That was mostly fun! The UEFA Champions League is where the finest football stars in Europe congregate and compete. And yes, they really did compete in game week 1 of the round of 16; in Paris, Lisbon, Milan and Wals-Siezeheim.
Last week’s football action delivered it all; from goals to drama to individual acts of genius. In other words, it was exciting.
After Lionel Messi missed the penalty, PSG and Real Madrid seemed content with a share of the spoils until Kylian Mbappe scored that beauty with the last kick of the match.
Manchester City showed no pity to Sporting from the first kick of the game. They hit the Portuguese side for five.
Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah managed to find a way against a resilient Inter side as Salzburg and Bayern Munich played out a surprising 1-1 draw. In fact, the Bundesliga leaders needed a stoppage-time goal from Kingsley Koman to keep things respectable.
The second part of this round continues this week with some tasty fixtures lined up.
Chelsea vs Lille
The Blues resume their defence of the Champions League against the Ligue 1 defending Champions.
Thomas Tuchel’s men seem like the favourites to qualify on paper, except that they haven’t been as convincing this season- not domestically or continentally. In contrast, the visitors have played their best football at this competition.
The German manager has struggled to accommodate his record striker, Romelu Lukaku in his team. And while the results have been decent, the performance has been dire.
The Londoners will need to take the initiative in breaking down the opponent’s defence- the passing needing to be quicker and incisive. Hakim Ziyech who has been in good form will need to influence the play.
Lille has failed to consolidate on last season’s success. If anything, the results have been poor. A lot of their problems can be traced to former coach, Christophe Galtier who left at the start of the season.
For Jocelyn Gourvennec, the objective will be to seize the spaces on the break, utilising the pace of Jonathan David and Ben Arfa.
Goals will come at a premium in this encounter. Everything points to a slim win for the hosts.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-0 Lille
Villareal vs Juventus
On another day, in another season, this would have been an easy win for the Serie A giants, but this would be anything but easy.
Villarreal has chosen just the right time to hit form, winning three of its last four La Liga matches.
The defence which seemed to be the Achilles heel of the Yellow Submarines has kept three clean sheets in the past month.
Unai Emery will keep to his philosophy of pressing high out of possession and controlled passing in possession. The likes of Arnault Danjuma and loanee, Giovanni Lo Celso will be key.
Juventus has huffed and puffed all season, drawing three of their last four league matches.
Massimiliano Allegri will count on his new forward, Dusan Vlahovich. The inventive prowess of Paulo Dybala will also need to come to the fore.
This tie will likely go to the wire. Of course, there will be goals.
Prediction: Villarreal 2-1 Juventus
Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United
This is a battle between two lacklustre sides, both lacking the will to win matches at times. Yet, a winner must emerge from this tie.
The Colcheneros have had a disappointing by their disappointing standards. Diego Simeone’s men are currently out of the top four in La Liga and lost home and away to Liverpool in the UCL group stages. This is despite having a brilliant squad.
The play has been chaotic and goalkeeper Jan Oblak has been uncharacteristically unreliable.
Defensively, the Madrid side has been unstable, conceding regularly from set-pieces. Simeone will be desperate for his team to keep their shape.
Angel Correa and Luis Suarez will fancy their chances against an equally shaky Manchester United defence.
Meanwhile, Ralf Ragnick will need his midfield duo of Fred and Scott McTominay to be exerting.
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored in every UCL game he has played this season, a trend he will hope to continue.
This is surely a classic that promises goals and drama.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid 3-1 Manchester United
Benfica vs Ajax
Benfica was one of the surprising teams from the group stages. Ajax too, but in a different way.
The Portuguese side qualified at the expense of Barcelona and Ajax defeated all comers, including Borussia Dortmund.
Unlike Erik Ten Hag’s men, the hosts will remain underdogs in this encounter.
Nelson Verissimo will look to keep a very tight defence with very few spaces, possibly sitting in a low block. On the break, Darwin Nunez will hope to create danger.
The Dutch side, however, seem like favourites- and to be fair- they have earned it.
The philosophy is unchanged- a possession-based system with lots of rehearsed movements in the opponent’s final third.
Sebastian Haller has been stellar this season. He is the competition’s top scorer and the odds are in favour of him continuing the sequence of scoring in every match.
Prediction: Benfica 0-3 Ajax