UEFA Champions League RO16 Week Two
First Knockout Round Continues
After its winter hiatus, Europe’s premier footballing tournament, the Champions League is back! The first half of the knockout round fixtures have been played. There were two away victories, French glory in the Mbappe Derby & a late equalizer to save Bayern Munich blushes.
Both English sides secured away victories in the first leg of the Round Of 16 ties. Manchester City easily accounted for their Portuguese opponents with a comfortable 5-0 victory. The match was essentially over at halftime, with the Sky Blues 4-0 ahead already. That is a record for the biggest first-half lead in Champions League knockout fixtures.
Their title rivals Liverpool didn’t have it as easy, but secured a 2-0 victory. The scoreline flattered the Reds, as Inter Milan was the better side for large parts at the San Siro.
In Paris, it was PSG vs Real Madrid in the Kylian Mbappe Derby. And the French superstar did not disappoint. It was always going to be Mbappe that would make the difference here, and he was. His 94th-minute winner gave Le Parisiens a vital one-goal lead to take with them to the Bernabeu in the second leg.
There was almost a huge upset in the Battle of Bavaria between RB Salzburg and Bayern Munich. The Austrian side took the lead in the 21st minute and almost held on for a famous victory. Kingsley Coman played the role of the party pooper, however, as he scored a 90th-minute equalizer.
Let’s take a brief look at the remaining first leg fixtures to be played this week in the Champions League round of 16.
CHELSEA vs LOSC LILLE
The reigning European (and World) champs host the current holders of Ligue 1 as Chelsea welcomes Lille to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea and Lille were drawn in the same group just a couple of seasons ago in the Champions League. The Blues won both fixtures back then with a scoreline of 2-1. Thomas Tuchel’s side has an outstanding record against French clubs historically. The only time they have lost at home to a French side was a 2-1 defeat to PSG back in 2016.
Chelsea didn’t have it all their own way in this year’s group stage. Despite being the holders of the trophy, it drew them in a tricky group containing Juventus. A 1-0 defeat in Turin ultimately cost the top spot in their group.
Reigning French champions Lille are appearing in the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League for only the second time in their history. Coincidentally, the first time they qualified for the last 16, they were drawn against English opposition too. That was in the 2006/07 season, where they fell to Manchester United 2-0 over the two legs.
Les Dogues found themselves in an interesting group this year. It was wide open, and any of the four clubs could have qualified. Lille took full advantage of that as they booked their spot in the knockout stages as group winners. Despite only securing 2 points from their first three group stage fixtures, they came home with a wet sail, winning their last 3 matches. The goals of Canadian superstar Jonathan David were priceless in the back half of the group stage.
Despite having a mini wobble in the Premier League, Chelsea still looks in great shape. Especially when you compare their form to Lilles’. The French champions currently occupy the tenth spot in Ligue 1. Look for Chelsea to end this tie in the first leg with a big win. Chelsea 4-0.
VILLARREAL vs JUVENTUS
Villarreal and Juventus will meet for the first time in a European competition when they host Zebre at El Madrigal.
This will be the second time the Yellow Submarine has faced Italian opponents in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. Back in 05/06, they eliminated Inter Milan in the quarterfinals. They would lose to Arsenal in the semi-finals that year. Current manager Unai Emery has an iffy record in Champions League knockout fixtures. He has only won one of his last six and lost his last three in a row.
Villarreal qualified from Group F. A group which paired them with Manchester United, the side they defeated in the Europa League final last season in order to qualify for this competition. They failed to repeat the trick in this year’s group stage, losing to the Red Devils home and away. A 4-1 victory on matchday three against Swiss side BSC Young Boys was the catalyst to their run to the knockout stages. 25-year-old striker Arnaut Danjuma scored crucial goals in the group stage for the Spanish side.
Italian side Juventus snuck into this year’s Champions League on the last day of the 20/21 Serie A season. Their period of dominating Italian football has well and truly ended. That doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous opposition.
Juventus had a good group stage. Their only blip came in a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of current European champions Chelsea. Other than that, they won all of their group stage fixtures, including a 1-0 victory over Chelsea in Turin. Argentine Paulo Dybala and Spaniard Alvaro Morata were lethal for Juventus.
This could be a close-run thing over two legs. I am expecting both matches to go with the home teams. I guess that means I am predicting Villarreal to get a victory here, but I am not confident that they will advance to the next stage. Villarreal 1-0.
BENFICA vs AJAX
2018/19 semi-finalists Ajax Amsterdam head to the Estadio da Luz to take on Benfica, as they look to go one step further than the talent-laden 2018/19 side.
Since the aforementioned 18/19 season, the Dutch giants remain undefeated against Portuguese opposition. That includes two wins over Sporting CP in this year’s group stage. Ajax comes into the knockout rounds after an electrifying group phase where they won all six of their matches. Striker Sebastian Haller was pivotal to this with an incredible 10 goals for AFC Ajax. He became only the second player to score in all six group stage matches of the Champions League.
Ajax sits atop the Eredivisie table, having only lost two games as they attempt to win their fourth Dutch league championship in a row. The lead challengers PSV by 5 points and are undefeated since the middle of December when they fell to AZ Alkmaar 2-1.
Despite winning their first-ever meeting with Ajax over 50 years ago 3-1, Benfica doesn’t have an impressive record against the Dutch giants. It is poor actually. They haven’t defeated AFC Ajax since that first encounter back in 1968.
The Eagles are a surprise qualifier for the round of 16. When they were drawn alongside powerhouses in Bayern Munich and Barcelona, few gave them a chance to make it this far. A 3-0 victory over the Blaugrana on matchday 2 made everybody sit up and take notice. This Benfica side is to be taken seriously. They qualified for the knockout rounds by finishing runner-up in Group E.
In the Primeira Liga, they have fallen off recently and find themselves ten points behind FC Porto in third place. Despite winning their last two games, they are far from their best and will need to improve rapidly to stand a chance in this fixture.
I see Ajax getting a victory over Benfica here. They are a class above in my eyes. And you’d be a brave man to bet against Sebastian Haller scoring in a seventh straight Champions League match. Ajax 3-1.
ATLETICO MADRID vs MANCHESTER UNITED
Los Colchoneros will host footballing royalty at the Wanda Metropolitano when Manchester United arrives for the first leg of the RO16 tie.
This is the first time in almost exactly thirty years that Atletico has faced Manchester United. Back then it was in the Cup Winners Cup. Madrid knocked out the Red Devils 4-1 in the round of 16 back then. It remains the only time the two sides have met in UEFA competition.
Atleti had a poor group stage. Although they were drawn in a group of death (group B) alongside Liverpool, Porto, and AC Milan, many pundits had them qualifying easily when they made their predictions. It was anything but easy. Despite adding Antoine Griezmann to their attack, the Spanish side only confirmed their spot in the last 16 on matchday six with a 3-1 victory away against Porto.
Manchester United might be having a rough time in the Premier League, but they qualified top of their group in the Champions League under former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After a shock defeat to BSC Young Boys on matchday one, the Red Devils hit their stride. Mainly because of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Arguably the world’s best player returned to Old Trafford this season and continued his love affair with the Champions League. CR7 scored six goals in the group stage, which included two late winners, a late equalizer to rescue a point, the first in a 2-1 victory and the only goal in the loss to BSC Young Boys mentioned earlier in this paragraph. The 37-year-old is not from this planet.
Both sides have had shaky league campaigns. Despite being the current La Liga holders, Atleti finds themselves in sixth place following a humiliating 1-0 defeat at the hands of Levante. Manchester United has a tenuous hold on fourth place in the Premier League after a 2-0 win over Brighton, but their overall form has been spotty.
Both sides can use this tie as a reset to their season. Victory here for either side could kick-start a run of form that dramatically improves their season, both at home and abroad. It is just a matter of whom does this. I am picking this one to be a 1-1 draw and possibly the most interesting tie of the bunch across the two legs.
LAST WEEKS RESULTS
Sporting CB 0-5 Manchester City
PSG 1-0 Real Madrid
RB Salzburg 1-1 Bayern Munich
Inter Milan 0-2 Liverpool
How do you see these fixtures playing out? Let us know in the comments. Can't get enough of ThePyrrhic.com? Check out these great articles:
Stuart Kavanagh is an emerging sports journalist from Melbourne, Australia, and Editor In Chief of ThePyrrhic.com. Along with being the co-host of the After Extra Time podcast you can also find him at thesportsbank.net Football mad, he is always down for debate and discussion at@stueyissickofit on Twitter.