European giants eying knockout knockouts in the Champions League
Half of the first matches of the Champions League knockout rounds were played during the week, with the remaining four rounds to be played next week. Lyon-Barcelona, Liverpool-Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid-Juventus and Schalke-Manchester City are the events to be played this week, which could present some very hard-fought matches. However, in three of the first four games already played, there is a distinct advantage for one of the sides.
Probably the most anticipated of the last four matchups last week was Manchester United against Paris Saint Germaine. The PSG was without strikers, Neymar Jr and Edinson Cavani and United were in an unbeaten streak that nearly touched two months since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's direct keeper took over. The game ended with United's heaviest home defeat in the history of the Champions League, when the French team outclassed the home side 0-2, with goals from PresnelKimpembe and KylianMbappe.
It is the first time that Manchester United lost at home in the tournament with a margin above a goal. While Manchester may believe that a two-goal margin can be overturned, the PSG has effectively put the tie to bed in Manchester, and has left the Solskjaer team with the task of pulling out their biggest away game in the Champions League – especially without Paul Pogba, who was red hardcover at the end of the game.
While the leaders of Ligue 1 were too strong for the team that ranked fourth in England, the team currently in third place in the league proved too hot to manage the current leaders of the Bundesliga. A Tottenham Hotspurs inspired by Son Heung-min beat Borussia Dortmund at home 3-0, with Jan Vertonghen and Fernando Llorente joining the South Korean in scoring.
That Spurs did this without Harry Kane – and Dele Alli – is testimony to the depth of the team that Mauricio Pochettino has put together, but also emphasizes how much Son Heung-min is playing well. It's no wonder the Spurs are still in the Premier League title race and should look forward to the Champions League quarterfinals – unless Dortmund can do what Spurs did to them.
Another side that seems to have set foot in the last eight are the three times champions of Real Madrid, who have eliminated Ajax 1-2 at Johan Cruijff Arena. The game created a catchy soccer brand on both sides, and could have fluctuated either way. While Madrid was aided by controversial decisions, he eventually let their experience count as they rallied outside victory with goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio.
Hakim Ziyech has canceled the opening of Benzema, but the decisive goal for the 87th minute of Asensio means that Madrid would be overwhelming the favorites to do the necessary in the event of return to the Bernabeu. The young side of Ajax, meanwhile, was hoping for a similar start to the day, where they raised the pace to cause Madrid's defense problems, though without any goal to show for this. The good news for Ajax is that they should go and get it in Madrid, and that's how he likes to play.
The Roma-Porto match is probably the only one on the edge of the proverbial knife, after the Italian team stayed home for 2-1. All three goals were scored between the 70th and 79th minute, showing how the game was a cautious affair for the first two thirds of it, without either side bidding first.
The nineteen year old Nicolo Zaniolo struck for the hosts in the 70th and 76th minutes, further adding to his reputation as an emerging star from Italy. At 2-0, Roma would have been the favorite team, but Adrian Lopez took Porto away to 79, which means that a 1-0 home win for the Portuguese team would suffice. However, it is difficult to see the Roma that does not score and Porto could win with a margin of two goals to overcome.
In the next four events, are Liverpool-Bayern and Atletico-Juventus who are the obvious standout matchup. Barcelona and Man City could have too much for Lyon and Schalke, even if far from France and Germany.
The Liverpool that will be ranked last year would have been satisfied with a relatively low Bayern. However, given City's drive in the Premier League title race, and as Anfield's club will give priority to the championship, there may be an opening that Monaco could take advantage of.
Atletico Madrid will feel down after being overhauled by Real Madrid in La Liga last weekend. They need a victory at Rayo Vallecano to restore confidence in the ranks to face a Cristiano Ronaldo at the helm of Juventus who wants nothing more than to win the Champions League this season.