Yesterday evening saw the end of the Round of 16 fixtures in the Champions League. Prior to last night’s encounters, we already knew we would be witnessing someone different winning the competition after Real Madrid’s recent domination of it. Real Madrid were just one of a few big teams to exit at this stage, along with the likes of PSG and Atletico Madrid. We knew at least one other great name would be joining them last night as Bayern Munich hosted last year’s runners up, Liverpool. This one could have gone either way and whilst you’d have expected Barcelona to progress against Lyon, we’ve already seen how anything can happen in Europe’s top competition.
The Bayern Munich and Liverpool encounter really was balanced on a knife edge, level 0-0 after the first leg at Anfield. Both teams possess a few abilities that were always going to have an impact on this game; many people believed it was going to be Liverpool’s attacking prowess up against Bayern’s experience and ability to almost always win games, particularly in their home stadium. The first leg encapsulated this perfectly, Bayern arguably getting the better result in this one after an almost perfect tactical display to prevent Liverpool’s dangerous front three getting on the scoreboard. However, it wasn’t just going to be a matter of replicating this in the second leg. Bayern knew they had to score themselves if they wanted to progress, unless they were hoping to hold out for a goalless draw and winning on penalties, which is extremely unlikely. It wasn’t just Bayern’s tactics that had to change from the first leg, but also their personnel. Joshua Kimmich is someone we associate with being a very attacking right back regularly contributing to his side’s goals. He put in a slightly different display to what we’re used to at Anfield. He was crucial defensively, clearly having been told to remain much deeper than he would if they were up against a team much less capable going forward than Liverpool. As much as he is only one player, his absence from the second leg through suspension looked like it really could unsettle the Bayern back line. Rafinha filled in for him and had a real job on his hands up against the pace and power of Mane.
Liverpool’s lineup was pretty much as expected. Klopp likes to chop and change amongst his plentiful supply of central midfielders making it difficult to predict who he will go with for any game. Nonetheless, it was Milner, Henderson and Wijnaldum who got the nod for this crucial match. Liverpool put themselves in a great position to progress when they scored an early goal in the 26th minute. It might be somewhat unfair to single out Rafinha but it was clear he was struggling to cope with Mane’s power. The Senegal international comfortably beat him to the ball before dinking a shot past the stranded Neuer and into the bottom corner of the net. This lead on the night didn’t last long, however, as Matip inadvertently diverted what was supposed to be a clearance, into the back of his own net. Bayern knew they still needed another goal to go through but having got one, they would have been optimistic of grabbing another with over half the game left to play. It was all to play for going into the second half but it was Liverpool’s dominant centre back Van Dijk who looked to have settled things in the 69th minute, with a towering header from a corner. A Bayern player hadn’t scored across the entire two games at this point, so it didn’t seem likely that they’d get two in just over twenty minutes. This proved true and as much as they didn’t need it, Mane killed the game off entirely when he got inbetween Hummels and Rafinha to score his second goal of the match. Liverpool progressed to the Quarter-finals as 1-3 winners and whilst no game is easy at this stage of the competition, Liverpool are a team most sides will be hoping to avoid when the draw is made.
The other game of the evening saw Barcelona host Lyon. Just like the Bayern Munich Vs Liverpool match, this one was also level at 0-0 following the first leg. Despite this scoreline, Barcelona went into the match as clear favourites. They’d managed a goalless draw in the first leg and now simply had to win at home, which you’d never bet against them doing. Things started just as we’d expected with Barcelona opening the scoring fairly early into the match. Barca’s £140 million man, Philippe Coutinho, added a second before the end of the first half. Barcelona looked almost certain to progress at this point in the game. Lyon did manage to pull one back just before the hour mark but them overturning a two goal deficit against the Spanish giants always seemed like a longshot. Barcelona quickly prevented any hope of this happening, Messi scoring his second of the game with a cheeky panenka from the penalty spot. As if this wasn’t enough to already put the tie to bed, Barcelona then went on to score twice more and win the game 5-1, a scoreline which will make it appear much more comfortable than it actually was for the home side. The only real negative that came out of this game for Barcelona was an injury to Ousmane Dembele. The winger is now apparently in a race to get back to full fitness in time for the Quarter-final clash. Dembele hasn’t always impressed during his time at the Nou Camp, but he is definitely a player who is a threat to defenders, and Valverde would like to have him as an option against what will be a very difficult opponent in the next round.
Sadly, the Champions League action has come to an end not just for a week, but for a few yet to come. We still have the draw to look forward to on Friday and of course, Europa League action to enjoy tonight. There are a number of interesting encounters on the cards, none moreso than that of Arsenal Vs Rennes, the Gunners having to really go for it if they want to come back from being 1-3 down following the first leg in France. Things are going well for English sides in European competitions and, as much as Arsenal do look to be in a precarious position right now, you wouldn’t bet against them reaching the next stage considering their impressive recent form and how well they played against Rennes before Sokratis was sent off. Can Arsenal and Chelsea make it 6 out of 6 for English teams looking to progress in Europe?