The Champions League is back in earnest after the first-legs of the opening four knockout ties were played this week. As is typically the case with Europe’s premier club competition, we’ve already had our fair share of quality, controversy and confusion just a quarter of the way through the last 16 games.
These first-leg encounters can often set a positive or perennial precedent for the remainder of the competition. So bearing that in mind, let’s run the rule over each of the ties played this week and see what we can accrue from the infancy of these knockout stages.
On Tuesday, the Swedes took centre stage: Manuel Pellegrini lamented the appointment and subsequent performance of referee Jonas Eriksson as his side lost 2-0 to Barcelona. In the other tie, Zlatan Ibrahimovic stole the show in PSG’s 4-0 win in Leverkusen after yet another clinic in classy centre-forward play.
Wednesday’s fixtures saw Bayern Munich run out 2-0 winners against ten-man Arsenal, with both teams missing a first half penalty. At the San Siro, Atletico Madrid reaffirmed their status as the “fighters” of the last 16 with hard-earned 1-0 win against AC Milan.
Here are a few things to take from these opening four games:
Reports Of A Barcelona Demise Are Premature
Leading up to this one, much of the pre-match discussion centred on Jose Mourinho’s comments (not like him to get involved, is it?) that this was the “worst Barcelona team in years”. Granted, the aura of invincibility that was so prominent during the tenure of Pep Guardiola has waned, but they remain a high calibre outfit as they demonstrated here with emphatic conviction.
Their performance against City wasn’t mesmeric, but it was ruthless and efficient. They kept City at arm’s length and when the situation demanded, they injected a devastating impetus and incisiveness into their play.
It’s not through blind luck that they have reached the semifinals of this competition for six consecutive campaigns and it’s easy to disregard just how influential players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves really are, not to mention their familiarity and experience when it comes to these two legged ties.
Plus, in Lionel Messi they have a player who’s not only supremely talent, but looks mentally and physically refreshed since returning from injury.
They may not be the unstoppable force of yesteryear and they’ll certainly give opposition teams chances, but it’s going to take a couple of excellent performances from a very, very good side to stop La Blaugrana reaching at least the semifinals again this season.