UEFA Champions League: What We’ve Learnt From This Week’s Round of 16 Games
The quarterfinal line-up for the Champions League is complete after the second legs of the final four last-16 ties were played out this week. And if you cast your eyes over the teams that remain, this season’s tournament is shaping up to be the most hotly contested in years.
We’ve got a cacophony of different sides who love to play the game in their own unique styles and a mixture of squads at various stages of development. There are new kids on the block, seasoned veterans and a few teams in between
But before getting too far ahead of ourselves, what can we take from this week’s games?
On Tuesday, we saw a much-changed Real Madrid XI finish the job against Schalke, triumphing 3-1 on the night thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo brace; they won through 9-2 on aggregate.
Meanwhile, Chelsea saw off an atrocious Galatasaray side 2-0 on the night after their 1-1 draw in the first leg. Roberto Mancini’s side were truly deplorable, as Chelsea could and perhaps should have won by a much wider margin.
Wednesday saw Borussia Dortmund make it into the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season despite losing 2-1 at home to Zenit St. Petersburg.
David Moyes also earned himself some much-needed breathing space after a hat-trick from Robin Van Persie helped Manchester United turn around a two-goal deficit against Olympiakos.
Here, we delve a little further into those matches and see what we can ascertain ahead of what promises to be a thrilling finish to this season’s Champions League…
Real Madrid Ready To Land The ‘Decima’
A tenth European Cup triumph has eluded Real Madrid in somewhat frustrating fashion. They famously won the first five European Cup competitions and have won the tournament four times since. But that illustrious milestone of a tenth title—the ‘decima’—has escaped their clutches for more than a decade, having last won the competition back in 2002.
Under Carlo Ancelotti, they look as though they are ready to land that elusive tenth European crown. Los Blancos have stormed to the summit of La Liga and in the Champions League they are brushing capable opponents aside with relative ease. Even in the second leg with Schalke, a tie where Ancelotti drafted in several fringe players with the tie already won, they looked in superb fettle.
Players like Asier Illarramendi, Isco, Raphael Varane and even Iker Casillas have featured scarcely as of late, but showed they are more than capable of doing a job when called upon, Madrid dominating Schalke once again at the Bernabeu. Factor in the talents of the mercurial Ronaldo and the blossoming Gareth Bale, not to mention the efforts of Angel Di Maria and Luka Modric in central midfield, Ancelotti’s side have match winners all over the pitch.
Bayern remain the favorites to triumph in the Lisbon Final on Saturday May 24, but the holders will be hoping to avoid this magnificent Madrid side up until then. This Real team look just about ready to make history.
Programming note: For viewers in the United States, La Liga games (including this Sunday’s el Clasico) are shown exclusively on beIN SPORT, beIN SPORT Espanol and DishWorld. Even if you don’t have a TV subscription to beIN SPORT, you can access those channels via online streaming service DishWorld for $10/month. Read our review of DishWorld. And sign up for DishWorld via their website.
Chelsea Yet To Be Truly Tested In Champions League
The Stamford Bridge outfit were typically ruthless during their 2-0 win against Galatasaray on Tuesday. But it must be noted, the visitors put in an abominable performance.
After the first leg we thought this Gala side could give Chelsea a test second time round, but they lacked cohesion, creativity and most alarmingly, fight. The Turkish champions were subsequently blasted by their manager Mancini in his post match press conference who branded their performance as “awful” per BBC Sport.
Looking back through the competition as a whole, you have to say that Chelsea haven’t really been tested as of yet. The Turkish champions were one of the weakest teams in the last 16, whilst the 2012 champions’ qualifying group contained Schalke, Steau Bucharest and FC Basel.
It remains to be seen whether that will eventually work to their advantage or not. But in the last eight, Jose Mourinho’s side are almost certainly in for a much tougher task. Perhaps then we’ll get a truer measure of their European pedigree?
They’re certainly going to be awkward opposition to overcome given Jose’s European know-how, strict organisation and plethora of attacking midfield riches. But do they have the ability to control games and given their lack of a top calibre centre-forward, punish teams when they do get chances?
United Clinging On By Their Fingernails
A 3-0 win over Olympiacos steered the 2008 champions into the last eight. United are certainly outsiders for the title, but this competition has thrown up many a surprise in years gone by. Will it do so again?
You have to say, it looks unlikely. The Greek champions proved themselves to be less than formidable opponents, showcasing some diabolically rash defending and inexperience in key situations. They still created chances, getting in behind United’s midfield and full-backs at will, but they were perilously wasteful.
But credit to the Old Trafford outfit who got the job done. Given the pressure this crop of players have been under as of late, they deserve great praise for that. Van Persie stepped up to make a vital contribution when his team needed it, and if the Dutchman can rediscover his best form from now until the end of the campaign, things can only get better for the Red Devils.
Despite their comeback win, United will be the team everyone is hoping to draw in the last eight. There were plenty of hairy moments against the Greek champions in which a higher calibre team would have made count. Big, big improvements remain a must if United are to sample an unexpected semifinal appearance.
Erratic Dortmund Struggling For Rhythm
Jurgen Klopp’s team advanced into the last eight in unconvincing fashion, losing 2-1 at home to Zenit St. Petersburg. After a 4-2 triumph in Russia, the defeat wasn’t to prove costly, but it was a prime indicator that this Dortmund team isn’t quite the force it was last season.
Die Borussien have suffered a turbulent campaign, one that has been derailed by an unprecedented amount of injuries. They’ve also been unable to replace the influence of Mario Gotze and news that Robert Lewandowski will join him at Bayern at the end of the campaign can’t have been ideal for squad morale.
The Polish striker will miss the first leg of the quarterfinal game, and with that in mind, you’d have to say drawing last season’s runners-up might not be quite as daunting as it may seem. After all, the loss against Zenit was their second at home in five days; that after Borussia Monchengladbach turned them over in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
It’s looking increasingly unlikely that Klopp can inspire this team to match their achievements from the 2012/13 competition. Unless they draw an equally inconsistent Manchester United in the quarterfinals, they’ll be on their way out.
Get Set For The Best Quarterfinal Stage In Years
These quarterfinals are going to be absolutely brilliant.
In the draw, we’ve got last year’s two finalists, the top three teams in Spain, plus the league leaders in England and France. There have been some critics of the seeding system when it comes to the knockout stages, but if it continues to produce line-ups like the one we’ve got for this seasons quarterfinal, then they’ll certainly be on the decline.
Aside from a developing Manchester United and perhaps an injury-plagued Dortmund, there are no preferable draws. So expect storylines, controversy, brilliance and drama aplenty as teams do everything in their power to construct a run towards European glory.
Be sure to stick with World Soccer Talk for full reaction to the quarterfinal draw, which is at 7:00AM Eastern Time on Friday, March 21.
Also, check out our team-by-team guide of every side that made it to the last 16 here.
Tell us, what ties do YOU want to see in the last eight?
Pep Guardiola going up against his old club Barcelona? Mourinho taking on Real Madrid after his fractious summer departure? A Classico? A Madrid derby? A repeat of last season’s final?
Let us know in the comments section or get in touch with me on Twitter @MattJFootball