The first leg of the 2021 Champions League was historic for many reasons. For the first time in history, seven out of the eight matches resulted in losses for the home teams. The only team that managed to win at home was Porto, who scored once at the beginning of each half before allowing Juventus to squeeze in a late goal in the 82nd minute.
Surely this historic number of away victories is partially due to the lack of supporters in the stadiums, as the motivational cheers and chants of the past have been replaced by silence.
However, despite the missing crowd, we shouldn’t underestimate the strength of the sides that did win, as many of them were considered favorites anyway.
With the second leg underway next week, let’s take a look at the top performers of the first four matches of leg one and what each team will look to accomplish in leg two on March 9 and 10.
Leipzig 0 - 2 Liverpool: Mohamed Salah
Just when we thought the game might go Leipzig’s way, Mohamed Salah took advantage of a wayward pass and a defensive slip in Leipzig’s half, sending the goalie the wrong way and burying it in the back of the net in the minute 53. Salah’s pace was no match for the Leipzig defense, as he effortlessly added another goal to his 20-goal tally this season. This strike broke the deadlock and gave Liverpool momentum to score a second goal just five minutes later.
Barcelona 1 - 4 Paris Saint-Germain: Kylian Mbappé
Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) was trailing Barcelona during the first half until Kylian Mbappé took it upon himself to equalize in the 32nd minute. Mbappé then scored a second and a third during the 65th and 85th minutes. The latter was named Champions League Goal of the Week, shot into the top corner after a praiseworthy run and assist from teammate Julian Draxler. The young Frenchman is no stranger to worldwide attention, having contributed heavily to France’s World Cup win in 2018, and he will surely continue to make the headlines during the rest of his Champions League campaign.
Sevilla 2 - 3 Dortmund: Erling Haaland
2020 Golden Boy Erling Haaland provided two goals and an assist to secure Dortmund’s hard-fought win over Sevilla. The Norwegian 20-year-old has scored 17 goals in 18 Bundesliga matches this season and 18 goals in his 13 career Champions League appearances over the past two campaigns. Haaland certainly has no plans of slowing his tempo anytime soon, and he credited fellow youngster Mbappé for motivating him to score the day after the Parisian’s win in Barcelona.
Porto 2 - 1 Juventus: Wilson Manafá
Although several Porto players put on commendable performances in the win over Juventus, Wilson Manafá’s particularly stood out. The Portuguese right-back had a 92% pass success rate, created three chances and had two tackles. Most importantly, he cleverly assisted Porto’s all-important second goal in the 46th minute, running through the Juventus defense and setting it up nicely for Moussa Marega to slot in the back of the net.
Analysis looking toward next week:
Leipzig 0 - 2 Liverpool:
It has been historically difficult to beat Liverpool at Anfield Stadium, but without its boisterous fans, this year has seen the demise of Liverpool’s 68-game unbeaten home run. Due to COVID-19 regulations in Germany, the second-leg tie will no longer be played at Anfield as planned, and it will instead be held at the Puskás Aréna in Hungary. Having lost in the first leg, Leipzig faces a daunting task and will try to take advantage of the neutral stadium to make up for its goal deficit. The Germans will have to score at least two goals and concede none in order to get back in contention. A 2-2 aggregate score would send the match into overtime and possibly penalties to ensure that there is a winner. A 3-3 aggregate draw would send Leipzig to the quarterfinals on the basis of away goals. Liverpool will look to avoid either of these scenarios, hoping to keep its lead with a solid defense and pacey attacking line.
Barcelona 1 - 4 Paris Saint-Germain:
After crashing at home to PSG, Barcelona will have to score four goals at the Parc des Princes (and ensure that the hosts score none) in order to secure a spot in the quarterfinals. If Barcelona scores three goals and the hosts fail to score, the result will be a 4-4 aggregate with PSG progressing into the next round, having scored one more away goal than their opponents. Achieving an aggregate win for Barcelona will not be easy; if PSG manages to score any goals at home, the visitors will have to score more than four to achieve their aim. Although this seems far-fetched, it is not impossible — Barcelona found itself in a similar situation against PSG in 2017 when it lost 4-0 away in Paris and managed an incredible comeback to win 6-1 at home during the second leg. The Catalans will aim for the second remontada next week to reverse the goal deficit.
Sevilla 2 - 3 Dortmund:
Sevilla’s home loss two weeks ago means that to win, the Spanish team will have to score at least two goals in Dortmund while ensuring that the Germans score none. A mere 1-0 win for Sevilla would propel Dortmund to the quarterfinals for the first time in four years, as their three away goals from the first leg would hold more weight and break a 3-3 aggregate draw. However, it is highly unlikely that attack-minded Dortmund will be content with a 1-0 loss, and it will ensure that this second leg tie is goal-filled and exciting. A Sevilla win would be quite historic, as the club has only qualified for the quarterfinals twice before.
Porto 2 - 1 Juventus:
Porto’s win on Feb. 17 gives it a bit of an edge against Juventus coming into this second leg. However, having conceded a goal by Juventus in the 82nd minute, a 1-0 loss for the Portuguese next week in Turin would mean that the Italian giants advance instead. Juventus will hope to score at least one goal and concede none in order to go through to the next round. This will probably be the tightest match of the first week, and it is the only round of 16 matchup between two former Champions League winners.
Errata: This article originally stated that the Liverpool-Leipzig match will be played at Anfield, which was accurate at the time of writing. However, the Union of European Football Associations announced on March 4 that the game will be played at Puskas Arena instead.