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
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
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
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
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.