The Round of 16 second legs in the Champions League have now begun and they started with a bang. As many would have expected, Tottenham progressed to the next round comfortably beating Borussia Dortmund 0-1 and 0-4 on aggregate. What most wouldn’t have been expecting was Ajax to do the same against holders Real Madrid. The Spanish giants were completely outplayed as they were defeated 1-4 on the night, 3-5 on aggregate.
There did appear to be a slight chance that things could have turned out very differently for Tottenham with Dortmund piling on the pressure early on. They had a number of chances, the likes of Reus and Sancho getting in behind on plenty of occasions. Had it not been for their World Cup winning goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, Spurs could have easily conceded two or even three goals before the break. However, when they did manage to hold out until the half time whistle, it became clear that it was going to require something extremely special for the home side to overturn a 3 goal deficit in a single half. When Harry Kane scored the decisive away goal for his side, any hope of a Dortmund comeback was truly dead and buried. Tottenham now await their next opponents in the Quarter-finals.
Like Spurs, Real Madrid would have expected to comfortably progress to the next stage having already won the away leg against their opponents Ajax. It became almost immediately clear that things were not going to be as simple as they may have thought. Ajax found themselves 0-2 up at half-time, Dusan Tadic performing a beautiful piece of skill and an assist leaving Southampton fans questioning why he couldn’t produce anything like that during his spell at their club. Even at this point in the game you would’ve felt Real Madrid, kings of Europe, would show us what they’re really made of after the break; this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, they were second best in every department for the entire game. Ajax added a third thanks to an excellent strike from the edge of the box. Madrid’s only goal provided a glimmer of hope but was cancelled out almost immediately after when Schonne’s freekick looped over a stranded Courtois. All plaudits go to Ajax who, against all odds, did fantastically to join Spurs in the next round of the competition.
As much as plenty more could be said about the sorry state of Real Madrid, it’s time to move on to tonight’s encounters. Much like Dortmund, Manchester United find themselves in a difficult position, in need of overturning a deficit from the first leg at Old Trafford. PSG lead the tie 2-0 on aggregate, with 2 away goals, making them massive favourites going into tonight’s match. If this wasn’t bad enough, United’s injury woes seem to have gotten worse rather than better in recent weeks. Whilst Rashford has returned after missing a game, Alexis Sanchez is the latest player to be spending a significant amount of time on the medical table. Paul Pogba is another notable absensce form Solskjaer’s squad for tonight following his red card in the first leg. Consequently, United travel with just 10 senior players meaning we could see an even more makeshift side than we’ve grown used to in recent weeks. Yet, this may not be as damaging as many would think. Although injuries to Martial and Lingard in the first leg may have been a reason for a lack of attacking prowess in the second half of the game, they didn’t really create any chances in the first either. The Brazilian Marquinhos did an excellent job of controlling Paul Pogba all game meaning his absence could be a blessing in disguise. It means that PSG can’t just replicate exactly what they did in the first leg; there’s no obvious player likely to feature in United’s midfield tonight who will need man-marking like Pogba did. It’s difficult for PSG to know what to expect and a real opportunity for a few of United’s fringe players to show what they’re capable of. Nonetheless, PSG clearly have the stronger lineup and you’d expect them to win on the night and the tie as a whole.
Score Prediction: PSG 2-1 Manchester United (Agg. 4-1)
The other tie from the evening sees Porto host Roma. Out of all the games from the round of 16, this is probably the one that a lot of people pay the least attention too. However, it should in no way be overlooked as it’s arguably the most difficult to predict out of them all. Roma go into tonight’s game with a slender advantage having won the first leg 2-1 at home. Although Roma are probably slightly the better side, visiting one of Portugal’s best sides coming off of a 3-0 defeat to Lazio, and Porto only requiring a single goal to turn the tie in their favour, is never going to be easy. Roma are a side who have always been there or there abouts in the Serie A, but have struggled to keep pace with the likes of Juventus and Napoli, much like the rest of the Italian sides. However, this has not prevented them from performing well, even overperforming, in the Champions League. Last season they only just failed to reach the final losing 7-6 on aggregate to runners-up Liverpool. They managed to beat Spanish giants Barcelona in the quarter-finals, overturning a 3 goal deficit. If they can do that then they should be more than capable of holding onto a lead against Porto to claim there place in the next round.
Score Prediction: Porto 1-1 Roma (Agg. 2-3)
Tonight’s games can be summed up as one which PSG should progress from comfortably, and one which is much more difficult to call. Whilst it may seem this way, last night’s matches are perfect examples of how it doesn’t always work out they way we might think, particularly not in the Champions League. If PSG failed to reach the next stage it would be a huge upset but United are in excellent form and more than capable of pulling off a shock, even with a weakened side and playing away from home.