrid. It often illustrates the difference in the level of expectations for teams in Europe. While for Roma supporters it would have been grand to see them win the Champions League, just reaching the semi-finals was an amazing achievement. It was even sweeter considering how they reached there, on the heels of one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history. After being thrashed 4-1 in the first leg, Roma staged an epic comeback back home in the return leg. They beat the Catalans 3-0 and advanced thanks to an away goals tie-breaker. It was one of the best comebacks in a Champions League tie the soccer world has ever seen. Now Roma has to play another Spanish giant as it draws defending winners Real Madrid in their group. Apart from their numerous pre-season matches in the summer, 2016 was the last time these two teams played in a competitive game. It was the Round of 16 in the UCL and Real Madrid dominated the tie, earning back to back 2-0 victories to see off the Italian side.
After winning three straight Champions League titles, this will be a completely different Champions League campaign for Real Madrid and we all know why. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus this summer shocked the club and not splashing the cash for a superstar to replace him was perplexing as well. While they almost certainly will try to land a top ten player in the world next summer, it looks like Real Madrid are making Gareth Bale the star of this team. The Welshman is now the star and will be looked upon to bag more goals for Los Blancos. Bale does have the talent to be a star for Real Madrid. His blistering pace causes so many problems for defenders and will open up spaces in the defense for others. Guys like Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio will have more goal scoring opportunities because of it. The midfield and the defense will still be the same as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the middle of the park. Raphael Varane, who had an exceptional season for both club and country, will lineup along Sergio Ramos. With the loss of Zinedine Zidane factored in as well, it will be a tall mountain to climb for Madrid if they want to win the UCL for the fourth time in a row. They might not make it back to the final but a quarterfinal appearance isn’t an unreasonable expectation.
The two other teams in this group are CSKA Moscow and FC Viktoria Plzn. These two teams will battle for the third place spot of this group with the Russian side being the favorites. They are currently 6th in the Russian Premier League as Zenit and Spartak Moskova have gotten off to great starts domestically. Plzn are huge underdogs and despite being in the thick of things in the Czech league, it will be difficult for them to get results in this group. Their best shot comes on matchday one when they face off against CSKA.
It’s clear who the two best teams are in this group in Real Madrid and Roma. They’ll be the ones who advance to the knockout stages. Expect Madrid to finish at the top despite the transition to a life without Ronaldo.
Real Madrid and Roma advance
To say it’s been a turbulent season so far for Manchester United is an understatement. Between the comments made by Jose Mourinho and the two losses to start the season, the pressure is on in Old Trafford. Despite finishing second in the league last season, it was still defined as an “ok”. Losing to Sevilla in the Champions League Round of 16 didn’t help either. This is a big year for Mourinho as he enters in the heavily talked about "Year 3 Mou". It's usually around the time things implode and the Portuguese manager is let go. It will be an uphill battle in the league as both Manchester City and Liverpool are favorites to lift the trophy. The Champions League draw did no favors for the Red Devils either. Manchester United can’t afford to have performances like they did against Brighton if they want to do well in this group. They have made some upgrades and depth signings this summer, especially in the midfield with the addition of Fred from Shakhtar. Mourinho still has a lot of questions left to answer about this squad. Who will start on the wings is the first question. Defense is in question as well with Eric Bailly in and out of the lineup constantly. There is a lot of shuffling in those two areas for Manchester United and it shows on match days.
United’s biggest problem will be Juventus. The Italian champions had a fantastic summer picking up Emre Can, Joao Cancelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and some guy named Cristiano Ronaldo. Last season’s UCL campaign ended in infamy as a fantastic comeback in Bernabeu was canceled out by a late penalty awarded against the Old Lady. Juventus are bringing back a lot of their old squad but have replaced Gonzalo Higuain with Ronaldo, an obvious upgrade. The only real question for this squad will be the goalkeeping situation with Gigi Buffon now gone. The adjustment of Ronaldo on this Juventus team has gotten off to a rocky start but expect him to start scoring goals soon. Now it’s up to Max Allegri to see how he can field the best starting XI. Juventus will be very hard to stop in the Champions League this season.
Valencia is a sneaky underdog in this group. They have some young talent in attack with Michy Batshuayi and Goncalo Guedes, who made his move from Paris permanent this summer. They can catch teams on the counter with the pace on the wings too. After finishing 3rd in a group with Gent, Lyon, and Zenit last season they will be itching to make it back to the Round of 16. They certainly have the talent to make this happen.
Valencia has a chance to finish second in this group, especially if Manchester United slips up. However, Manchester United should have just enough to squeak into second. This is setting up to be a group to pay attention to.
Juventus and Manchester United advance
Roma’s initial tactics backfired
As you may have known, Liverpool put five goals past Roma.
That’s right, five.
It was an utter shellacking, and if not for two late goals by Roma, this tie could have been done and dusted already. It was a classic Liverpool performance defensively as some lapses led to two away goals by the Italian side, but it shouldn’t take away from the absolute masterclass display they delivered on the other side of the ball. Their strength offensively took away or minimize the damage their defense had done in the last 20 minutes of the match. You could say Liverpool’s best defense is their offense itself. It also helped Jürgen Klopp and his side that Roma played right into their hands.
To begin this match, Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco went with a very interesting formation to counter Liverpool’s attack. Going with a 3-4-2-1, it was clear Di Francesco hoped that the middle of the park would be secured thanks to the likes of Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman, and Daniele De Rossi. More specifically he was hoping the later two would provide stable blocks in front of Roma’s back three. However, the plan didn’t turn out quite well as it left Roma’s 3 centre backs on an island against Liverpool’s potent front three. Having your defenders on an island against the likes of Salah, Mané, and Firmino is a matchup which is going to end up burning you more often than not. With the Reds pace they were able to generate multiple A+ chances and converted on five of them.
But to EDF’s credit, he did end up changing the formation, going with a back 4 for the last chunk of the second half. It left Roma with a little bit more defensive stability and as a result it garnered two goals.
A comeback might not be in the cards this time
This won’t be the first time Roma are headed back to a home leg with a major deficit. They faced the same problems in the last round when they welcomed Barcelona and shocked the Catalans with a 3-0 defeat. They’ve made this comeback before and obviously grabbing the two away goals makes a huge difference.
But this isn’t Barcelona.
Klopp’s men won’t sit back like Ernesto Valverde had his side do and you will likely see a semi-aggressive Liverpool side. Remember, all Liverpool need are one goal and this tie gets every farther away from Roma.
Chances go begging for Bayern at the offensive end
Sometimes a stat can tell the whole entire match and sometimes they can also tell us nothing at all. This is sort of what happened when you looked at the expected goals chart (xG) for this Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid first leg in Germany. Despite the scoreline being 2-1 to Los Blancos, the xG chart showed something else (via Michael Caley who does a lot of great work on stuff like this).
It’s honestly a much different scoreline that what the chart shows. But it also could give us some insight and how this match played out. Two things are very true though and the graph shows it. Bayern had a lot of chances but couldn’t cash it in while Real Madrid on the other hand converted on a rare goal and then took advantage of their biggest chance of the night for the second goal. Let’s talk about Bayern for a bit.
They controlled possession (60%), had more shots on goal and in general along with forcing the Real Madrid defense to concede 10 corner kicks. Yet they still had only one goal from it and it came off a lapse by the Madrid defense which was converted by Joshua Kimmich’s cunning shot which fooled Keylor Navas. It looked at the time like the perfect start for Bayern but it turned out to be the only chance they had go in.
That’s not to say some of their players didn’t play well offensively. James Rodriguez was spectacular and Thomas Muller had some great chances in front of him to pounce on. Franck Ribéry also put in a shift. But at the end of the day goals matter and Bayern just didn’t have it. In an era where they have failed to get back to the Champions League final, putting on the performance they did in the first leg and still losing will only make the voices louder.
Zidane’s lineup choices in Champions League turns gold again
On the other side, Zinedine Zidane once again had the magic touch when it came to selecting his lineup and his subs. First he made a good choice by dropping both Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale from the lineup in favor for Lucas Vazquez and Isco with Ronaldo playing striker. Zidane choose to go with two guys who were in from instead of two regulars who aren’t playing so well. Vazquez and Isco both played their roles really well with the former providing defensive stability and Isco dipping inside to provide offensive support.
Then Zidane brought on Marco Asensio for Isco and it pay dividends for Real Madrid. Asensio took advantage of some shaky choices made by the Bayern backline and fired a shot into the net for Real’s 2nd goal. It was a great move by Zidane and even Mateo Kovačić played ok when he came on for Casemiro.
Despite some of the criticisms about him, there is no doubt about it, Zidane has his tactics and decisions on point when it comes to the Champions League. In two legged ties, Zidane has proven to be one of the best and could be one of the main forces to Real three-peating.
After a world wind of first legs in the Champions League quarter finals, all eight teams must quickly get back into the swing of things. Unlike previous rounds, the ties are beginning to be played back to back as the Champions League revs up towards the final in Kiev. Despite some lopsided score lines (3 teams are up 3 goals on aggregate), there are still storylines and themes to discuss. Let’s get started
FC Barcelona vs. Roma (First leg: 4-1 Barcelona)
Although they didn’t look like they were playing their A game, Barcelona still cruised to a 4-1 win over Roma in the first leg at the Nou Camp. It was an interesting strategy from the Italian club in the first leg to go out and press Barcelona, unlike most teams. But the Catalans had two slices of luck fall their way as the two opening goals in the tie were Roma own goals. They were bitter pills to swallow for the away side and things got even worse when Gerard Pique made it 3-0. The scoreline didn’t reflect how the game was being played on the field. Roma were able to generate somes chances throughout the game but only were able to capitalize on one of them, scoring a crucial away goal thanks to Edin Dzeko. Despite being the only player who was consistently in Barcelona’s half, the striker found a chance to pounce and did just that. Even with Barcelona up 3-1, an away from Roma at least made things a little interesting heading to the second leg in Rome. But Luis Suarez put all hope away as he knocked in a 4th for the Catalans before the referee blew the final whistle.
Heading back home for the return leg, Roma will surely have to go out in attacking mode. But they have to be wary of a Barcelona counter attack, especially if Ernesto Valverde plays the likes of Ousmane Dembele on the wing with the usual pairing of Messi and Suarez. Having Sergio Busquets back in the midfield should help normalize the Catalans, who often looking shaky in the midfield without the 29 year old. Valverde made some interesting choices in his starting XI in the first leg so who honestly knows who he is going to put in the midfield or up top on the wing.
Roma will obviously come out and attack to make Barcelona sweat. Also given how Valverde’s tactics ensure Barcelona don’t get exposed, they may be more willing to let the Romans have possession. Valverde’s Barcelona preaches defensive structure than anything else and it likely be on display in the second leg. But that doesn't mean they still can’t get up in attack. Given the form Leo Messi is in, all Barcelona need are a couple of chances on the counter and that’s it.
Prediction: 2 - 1 Barcelona
Liverpool vs. Manchester City (First leg: 3-0 Liverpool)
This was one of the bigger shockers in the first legs. Liverpool thrashing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, scoring 3 goals in the first half and never looking back. It was clear Guardiola’s side did not look ready for this game at all. This was also another example of Guardiola’s downfall as he went away from the successful gameplan which has his side basically led his side to run the English Premier League. Putting a midfielder like Kevin De Bruyne on the wing didn’t help Manchester City either as it opened up their midfield to be exposed. However, credit should be given to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side, who took advantage of the opportunities given to them. The likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino had a field day with acres of space to work with. Manchester City opened themselves vulnerable to speedy wingers which is Liverpool’s strength.
We have seen mistakes like this from Guardiola before as he played 3 at the back against Luis Enrique’s Barcelona side a couple of years ago in the first leg and it costed him dear. Like in Merseyside, Guardiola’s tactics backfired and it led to the same result he suffered at the hands of his former club, 3-0.
Now returning back to the Etihad for the second leg, Manchester City have a mountain to climb. But as long as Guardiola realizes his mistakes and runs with City’s normal lineup. Expect the Citizens to control a lot of the possession and generate a ton of chances. Get a goal early and it’s game on. It’s no secret that Liverpool’s defense has been suspect this whole season and don’t expect things to change over night.
But with all the controlling Manchester City will do in this game, they do play into Liverpool’s game plan of counter attacking and pressing. Klopp’s side is fine without the ball and if Manchester City slip up one moment, they could be picking the ball out of their own net in the next.
This second leg will be so hard to predict given how powerful City have shown to be but also at the fact of Liverpool being up 3-0. I say Manchester City will make this an interesting tie but Liverpool strike back with an away goal and it proves to be vital for them.
Prediction: 2-1 Manchester City
Real Madrid vs. Juventus (First leg: 3-0 Real Madrid)
Usually you hate to say ties are finished after the first leg but this one might as well be all but over.
It was a horror show for Juventus during the first leg in Turin. Despite controlling a lot of the action, the reigning Italian champions were bamboozled by Real Madrid and were witnesses to the one man wrecking crew of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo had his way with Juventus the whole night and took advantage of two horrible defending mistakes by Juve centre backs for both of his goals. First, Barzagli failed to mark him in the box and Ronaldo pounced to poke home a cross for Real’s first away goal. Then a mistake by Chiellini spraked a crazy sequence with forced Gigi Buffon to make a sprawling save on Lucas Vazquez. Then the ball came to Dani Carvajal who crossed it into the middle of the penalty area. Ronaldo then went up and performed a bicycle kick to a tee. The ball landed in the corner of the Juventus net and it was the one which buried the spirits of the Old Lady. Marcelo added a third to add salt to the wound and then a red card by Paulo Dybala all be sealed Juventus’s fate.
Unless Juventus can go out and attack without fear, they won’t have a chance in this second leg. Problem is that it’s against their DNA to senselessly attack. But their backs are against the wall and they need 4 goals to advance. Time for Allegri to put Juve’s tactics on all out attack. But it will leave them more vulnerable at the back and with a hungry Ronaldo ready to pounce.
Bayern Munich vs. Sevilla (First leg: 2-1 Bayern Munich)
This was closest first leg out of all the ties and it was also the wackiest. Like Barcelona, Bayern Munich came out of the gate looking out of sorts and it costed them. Sevilla pounced on Bayern’s weariness with a goal and sprung the tie into life. But Bayern quickly responded as an own goal from Jesus Navas came about as a result of great build up play by the Bavarians. They then picked up a second goal in the second half thanks to Thiago. It left Bayern with two away goals but the early goal does Sevilla some hope.
As bad as Bayern have been away from home, they have been dominant in the Allianz Arena. That place is a fortress and very few teams come away from there the victors in a two way tie. The good news for Sevilla is the past three teams which have been successful at Allianz Arena have been Spanish teams. Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid all had good performances to defeat Bayern in their own labyrinth and advance. Problem is that Sevilla isn’t like those other teams.
They also won’t have the luxury of walking into a two legged tie with the scoreline 0-0 like they had against Manchester United. But Sevilla have shown some resilience and won’t quit, it just likely won’t be enough. Bayern aren’t about to sit back and let Sevilla back into this tie, they will go for the jugular immediately and then open the flood gates. Or we could be in store for another La Liga team knocking out Bayern.
Prediction: 3-0 Bayern Munich
After a couple of weeks hiatus, the first leg of the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League finally got underway. We had four grand matchups on the cards. Two which featured two Spanish teams taking on Italian sides along with a matchup of two English squads while Bayern faced off against underdogs Sevilla. All four first legs provided us with some top entertainment while also leaving some questions to be answered for the second leg next week. Here are some takeaways from the first leg.
Real keep rolling
Like I’ve continued to say after each Real Madrid victory in the Champions League so far, they continue to play in Super Saiyan form in the Champions League. Forget what they are doing in La Liga but Real Madrid are flying in Europe. It was a dominant performance by Los Blancos as they thrashed Juventus and gave Gigi Buffon even more nightmares. Although Juventus controlled much of the possession and at most times much of the game, it was Real Madrid who generated the most chances and struck. They got off to a quick start as Juventus failed to mark Ronaldo in the box and we all know what happens if he gets a free chance. Just like that Juventus conceded an away goal. Things only got worse for Juventus as the game went on. Despite seeming to control the tempo of the game, they failed to generate more than one A+ chance. It was off a free kick and it was brilliantly saved by Keylor Navas.
Then the game stopped still as Ronaldo scored arguably one of his most brilliant goals of his career. It was a beautiful bicycle kick and it came off one of the wackiest sequences. A mistake between Giorgio Chiellini and Buffon led to Ronaldo almost scored on an open net but had his angle cut off by Buffon. Then Lucas Vazquez had his shot saved by Buffon before it fell to Dani Carvajal, who then lobbed up a cross to Ronaldo and the rest was history. Marcelo then added a third and added to the misery for Juventus.
Despite it being only the first leg, you have the feeling that this tie is already over. With 3 away goals and already in superstar form, Real Madrid are running away with this tie.
Barcelona and Bayern endure shaky starts to get results
While Real Madrid ran away, Barcelona and Bayern stumbled out of the gate at the beginning of their first legs. Both Bayern and Barcelona had slow starts to begin and looked off from the get go. Things got worse for the Bavarians as Sevilla scored a goal to get things going. At least for the Catalans, they got an own goal to start things off. Despite both of them winning in the first leg, it wasn’t the most convincing performances. Both teams relied on own goals and mistakes from the defenses. They were really shaky performances.
These first legs are tough pills to swallow for both Roma and Sevilla. Both teams played hard, especially the Italians who had two valid penalty shouts not called. The two losing sides had a combined 3 own goals and against the giants like Bayern and Barca, you can’t afford mistakes like that.
Man City’s meltdown
The biggest shock of the first leg results was at Anfield where Liverpool ran riot on Manchester City. At the end of the day, it was a 3-0 destruction of Pep Guardiola’s team and made Man City look average. Goals from Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Mane in the first 30 minutes bamboozled the Citizens and had Anfield rocking.
Guardiola made some questionable decisions with this lineup, playing a midfielder like Kevin De Bruyne on the right wing. It left City’s midfield open and add that to the centre back pairing of Kompany and LaPorte, Liverpool attackers had a field day. They looked out of sorts and this rock solid team was smashed to pieces. Guardiola ended up switching KDB back into the midfield but it was too little too late. It also hurts Manchester City that they failed to score an away goal. Now they have to score 4 goals in the Etihad, which sets up for a crazy attacking second leg. There will be plenty of action next week.
This seemed like a perfect pairing for Liverpool. They love to counterattack and against a team which controls possession, this seemed like a matchup where Liverpool could expose City. But nobody expected them to do something like this.
Last week’s Champions League fixtures proved to be what was expected. The big matchups lived up to their billing and the two English squads who were expected to smash their opposition on the road dominated. Now we move on to the next set of 8 teams who are set to do battle in the Champions League. Again we have two English squads in this week but this time they play two La Liga teams who have had great success in Europe in recent seasons. We also see Bayern Munich welcome the winners of Group G, and a very underrated tie taking place in Ukraine. Let’s dive into the matchups.
FC Barcelona vs. Chelsea
This will be the most star powered matchup of the week and it will be between two clubs who have a rich recent history in European competitions. It’s Chelsea vs. FC Barcelona. The last two times these two met in the knockout rounds, the winner has gone on to win the Champions League. We have seen moments like Andres Iniesta’s last second goal at the Bridge in 2009 and Fernando Torres circling around Victor Valdes to give Chelsea a shock win at the Nou Camp in 2012. Anytime these two teams meet, there is drama involved.
However, unlike most times, both teams are walking in on two different planets in terms of form. Chelsea are trying to find their form as Antonio Conte searches for answers and Barcelona are rolling. One problem for Valverde’s men is he played his main squad in a 2-0 victory over Eibar. Although he did sub off Iniesta, there are still questions about resting certain players before a big match away from the Nou Camp.
In terms of offense for both teams, the spotlight will be on Chelsea’s offense, which has struggled to produce goals against quality competition. Other than Eden Hazard and maybe Marcos Alonso, the Chelsea attack has really struggled. Alvaro Morata has been off form and with Michy Batshuayi off to Borussia Dortmund, there aren’t a lot of options coming off the bench. We already know Barcelona’s offense is going to create chances and control possession so these attacks from Chelsea will have to come from the counterattack. They will certainly need more than just Hazard to break a Barcelona defense which has been great and a goalie in Marc Andre Ter Stegen who is having a career season so far.
Prediction: This is a tough game for Chelsea and given the problems they have had with Conte on the offense, there could not be a worse game to walk into. Also, will this be the first time Messi scores against Chelsea? So many questions to be answered. In all honesty, Chelsea will likely bunker down and give Barcelona majority of the chances. It will be a standstill until Barcelona break through and then a second late goal seals off the tie. 2-0 Barcelona
FC Bayern vs. Besiktas
It’s been another typical year for Bayern Munich. First in the Bundesliga and in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Again they have another favorable draw on paper as they welcome Turkish club Besiktas to the Allianz Arena.
However they have to be wary of Besiktas, who are coming in on a seven game unbeaten streak. They last played on Friday and drew Konyaspor 1-1 in Super Lig play, where they are 4th. Besiktas still have a lot of tournaments to play for as they are only 5 points off the top spot in their domestic tournament and are in the semi-final of the Turkish Cup. That’s three tournaments they have to take account for. There is a chance they can steal an away goal in Bayern but like Chelsea, they will be playing a lot of defense and have to take advantage of counters/set pieces. Besiktas attack took a hit after selling Cenk Tosun to Everton but they can still catch Bayern off guard.
As for the Bavarian giants, they are still rolling. They haven’t lost in the Bundesliga this calendar year and are nearly 20 points ahead of second place Borussia Dortmund. Behind the likes of James Rodriguez and Robert Lewandowski, Bayern’s attack is thriving and will give the Besiktas defense a lot to handle. You get the feeling the more and more Bayern put pressure, eventually a goal will leak in and the dam will break.
Prediction: Besiktas have a chance to pull off a major upset and are riding in on a hot streak. But they are running into a machine in Bayern Munich. But to the Turkish club’s credit, they might manage a decent result for themselves. 3-1 Bayern Munich
Manchester United vs. Sevilla
It’s another English vs. Spanish matchup as Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United face off against Sevilla. Ironically it’s a matchup in the Champions League between two clubs who have won the last four Europa League titles.
For the Spanish side, this will be their second year in a row playing an English side. It didn’t go well the last time as they were knocked out by Leicester City as the Foxes got a goal in the return leg to seal the victory. This time, they are facing a much tougher opponent in Manchester United. Sevilla have shown resilience in the Champions League this year. They came back from a 3-0 deficit against Liverpool in the group stage and it was a big boost for them, especially against a formidable side. Sevilla has experienced success in Europe before. It wasn’t long ago where they won the Europa League three times in a row.
Man U is coming off a victory in the FA Cup over Huddersfield thanks to a Romelu Lukaku brace. It sort of took away the stinger they took from Newcastle United in league play when they lost 1-0 in St. James Park. The big question will be if Paul Pogba will play. If he can’t go against Sevilla, it would leave a huge hole in midfield for Man U. Pogba does so much for them as a box to box midfielder and his absence will show for the Red Devils.
Prediction: This is a tough game to predict but Manchester United are the better squad so you have to give them the edge. 2-1 Manchester United
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma
This is the one matchup I’m looking forward to other than Barcelona-Chelsea. Yes, I’m talking about Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk. It’s a matchup of two teams who both could easily advance. It’s one of the most fair draws in the tournament.
Roma are coming into this matchup on a three-game winning streak with a 2-0 win over Udinese in their latest matchup. Thanks to goals from Under and Perroti, they were able to gain a valuable three points as they chase a top four finish in Italy. With Edin Dzeko up top, he is Roma’s target man and their main source of scoring. There’s always a chance Radja Nainggolan blasts a rocket from way outside the box too. His right foot is dynamite.
Like their counterparts, Shakhtar are coming in on a victory again. It was a 5-0 victory for the leaders in the Ukrainian league. However, they are facing some pressure in league play with Dynamo Kyiv only 3 points behind them in second place. One big thing to look for will be the attack of Shakhtar. They boast the likes of Marlos, Bernard, Taison, and Ferreyra who are all dangerous in attack. All four play up top and will give Roma’s defense problems. Especially Bernard, whose small stature might may lead some to think he isn’t a tough player but he is. With the likes of Marlos on the other wing and Ferreyra up top, Bernard could have the chance to dice up the Roma defense.
Prediction: Both teams are hard to figure out as they both rely on skill players to initiate attack. This will be a tie where the pace will be back and forth and both defenses will be tested. I’m honestly so excited for this tie. I’m leaning Shakhtar but Roma has a chance to make this interesting. This is going to be fun. 2-2 draw