One month ago, I made my predictions for the Champions League Round of 16 first leg.
Some of these predictions were close, others were not. Liverpool came tantalizingly close to the 1-0 victory I had predicted, winning 2-0 over Leipzig. Dortmund’s talent up front showed as well as inconsistency in the back, where they won narrowly 3-2. I had predicted 3-3. Others were not as close: PSG beat Barcelona handily, and Porto produced the shock of the tournament in beating Juventus.
With now four of the eight Round of 16 ties complete and the rest wrapping up this week, I thought it would be a good time to look back on the finished matches and look ahead to future ones.
Complete: Porto 4-4 Juventus, Porto advances on Away goals
In the first leg, I predicted a 2-0 victory to Juventus thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo. However, Ronaldo was silenced in the first leg as Porto, playing with home-advantage, scored early-on in both halves, before Federico Chiesa provided some hope for the Italians with a vital away goal as the match finished 2-1 in Porto’s favor.
In the second leg, held in Turin, Porto once more surprised Juventus by scoring the first goal, a penalty kick in the 19th minute by Sérgio Oliveira. This took Porto’s aggregate lead up to 3-1 (an aggregate score combines the goals scored in the first and second legs) and the Portuguese side appeared to be advancing to the next round. However, Federico Chiesa once again came up clutch for Juventus, scoring a second half brace to tie the game at 3-3. With both teams tied on aggregate and away goals, the match went to extra time. The momentum seemed to be shifted Juventus’ way, as Juventus were outshooting Porto, who were down to ten men after Mehdi Taremi was sent off. Thankfully for Porto, Oliveira scored a beautiful free kick to put Porto back in the lead, 4-3 on aggregate. Adrien Rabiot gave Juventus some hope, scoring on a header with three minutes left to tie the game on aggregate, but Juventus were unable to score again. Unfortunately for Juventus, the tie-breaker for the Champions League knockout stages are away goals, so even though the score was 4-4, Porto won thanks to two away goals to Juve’s one.
Because of this, Porto advance to the Champions League quarterfinals, something the club have done just three times previously since their heroic triumph in 2004. Second in Portugal, Porto have a young squad and could become a dominant force in Europe again. Meanwhile, the same can’t be said of Juventus. Juventus have an aging squad (nine players 30 years or older), and after nine straight Serie A titles, Juventus suddenly find themselves battling for a Champions League spot. With many star players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala reportedly pushing for a move, a rebuild is imminent for the Old Lady.
Not Complete: Real Madrid 1-0 Atalanta
In the first leg, I predicted Real Madrid would run away with a 4-0 victory against Atalanta. The Bergamo side proved stingy, holding Real Madrid to just one goal despite having only ten men and allowing 19 shots on goal, but it could’ve been far worse.
Atalanta rose to fame last season when, in their first ever Champions League campaign, they advanced to the quarterfinals. They almost beat PSG, leading 1-0 until the 90th minute, where PSG scored twice in three minutes on their way to reaching the final. Unfortunately for Atalanta, things have turned sour, as legendary captain Papu Gomez left in the winter after many arguments with Atalanta manager Gasperini. Many players followed Gomez out the door, star striker Josip Ilicic hasn’t been the same since quitting last season’s Champions League due to personal issues, and other issues have arisen. With that being said, Atalanta are in fine form in the Serie A, thanks mainly to Luis Muriel. Muriel has 16 goals and seven assists in the Serie A this season, making him the third-highest scorer in Italy at the moment. Real Madrid were another team that was underperforming earlier in the season, but have fought back to be in good position in both the Champions League and in La Liga, as they are slowly catching up to first place Atletico.
In this match, I predict Atalanta to come out on top, 3-1. Whilst Real Madrid are in better form, they have not scored more than two goals in a game since January. Atalanta will put Real Madrid at a disadvantage early on, and Real will have a hard time coming back from that as Atalanta’s offense takes care of the rest.
Complete: Dortmund 5-4 Sevilla
As previously mentioned, Dortmund beat Sevilla in a close first match, 3-2, where I had predicted a 3-3 draw. Dortmund headed towards the second leg with a massive advantage, not only with the aggregate lead but also with three hugely important away goals. (See: Porto)
In the second leg, Sevilla outshot Dortmund considerably, yet a win was never in the cards. Sevilla found themselves down 2-0 after 54 minutes thanks to two goals from Norwegian superstar Erling Haaland, and whilst the Andalusians ended up tying the match, the second goal wasn’t scored until the 96th minute of the match. Statistically, Sevilla dominated: they out possessed, out passed, out shot, and had better passing accuracy in both matches. In total, Sevilla had 31 shots to Dortmund’s 19. However, the German side were just more clinical both times.
Sevilla will have to feel hard done by this season. Not only were they dumped out of the Champions League in the Round of 16, and they failed to take advantage of a season where Spain’s traditional top forces were far from their best. Meanwhile, Dortmund will also have to be disappointed with this season, one where they were expected to challenge for the Bundesliga title, but are currently 16 points off of first place.
Not Complete: Manchester City 2-0 Mönchengladbach
This was the big upset I had predicted. At the time of writing, Manchester City had won 16 games in a row, and Mönchengladbach were seventh in the Bundesliga. However, Mönchengladbach are a more talented team than their standing suggested, and Mönchengladbach were in good form. However, things changed in the days leading up to the match: coach Marco Rose announced he was leaving Mönchengladbach at the end of the season for rivals Dortmund, and Mönchengladbach lost to second-to-last Mainz four days before the Manchester City game. The result? City won 2-0.
Mönchengladbach are now winless in eight matches. They have been knocked out of the DFB Pokal since then (by Rose’s future team), and have fallen to tenth in the Bundesliga. City, on the other hand, won 21 matches in a row before a loss to second placed Manchester United, but recovered to score eight goals in their next two matches.
Things are going well for Manchester City, and this will show in the second leg. Manchester City win 3-0, as things in Mönchengladbach continue to get worse.
Complete: PSG 5-2 Barcelona
This was probably my worst prediction.
I said that Barcelona would dominate and beat PSG 3-1, as things were turning around for Barcelona. I said that Francisco Trincão would be the difference if he started, and I stand by this. Barcelona got infinitely better with Trincão on the field, but it was too late for him to make much of a difference as Barcelona lost the first leg 4-1. The scoreline was perhaps a little harsh, but PSG were definitely the better team on the day.
Barcelona had hope in the second leg: they had more shots, more shots on target, better passing accuracy, more complete passes, but only managed a 1-1 tie. The result was hugely unlucky, however – PSG grabbed their one goal off of a penalty kick where Clement Lenglet accidentally stepped on Mauro Icardi’s foot in the box when Icardi wasn’t even involved in the play. Mbappe converted the penalty. The same couldn’t be said of Lionel Messi: the Argentine scored a beautiful goal but had his penalty kick deflected onto the crossbar. American wingback Sergiño Dest also had a great effort hit the crossbar, and many of Barcelona’s efforts were just inches away.
Still, the future looks bright for Barcelona. Surely they have learned their lesson with transfers, and the club are moving through with youth: the previously mentioned Trincão, Ansu Fati, Pedri, and Riqui Puig are among those who are leading Barcelona into the future. They are also undefeated in their past seven matches, have moved up to second in La Liga (four points behind first), and overturned a 2-0 loss in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal to advance to the final.
Not Complete: Bayern 4-1 Lazio
This was a disaster for Lazio. They played miserably and conceded goals in ridiculous fashion, allowing four away goals. I predicted a two-goal victory minimum for Bayern, and they delivered. Lazio now have it all to do, needing to score a minimum of four goals away against the defending Champions League champions.
This season has undoubtedly been a regressive season for Lazio. They are currently seventh in the Serie A, losing five of their last ten matches, with eight total losses this season, as many as they lost last season when they finished fourth. Lazio also average fewer goals scored per game in the Serie A, and more goals allowed per game this season in the Serie A. Even top scorer Ciro Immobile has regressed: he went from 36 goals last season to 14 goals this season. Not a season to remember for Lazio.
Bayern have also regressed – by their standards. With nine games remaining this season in the Bundesliga, they have already surpassed the amount of goals conceded last season. They were also knocked out of the DFB Pokal to second tier Holstein Kiel, albeit with tricky weather conditions, and had claimed just one point in the Bundesliga since the Club World Cup. The victory over Lazio helped Bayern recover their form: they have scored 11 goals in their past three games, including a 4-2 victory over rivals Borussia Dortmund.
Lazio will have no choice but to attack, but are averaging slightly over one goal a game. Bayern will hit them on the counter early and often and win 3-0.
Complete: Liverpool 4-0 Leipzig
This is a strange one. Leipzig had been in blistering form, winning four in a row before both legs and challenging Bayern for the title. Liverpool? Not so much. The Reds dropped out of the top four, winless in seven of ten leading up to the Leipzig first leg. By the second leg, Liverpool’s winless streak at home had reached eight.
But maybe that’s why Liverpool won. Because of quarantining rules, the Reds weren’t allowed in Germany and subsequently Leipzig couldn’t travel to Anfield, so both games were played at neutral venues in Hungary. Liverpool won both matches without much trouble from the Germans, who, despite having 23 shots, mustered only four on target. Whatever works, I guess.
It’s been a poor season for Liverpool who have taken themselves out of the running for the Premier League this season. They are now battling for fourth, but it might be better to just shift their attention completely to the Champions League, and hope they can qualify for next season’s by winning the trophy this year. Leipzig, meanwhile, will now do the opposite and hope they can take advantage of Bayern Munich’s schedule and catch up in the standings with a chance at winning the Bundesliga.
Not Complete: Chelsea 1-0 Atletico Madrid
The first leg of this matchup was probably the worst of all the Champions League fixtures. Both teams played very defensive formations, and combined for a grand total of 17 shots. Only Manchester City-Mönchengladbach had fewer shots, and Barcelona, Juventus, Sevilla, and Real Madrid all registered more shots in one of their two legs. One thing the game did have was fouls. Thirty of them, to be precise.
When a goal was scored, however, it was superb. French striker Olivier Giroud hit a bicycle kick, adding insult to injury considering Atletico’s João Felix missed a bicycle kick earlier. Unfortunately for Atletico, this leaves them down 1-0 and Chelsea have a hugely important away goal, despite the game taking place in a neutral venue, in Romania. Atletico have hit a rough patch of form and blew a massive lead in La Liga. At one point in the season, Diego Simeone’s men had a ten-point lead. Barcelona are now four points away.
Unlike Atletico, Chelsea have been given permission to play the second leg at their actual home stadium, in Stamford Bridge. Since Thomas Tuchel took over for Frank Lampard, Chelsea have looked far better. They haven’t lost since January and have moved up to second in the league. However, they will be missing four starters for the second leg.
Despite the clear difference in form, Atletico ultimately have the more talented roster. Atletico will go into the game with something to prove, and, if they use tactics that actually involve attacking, Atletico should come away with a win in London. João Felix and Luis Suarez give Atletico a 2-0 win.
It’s weird to think that last year at this time, the Champions League second leg would be the last thing on people’s minds. Only four second legs last season were squeezed in before the pandemic hit, and several teams, including eventual champions Bayern Munich, had to wait until August to play the second leg.
Now, however, things are starting to return to “normal”, and a two-legged, regular Champions League is the best way for the soccer world to recover. Unless you are a Juventus fan (stick to watching highlights).
Image Courtesy of Balkan Photos, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Don’t worry if your comment does not show up, all comments must be approved to reduce spam. I hope you enjoyed, and as always, keep watching soccer!