Here’s where the games start to really be entertaining, or at least they should be. Here’s where legacies can be augmented or torn down. The big teams start to feel the pressure now, and with only a week until the second leg, they don’t have a lot of time to recover from injuries or make adjustments. So here’s what I saw over the first leg.
Tottenham Hotspur FC 1-0 Manchester City FC
There’s something about that left back spot that lets Pep Guardiola and Manchester City down at this stage of the Champions League. Last year, Aymeric Laporte couldn’t handle Mohamed Salah at Anfield, and this year, Fabian Delph consistently struggled, and ultimately will take some of the blame for Son Heung-Min’s goal. However, City should’ve been 1-0 up within 10 minutes, but Sergio Agüero hit an uncharacteristically poor penalty that Hugo Lloris could push away, and in the first half, Tottenham looked more likely to score. Credit to Mauricio Pochettino to get his team pressing effectively, though it’s obvious the return of Harry Winks to the lineup allows Tottenham to do so. However, around the 60th minute, Spurs began to tire and City looked like they were just getting control of the game, pinning Tottenham back and stringing passes together, but there was never really an incisive pass or dribble with the exception of a couple forays infield from Raheem Sterling. Son scored against the run of play, when Delph left him a bit too much space in the box, and Ederson should have done better with the shot, but Guardiola still has a lot left in reserve for the second leg. Leroy Sané and Kevin de Bruyne only played stoppage time, and Bernardo Silva could return from injury by the time the second leg rolls around next week. And with Harry Kane likely out due to an ankle injury, Spurs will have to defend with their lives.
Prediction: City advances 3-2 on aggregate.
Liverpool FC 2-0 FC Porto
This match was all Liverpool, with Porto’s main man, Moussa Marega, limited to half chances. However, if Porto was to have any chance in this tie, Marega probably needed to take one of the ones he had. As it is, Naby Keïta opened the scoring via a fortuitous deflection, and Roberto Firmino rounded off a wonderful move with a tap in. It could have been much more though, as Liverpool only had three shots on target despite having the bulk of the chances, most notably Salah missing a one-on-one with Iker Casillas. Then again, it could have been much worse for the Reds, with Salah lucky to escape a red card after going studs up on Danilo Pereira. Now, the second leg plays directly into Liverpool’s hands, since Porto have to chase the tie. Especially with Andrew Robertson returning from suspension, Liverpool are possibly the most dangerous counter-attacking team left, and one away goal in Portugal could put the tie beyond reach.
Prediction: Liverpool advances 4-1 on aggregate.
Manchester United FC 0-1 FC Barcelona
United didn’t hit the target once, and their main efforts came from distance anyway, so they weren’t going to trouble a goalkeeper of Marc-André ter Stegen’s quality. More importantly, Barcelona didn’t exactly turn on the gas and still comfortably came away with a 1-0 victory. How Chris Smalling escaped without even a booking when he tried to take Lionel Messi’s head off is beyond me, but even so, Luke Shaw is suspended for the second leg. Barcelona at the Camp Nou is a different beast, and this Manchester United team now has to chase the game, so I can’t see this going well for them at all. Then again, we saw Barcelona bottle a three-goal lead in last year’s quarterfinal, and we also just saw United make an improbable comeback in the Round of 16, so this isn’t as clear cut as it may seem.
Prediction: Barcelona advances 4-0 on aggregate.
AFC Ajax 1-1 Juventus
Ajax’s team will be dismantled in the summer as bigger clubs swoop for these young stars in the summer (Barcelona already has a deal in place for Frenkie de Jong), but for now, the Dutch side is going for it. Hakim Ziyech had a few chances early as Ajax played with no fear, though it caught them out in the end for Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal. For as good as Ajax was in possession, no one picked up Ronaldo on his dart into the box, and if you give that man a free header from 10 yards out, he’ll finish every time. It was a good response in the second half from Ajax though, with David Neres scoring early and the team playing a little bit more direct than it did in the first half. Ultimately, Ajax were the better side, and should Daniele Rugani play again in the second leg, Ajax will go straight back at him after an unconvincing display. However, Juventus will probably play better, especially with Douglas Costa fit again and Ronaldo catching form in Europe. This should be the TV game on Tuesday.
Prediction: Juventus advances 3-2 on aggregate.
For now, it’s been two exciting ties and two boring ones. Thankfully, each day has one each, so please, TNT, for the love of god put the right games (Juventus-Ajax and City-Spurs) on TV.