UEFA Champions League: What We’ve Learnt From This Week’s Round of 16 Games
We have the first four of the eight Champions League quarterfinalists, as Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain all booked their place in the final eight after their respective second leg ties this week.
There were no major upsets in this quartet of last 16 encounters, but the contests certainly gave us food for thought as we edge ever closer to the final in Lisbon on Saturday 25 May.
On Tuesday the holders Bayern Munich drew 1-1 with Arsenal on their own patch to progress 3-1 on aggregate. Elsewhere Atletico Madrid moved into the next round with an almighty flourish, disposing of an erratic AC Milan side 4-1 on the night and 5-1 over the two legs.
Wednesday saw Barcelona finish the job against Manchester City in the Nou Camp with a 2-1 win. Meanwhile PSG had no hiccups against Bayer Leverkusen as they came from behind to win 2-1 on the night against the Germans; the French champions progressed 6-1 on aggregate.
Here’s some takeaways from this week’s four ties…
Atletico Madrid A Team To Avoid In Quarterfinals
We’ve already made the point in this feature that it might be a little unfair to dub Diego Simeone’s side as “dark horses” for this title. They may be lacking in the big, illustrious names, and yes, they don’t have the experience of some of Europe’s premier sides.But they continue to motor on.
In this double header with Milan they’ve showed that they are capable of digging in an getting a result on the road and In addition, an attacking vigour that allows them to blitz the opposition with their relentless, intense playing style. In Diego Costa, they also have one of Europe’s hottest forwards and a player capable of nicking a goal anywhere.
Los Concheros have competed with Real Madrid and FC Barcelona for the entirety of the domestic campaign, so why should we expect them to do any less in the Champions League? Their stylistic principles are quite unique when compared to the remainder of the teams left in this competition and Simeone’s charges are quickly becoming a side to avoid in the last eight.
Bayern Munich Show Tiny Chinks In Armour
It’s admittedly difficult to take much from a contest in which Bayern Munich failed to get out of first gear for long spells. But you could argue in the second-leg draw with Arsenal, they showed a miniscule chink in their armour for the second time in this season’s competition.
With the job seemingly done after their 2-0 win over the Gunners at the Emirates in the first-leg, Bayern ambled through this game. And it must be said that whilst the European Champions did create and subsequently spurn a host of chances, Arsenal did cause them a few problems.
After levelling at 1-1, the Gunners had a few opportunities to go on and get a second. It was a scenario not overly dissimilar to Manchester City’s win at the Allianz Arena, another game in which Bayern switched off after storming into the lead. City were able to take their chances in that 3-2 triumph, Arsenal were not this time round.
But this complacency is something Pep Guardiola will be hoping doesn’t remerge as we get into the latter stages of the competition. You suspect that given the focus this side showcased in last seasons Champions League, that’ll certainly be the case from the quarterfinals and most probably beyond.
Barca Must Improve To Win Fifth European Crown, But They Still Have Magic Messi
They got the job done in the end, but Barcelona were far from convincing against Manchester City for long spells. La Blaugrana continued to show defensive frailties throughout the second leg at the Camp Nou and that will be a concern as the quality of opposition will be cranked up a notch in the quarterfinals.
It took a couple of excellent saves from Victor Valdes and some last ditch defending from Gerard Pique to keep City down to the solitary strike in this one. Barcelona looked leggy in the second half and occasionally seemed unable to match the dynamism of their opponents. They must find their rhythm and reestablish their patented groove if they are to go any further in the competition.
But, they do have Lionel Messi, who was undoubtedly Barcelona’s most potent attacking threat throughout the two games with City. In the second leg little Argentinian scored, hit the post with a wonderful solo effort, and his movement and dribbling caused the City back four endless problems throughout the 90 minutes.
You suspect if Barca are going to go all the way to the final this season, then it’ll be down to spades of Messi magic.
PSG Show It’s Not All About Zlatan
Think of the French champions and the mercurial Swede immediately springs to mind. But after seeing off Leverkusen in the second leg their last 16 time, there were plenty of other standout performances from the Parisians.
After going 1-0 down early on, they rallied strongly to equalise through the young defender Marquinhos. Then Leverkusen had a penalty saved by the somewhat under-appreciated Salvatore Sirigu. Ezequiel Lavezzi scored the goal to put PSG 2-1 up, whilst Yohan Cabaye, Lucas Digne and Thiago Silva also had typically excellent games.
They look in great shape to challenge for this title and with Ibrahimovic capable of conjuring up magical moments, I still have a feeling that they’ll be in that Champions League in May.
Arsenal and Manchester City Will Be Stronger Next Year, Milan Set For European Hiatus
You couldn’t have asked for two more difficult draws for Arsenal and Manchester City. But a look at their European campaigns as a whole suggest that they might fare a little better next time round.
Both sides came through tough qualifying groups to make it to the last 16 but ultimately paid the price for not finishing top of them. But with both Arsenal and City putting in some superb performances in this years competition–most notably their respective victories away at Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich–hopefully lessons will be learnt and they’ll reap the benefits in 12 months time. Providing that they both qualify, of course!
One side that definitely won’t be in the Champions League next season is AC Milan. They crashed out to Atletico in the last 16 and are way off the pace on the domestic front. It’s a shame given their rich European pedigree, but Clarence Seedorf has a big, big rebuilding job on his hands at the Rossoneri.