Champions League Round of 16 (Leg 1, week 2) Recap
The first leg fixtures of the Champions League Round of 16 are complete. Similar to week one, week two was highlighted by a pulsating matchup with Chelsea and Barcelona taking center stage in London. Bayern Munich cruised to a comfortable victory after an early Besiktas red card, Shakhtar secured a home win over Roma, and Sevilla v. Manchester United provided the first goalless draw in an otherwise free scoring knockout round.
Here are the top stories that emerged during the midweek:
1) Chelsea’s strong tactics cancelled out by one mistake against Barca
Anonio Conte got his tactics spot on as Chelsea impressed for most of the match, but one mistake was all it took for Barcelona to capitalize and secure a vital away goal in a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
For all of the possession (73%) and completed passes (566 more than Chelsea), Barcelona failed to create clear cut chances against an organized and solid Chelsea defense. Chelsea set up deep, inviting Barca’s pressure and the blues were happy to have the Catalans possess without posing much danger to Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois for most of the match.
Chelsea did especially well to neutralize the impact of Suarez and Messi while growing into the game through Hazard and Willian, their most influential attacking players. Willian was denied by both posts in the first half after brilliant strikes had Ter Stegen beaten.
But Willian wasn’t denied in the second half, breaking the deadlock via a clever finish from 18 yards through traffic. His goal electrified the home crowd and set up an exciting finish. While Chelsea looked set for a fantastic result, Barca found a way back as Andres Iniesta pounced on an errant pass out of the back by Christensen. Iniesta then cut back to Messi who slotted into the back of the net from 12 yards – his first goal in 9 games against Chelsea.
Chelsea will feel hard done after an impressive display. Conte spoke about his teams performance stating, “I think we were close to playing the perfect performance. We did one mistake but we know very well against these opponents and players like Messi, Iniesta and Suarez, if you make a mistake you pay. It is a pity and we are disappointed with the final result.”
Chelsea face a difficult schedule ahead of the second leg at the Nou Camp with upcoming games against Manchester United and Manchester City. Conte’s squad rotation will be crucial as the battle for top 4 in England is far from being decided. Meanwhile, Barcelona has a tough test of their own, as they host rivals Atletico Madrid in a top-of-the-table La Liga showdown. Barca were persistent in leg 1 and will be relieved to have the narrow advantage going into the decisive second leg.
2) Underdogs Shakhtar and Sevilla impress at home
Shakhtar and Sevilla both impressed at home in their respective leg one ties. While other teams outside of the top 5 domestically have struggled in the knockout round, Shakhtar earned a decisive victory. In fact, only a clearance off the goal line kept their lead at one goal as the Ukranian squad created a flurry of chances as the game ended.
Roma’s man of the moment, Cengiz Under, latched on to an inch-perfect through ball by Eden Dzcko to give the Italian side the lead in the 41st minute. Shakhtar responded after the interval leveling the score in the 52nd minute (Facundo Ferreyra) before capping their comeback through a breathtaking free-kick winner curled in by Brazilian international Fred.
Two of the best players on the pitch stood between the posts on either end. The goalkeepers - Pyatov for Shakhtar and Alisson for Roma – were outstanding. Alisson has been the topic of transfer rumors and if Roma can’t secure his contract soon he will be a big name to follow as the summer transfer window nears.
Could Shakhtar become the only side outside of the top 5 in league to advance to the quarterfinals?
Sevilla and Manchester United played to a feisty 0-0 stalemate in Spain, setting up potential drama at the Theater of Dreams on March 13th.
Questions will be asked of Jose Mourinho’s tactics including a selection surprise by leaving record signing Paul Pogba on the bench, further adding to their discord and rumors that he’s on his way out of his boyhood club again. Fans will not be impressed with the style of play. United‘s performance was highlighted by another world class De Gea save, a resilient but labored defensive display and a failure to create chances in a lackluster affair. Pogba was introduced after Herrera suffered a first half injury. Rashford and Martial were also brought on late in the second half to inject pace and perhaps find a late winner, but were unable to orchestrate a goal.
Sevilla deserves credit after finishing the game with 25 attempts on goal and will be disappointed to not have capitalized. Their coach, Vincenzo Montella, added “I am very happy with the character shown by the team. We have to be pleased with the performance. The 0-0 leaves everything open.”
Mourinho reacted post-game adding, “I really feel the result reflected what the game was - you ask me was it a good result, and I say it was not good and not bad.” United will certainly be the happier side, returning to Old Trafford with a draw. The second leg will likely entice United to be more attacking at home which should open up the game and make for an exciting finale. Sevilla will have to be more clinical if they want to have a chance of advancing.
3) Bayern dismantle Besiktas
The German champions put on a dominant display as they ruthlessly dismantled a 10-man Besiktas side in Munich. Besiktas started strong but were in for a long night after Domagoj Vida’s 16th minute red card. The visitors stood firm for most of the first half, but Thomas Muller found a way through just before half-time opening up the floodgates as Bayern cruised to a 5-0 victory at the Allianz Arena. Muller and Lewandowski both bagged braces for Bayern.
The reverse fixture is all but a formality now. Bayern have now won 14 games in a row in all competitions and they’ve won 20 of their last 21 Champions League home games.
Second Leg Fixtures:
PSG v. Real Madrid (aggregate 1-3)
Liverpool v. Porto (agg. 5-0)
Tottenham v. Juventus (agg. 2-2)
Manchester City v. Basel (agg. 5-0)
Roma v. Shakhtar Donetsk (agg. 1-2)
Manchester United v. Sevilla (agg. 0-0)
Besiktas v. Bayern Munich (agg. 0-5)
Barcelona v. Chelsea (agg. 1-1)
Author: Mike Daly