Champions League: Round of 16 Review

By Lucien Betancourt and Diego De Souza

The round of 16 has come to an end. Through this 4 week span, we’ve seen upsets, feats of persistence and perseverance, and lackluster performances. Let’s start with the first match of the bunch and arguably the most entertaining. 

Porto vs Juventus

The perfect case of a comeback story gone wrong. The first leg was played in the Estadio de Dragao in Porto, Portugal. After a goal right after kickoff and right at the start of the second half, Porto came away with a vital win at home and a good lead despite a late goal for Juventus. The second leg was set to be played in Turin, Italy, the home of Juventus. Like the first leg, Porto got a quick first-half goal from a penalty and put Juventus in a bad position. However, forward Mehdi Taremi was stupidly sent off in the second half. It was a second yellow for kicking the ball away in frustration. Juventus needed to score 2 goals and concede no more goals to send the game into extra time. Federico Chiesa of Juventus, the same player who scored their lone goal in the first leg, scored 2 goals and sent the game into extra time (which is 30 minutes with 15-minute halves). The score didn’t change after the first 15 minutes of extra time. Then, in the 115th minute, Sergio Oliviera of Porto, scored from a free-kick. Porto regained the lead and Juventus needed to score 2 goals to win the game. There were only 5 minutes left when Adrien Rabiot of Juventus got the goal they needed. The comeback was back on. Juventus continued to attack but the iron wall of Porto, led by their captain and veteran Pepe, held firm. After 5 minutes of extra time, the game ended in the 125th minute. Even though the score was tied 4-4 on aggregate, Porto went on because of the away goal tiebreaker, since they scored 2 goals at Turin, while Juventus only scored 1 in Porto. Porto toppled an overwhelming favorite, and will advance on to the quarterfinals. Lots of questions will now be asked about Andrea Pirlo (Juventus’ manager), Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus, who completely flopped in the Champions League again.

Barcelona vs Paris Saint Germain

This was one of the better games of this round, at least on paper, with two European giants going head-to-head. PSG were the better team from the start, taking a 4-1 win from Barcelona at the Camp Nou in Barcelona. Kylian Mbappe bagged a vital hat-trick which helped PSG get a big away win and a big lead ahead of the second leg in their own stadium. The second leg played in the Parc-Des-Princes in Paris was much less interesting, as Mbappe scored a penalty and Messi missed one, though he did score a ridiculous goal shortly before his miss. Barcelona was completely out of it for the entire round, but PSG were perhaps a little too careful with the lead. Still, they’re on to the quarterfinals. After the elimination, speculation abounded that this could be Messi’s last Champions League game for Barcelona. That will be an answer for which we must wait.

Dortmund vs Sevilla

Sevilla were probably the favorites in this match because of their recent performances in La Liga under ex Real Madrid manager Julien Lopetegui, but I picked Dortmund as they have slightly better players, especially when it comes to their forwards, although they have been very inconsistent in the Bundesliga this year with interim manager Edin Terzic. Sevilla actually started in front in the first leg with a very early goal by forward Suso, but from there, it was all Dortmund. Mahmoud Dahoud scored to tie the game up, and the goal machine Erling Haaland made it 2-1 at the 30-minute mark. He then scored a second goal right before halftime and gave Dortmund a very comfortable 3-1 away lead. Luuk de Jong would score a beautiful free-kick near the end of the game to cut Dortmund’s lead to 3-2, which is where it stayed. In the second leg, knowing they would need to score at least two goals, Sevilla was pushing for an opener and dominated the first half-hour. After that, Dortmund went on a beautiful counter-attack which was put away by Haaland. Now Sevilla needed 3 goals to win, so the tie was pretty much out of reach. Haaland would go on to score a penalty early in the second half, which brings his total in the UCL this season to 10 goals in 6 games. What a machine! Youssef En-Nesryi would score a penalty in the 68th minute and a consolation goal in the 96th minute, but it meant nothing. Dortmund go through to the quarter-finals, and if they continue playing like this they have the potential to be one of the dark horses that can win the Champions League. Sevilla were very disappointing in this tie, especially their two young center-backs in Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde. After their collapse against Barcelona in the Spanish Copa del Rey, their season is basically over.

Liverpool vs Leipzig

Similar to Dortmund and Sevilla, these two teams played quite differently in their domestic leagues. RB Leipzig are currently 2nd in the Bundesliga, giving Bayern Munich some competition for the title. Liverpool on the other hand are currently eighth in the Premier League, in large part due to the crazy amount of injuries that they have had, especially on defense. It has been a roller coaster season for them after winning the Premier League last year, but this year they have collapsed. Given this, you would probably think that Leipzig would win this, right? Wrong. Liverpool put their domestic woes aside and got a very impressive 2-0 away win in Budapest, this match’s temporary home due to COVID travel restrictions. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane scored a goal each early in the second half and coasted to an easy win. Still, Liverpool had to finish the job in the second leg. Very similarly, Salah and Mane scored within 5 minutes of each other to punch Liverpool’s ticket to the quarter-finals. These two players are among the top 10 best in the world when they’re on, they just have to play their best more often. RB Leipzig should be very disappointed in themselves, as they could not have picked a better time to play Liverpool yet were thoroughly outplayed. In the first leg the two goals were due to mistakes on defense, specifically Marcel Sabitzer and Dayot Upamecano. They barely made Liverpool keeper Alisson work in either leg. Now, Leipzig will look to win the German DFB Pokal and maybe catch Bayern in the Bundesliga, though that’s unlikely. Liverpool will march on to the quarter-finals but it is hard to really predict how far they can go at this moment in time. We’ll have to wait to see who they’ll play and what state they’re in come the next round. In the meantime, they have to drastically improve their league form or they won’t be in this competition again next year.

Real Madrid vs Atalanta 

Real Madrid and Atalanta are two teams of completely different sizes. Real Madrid are a European giant, the most successful team in the history of the Champions League by far, with 13 titles (almost doubling any other team). Atalanta are the underdogs but have been punching above their weight in the last few years. The expectation was for Real Madrid to win, but Atalanta did have a chance. They came so close to making the semifinals last year and were looking to make a similar run again this year. The first leg had a questionable red card in the 17th minute against Atalanta’s Remo Freuler. From there, Real Madrid had almost all of the possession and in the 86th minute they finally broke through with a beautiful Ferland Mendy goal. This gave them a 1-0 lead going back to Spain. Atalanta actually started the second game reasonably well but it all went out the window when Atalanta’s goalkeeper, Marco Sportiello, gifted Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema the opening goal. Real Madrid were up by two goals and were in complete control. In the 56th minute, Real Madrid’s captain Sergio Ramos converted a penalty to put the series to bed. Luis Muriel would grab a consolation goal on a beautiful free-kick for Atalanta in the 83rd minute– though it was quickly canceled out by super-sub Marco Asensio’s goal one minute later on only his second touch of the match. Real Madrid march on and should never be counted out in this competition. The fairytale story ends for Atalanta this year in the Champions League but they will now focus on getting top 4 in their league to get back to the UCL and also look ahead to the Coppa Italia final vs. Juventus, which will be one of the biggest games in the club’s history. They have only ever won the Coppa Italiana once, so perhaps this loss is only setting up a major victory.

Chelsea vs Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid have had a great start to their season, sitting at the top of La Liga. On the other hand, Chelsea have had a very up-and-down season, which started with the firing of manager Frank Lampard. Since then, Thomas Tuchel has taken over and righted the ship, particularly on the defensive end. As for this matchup, it was a tough one to predict,  as Chelsea came into this in great form and Atletico, despite their great start domestically, have dropped some games as of late. In the first leg Atletico came out flat, with Chelsea taking most of the possession in what was ultimately quite a boring game. The difference was a phenomenal bicycle kick goal by Chelsea forward Olivier Giroud, which was initially ruled offside, but eventually was awarded as it had touched an Atletico defender on the way. Chelsea went into the second leg up 1-0. In the second leg, Atletico’s task became a lot harder when Hakim Ziyech converted a beautiful counter-attack for Chelsea in the 34th minute. Down 1-0 at half-time and 2-0 on aggregate, Atletico Madrid’s likelihood of coming back was almost zero, given how Chelsea had only conceded two goals in their previous 12 games. Chelsea would hang on for the victory, and would get an extra goal in the final minutes to complete a dominant performance against Atletico over the two legs. A great start for Thomas Tuchel, whilst Diego Simeone’s Atletico crash out of the Champions League once again. Atletico’s season will now depend fully on if they can win La Liga for the first time since 2014.

Manchester City vs Borussia Monchengladbach

Coming into this match, Manchester City were clear favorites to win, being on a 10 game winning streak and the top of the Premier League, while Borussia Monchengladbach were struggling in the Bundesliga, currently sitting in 7th. The first leg was played in Hungary’s Puskas Arena, a neutral site due to the aforementioned COVID regulations. Manchester City had a quick start with a goal by Bernardo Silva in the 29th minute of the first leg. Later in the 2nd half, Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City scored a goal in the 65th minute, and the leg finished with the English side up 2-0. Borussia had trouble completing passes and getting up the field to score a goal. This could be due to the announcement of their coach, Marco Rose, leaving for their German rivals Borussia Dortmund after two years of rebuilding, which was quite a backstabbing. In the second leg, Manchester City got a pair of early goals in the 12th and 18th minute by goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan, respectively. Borussia could not get going on the attack, having only 30% possession and only 400 passes compared to Manchester City’s 850 passes and 70% possession. Manchester City advanced on with an aggregate score of 4-0, with Borussia receiving their 10th straight loss. Very dominant win for Manchester City, who continue their amazing form. They are probably one of the top two favorites (with Bayern Munich) to win this competition. Maybe this is finally their year.

Bayern Munich vs Lazio

This was probably the least interesting of all the matchups. Bayern Munich were going to win without a doubt, as they were the defending Champions League winners, whereas Lazio had the worst defense of the 16 knockout stage teams. The first leg was played in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, home of Lazio. Bayern started off with a quick goal in the 9th minute by Robert Lewandowski, with Jamal Musiala and Leroy Sane following up with 2 goals in the 24th and 42nd minute. In the 47th minute, Francesco Acerbi of Lazio scored an own goal, giving Bayern a 4-0 lead, though that was quickly remedied by a Joaquin Correa goal two minutes later. The rest of the game was relatively quiet and ended 4-1. The second leg was played in the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany. Bayern got another early lead through a Robert Lewandowski penalty kick. They got a second goal in the 73rd minute through Eric Choupo-Moting, and while Lazio scored late in the 82nd minute, there was no upset here. While the games were a bit disappointing, the result was not shocking. In the end, Bayern advanced to the quarterfinals on an aggregate score of 6-2.

The Round of 16 games are now over, with some upsets but ultimately the majority of the bigger teams going through to the quarter-finals. Borussia Dortmund, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Porto, Liverpool, Chelsea and PSG will advance. Next time, we’ll be previewing the next round.

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