The Knockouts Begin: What happened in the first legs of the Champions League round of 16?

As you probably would have expected with the number of top class teams in this competition, this round has produced plenty of eye-catching ties, many of which still hang in the balance. With all the first-legs having been played, now would be a good time to evaluate exactly what has happened so far. The round of 16 included the likes of Manchester United Vs PSG, Tottenham Vs Dortmund, Liverpool Vs Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid Vs Juventus, so there’s plenty to discuss.

It would make sense to start with games from the first week of fixtures; Manchester United hosted French giants PSG in what was the standout tie on Tuesday night. Given the awful form United were in under Mourinho, many fans of the club would have been surprised and thankful that they even made it to this stage of the competition; a group which included both Juventus and Valencia looked like it could pose the Red Devils a few problems, but they managed to qualify quite comfortably in the end. It’s fair to say the appointment of Solskjaer rejuvenated the club making this tie look like one which could go either way when, previously, United would have been huge underdogs. Solskjaer’s side were given what looked to be a huge boost prior to the match as two of PSG’s deadly front three, Neymar and Cavani, were ruled out. The first half of the game was somewhat uneventful with very little between the sides; French wonderkid Mbappe appeared to have had a couple of good chances but would most likely have been given offside following a VAR review had he converted them. However, it was still the away side who came off best following a tight first half. Injuries to both Lingard and Martial led to a lack of pace in the United attack and it became clear that they weren’t likely to score, it was just a matter of whether they would concede. There’s really only so long any side can keep the free-scoring PSG at bay and it was Kimpembe, who arguably could have seen red given the number of fouls he made, who opened the scoring only for the rapid Mbappe to add a second not long after. The fact that one of the goal-scorers probably shouldn’t have been on the pitch may leave United feeling hard done by but, in truth, they didn’t deserve any sort of result. PSG were the better side and United are left with a huge task when they visit Paris for the second leg, a fixture they’ll have to win by at least two goals without Paul Pogba following his late red card at Old Trafford.

Another tie involving an English side that looked as if it could go either way was that of Tottenham against Borussia Dortmund. Both teams have been performing well domestically with Dortmund currently topping the Bundesliga and Spurs in third with a great chance of securing Champions League football for next season. Both sides were also without key players; Tottenham have coped well without Harry Kane whilst Dortmund lost Marco Reus to yet another injury. Much like the United and PSG game, things were virtually level in the first half but the prolific Son opened the scoring for the home side in the 47th minute. Had Dortmund been able to maintain this score-line for the remainder of the match, they would still have been reasonably confident of progressing to the next round. They were close to doing this but the tie was virtually settled when Spurs added two more goals late on to secure a 3-0 win. Of course the Signal Iduna Park is not an easy place to visit. The Dortmund faithful create a very intimidating atmosphere which, combined with the quality of their side, could make this a very difficult game for Spurs. If the aggregate score was closer then Dortmund would probably be favourites to progress but Pochettino will be extremely disappointed if his side are unable to get through after already building a 3 goal lead in the first leg. Spurs will also be boosted by the fact that Kane has now returned to full training and will most likely feature in the trip to Germany.

The second week of fixtures saw Premier league leaders Liverpool host Bayern Munich. Despite the enormity of Bayern as a club and their impressive record in Europe, Liverpool went into the game as favourites and it was easy to see why. Klopp’s men have been prolific in front of goal this season whilst the Bayern defence has been far from secure. The full-backs usually play extremely high and although Kimmich has managed to accumulate a total of 12 assists from right back, he has been prone to letting opponents in behind quite easily. This is something that contributed to Bayern being unable to keep pace early on in the title race, only now starting to close in on leaders Dortmund. The German giants have clearly been below their usual standards but Liverpool weren’t without their issues going into this game. Their lack of defensive cover has been a problem for a number of weeks now and their lineup for this Champions League tie displayed that. The regular full-backs, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, did start but it certainly wasn’t the ordinary centre-half pairing. Joe Gomez obviously didn’t play after suffering a long-term injury and the impressive Van Dijk was also absent. Liverpool were also without Dejan Lovren forcing Klopp to play Matip alongside the versatile Fabinho. Given the problems both sides had at the back, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking this game would be full of goals. Both sides had a number of chances, Liverpool in particular, but misfired all evening resulting in what was a more entertaining 0-0 than most. Having said that Liverpool did have a number of chances, Bayern’s performance was one which required a high work-rate from everyone on the pitch. The Munich boss, Niko Kovac, produced a tactical masterclass getting his full-backs to play deep, something unusual for them, and just absorbed Liverpool pressure for the entire game. An away goal would have helped their cause but, nonetheless, they will be confident of getting a result at the Allianz, a place where they have only lost and failed to score once all season. Yet, the suspension of Joshua Kimmich will be a huge blow for Kovac’s side and could be a balancing factor in a game Bayern may have otherwise been slight favourites.

The tie between Atletico Madrid and Juventus was arguably the hardest to predict of them all. This may be hard to believe for some, who think this could be the year that Juventus claim the European crown after recently coming close so many times. It’s easy to see why many think this following the arrival of serial winner Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet, them winning against Atletico was certainly not a given, let alone them winning the entire competition. Both sides have been prone to the odd slip up this season but Atletico’s rivals Real Madrid have regularly displayed how sides turn on the style when it comes to the Champions League. Everyone knows how capable Atletico are at the back and how they often grind out a win in close encounters, but whether they would be able to do this against Italian giants Juventus was a different matter. The first halves of games at this stage of the competition being quite uneventful or remaining goalless seems to be something of a growing theme, and this game was no different. In fact, it was not until fairly late on when the scoring was finally opened, and it was Atletico who did so, only to add a second minutes later. Typical of their nature, Atletico held out for a clean sheet to secure a 2-0 win. It’s safe to say that Ronaldo was far from popular with the Atletico faithful, the ex Real Madrid star resorting to displaying how many Champions League titles he’s won to the home fans both during and after the match. It’s safe to say it’ll be a huge challenge if he wishes to start using both hands to show off Champions League number 6, with Atletico more than capable of holding on to a 2 goal lead when they visit Turin.

Whilst the other fixtures didn’t all go exactly as you might have predicted, there weren’t any major upsets either. Barcelona were held to a goalless draw during their visit to Lyon but should be able to grab the win at the Camp Nou. Man City and Real Madrid both scraped late away wins against their respective opponents, Schalke and Ajax. Meanwhile, Roma beat Portuguese giants Porto 2-1 in a tie which still could go either way. There are a number of ties that have almost been decided already but others, particular that between Liverpool and Bayern Munich, that could still very much go either way.

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