The Champions League last 16 makes its long-awaited return tonight and we have four second legs to wrap up the round’s action. By Friday night, we will know our quarter finalists and in three weeks the whole things will be over – about 2 weeks prior to the new Premier League season kicking off!
For Manchester City, this could mean the merging of two seasons and all while Liverpool – reigning Champions League holder no less – put their feet up and take a few weeks off in the sunshine before defending their domestic title too.
Right before lockdown, Liverpool lost at home to Atleti and so are not defending this particular title but it’s Atelti’s cross city rivals that stand in City’s way as the team’s plot their belated route to Lisbon.
Friday August 7, 20:00: Manchester City v Real Madrid (2-1)
Wow, how long ago does it all seem now since Kevin de Bruyne’s penalty gave Man City a vital lead at the Santiago Bernabeu? It was also a night where, surprise surprise, Sergio Ramos got himself sent off late on which means he misses the overdue second leg.
Zinedine Zidane’s Real come to town as domestic champions of their own league, although more out of default than brilliance. Their final points tally of 87 is hardly impressive and demonstrates a need for rejuvenation, particularly in the heart of their rapidly ageing midfield.
To that end, City, especially given their lead, look favourites to go through although I am not expecting a drama free evening at The Etihad. City have enjoyed some fantastic form since the restart thanks to their midfield which will almost certainly have too much for the Spaniards.
If City have a weakness, and a 18 point deficit to Liverpool suggests they do, then it must be in defence where Madrid can find some joy. Gareth bale wont be on hand to enjoy himself though, Zizou has omitted him from the rest of this season’s tourney so the Welshman is already on his holibobs and no doubt looking for a new club.
For those who don’t quite have the nerves to back Los Blancos to win through, they must surely admit that they are well worth a goal or two. And, since the restart, Karim Benzema has bagged 7 in 11 so we’re going with over 2.5 goals and a Benzema contribution even in the face of a City win.
Friday August 7, 20:00: Juventus v Lyon (0-1)
An unsteady Old Lady awaits Lyon in Turin as, despite retaining their domestic title, Juventus still look shaky as evidenced by two wins in their final eight games which saw them finish just one point above Inter Milan.
The Italians have it all to do too as Juve look to claw back a 1-0 deficit. The bad news is that Lyon are perfectly set up to sit deep and play on the counter-attack which Sari’s Juve will not like. Of course, with Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala – the latter of whom may be missing with an injury – Juve cannot be ruled out. Still, Rudi Garcia will be happy to open up space in behind a Juve back line bereft of pace with the far speedier Moussa Dembele and Memphis Depay.
With needing a goal just to save the tie, Juventus have to go on the attack meaning they could well be leaving spaces at the back ripe for French exploitation. This is especially true if Garcia opts for a 3-5-2, the very formation employed by the opposition in three of Juve’s last Serie A defeats.
For anyone looking for a reason to back a Juventus reprieve, it is well worth remembering that Lyon haven’t played since March so rust and lack of sharpness could well force the issue. I see this as a really tight game and I wouldn’t be totally surprised if Juve went out, perhaps with a low score draw 1-1 and a goal for their Portuguese talisman.
Saturday August 8, 20:00: Bayern Munich v Chelsea (3-0)
This could be brutal. For Chelsea that is. True, Bayern have been in slumber since wrapping up yet another Bundesliga title weeks ago but they were in ferocious form when Germany became the first to restart football and don’t need to play anywhere near their best to hold on to a huge first leg, away goal lead.
With a 3-0 lead to hunt down, and missing Cristian Pulisic, Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso, Chelsea have it all to do and then some. Robert Lewandowski, who is way ahead as the Champions League top scorer, will be looking to fill his boots still further against a team that cannot defend corners and are incapable of settling on a goalkeeper even with one that is the most expensive in the world.
This game could well be a repeat of the first leg, only worse, being at the Allianz Arena but does at least have the potential for both teams to score and at least more than one a very real possibility for Lewandowski.
Saturday August 8, 20:00: Barcelona v Napoli (1-1)
The tightest of all four ties and one where Barca should be slight favourites to progress if for no other reason than they are carrying an away goal.
Since Gattuso’s appointment in December, Napoli have, much like Simeone’s Atleti, resembled their manager’s combative playing style, determined, and capable of digging in, which has traditionally caused Barca problems.
But this is no traditional Barca side, this is a fading team far too reliant on one or two stellar talents. In truth, they look even worse under Quique Setien than they did under Ernesto Valverde.
There is one stat that sticks out however, both teams have scored in five of Barcelona’s last six Champions League matches and both teams have scored in four of Napoli’s last five Champions League games. Plus, given that both teams scored in the first leg, we’ve got to go with BTTS and maybe a goal from Messi or Suarez for added value.