The UEFA Champions League has returned. After a long layoff, the 16 teams that advanced to the knockout stages in December have played first legs of their Round of 16 matchups in soccer’s premier club competition. It’s now time to take a look at what stood out from each team and what to expect from the return legs.
Basel 0-4 Manchester City
Basel: The Swiss side is capable of a couple upsets, as they’ve already beaten Manchester United in this competition, but Pep Guardiola’s City is a completely different challenge to José Mourinho’s United. It was still a good fight from Basel, who could’ve had an early penalty through Dimitri Oberlin, as well a couple of long balls that almost gave Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson problems, but in the end they were swept aside with almost no chance of coming back in the return leg.
City: City were their usual rampant selves, though a little loose at the back at times. It’s good to see midfielder İlkay Gündoğan finally get his feet under him at City. He’s once again become the driving force that he was under Jürgen Klopp at Dortmund earlier in the decade. Gündoğan scored two goals in Switzerland and seems to have finally cemented his place in the team alongside Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho (when the Brazilian isn’t suspended of course).
Prediction: Guardiola gives youngsters a chance on the European stage, and City cruises to a 5-0 aggregate score.
Second leg: Wednesday, March 7. City of Manchester Stadium (Etihad), Manchester
Juventus 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Juventus: They live and die by Gonzalo Higuaín. The Argentinian had two goals, but also managed to miss a penalty and put a left-footed chance just wide, all in the first half. Higuaín could have scored four goals in the first leg, but he just as easily could have scored none. Tottenham’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris got his right hand to both of Higuaín’s goals, and on most days, Lloris makes those saves. Instead of going to London level, Juventus could be two goals down and playing catch up against one of the more complete teams in the competition. Only with Higuaín at striker can you feel both simultaneously lucky and unlucky, but the Italian side needs Higuaín to put his chances away when Paulo Dybala is only now just recovering his fitness.
Tottenham: If Tottenham fails to advance, this is a game they’ll want back. Both Higuaín goals came in the first ten minutes of the match, one on a free kick play where he was left unmarked and another from the spot after a clumsy challenge by left back Ben Davies. They can count themselves lucky that an equally clumsy challenge from right back Serge Aurier wasn’t punished similarly and Higuaín instead rattled his second spot kick against the crossbar. On the other end, both Harry Kane and Dele Alli missed headers inside the six-yard box, but it was still impressive to go into Juventus stadium and earn a draw with two away goals. On the whole, this was a good result for Spurs.
Prediction: Tottenham advances 4-3 on aggregate. Juventus needs to score, and the more open match better suits Tottenham’s style of play.
Second leg: Wednesday, March 7. Wembley Stadium, London
Real Madrid 3-1 Paris Saint-Germain
Real: This is the two-time defending champion in the competition. Regardless of any domestic struggles, they know how to win. Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t care if he scores with his knee or not–he’s still scored in every game in the competition, and now his team has a two-goal lead to take to the second leg. Marcelo was energetic as usual down the left flank, and the home crowd at the Bernabéu left with something to cheer about.
PSG: Manager Unai Emery again showed his Champions League naïveté with his team management in Spain. Adrien Rabiot’s goal showed exactly what this PSG team is capable of, but with the game knotted at 1-1, he decided to take off Edinson Cavani, arguably the hottest striker in the world, and brought on right back Thomas Meunier in the 66th minute. He inexplicably didn’t play Ángel di María, despite the Argentine’s stellar form, and Real ultimately scored two goals in the final ten minutes to put all the pressure on PSG for the second leg.
Prediction: Real advances 4-2 on aggregate since PSG doesn’t have the mental strength to make a comeback. Emery may lose his job.
Second leg: Tuesday, March 6. Parc des Princes, Paris
Porto 0-5 Liverpool
Porto: Porto finished second in a soft group and it showed. They simply couldn’t handle anything Liverpool threw at them, and it didn’t help that goalkeeper José Sá had a nightmarish outing. He let Sadio Mané’s first goal squirt through his arms and was then embarrassed by Mohamed Salah’s brilliance. There was no way back for Porto after that, and they were played off the field at home. There’s really no excuse.
Liverpool: They looked a little shaky in the early going, but once the first goal went in, the result was never in doubt. Mané’s hat trick will help him out of the slump, and otherwise, this Liverpool team did what it has done all year, nothing groundbreaking to see from them. They have to attack because they can’t defend.
Prediction: Liverpool is already through. They’ll add a couple more goals in the return leg, but Porto will also likely score a couple for pride, so 8-2 on aggregate.
Second leg: Tuesday, March 6. Anfield, Liverpool
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona
Chelsea: The Londoners may be struggling for goals at the moment, and manager Antonio Conte seems to realize that, deciding to leave recognized strikers Álvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud on the bench to start and instead field a front three of Eden Hazard, Willian, and former Barcelona player Pedro. It seemed to work, as Chelsea finished with more shots than Barça, but it was Willian, who often ends up on the periphery at Stamford Bridge, that was the star of the show. He scored the team’s lone goal and hit the post twice, with Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen beaten, and it really is a shame, because despite the constant danger of Hazard, it’s Willian that is often Chelsea’s best performer in the big moments.
Barcelona: I don’t know why Barcelona struggles at Stamford Bridge, but they’ve only won there once. On their previous visit, Guardiola’s Barcelona side was expected to crush Chelsea under its giant feet en route to the Champions League final, but the Blues held on for a 1-0 win in a game that they managed to keep Lionel Messi quiet. Messi scored this time though, showing that most of the time, all he needs is one chance and he’ll take it. The Catalan side can take a deep sigh of relief with the away goal and will feel very confident going home for the second leg on a day where they weren’t at their very best and their talisman finally got the monkey off his back against Chelsea.
Prediction: Barcelona advances 3-1 on aggregate after a dominant second leg at the Camp Nou.
Second leg: Wednesday, March 14. Camp Nou, Barcelona
Bayern Munich 5-0 Beşiktaş
Bayern: They’re simply too talented. Even before the red card to center back Domagoj Vida, Bayern was all over the Turkish side. The pressure told eventually, and two goals each for Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski proved the difference in class we already knew was present. Bayern had a staggering 34 shots, and every group winner that didn’t draw Bayern is breathing a sigh of relief after seeing this performance. No one will want to face this team firing on all cylinders in the quarterfinals.
Beşiktaş: They got here because of a soft group. Porto, Monaco, and Red Bull Leipzig are not of the same pedigree as the other clubs in this competition, though they can consider themselves unlucky that they drew one of the second place teams from the tougher groups. What a performance by Fabri in goal though. It could have easily been an even more lopsided scoreline without the Spaniard in net, and in reality, Beşiktaş is lucky he’s already 30, or bigger clubs may have come sniffing after this type of performance.
Prediction: Bayern is already through. Jupp Heynckes will probably rest his stars and the aggregate score will be 6-1 after a very loosely contested second leg in Istanbul.
Second leg: Wednesday, March 14. Beşiktaş Stadium, Istanbul
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Roma
Shakhtar: People don’t know much about them, but this was the first team to beat Manchester City this season. They love to attack, they’re slick, and they had so many brilliant chances that this tie could be over already. They’re always exciting, and although it was an even match, the Ukrainian side had much better chances, even some where it seemed harder to miss.
Roma: What a performance by goalkeeper Alisson Becker. Without him, Roma would be all but eliminated already. That being said, Roma came through the most even group in the competition, beating out Chelsea for the top spot and dumping Atlético Madrid to the Europa League. They can score in a hurry if they want to and will have the home crowd behind them in the second leg.
Prediction: Shakhtar advances 4-3. They’re simply too slick. Better finishing and they’ll handle it, but it’ll be an exciting second leg and could go either way. A favorable draw could see them in the semis.
Second leg: Tuesday, March 13. Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Sevilla 0-0 Manchester United
Sevilla: We should know by now that Sevilla isn’t afraid of anyone. They showed it once again as they took the game to Manchester United, keeping the mercurial talents of Alexis Sánchez and Paul Pogba, who came off the bench in the 17th minute for Ander Herrera. Striker Luis Muriel was brilliant and repeatedly found space away from center backs Victor Lindelöf and Chris Smalling. Another similar performance from him will be needed for Sevilla to advance.
United: They were nearly apathetic. Pogba started from the bench, Sánchez did nothing, and one corner from Juan Mata was played to the edge of the six-yard box, yet no one for United attacked it. The best chance came from midfielder Scott McTominay on a left-footed drive from distance. The Red Devils really should be two down, but David de Gea managed to make two brilliant saves at the end of the first half when Sevilla had free headers. #DaveSaves United again, and it seems like only a matter of time until he leaves for a team that deserves his talents. Being outshot 25-6 is unacceptable when you’re Manchester United, and I’m sure someone will let José Mourinho know it.
Prediction: United advances 1-0 on aggregate. In a tie this close, it will come down to the goalkeepers, and de Gea is just a cut above Sevilla’s Sergio Rico.
Second leg: Tuesday, March 13. Old Trafford, Manchester