UEFA Champions League Round of 16 recap

December 16, 2019.

The day the UEFA Champions League round of 16 draw occurred. Here we are in early August and the quarterfinals have finally been established. Half of the clubs moved on to the quarterfinals in early March, while the other half did so this past Friday and Saturday. Before the UCL quarterfinals begin, let us look at the results of the round of 16. All scores are on aggregate.

Atletico Madrid 4 – Liverpool 2

The UCL is known for chaos in the knockout round and this was the first instance of it in 2020. In the first leg, Atletico Madrid’s defense shut down Liverpool’s blistering attack and notched a 1-0 victory after Saul Niguez’s header in the fourth minute provided all the offense Atletico needed. Liverpool was expected to win easily at Anfield in the second leg but that’s not at all what happened.

Liverpool tied it in the first half with Georginio Wijnaldum’s goal in the 43rd minute and the match went into extra time. From there, insanity broke out.

Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino tapped in a rebound to give Liverpool the lead. Minutes leader, Liverpool goalkeeper Adrian (filling in for the injured Alisson Becker) gave away the ball, leading to a goal from Marcos Llorente to give Atletico the lead on away goals. Llorente and striker Alvaro Morata scored to dethrone the defending UCL winners in the round of 16.

Diego Simeone has not lost to any club in the knockout round that football icon Cristiano Ronaldo was not on as Atletico manager. Liverpool was no different as his brilliant tactics stifled their attack and their attackers capitalized to move on in the UCL.

Paris Saint-Germain 3 – Borussia Dortmund 2

Dortmund striker Erling Haaland made a name for himself in the UCL group stage with seven goals in six matches for Austrian club, Red Bull Salzburg. He was brought to Dortmund in January and put the world on notice, scoring two goals in leg one against PSG to give Dortmund a 2-1 victory heading into the second leg.

PSG would go on to win the second leg 2-0 but Haaland’s impact was the biggest takeaway from this series. He proved on a big stage that he could score against the best clubs. PSG focused their entire defense on guarding him in leg two and they even mocked his zen celebration after Bernat’s goal. PSG was superior with all their talent but Haaland showed in this series he will be a force in this competition for years to come.

Atalanta 8 – Valencia 4

Serie A club Atalanta made history as they made it to their first-ever UCL knockout round. They took on Valencia, an unlikely club to appear in the knockout stage as they won their group, which included Chelsea and Ajax. Atalanta took to Valencia in the first leg, dominating their Spanish foes 4-1.

The second leg saw 32-year-old Atalanta striker Josip Illicic score four goals in a 4-3 win that took place with no fans in the stands as the coronavirus was just starting to break out and suspended sports worldwide. Atalanta has had an exciting attack all season and it was on full display during the round of 16.

Unfortunately, Illicic will miss their quarterfinal match against PSG for personal reasons. However, no one will forget his dazzling performance in the round of 16, the two biggest matches of his career to date.

RB Leipzig 4 – Tottenham Hotspur 0

Like Atalanta, Leipzig made it to their first-ever knockout stage of the UCL and made the most of it, advancing to the quarterfinals over last year’s runner-up in Tottenham. The first leg saw a Jose Mourinho-managed club without their two best scorers at home: Harry Kane and Heung-min Son. They put up a valiant effort but lost 1-0 at home after Leipzig striker Timo Werner slotted home a penalty kick.

Tottenham entered the second leg still down their two key scorers and still could not muster a goal as they lost 3-0, conceding two goals from Leipzig captain Marcel Sabitzer.

They lacked any strong attack with a depleted arsenal. Leipzig took advantage and will face Atletico Madrid in their first-ever quarterfinal UCL match.

Manchester City 4 – Real Madrid 2

This is the first of four matches where the two legs took place over five months apart and were played this weekend. Back in March, Real Madrid hosted Manchester City at the Bernabeu. After Isco gave Madrid a 1-0 lead in the 60th minute, disaster struck as Man City striker Gabriel Jesus scored in the 78th. Kevin De Bruyne slotted home a penalty kick five minutes later and club captain Sergio Ramos picked up a red card three minutes after.

Real Madrid would have a fantastic restart after the suspension, going perfect in La Liga and capturing the title over FC Barcelona. They looked to carry their momentum into the second leg. Then, Madrid centerback Raphael Varane, a usually stellar defender, suffered one of the worst outings of his career.

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema connected on a header in the 28th minute to give Madrid a desperately-needed away goal. Unfortunately for Madrid, it was sandwiched between two Man City goals both set up by Varane giveaways in Madrid’s defensive zone. Raheem Sterling and Jesus tapped in easy goals to advance Man City to the quarterfinals.

With Ramos suspended from the match due to his red card from the first match, Madrid and Varane looked lost without him, a long-term problem for the club as the 34-year-old Ramos is reaching the twilight years of his legendary career and they will need to replace his leadership at some point down the road. Real Madrid fans can hold their heads high as they won their league title but losing in the fashion they did was tough for the supporters.

Lyon 2 – Juventus 2 (Lyon advances on away goals)

Lyon had a rough season in Ligue 1, finishing seventh place and outside European play after Ligue 1 canceled their season early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these events, Lyon made it to the knockout round of the UCL and made the most of it, providing the biggest upset of the round.

They took on Mr. Champions League himself, Cristiano Ronaldo and the 2019-20 Serie A champions, Juventus. The first leg back in late February saw an incredible defensive effort from Lyon, allowing zero shots on target. Lucas Trousart’s goal gave Lyon the 1-0 advantage heading into Turin for leg two.

Memphis Depay and Ronaldo exchanged penalty kicks to give Lyon a two-goal advantage on the away goal tiebreaker. Ronado would not quit as he scored a world-class long-range curler to tie the score on aggregate. Juventus outplayed their opposition with 10 more shots and 63% of the possession. Despite that, Juventus could not get the one goal needed to advance and Lyon shockingly advances.

This is the first time since 2011 where Ronaldo has failed to reach the quarterfinals of the UCL. Real
Madrid has been eliminated in the round of 16 the two years following Ronaldo’s departure. Clearly, Ronaldo and Madrid are better together than apart.

Barcelona 4 – Napoli 2

Despite Napoli reaching the UCL knockout round, they sacked manager Carlo Ancelotti and replaced him with Gennaro Gattuso, a manager recently sacked by AC Milan. It was a questionable move for a club seemingly headed in the right direction in UCL play despite their struggles in the Serie A (the reason he was sacked). They headed into their clash with new leadership, hoping to give them the boost they needed to beat Lionel Messi and co. They tried but ultimately failed.

In leg one, Dries Mertens opened the scoring at home for Napoli but was ultimately canceled out by an away goal from Barcelona scored by striker Antoine Griezmann. Despite a late red card by Arturo Vidal, Napoli took the draw at home.

Their visit to Camp Nou went about as well as it does for most visiting clubs, terribly. Messi scored on an off-balance goal and controversial goals from Luis Suarez and Clement Lenglet gave Barcelona a 3-1 win, advancing them to the quarterfinals.

Napoli’s decision to sack Ancelotti was a questionable decision. One must wonder what would have happened if he led Napoli on the pitch against Barcelona.

Bayern Munich 7 – Chelsea 1

Of all eight UCL round of 16 series, this one produced the most expected result. Simply put, the 2019-20 Bundesliga champions dominated a Chelsea club with a weak defense and a young roster. Bayern is better in every way and they proved it emphatically in this series.

At Chelsea back in late February, Bayern dominated to win 3-0 and crush any hopes of a collapse at home as they dominated Chelsea 4-1. Bayern continues to dominate London foes in the UCL. In the 2017, round of 16, they blew out Arsenal 10-2. When they visited Tottenham in the group stage this season, they defeated the Spurs 7-2.

Bayern flexed their dominance once again but they still have not made the UCL Finals since they acquired superstar striker Robert Lewandowski seven years ago. They face Barcelona next with a chance to fix their run of bad luck in the knockout round.

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