Posts tagged Roma
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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The Counter Press Serie A Preview

The Counter Press boys finish up their preview of the European leagues with a Serie A preview. They are joined by recurring guests @AvikarSaini and @GuerschonLynch. We go through all the Italian teams, give our predictions, including how Napoli will do as well as give some air time to SPAL

Follow Josh: @highbiscuits
Follow Vijay: @VJVemu

2018-19 Serie A Power Rankings: Juventus should dominate but the league will be fun
Photo Credit: AFP

Photo Credit: AFP

Unlike years prior, last season’s Serie A title race was an eventful one. Maurizio Sarri and Napoli pushed Juventus all the way to the brink of breaking their championship streak. After Napoli’s 2-1 win in Turin against the defending champions, it looked like there might be a new team lifting the Scudetto. Things got even worse when Juventus found themselves down 2-1 at Inter Milan in the San Siro. But the Bianconeri showed why they are the cream of the crop in Italian football, making a stunning turnaround to win 3-2 thanks to a Gonzalo Higuain stoppage-time goal. In the end, it was Juventus who lifted the trophy. With the dramatic changes we have seen in the footballing landscape this summer, it seems like things will stay status quo when it comes to who will top Serie A. However the real fun begins when you look at how rest of the table is going to shake out.

Class 1: Title Contenders

Juventus

As I mentioned earlier, there is only one true contender for the Serie A title and it’s Juventus. They have only gotten stronger and the additions they have made could be enough to argue their worth as a top 5 European side. The big addition to Bianconeri is the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. In what was a shocking move, Juve landed one of the most talented players of his generation and even at 33 years old, Ronaldo can offer a potent scoring threat. If you thought he was good in La Liga, just wait till he plays in Italy. Ronaldo will be scoring goals for fun in Serie A and he has the providers around him to make the fit of him in a Juve jersey work. As he was in his final season at Real Madrid, Ronaldo will play up top in a pure striker role. He will likely have Mario Mandzukic on the left wing as a hybrid striker at times who can make backdoor runs into the box. Juan Cuadrado, Douglas Costa, or even Paulo Dybala could slot in on the right with the latter cutting inside more to be more of a playmaker. However, it would be in Max Allegri’s best interest to start Costa as he shined for Juventus last season. His pace and tricky dribbling can fool even the best defenders and he is a decent enough passer to give crosses into CR7. Dybala will likely play centrally in a CAM role with license to roam around to gather and push the ball up forward. Emre Can is a solid replacement for the aging Sami Khedira and Claudio Marchisio, who left last week after 25 years with the club. Blaise Matuidi offers a solid box to box option while Miralem Pjanic can boss a game around in the midfield.

Juventus also got back Leonardo Bonucci in the swap deal with AC Milan which sent Gonzalo Higuain to the Rossoneri. There is likely to be another change in tactics with Allegri changing to a back four instead of their famed back three. Alex Sandro and new man Joao Cancelo will be on the wings with the likely duo of Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini as the last line of defense. Mehdi Benatia and Daniele Rugani are solid backups.

It’s not hard to see what the aspirations are for Allegri and his side. There is no doubt they should be feared by the rest of Europe’s top clubs as a Champions League contender. As far as the league goes, they are by far the most talented side and bring back the majority of the squad. As long as the key players stay healthy and Ronaldo can provide to be a solid threat in front of goal, Juventus should win the league by a double-digit point total.

Class 2: European competition spots

Napoli
Inter
AC Milan
Lazio
Roma
Atalanta
Fiorentina

Like La Liga, it’s always a rotating door of who finishes where in spots 2 through 6 of Serie A. It’s unlikely we will see a club like last season’s Napoli in which they really give Juventus a run for their money. However, it doesn’t mean the race for Champions League and Europa League spots won’t be entertaining. Each of these clubs in this list has something to prove and the talent to beat each other.

Inter Milan had arguably one of the more better summers in all of European football. Luciano Spaletti’s side added more strength in key areas of the pitch as well as grabbing some solid youth presence as well. The biggest move they made was nabbing Roma’s Radja Nainggolan and grabbing Lazio’s Stefan De Vrij. Even at age 30, Nainggolan is a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the park and still is a good box to box presence. De Vrij came over on a free and was one of the trio of defenders Inter brought in (Kwando Asamoah and Sime Vrsaljko were the two others). Inter also picked up some nice wing depth in Monaco’s Keita Balde Diao, and Matteo Politano, who can step up for a now aging Andre Candreva. Along with Ivan Perisic, two signings will give Inter Milan pace and creativity from the wide areas. Mauro Icardi will continue to be a deadly scorer in front of goal and will no doubt lead them in scoring this season. Lautaro Martinez, who came over from Racing Club in Argentina this summer, is expected to be a solid backup. After barely nabbing 4th last year thanks to a final matchday win against Lazio, Inter Milan have had a really good summer. They were able to hang on to Icardi and improved offensively in both the midfield and on the wings. Along with that, Inter has some nice young prospects for the future. They should do better than 4th this year.

While they might not challenge for the title this season, there is still a lot to like in Napoli as well. Granted they lost two key members of the club in Maurizio Sarri and Jorginho but they were still able to hold onto everyone else. To replace their manager, Napoli brought in a top manager in Carlo Ancelotti. A knockout specialist, Ancelotti will inherit a squad still filled with attacking talent up top as well as a midfield with two solid engines. Most of the time when an upstart club makes a title run, their talent likely gets poached by the bigger fish the summer after. It wasn't the case in Naples this summer. The trio of Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon, and Dries Mertens all return while Simone Verdi and Amin Younes were brought in to help out on the wings. Arkadiusz Milik recovered from last year’s ACL injury and will fill in for Mertens, who is still resting after his spell in the World Cup. Piotr Zieliński slots into Jorginho’s role. he will be covered well with the likes of Allan and the ever-active Maren Hamsik alongside him. Both Allan and Hamsik will have big roles in Ancelotti’s system and the latter will still be expected to make late runs into the box or be available for long-range blasts. The backline should be the same with Mario Rui stepping into the left back slot as Fazio Ghoulam is still injured. Pepe Reina moved on from his spell in Italy and Napoli did well to bring in replacements. Alex Meret and Arsenal’s David Ospina should both be contenders for the starting nod. Last season Napoli hit their peak, they were one of the best teams in Europe to not win their domestic title. They played attractive football and made the Serie A title race fun. Even with Ancelotti at the helm, it will be a tough sell to say this will happen again. There are still questions about this squad, especially the defense which looked shaky in pre-season. Napoli’s offense and midfield should be enough though, to make sure they don’t make a dramatic leap down in the table.

Roma’s run to the Champions League semi-finals was magical. It featured some gritty away performances and an amazing comeback against Barcelona. Surprisingly it didn’t take a toll on them in the league as they finished 3rd, five points ahead of 4th place Inter. This year represents a new challenge. Roma knows they probably won’t repeat their performance in the UCL but finishing 3rd in Italy is very much on the cards. They have sold some this summer, letting Nainggolan leave and selling Allison off for a big fee to Liverpool. Eusebio Di Francesco did a good job of at least filling those spots with summer signings. Roma brought in three new keepers and four new midfielders so you can say they at least tried to replace two of their best players. The middle of the park is interesting as the likes of PSG’s Javier Pastore and Sevilla’s Steven N’Zonzi come to Stadio Olimpico. The Frenchman will offer a screening presence in front of Roma’s backline and can cycle possession if need be. Pastore will be looked to be a good link between offense and defense. Two youngsters in Ante Coric and Nicolio Zaniolo also arrived this summer. On the wings, the future is bright with Cengiz Under on one side and new signing Justin Kluivert on the other. There was the dilemma with Malcom spurning Roma at the last minute and if not for that, Roma would have had a trio of players the big clubs could come calling for in a couple of years. Edin Dzeko is undoubtedly the starter up top at striker with Patrik Schick his backup and a good option to bring on late. EDF and his side made some screwed moves this summer and definitely got younger. Losing out on Malcom really hurt and they will feel the losses of Nainggolan and Allison. But this squad is still talented enough to finish top 4 and gives someone trouble in the Champions League.

Lazio’s end of the season form was terrible as they missed out on Champions League action thanks to a 3-2 loss against Inter Milan on the final day. It didn’t get any better considering they were up 2-1 in the second half. It was a tough pill to swallow for the side and it’s now Simone Inghazi’s job to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The road back to a Champions League spot is going to be much tougher though and despite still having Ciro Immobile, who has had a career revival with the club, losing a player like Felipe Anderson really hurt. With his pace, Anderson was able to give Lazio a solid counter-attacking outlet and someone who can beat defenders one on one. Now they have a big gap to fill on the wings so they brought in Joaquin Correa from Sevilla. If anything Correa can give them some threat on goal as well as being able to track back and defend. The player to watch for, however, is big man Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. He starred for Serbia in the World Cup and should be a player who is surely going to command a humongous transfer fee sometime soon. At 6’4 and with the gracefulness of a top midfielder, SMS stands out in the middle of the park. If he’s able to have a great season, it will do wonders for Lazio. It’s going to be a tough season for Inghazi as he tries to replace the offensive workload done by Anderson. Correa is a good buy but who knows if it’s going to be enough. He’s going to need another big season from Immobile and SMS to step up as well.

Two other teams to watch for will be Atalanta and AC Milan. Milan has had a huge fall from grace since their glory days and they have been desperately trying to restore it. Finishing 6th last season helps the cause as it gets them back in Europe but they have a lot more work ahead of them. Bringing in Gonzalo Higuain certainly helps with the striker situation and gives Milan a real threat in front of goal. They also got a decent defender in Mattia Caldara in the Bonucci-Higuain swap deal. Getting Timothe Bakayoko on loan from Chelsea gives them midfield depth along with a younger face among the veterans of Lucas Biglia and Riccardo Montolivio. It will be an interesting year from Gennaro Gattuso and his squad. There are some good arrivals including Samu Castillejo from Villarreal. But they will be in a battle for one of the lower Europa spots.

Class 3: Mid-table

Sampdoria
Torino
Sassuolo
Chievo
Genoa
Udinese
Bologna

After finishing 9th last year, Torino leads the group when it comes to the midtable. They have some interesting players in attack to go along with captain Andrea Belotti with both M'baye Niang and Simone Zaza arriving. Both will make the striker positions competitive for Torino. Sampdoria finished right behind them at 10th and they added a lot of new faces to the club. Now it’s time to see if they can try and make another run into the top 8.

Other ones to look for will be Sassuolo, who beat Inter Milan on the first matchday, and Chievo who also gave Juventus a scare in Ronaldo’s debut. Both teams are expected to be mid-table at best but they won’t roll over easily. It won’t be an easy three points against them. Bologna also has a new manager in Filippo Inghazi and will be interesting as they explore working with a 3-5-2. If they fall, however, they could find themselves in a relegation fight.

Class 4: Relegation zone

Parma
SPAL
Cagliari
Empoli
Frosinone

Despite the relegation zone being all negative, there are some feel-good stories out of the handful of teams who will be fighting to stay alive. After years out of the top flight, Parma is finally back in Serie A. The famous club struggled for years to get back to the best of Italian football and they are finally here. They know how tough the transition is from Serie B to A. Signing a player like Gervinho isn’t a splashy move but getting him along with Jonathan Biabiany gives them some pace on the wings. Both are past their primes but can give Parma some flashiness at times. SPAL is a small team and have battled their way to stay in the league last season. It will be the same struggle last season. They are the ultimate Italian underdogs and should be very worried about them going down. Cagliari and SPAL barely survived last season, finishing a respective 4 and 3 points above the 18th placed Crotone. Empoli and Frosinone are the ones who really need to be worried though. Serie A is ruthless and the bottom two teams last year finished with less than 26 points each. There is a possibility we already know who is finishing last before Christmas. Hopefully, that’s not the case. 

Table Prediction:

  1. Juventus

  2. Inter Milan

  3. Napoli

  4. Roma

  5. Lazio

  6. Atalanta

  7. AC Milan

  8. Fiorentina

  9. Sampdoria

  10. Torino

  11. Sassuolo

  12. Genoa

  13. Chievo

  14. Udinese

  15. Bologna

  16. Parma

  17. SPAL

  18. Cagliari

  19. Empoli

  20. Frosinone

 

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.

Champions League QF second leg preview

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)

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

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)

IMG_8588.JPG

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)

AP

AP

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.

Prediction: 1-1

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

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