Imagine not liking football. As the champions league concluded its round of sixteen fixtures for yet another year, let’s look at what continues to be a competition filled with shocks at every turn this season.
Juventus 3 – 0 Atlético Madrid (3-2)
In my review of the last round of fixtures, I suggested PSG were the only team who, having gained a substantial lead and kept a clean sheet in the first-leg, could make any logical football fan re-think the outcome. It was naïve of me to forget that Juventus have a player nobody else has or, with the obvious exception, a player even in the same mould. Simeone’s side are known for their resilience and an ability to grind out victories with players like Diego Godin leading the defence. Yet, even the great Uruguayan struggled to cope with Ronaldo who continues to shows his quality, as his 8th Champions League hat-trick sent Juventus through to the quarter-finals.
A recent BBC article noted that Allegri seems to have finally worked out Ronaldo after, by his exceptional standards, a poor start in Europe – his most fruitful competition in terms of goalscoring. Whilst goals have not been a problem in Serie A, the champions-league top goal scorer was rested at the weekend and was back to his best in this game. His exceptional heading ability was on show, making up two of his goals, before a debatable penalty was coolly converted as ever. Juventus signed him for nights like this and Ronaldo, as we have simply come to expect, stood up to be counted once again.
Atlético simply can’t seem to cope with Ronaldo – he has been involved in their last seven exits from the competition, including two final defeats. Nonetheless, their decision to sit back seemed to only egg on a Juventus side who already had nothing to lose. With the exception of a couple of counter-attacks, Simeone’s side struggled to make any clear-cut chances. Given they are out of the Copa Del Rey and seven points behind Barcelona in the league, it looks set to be a trophy-less season for the Madrid side. As for Allegri, with his side eighteen points clear at the top of Serie A, they have now established themselves as arguably the favourites for the competition which alluded them most recently in the 2015 final, now with the addition of the competitions greatest ever goal-scorer.
Man City 7 – 0 FC Schalke 04 (10-2)
Given that all English teams are through to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2009, Manchester City look set to be the favourites to progress furthest. Six different scorers in a comfortable seven nil win over the German side, who did pose them some problems in Germany confirmed this. The fluidity and pace of City’s movement was something Schalke could not cope with. Their decision to play a high-line was exposed on multiple occasions with the pace of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane causing all kinds of problems for the Bundesliga team.
We should remember though that, in terms of resources, Manchester City are miles ahead of Schalke and, whilst they probably would have liked to see the score line come down, it was going to take a major upset for the them to turn this round and progress. Despite the triumphs of Ajax over Real Madrid, Man Utd turning over PSG and Porto seeing over the exit of last years semi-finalists, this was perhaps a step too far in this comeback canon for this year’s competition.
Manchester City continue to look like a side that could quite simply beat anybody with goals coming from all over the park. Despite exiting at the hands of Liverpool in the quarter-finals last season and despite having never won the competition before, it would be no surprise to see Pep guide City to their first European Cup and his third as a manager. Not accounting for injuries, squad depth does not look like it will be an issue as they continue to pursue what would be a historic ‘quadruple.’
Bayern Munich 1 – 3 Liverpool (1-3)
The hopes of all English teams’ progression lay at the feet of Klopp’s men as he took on his old rivals from his time at Borussia Dortmund. It was a performance, as Jurgen himself said, characterised by maturity as Liverpool kept Bayern’s strike-force’s, including the likes of Robert Lewandowski, chances to a minimum.
Sadio Mane continued his excellent run of form, reminding us once again that he is just as important as Firmino and Salah. His first goal came from a wonderful assist from Virgil Van Dijk which Mane brought down phenomenally before turning Neuer and chipping the ball into the net. Bayern were to respond well, with Andy Robertson getting caught wrong-side of Serge Gnabry, who fizzed the ball into the box only for it to deflect off Joel Matip into his own net.
From then on though, Bayern’s chances were kept to a minimum and they struggled to ever challenge Alisson in between Liverpool’s posts. Powerful headers from Van Dijk and Mane once again were to seal a fantastic victory for Klopp’s men. Having reached last year’s final, it was easy to presume Bayern would progress but, quite frankly, Liverpool outclassed them in every area of the pitch. After the early exit of captain Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Milner and Wijnaldum all marshalled the midfield brilliantly. Van Dijk did what he does best at the back, never looking to be under any kind of pressure and showing composure in every situation.
It’s a cliché about Bayern given that they have won the Bundesliga now for six years straight, but signs of an aging team were on display. Members of the old-guard like Frank Ribery targeted young full-back Trent Alexander Arnold but was handled with ease. Quite simply, Liverpool were in a different class, willing to take risks and stick to a game plan that led them to victory. In addition, an early exit from this year’s competition means a domestic double is the best they can hope for. For Jurgen, this side places Liverpool and the Premier League once again amongst Europe’s elite, proving they can be up there with the very best.
Barcelona 5 – 1 Lyon (5-1)
It seems that whenever Ronaldo steps up to the mark, Lionel Messi does his best to better that performance as he led Barcelona once again to a comfortable victory in what could have been a slip-up against a good Lyon side. Like Schalke though, a comeback from the under-dog was simply not meant to be in the face of such a quality side.
It almost seems pointless to continue to praise Messi, who orchestrates games against high-quality opposition with such ease and such calmness. His Panenka penalty to open the scoring demonstrated this as well as his two assists and his goal to make it 3-1 later on in the game, with only a goal-line clearance preventing his hat-trick. Unlike Bayern, the perhaps aging Luis Suarez (now 32 years old) continues to show his quality both on and off the ball. A tenacious, hard-working performance seen him grab an assist as well as winning a penalty for his team.
Slight defensive vulnerabilities were on show though which the Catalan side may need to be wary of in the next round. With all due respect to Lyon, their strike-force is not at the level of some of Barcelona’s potential opponents. It was a simple ball into the box that led to Lyon’s goal to make it 2-1, leaving them only one goal away from progressing. Whilst this
belief was not meant to be, it is an indication that Barcelona are open to conceding and are in no way invincible.
Yet, having not lifted the trophy since 2015, they will be desperate to claim it this year and, with Messi now having scored thirty-six goals in as many games, it’s fair to say he always gives them a chance.