Posts tagged Champions League
The Counter Press EP 37

It's a special episode as Josh is joined by guest Puneet Singh (@puneetsingh). Together they discuss the Europa and Champions League Final as well as discuss summer expectations for their respective Premier League clubs

As Justin Bieber readies to drop much anticipated new music, enjoy this Barber's Chair playlist of the best hits in Bieberveli's arsenal! 
Apple Music: https://apple.co/2HdG2yN
Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2HbTcME
Tidal: http://bit.ly/bieberveli

Throw your diamonds up for more than a decade of heat with the new TIDAL-exclusive Roc La Familia playlist from The Barber's Chair! The greatest hits from the most prolific label in hip hop history.
Listen here: https://tidal.com/playlist/dfcd8a98-7eb0-473e-8666-170acc564443

Listen to the new bangers playlist on Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music!
Tidal: bit.ly/tidalbangers
Spotify: bit.ly/spotifybangers
Apple Music: bit.ly/applebangers

WrestleMania might be over but you can still rep Becky Two Belts with the brand new #FreeTheMan tees up now on the Barber's Chair Net merch shop
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The Counter Press EP 36

Josh and Vijay talk about the Champions League Final and Decision Day in the EPL

As Justin Bieber readies to drop much anticipated new music, enjoy this Barber's Chair playlist of the best hits in Bieberveli's arsenal! 
Apple Music: https://apple.co/2HdG2yN
Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2HbTcME
Tidal: http://bit.ly/bieberveli

Throw your diamonds up for more than a decade of heat with the new TIDAL-exclusive Roc La Familia playlist from The Barber's Chair! The greatest hits from the most prolific label in hip hop history.
Listen here: https://tidal.com/playlist/dfcd8a98-7eb0-473e-8666-170acc564443

Listen to the new bangers playlist on Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music!
Tidal: bit.ly/tidalbangers
Spotify: bit.ly/spotifybangers
Apple Music: bit.ly/applebangers

WrestleMania might be over but you can still rep Becky Two Belts with the brand new #FreeTheMan tees up now on the Barber's Chair Net merch shop
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair
or
teespring.com/freetheman

The Counter Press EP 33

Josh and Vijay chat about all the Champions League matchups, PSG giving up 5 goals to Lille, and the Premier League.

WrestleMania might be over but you can still rep Becky Two Belts with the brand new #FreeTheMan tees up now on the Barber's Chair Net merch shop
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair
or
teespring.com/freetheman

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
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The Counter Press EP 31

The Counter Press is back with another episode. This time it's Puneet who joins Josh on the show. They discuss everything from Manchester United to the rumored expansion of the World Cup format.

Follow Josh on Twitter: @highbiscuits
Follow Puneet on Twitter: @PuneetSingh

Listen to the new bangers playlist from The Barber's Chair on Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal!
Tidal: bit.ly/tidalbangers
Spotify: bit.ly/spotifybangers
Apple Music: bit.ly/applebangers

Rep THE MAN just in time for Wrestlemania with the brand new #FreeTheMantees up now on the Barber's Chair Net merch shop
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair
or
teespring.com/freetheman

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
patreon.com/barberschairnet

Spurs and Dortmund face off while Real Madrid's repeat bid continues against Ajax
Photo Caption: Bongarts/Getty Images

Photo Caption: Bongarts/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Borussia Dortmund

Given all the circumstances surrounding the club, it’s a miracle Tottenham Hotspur have been able to achieve what they have this season. A lack of summer transfers has greatly affected their depth, limiting Mauricio Pochettino’s hand when it comes to rotating his squad during the three domestic competitions and the Champions League. They’ve done a nice job maintaining positioning in the Premier League, currently five points off the top two and with nine points ahead of fourth place Manchester United.

Spurs almost missed out on the Round of 16, narrowly squeaking by thanks to a late draw against Barcelona in the Camp Nou. The injury bug hasn’t been kind to Tottenham this season either - Harry Kane and Dele Alli have missed considerable amounts of time with injury, and Ben Davies has picked up a knock as well. With the number of injuries they have had, it doesn’t help Spurs are facing one of the more offensive teams in Europe.

It’s been a youth revival for Borussia Dortmund so far this season. Behind the efforts of Jaden Sancho, Christian Pulisic, Achraf Hakimi, and Abdou Diallo, Dortmund have found themselves atop the Bundesliga and in the knockout stages of the Champions League. They breezed through the group stage, losing just one game and finishing first thanks to beating out Atletico Madrid on goal difference. Dortmund is still hanging onto a five-point lead in the league despite Bayern Munich gaining momentum fast.

It doesn’t help Lucien Favre’s team that they haven’t won in the month of February yet. They had two draws against Eintracht Frankfurt and an astonishing 3-3 result against Hoffenheim where Dortmund allowed three second-half goals to drop points. Those results sandwiched between a shootout loss to Werder Bremen in the DFB Cup has made it a sour start to the month, but doesn’t mean Dortmund will be pushovers.

Sancho has taken Europe by storm, capturing the world's attention as one of the generation’s future superstars. He’s scored seven times and dished out nine assists in his 21 games in the Bundesliga this campaign. With Davies out on the wing and Spurs already inconsistent play at the wingback spot, this could be a tricky matchup for Tottenham to handle. One wrong move and Sancho will be slinging passes into the box. Given Paco Alcacer’s career revival at Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund have a real threat in front of goal. While they will be without Marco Reus for this game, BVB still should be favorites in this one.

For Spurs, the offensive load has been carried by the duo of Cristian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son. The latter has been one of Spurs’ best threats in front of goal over the past three years, scoring 37 goals for the club. However, he hasn’t had much success in the Champions League this year, going scoreless in his four appearances. Son has missed some time due to international duties and he has still done well to get back acclimated with the squad. He can play on either the wing or up top at striker. With Son’s pace and Eriksen’s pinpoint ability to pick out passes, Spurs still are a threat to this Borussia Dortmund’s defense. Dortmund’s backline hasn’t had its fair share of good fortune when it comes to staying healthy as well. All it takes is one mess up and Spurs will have the advantage at Wembley.

Real Madrid vs. Ajax

This is an old school tie between two of Europe’s most historic clubs. Both Ajax and Real Madrid have enjoyed European success with the latter running the show in the Champions League as of late. No matter what their standing was domestically, Los Blancos always flipped the switch when it came to Europe.

It initially didn’t look like things would be this way for Real Madrid once again when you consider how their season started. After his controversial exit from being the manager of the Spanish National Team, the pressure was all on Julen Lopetegui when he took the Real Madrid job. It was also clear Real Madrid weren’t prepared for the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and the scoring output he brought to the Bernabeu. The offense suffered, Madrid fell severely behind in the La Liga standings and Lopetegui was sacked following a 5-1 thrashing in the Camp Nou against Barcelona in El Clasico. To make matters worse, they suffered an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to CSKA Moscow on Matchday 6 in the group stage.

Santiago Solari has taken over and has since turned things around, revitalizing Real Madrid in the new year. They have since jumped up to second in La Liga, six points behind league leaders Barcelona. Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, and even Karim Benzema have seen an uptick in production. Vinicius Jr. has proven to be a real threat on the wing and has given opponents problems any time he steps on the pitch. Real Madrid got two key results in a draw in the first leg of their Copa Del Rey and got a 3-1 win on the road against Atletico Madrid. After a couple of months of turmoil, it looks like Real Madrid are back on track.

Ajax has been a surprise team in Europe so far. In a group with Bayern Munich and Benfica, Erik ten Hag’s squad got some fantastic results in the six matchdays. Two draws against Bayern, one draw and a win against Benfica later and Ajax were through to the Round of 16. Things are picking up in their domestic league as well. They are only six points behind PSV Eindhoven in a two-horse race in the Erividisie.

In terms of threats going forward, former Southampton Dusan Tadic has seen himself really become a key cog in the Dutch’s club attack. Starlet Matthias de Ligt and former Manchester United CB Daley Blind are the two main defenders in charge of making sure Bale doesn’t go rampant in the Amsterdam Arena. A 6-2 loss to Feyenoord and a 1-0 loss to Heracles weren’t the best results to have in the weeks leading up to this game, however.

A couple of weeks ago, this could have been the chance for a major upset. However, things have regressed to the mean. Real Madrid has gotten better while Ajax has been hit by the injury to De Jong. Madrid will be looking to make a statement and Ajax will be holding on to dear life to stay into this tie.

Predictions:

Vijay (@VJVemu): Dortmund 2 -1 Spurs, Real Madrid 3 - 1 Ajax
Josh (@HighBiscuits): Dortmund 3 -1 Spurs, Real Madrid 2 - 2 Ajax


Man U/PSG, Roma/Porto square off as the Champions League knockout rounds begin

After a month of no Champions League football, get ready to hear the famous chorus blast over some of football’s greatest stadiums. We have arrived at the knockout stages of the competition and there are some really fun match-ups in store for us over the next two weeks. High profile match-ups highlight the first leg of the knockout rounds; a resurgent Manchester United meets a banged up PSG squad, Spurs will try and hold on against a dangerous Dortmund team, while Roma and Porto provide some intrigue as well.

Let’s take a look at the four games which will be taking place midweek along with predictions for yours truly and my Counter Press co-host Josh.

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Manchester United

The biggest match-up of the week features two of Europe’s highest spending clubs. Both Paris-Saint Germain and Manchester United have spent a lot of money in the past two seasons and last summer was no exception. PSG splashed the cash, as expected, spending over 217 million Euros in transfer fees this summer, most notably signing Monaco starlet Kylian Mbappe as he made his loan to the Parc De Princes permanent. PSG also spent 40M Euros on Zenit midfielder Leonardo Paredes and 35M Euros on center back Thilo Kehrer from Schalke. Manchester United weren’t very active last summer but still did spend around 82M Euros, with most of it going towards acquiring midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk.

It’s been mostly smooth sailing domestically for PSG but they have run into some trouble as of late. They lost their first Ligue 1 game of the entire season last week when they fell to third place Lyon 2-1 on the road. The loss doesn’t affect the league title race that much as Paris sits 10 points ahead of second place Lille and with defeats seeming few and far in between; it will take an epic collapse for them to give up first place.

However, they have been hit with the injury bug as of late and it has led to some worries heading into their match against Manchester United. Along with Marco Verratti and Tomas Muneier picking up knocks, PSG will likely be without two of their key attackers. Both Neymar and Edison Cavani, who combined for seven goals in the group stage and 30 tallies in Ligue 1, are expected to miss the first leg at Old Trafford, leaving a huge hole at the top of PSG’s starting XI. With most of the Manchester United defense now focused on Mbappe, it’s going to be tough sledding for the French giants to generate chances. PSG have had to adapt to different formations without Neymar and led manager Tomas Tuchel to employ two strikers up top with a block right behind them to cover the space behind against Bordeaux. They could also go 3-5-2 as they did against Lyon with a trio of two attacking midfielders and Marquinhos in between them to cover the midfield. Without three of his best players in Cavani, Neymar, and Verratti, Tuchel is going to have to get creative. According to French newspaper L’Equipe, PSG is likely to employ a 4-2-3-1 with Mbappe playing as the primary striker. This sets him up in a position where he excelled back at Monaco. Although this time he will be alone at the top of the formation.

Things have gotten better for Manchester United after the firing of Jose Mourinho. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been brought in as the caretaker manager and things have been going well so far. The team has looked much more potent in attack, and many of the Red Devils’ top players are performing well. They have climbed their way into the Premier League top four as they continue to battle with Arsenal and Chelsea for the final spot. Being nine points off Tottenham, they are still going to have a lot of work to do to move up. United haven’t lost a game with OGS in charge, but this first leg against Paris is the beginning of a gauntlet of games for the squad from Old Trafford; they meet Chelsea in the fifth Round of the FA Cup before hosting Liverpool on February 24th. It’s safe to say this is Manchester United’s biggest stretch of fixtures so far this season, and it could be the time where OGS can prove why he should be the manager for this side moving into next season.

In terms of how they will lineup, OGS likes to mix things up as United deploys many different formations based on the opponent. He’s lined up the Red Devils three different times in the past three games. Outside of the obvious shoe-ins such as Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, Solsjaer has a lot of options to choose from. Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford or even Alexis Sanchez at times can be deployed at striker. Anthony Martial would be a very solid choice down the left wing and Jesse Lingard can be deployed on the right. The backline has been had its share of struggles as Phil Jones, Eric Bailey, Victor Lindelof, and Chris Smalling all have gone through stretches of poor form. If Cavani and Neymar were playing, it would be a lot more troubling for United to handle.

Roma vs. Porto

While this won’t be the main tie on Tuesday, Roma vs. Porto does offer some intrigue. Both teams have had some success in Europe over the last couple of years and the winner will certainly cause some problems for whoever they face in the next round.

This won’t be the first time these two teams have faced off; they met back in the play-off round in 2016 with the winner advancing to the group stage. It was a emphatic 4-1 aggregate win for Porto, capping it off with a 3-0 victory in Rome. The two red cards in eleven minutes of play didn’t help Roma either.

Porto has been a staple in the Champions League for much of the decade, making the competition eight years running. Domestically they have been decent as they are currently on top of the Primera Liga, Portugal’s top domestic league. Porto is currently a point ahead of rivals Benfica and hasn’t lost in the league since the end of October. This is the third straight year they have made the Round of 16 and they will be looking to be more competitive than the last two; last year finalists Liverpool demolished them 5-0 on aggregate, while 2017 runner-up Juventus knocked them out of the tournament 3-0.

The Portuguese side had a very easy time in the group stage, going undefeated and breezing through with 16 points. While there weren’t any big European giants in their group, it shouldn’t take away from how impressive Porto was - four of their five wins came by two goals or more and they finished with a goal differential of +9, tied for second-highest of any team in the group stage.

But like Paris Saint-Germain, Porto will be heavily shorthanded in attacking power when they travel to the Stadio Olimpico. Porto is going to be missing both Moussa Marega and fellow forward Jesus Corona in this one. With eight goals scored between the two, Sergio Conceicao is going to have to rely on some substitutes to be vigilant in front of goal. Luckily they have the home leg in March but grabbing an away goal would be a great result for Porto.

Last year, Roma had a great run in the Champions League, making it all the way to the semi-final before being beaten by Liverpool 7-6 despite an valiant comeback effort in the home leg. In fact, home legs in Champions League knockout ties were Roma’s greatest advantage last year. After losing the away leg in both the round of 16 and the quarterfinal, Roma stormed back to win both ties, completing a historic comeback against FC Barcelona in the latter.

Despite not having the greatest of results, AS Roma matches have been a thrilling ride this season. In the past few weeks alone they had a 3-3 draw with Atalanta and then turned around and got crushed by Fiorentina 7-1. This was followed by a 1-1 draw with AC Milan and then a 3-0 win against Chievo. It’s really hard to get a read on Roma at the moment. They’ve scored 44 goals in Serie A, third most in Italy, and are currently sixth domestically, trailing fourth-place Milan by a point while being tied on points with Atalanta and Lazio. Missing out on the top four would be a disappointment for Roma but they have a chance to garner some momentum by getting a good first leg result.

The danger man for Roma continues to be the Bosnian striker Eden Dzeko. He’s been fantastic for Eusebio Di Francesco’s men in Europe. Dzeko scored five goals in the group stage and finished with eight goals last season. The Porto backline is going to have to make sure they mark Dzeko at all times when the ball is on the wings. He’s great in the air, towering over most center backs, leading to being a target man in set pieces and crosses. If there is a player to watch for on Roma, it’s him.

Predictions:
Vijay (@VJVemu): Manchester United 2 - 0 PSG, Porto 2 -2 Roma
Josh (@@HighBiscuits): Manchester United 2 -1 PSG, Porto 2 - 1 Roma



The Counter Press - You Hate to See It

The Counter Press Boys are joined by Spurs fan @ryne_jones to talk about all things Premier League including Tottenham's list of transfers. We also dive into Champions League matchups along with some Serie A talk.

Follow Vijay on Twitter: @VJVemu
Follow Josh on Twitter: @highbiscuits

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Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
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The Counter Press EP 27
The Counter Press EP 26
The Counter Press EP 25
The Counter Press EP 24

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

Premier League matchday 6 preview: games to watch, and where each Champions League team stands after matchday 1

After the first round of Champions League fixtures of the season, we’ll assess each Premier League’s teams chances going forward in the competition:

Manchester City - After getting shocked by Nabil Fakir and Lyon in their opening match, still expect Manchester City to coast through Group F as the reigning champions should have no trouble with the likes of Hoffenheim or Shakhtar.

Tottenham - Spurs put Inter Milan to the sword for the majority of the match at the San Siro, that is until the 85th minute where Mauro Icardi scored a magnificent equalizer and Vecino went on to steal all three points for Inter in stoppage time. With a matchup with European giants Barcelona looming in their next Champion’s League fixture, Tottenham must bounce back from their current three-game losing streak immediately if they have any hope of advancing from Group B.

Liverpool - Continuing with their current league form, high-flying Liverpool won yet again, this time against their biggest rival in Group C, Paris Saint-Germain. What looked to be a sure draw after an equalizer by Mbappe in the 83rd minute, Roberto Firmino found the winner in the 91st to keep Liverpool’s winning streak alive. Even after being drawn into a tough group with PSG and Napoli, with their current form, it’s tough to see a scenario in which Liverpool do not advance from this group.

Manchester United - While the rest of the Premier League participants were matched with powerful opponents in the first round of Champion’s League fixtures, United were blessed with a match against BSC Young Boys. United walked through their opening match to three points as expected but with their inconsistent performances in the league so far and with Juventus and Valencia looming in Group H, they will most likely be fighting to escape with second place by the end of this round.

Five Games to Watch

Manchester United vs Wolves

Premier League newboys Wolverhampton Wanderers are finding their footing coming off two wins, and head to Old Trafford hoping to send a message to the rest of the league. On the other side, United have bounced back from consecutive losses with consecutive wins and hope to keep moving in the same direction back up the table. The confidence of Paul Pogba should be revitalized after two goals midweek, but he will have a long day ahead with the likes of Ruben Neves and the electric Wolves midfield running the show.

Bournemouth vs Burnley

Two teams that have defied expectations so far in this early season go head to head at the Turf Moor this weekend. Unfortunately for Burnley, the way in which they have defied expectations so far is in a purely negative sense, as last year’s surprise upstarts have stumbled out of the gate with a measly one point from a possible fifteen. At the other end of the table, Bournemouth find themselves in fifth place at this point in the early season and have scored two or more goals in all but one of their five games. The Cherries will hope to keep their success going while Burnley will be getting desperate to find their first win and escape the bottom of the league moving forward.

Everton vs Arsenal

Arsenal have bounced right back to life by following their opening two losses up with three straight wins and will look to find the fourth straight against Everton this weekend. Everton will head to the Emirates hoping to correct their problems on the road this season in which they have lost the lead both times, leaving with only two points from a possible six. Everton face an uphill battle coming up against an in-form Arsenal and the fact that the Gunners are unbeaten in their last 24 home games in this match-up.

Tottenham vs Brighton

Spurs have struggled mightily in their past three fixtures with losses to Watford, Liverpool and Inter Milan consecutively. Without captain Hugo Lloris in goal, Tottenham are noticeably weaker and their struggles against set pieces continue to plague what should be a dominant back line. While Tottenham have struggled to maintain a lead, losing after going 1-0 up against Watford and Inter Milan, Brighton on the other hand have come from two goals down to draw in both of their last two fixtures. Tottenham look to rebound immediately but Brighton’s refusal to quit could cause another late game struggle.

Chelsea vs West Ham

Unbeaten Chelsea look to continue their early success against a West Ham team coming off their first win of the new campaign. Marko Arnautovic looks to be a game-time decision which could be a deciding factor on this match with Arnautovic factoring in all but one of West Ham’s five goals this season. After resting Eden Hazard in the midweek Europa League fixture, look for Chelsea to be carried by his fresh legs and dominance on the ball. While not as exciting as some of the other London derbies, this match could still prove to be fiery in it’s own right.

The Counter Press ep. 12 (feat. @GuerschonLynch)
The Counter Press ep. 11

Josh Springs (@HighBiscuits) and Vijay Vemu (@VJVemu)brings their soccer podcast to the Barber's Chair Network: the Counter Press! This episode they are joined by special guest Avi Saini (@AvikarSaini) to talk about Inter Milan barely making the Champions League, Managerial changes around Europe, what we think about Zidane as a manager, and much more.

Champions League semifinal recap - first leg

Roma’s initial tactics backfired

Getty Images

Getty Images

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

K. Pffefenbach/Reuters

K. Pffefenbach/Reuters

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.

Times could be changing for PSG
FRANCK FIFE/AFP

FRANCK FIFE/AFP

This was supposed to be the year for Paris Saint Germain. This was supposed to be the season where the French giants firmly asserted themselves into the class of Europe’s elite. Along with desperately trying to erase the memories of their historic collapse against Barcelona in the Nou Camp last season, PSG showed even more financial ambition than they have in years past. The plan, from that end, worked. In what was one of the more shocking moves in the history of soccer, PSG landed Brazilian starlet Neymar, convincing him to move from being Leo Messi’s heir to creating his own legend in the Parc de Princes. It was an ambitious move and shattered the world record for transfer fees.

Along with Neymar came his former Barcelona teammate Dani Alves, having made a pit stop at Juventus after ending his long run with the Catalans two seasons ago. Then came an even bigger shocker, they landed one of the best young players in the world on a loan deal in Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe. The young French striker took the world by storm last season, showing out in the Champions League while displaying a deadly combination of blistering pace and smart runs behind the defense to create chances for himself. Mbappe also showed willingness to play on the wing, completing the trio of him, Neymar, and Edinson Cavani. It was a deadly strike force and along with support of players like Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti, Julian Draxler, Adrien Rabiot, and Javier Pastore PSG looked like they could be on the verge of European glory.

But now, those hopes have been dashed. PSG have been eliminated at the hands of the mighty Real Madrid and now all the dreams of this being the year where they compete for a trophy have been dashed. PSG didn’t even reach a semi-final this season, let alone a final. Ever since they were bought by Oryx Qatar Sports Investment back in 2011, PSG have only gone as far as the quarter-finals in the Champions League. It’s been a major disappointment for a club which has spent so much in the name of lifting the trophy in early summer. Now along with having to swallow another bitter pill of a disappointing UCL run, PSG face much uncertainty this summer.

The main problem with the future of the Paris project is if their star will even be playing for them in a couple of years. No matter where he has gone, there always has been controversy surrounding Neymar. From the time he left Brazil to Barcelona to when he moved to Paris. Controversy and scrutiny following the logistics of his transfers have always been talked about. On top of that, his transition to life in Paris hasn’t helped. He has clashed with Cavani on multiple occasions, fighting with the striker over a penalty early in the season. Neymar was also booed by his own fans when taking a penalty against Dijon. It was a 7-0 game in favor of the Parisians and there was a chance they could go up 8-0 with a penalty. The clear choice in the situation was Cavani, who had just tied the club record for most goals in PSG history. Instead of giving the ball to the Uruguayan, Neymar took the penalty and slotted it into the Djion net. The decision was not treated with a warm reception by the PSG fans, who understood the situation clearly. If there ever was an incident which had captured Neymar’s tenure in Paris so far it was the penalty against Dijon. He got the result and the job done but it came with its own set of problems. There are also rumors swirling around about another move on the way for the Brazilian. Rumors of a possible transfer to Real Madrid have made its way all the way to Spain and is raising eyebrows across the world. While it’s certainly a dream move for Los Blancos and one which could be labeled off as far fetched, nobody is ruling it out completely. Because that is exactly what people did with Neymar’s possible move to PSG when he was in Barcelona and we all know how that ended.

Along with the Neymar saga, PSG have also found themselves on the wrong side of youth. In their ambitions to win now, they have looked away from their academy and youth players. Players such as Kingsley Coman and Jean-Kevin Augustin have left for other clubs in hopes of finding more playing time. Sooner or later, it will be time for PSG’s next crop of players to be faced with a tough reality: stay and fight for playing time or go elsewhere. Yes, PSG have found some success from their youth players and parts of their starting XI are from their academy but it’s been few and far between. It’s gotten better over this past year with the insertion of Presnel Kimpembe and Alphonse Areola but PSG still need more youth in the squad. Cavani, Silva, Alves, and Thiago Motta are all over 30, Di Maria just hit that age mark. There are some really aging players on this squad and it’s risky for PSG to keep relying on them for tougher fixtures in the future. Some of these players showed their age against Real Madrid and they were punished over two legs.

You could feel another shakeup in the cards for France’s top club. Players like Silva, Alves, and Motta will surely be phased out in favor of new players. There are questions about the future of guys like Di Maria, Draxler, and Pastore also hang in the balance. This is all without the cloud of Neymar’s future as well. PSG somehow hung on to much of their squad last summer, only selling Blaise Matuidi to make room for Neymar. But it seems like this year will be the one where more than one player leaves. How they plan to prepare for a scenario like this remains to be scene.

This PSG squad was bought to compete in the Champions League. Well at least this was the mantra which has been repeated again and again every season. There is no doubt the QSI have high ambitions for their club and it’s completely justified. They have spent a ton of money in this project and the only real way they achieve relative success is either by winning or reaching the final. It’s all about growing PSG into a big club. But the fruits of the project have not flourished and the pressure is ramping. Again having spent a fortune, PSG are a semi aging squad with a star player who hasn’t fit in 100% to the club. Now they walk into a summer having more questions than answers at the moment.

Champions League Round of 16 takeaways

After a month in between legs, the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League is over. 8 teams (Manchester City, Roma, FC Barcelona, Juventus, Sevilla, Real Madrid, Liverpool) all advanced to the quarterfinals. The quarter final draw will be announced soon but let’s take some time to reflect on some of the more interesting ties which took place in the Round of 16.

Allegri gets it right in the second leg

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After mismanaging the first leg in Turin which saw his team give up a 2-0 goal lead, Max Allegri made the right moves in the second leg in what was a impressive victory for the away side. In the first leg, Allegri was too conservative and didn’t make the right moves or tactics necessary in order to let Juve see out a two goal advantage. The 2-2 draw gave Spurs a whole new lifeline in the tie and had them the favorites to advance. Allegri did start off the second leg on shaky terms by going with three centre backs at the back and a formation which isolated Barzagli against Heung Min Son on the right hand side. The move clearly backfired as the winger ran circles around the 36 year old Barzagli, giving Juve trouble anytime he touched the ball. It reached a massive problem when Son scored the opening goal in the second leg and it looked Juve where headed for an exit.

Then with around 30 minutes left in the tie, Allegri made two key subs. He took off Mehdi Benatia and Blaise Matuidi in exchange for two wing backs in Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah. Bringing on a defensive right and left back switched Juve from a back three to a back four, with Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini in the middle. This change worked well for Juve as the two fullbacks not only brought defensive stability and allowed the Italian duo in the centre to do what they do best in the middle but they also pressured Spurs on the wings. It was the first time all game Spurs full backs had to deal with opposing pressure and they crumbled. Especially Ben Davies. Lichtsteiner was easily able to get past him and deliver a cross which would eventually end up in the back of the Spurs net thanks to Gonzalo Higuain. The changing of formation plus pressure from Lichtsteiner seemed to rattle Davies and it showed in the second goal. It was Davies who played Paulo Dybala onside as the Juve attack beat Hugo Lloris for an all important goal from the Juve side.

There was more to this than just the brilliant play of Juventus in the 10 minute stretch which sealed off the game but part of the credit should go to Allegri. He saw the mistakes he made in defense in the first half and wasn’t afraid to switch things up. The change of tactics confused Spurs, opening up a chance for Juventus to take advantage and the Italian side pounced. European football is cruel sometimes.

Mourinho mismanages Manchester United

Michael Regan

Michael Regan

While Allegri got his tactics right for Juventus, Jose Mourinho botched it again for Manchester United. At home against Sevilla with the scoreline being 0-0 after the first leg, many still felt like Manchester United would still pull out a win. But it turned out to be the complete opposite as two goals in quick succession from the Spanish side saw the Red Devils crash out of Europe in a rare defeat at home. Defeat at home in the Champions League isn’t something Manchester United fans are used to and it was a punch in the mouth when Wassim Ben Yedder curled a shot in the far right corner to give Sevilla 1-0 lead. Matters got even worse when Ben Yedder’s header off a corner bounced over the line and suddenly it was two away goals for Sevilla. Not even Romelu Lukaku’s late goal could spark Man U back to life and that was all she wrote.

It was a very defensive formation which Mourinho brought out, playing both Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini in the midfield. Two players who won’t give much to Manchester United moving forward. He also played Marcus Rashford out of position and also played Alexis Sanchez, an attacker who is massively out of form at the moment. The game plan should have been for Manchester United to go out and attack Sevilla. Get an early goal, take the life out of the opponent and then sit back to absorb pressure Mourinho style. Instead they let Sevilla’s two holding midfielders in Steven N’Zonzi and Ever Banega boss the midfield. Banega, who led the UCL in passes completed before the game, had a master class of a match alongside his French counterpart. They dictated play in the midfield and made life difficult for Manchester United’s backline from the start. The resistance was broken when Ben Yedder came on. Manchester United gave Sevilla one really good chance and the Spanish side took it graciously. But it shouldn’t have been like that to begin with. Given they were the home and better side, Manchester United should have been the ones attacking Sevilla but instead found themselves shelled in defensively. So when Sevilla struck twice, Manchester United had to quickly bring on two attacking subs but the damage had already been done.

Like with their English counterparts, Tottenham Hotspur, part of the blame goes to the Manchester United players but honestly they were put in a position to fail. Some of the guys were playing out of position and guys with similar playing styles were slotted right next to each other. There was no balance in the Manchester United team. They were way too conservative for it and paid the price for it.

Messi carries FC Barcelona

Twitter

Twitter

What will FC Barcelona do without Leo Messi? It’s a question worth asking in the future but for now, we should keep enjoying the greatness of one of the best ever. Messi was in a mood to get this tie with Chelsea over with from the get go. He scored 3 minutes into the match, following up some nice one-two play with his teammates before a deflection saw the ball go to Luis Suarez. The striker played it to Messi, who drilled it through the legs of Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois and instantly you could feel the tie fully shifted to Barcelona. Especially in a place like the Camp Nou, where only a few teams have came and won.

He also set up Ousmane Dembele for his first goal in a Barcelona shirt and it was the goal which ultimately sealed Chelsea’s fate. Once again, Messi evaded a defender and blazed past him. Getting inside the Blues penalty area with ease, he crossed the ball over to the French winger who then splendidly smashed the ball into the top left corner. It was a world class goal and one which Dembele needed. You could see it on his face and through Messi’s reaction just how much it meant to the team.

Then in the second leg with the game out of reach, Messi put salt on the wounds of Chelsea with another goal, again beating Courtois through his legs. It was his 100th goal in Champions League and was a performance which showed just how dominant he can be. Messi showed this side earlier in the Champions League against Juventus in the group stage in what was a 3-0 win for Barcelona at home.

Coming into this match, there was a little worry that Chelsea could get a result at the Camp Nou. With the way Barcelona played in the first leg, it was certainly possible. But Leo Messi had other ideas and made sure Barca would go through. Even if they weren’t at their best as a team through both legs.

Real Madrid are still a force to be reckoned with

Real Madrid

Real Madrid

Despite their struggles in La Liga, Real Madrid are still on another level when it comes to the Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo and company got through their big tie with Paris Saint-Germain and did so with relative ease. Knowing Paris were going to attack them, Real Madrid had to make sure the wings were secure and no chances were created from there. Both Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio made sure the likes of Angel Di Maria were limited offensively. They were tracking back and sat back when needed to provide support to Madrid’s fullbacks. Asensio and Vazquez were active all over the pitch especially the former who ignited the opening goal by Ronaldo which put the tie to bed. He stole the ball in the Paris half then drove into the penalty box. Seconds later Ronaldo climbed up near the back post and headed the away Madrid desperately needed. From there it was nothing Paris could do but wonder how this project went all wrong once again.

By putting away PSG with ease, Real Madrid once again continue to stake their claim as one of the most dangerous teams in this competition. The holders are still in it and seem to hit another gear when the Champions League team comes on. With a La Liga title completely out of the picture, Zidane and his squad can fully focus on the Champions League. A completely refreshed Madrid squad will be expected on most midweek games now. Who knows who they will draw in the Champions League quarter finals but they still will be favorites.

Champions League takeaways
Reuters

Reuters

We are officially halfway through the Champions League Round of 16 ties and there are a lot of storylines to take away from the chaos. There were blowouts (Man City, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich) and there were some interesting matches (Juve-Spurs, Barca-Chelsea). With the second legs happening next week, the Champions League is beginning to heat up as soccer heads towards one of the best stretches of the season. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest storylines to take away from the eight matches over the course of two weeks.

 

Juve was too conservative and Tottenham made them pay

Alessandro Di Marco/AP Photo

Alessandro Di Marco/AP Photo

Aside from the masterful Spurs performance in the second half, the main takeaway from this game was Juventus losing the plot after starting off the match brilliantly. After the first 10 minutes it seemed like it this tie was already over thanks to a brace by Gonzalo Higuain. It was two mistakes by Spurs and two goals struck in the back of their net. But then Max Allegri decided to have his team sit back and absorb pressure for the rest of the 80 minutes. While it was something Juventus has done in the past, the tactic massively backfired. Even with the threat of the counterattack, Juventus failed to generate any serious chances for the rest of the game. They not only saw their lead get split in half twenty minutes later but they saw Spurs get a crucial away goal thanks to the brilliance of Christian Eriksen. A lot of the problems was Juventus allowed Spurs time on the ball and let the likes of Eriksen and Dembele boss in the midfield. They took advantage of a slower Sami Khedira in the middle and tested the Juventus backline for the entire match.

It’s easy to say in hindsight that this was a bad move but even during the game you see this was a bad move. Especially when he had some playmakers on the pitch such as Douglas Costa, who had a brilliant match, and Higuain. Juventus came out firing and grabbed a strong hold on the tie but then decided to absorb the pressure like a bubble. It blew up in their faces and now they have to go to Wembley and try to beat a red hot Spurs team.

Barcelona show lingering problems

AP

AP

In the first leg of the game of Barcelona vs. Chelsea, the team from London were the better side. They played a near perfect match with Antonio Conte getting the tactics and game plan for this his side to succeed down to a tee. However they made one key error and it led to how it usually does against Leo Messi and Barcelona, with the opposing team picking the ball out of the back of their own net. Other than the blunder it was a near perfect game from Chelsea and they showed how to bottle this Barcelona attack. Messi and company were scraping for space all night and other than the goal, had no real shots on target. At least none which caused any panic from the Blues.

Part of this is the great coaching from Conte and on the flip side, it’s on Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde. He played a more conservative side and probably could have gone with a more attacking side which focused on the wings. By playing his normal squad in Champions League, Valverde set Barca up to be vulnerable down the wings. By giving Chelsea space down the channels, Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses had great games and were rock solid defensively.

This sets up for an interesting second leg and one which Barcelona should still be favored in. But given how more conservative Valverde’s Barcelona is compared to different teams in years past, things could get hairy if Chelsea grab one at the Nou Camp.

Mistake by Mourinho and Manchester United

Reuters

Reuters

While Antonio Conte thrived, his Premier League counterpart Jose Mourinho did not. Against La Liga side Sevilla, Manchester United got out shot 25-6 and 8-1 with shots on target. 25 to 6. If not for some amazing reaction saves by David De Gea and Sevilla somehow forgetting how to finish in front of goal, this could have been an ugly result for United.

Some of it goes towards the players with most of the attackers failing to look like threats all night but part of it should also reflect back on Mourinho. Manchester United didn’t come out all aggressive looking for the key away goal to shift the tie their way. They could have gotten one goal quickly and take the air out of the stadium. But instead they decided to sit back and let the game come to them and boy did Sevilla take it to them. They were hoping to just absorb pressure and get a goal while staying compact defensively in their own half. The plan did work in that they didn’t give up any goals but Mourinho’s side didn’t generate anything offensively. This was more on Sevilla not scoring than Manchester United defending.

Zidane made the right moves

Reuters

Reuters

Real Madrid have been horrible in La Liga and the Copa Del Rey but to their credit, they do shine in the Champions League. In a must-win match, Zidane played his cards right and rode his stars to victory. They took advantage of the inexperience of Lo Celso for the first goal and the bad substitutions by Unai Emery for the second and third. For every bad sub Emery made, Zidane made a good one. He brought on the energy boost winger Marco Asensio in exchange for Isco and Lucas Vazquez for Casemiro. They were offensive minded mood and a risk given the scoreline at the time was only 1-1. But Asensio specifically provided the boost Real Madrid needed and next thing you know, Los Blancos were up 3-1 and look to be cruising to a spot in the quarterfinals.

Champions League round of 16 preview

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.

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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