With Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund and Porto already qualified for the quarterfinals, only four matches remain in the Champions League round of 16.
Two youngsters, Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland, have particularly impressed so far in the tournament. Many believe that their performances will soon replace those of the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo rivalry that have dominated the football world for so long. Together, the two have scored eight goals in this year’s round of 16 — six more than the combined goals of Messi and Ronaldo. Their displays have inspired many young kids at home and will certainly continue to entertain in the next round.
While the second week of leg one saw fewer goals than the first, there was no shortage of memorable moments. All four matches resulted in wins for the away teams, setting up a highly anticipated second leg that will definitely be replete with goals and excitement. From veterans adding to their European goal tallies to younger players scoring their first-ever Champions League goals, the second week showcased a plethora of footballing talent.
Looking toward the last week of the round of 16, let’s dive into the top performers of the last four matches of leg one and what each team will aim to achieve in the second leg on March 16 and 17.
Lazio 1 - 4 Bayern Munich: Robert Lewandowski
Bayern’s spectacular performance made it difficult to choose just one top player, but Poland international Robert Lewandowski deserves the mention. The striker took advantage of a lackadaisical Lazio back pass to give Bayern the lead in just the ninth minute. This goal made Lewandowski the third-highest goalscorer in Champions League history, and it earned Bayern the first of its four precious away goals.
Atlético Madrid 0 - 1 Chelsea: Olivier Giroud
This highly anticipated clash produced a goalless first half with few chances. However, luckily for the Blues, French striker Olivier Giroud put Chelsea ahead in the 68th minute with a stunning bicycle kick. The 34-year-old has had a large impact this season, most notably in the Champions League group stage when he scored four goals in a single match against Sevilla. The Frenchman’s strike against Atlético earned Chelsea an away goal and a lot of momentum going into the second leg.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 0 - 2 Manchester City: João Cancelo
Portugal international João Cancelo was the difference maker in Manchester City’s win over Borussia Mönchengladbach. The fullback had a 93% pass success rate and provided the assist for Bernardo Silva’s opening goal in the 29th minute. Cancelo also played a key part in City’s second goal when he sent another perfect ball toward Silva, who assisted Gabriel Jesus in the 65th minute.
Atalanta 0 - 1 Real Madrid: Ferland Mendy
Real Madrid got a bit of a boost in the 17th minute when Atalanta’s Remo Freuler was sent off with a red card for fouling Ferland Mendy in a one-on-one goal-scoring opportunity. However, Real Madrid failed to capitalize on the extra man until the very end of the match, when Mendy found himself with a chance to score once again. This time, the 25-year-old Frenchman did find the back of the net, as he skillfully curled the ball into the bottom-right corner with his weaker foot to secure Madrid’s all-important away win.
Analysis looking toward next week:
Lazio 1 - 4 Bayern Munich:
Lazio has a large hill to climb to reach the quarterfinals. Having conceded four goals at home — one of which was an unfortunate own goal — the Italians will strive to score at least four goals and keep a clean sheet in order to qualify. An impressive 3-0 win for Lazio would still not be enough to secure a spot, as Bayern would win on the basis of away goals. Bayern will look to keep its Champions League momentum going by creating more goal-scoring opportunities while maintaining a compact defense.
Atlético Madrid 0 - 1 Chelsea:
Chelsea has been flourishing under new manager Thomas Tuchel, unbeaten in its last 11 games in all competitions. The Blues will look to capitalize on this momentum and make the most out of their home leg. Having lost at home, Atlético will aim to score at least one goal and concede none. A 1-0 win for Atlético would send the match into overtime and possibly penalties. Surely both teams will aim to avoid this by securing a more decisive win within the original 90 minutes.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 0 - 2 Manchester City:
Mönchengladbach will strive to reduce its two-goal deficit against City, hoping for a 2-0 win that would give it a chance at redemption in overtime. City, on the other hand, will look to keep its lead and secure a spot in the quarterfinals early on in the match. If City scores any goals at home, the Germans will be faced with an even larger task and will have to match the Mancunians’ goal tally to win.
Atalanta 0 - 1 Real Madrid:
Atalanta’s home loss on Feb. 24 means that the Italians will try to score at least one goal and keep a clean sheet in order to be back in contention. A 1-1 aggregate draw would mean overtime and potentially penalties in order to confirm a winner. Real Madrid will want to steer clear of this scenario, looking instead to build on its one away goal by scoring more goals and conceding zero to ensure its entry into the quarterfinals.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.