Champions League top 16
Champions League top 16
Alex Dudly
Alex Dudley

published 13:08, 03 March 2022

Bayern, Real Madrid & Manchester United On Champions League Tight Rope Ahead of Round of 16 Second Legs

The Champions League round of 16 is well underway, with the second legs in the stage set to take place over the coming weeks. Some of the huge sides in the competition could be running the risk of being eliminated at this stage of the tournament, which would end their hopes of getting their hands on the illustrious trophy.

Among the sides most at danger of being eliminated include Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. But, which sides look most likely to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League this season ahead of the second legs?

PSG Hold Narrow Advantage Over Real

The tie of the round undoubtedly comes as Real Madrid take on PSG. Both sides prioritise this competition at the beginning of the season, with the La Liga giants looking to extend their record run in this tournament to 14 wins. However, the Champions League is the one competition that has evaded PSG since their takeover in the 2000s. The Parisians came close to winning the competition a couple of seasons ago, but were narrowly denied in the final after losing to Bayern Munich.

The first leg between the two giants was a huge occasion, with no shortage of sub-plots to talk about. Lionel Messi was coming up against Spanish opposition for the first time since his departure from Barcelona, while Kylian Mbappe was facing the team that many believed he would be playing for next season.

Mbappe was the star of the show in the first leg, as he gave the Real defence no restbite throughout the opening game between the two in Paris. The match looked to be heading towards a 0-0 draw, but the French World Cup winner managed to squeeze home from a tight angle to give the Parisians a lead to defend in Madrid. There’s still a lot to play for in the fixture, but we fancy PSG’s chances of reaching the next round, as they have the players to play on the counter-attack with great success.

City Already Through To The Next Round

One tie with very little left to play for involves Manchester City, as Pep Guardiola’s side are comfortable 5-0 ahead against Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon. City will be looking to banish the ghosts of last season, which saw them lose in their first ever appearance in the final against Chelsea. Sporting will be looking to achieve something no other side has managed in the second leg, and that is come back from a 5-0 home leg deficit.

In truth, there is no chance that Sporting will be able to get back into this tie, as City showed in the opening leg that they are just too strong. Bigger tests lie ahead for Guardiola’s side, as they chase their first ever Champions League crown, and the second leg could present the Spanish coach with a perfect opportunity to rest some of his star players ahead of an important run of fixtures in the Premier League.

Even with a second string side likely to be fielded for the second leg, we can still see the Citizens running out comfortable winners at the Etihad in the second leg. City have been put into this strong position after a brace from Bernardo Silva and goals from Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling in the first leg.

Bayern Given Huge Scare In Austria

There doesn’t appear to be many shocks on the cards in the round of 16 in the Champions League this season, but the only major upset that could still occur is Bayern Munich being knocked out at this stage. The Bavarians couldn’t have gone into their away leg against RB Salzburg in better form, as they were one of three sides in the competition still boasting a perfect record after the group stages.

However, they were made to work extremely hard in their first leg in Austria against RB Salzburg to ensure that they weren’t going back to Bavaria with a disadvantage. It was a coming-of-age performance by Salzburg against one of the favourites to win the competition, and they deservedly went ahead through a Chukwubuike Adamu goal after 21 minutes.

But, the Bayern pressure continued to build in the second period and they cruelly denied Salzburg a famous win in their first appearance in the knockout stage in the 90th minute. It was once again the hero from the 2020 final, Kingsley Coman, who levelled the scores with virtually the last meaningful action of the match. All is still to play for in the second leg, but we fully expect Bayern to make their home advantage count at the Allianz and comfortably secure the win they need.

Jurgen Klopp’s Red Continue Charge

Only one side remain in the Champions League with a perfect record after the first legs in the round of 16 stage. Liverpool maintained their strong charge towards the final this season with another big victory on the road. Going into their first leg against Inter, the Reds had already won away from home at Porto, Atletico Madrid and AC Milan. They are quickly becoming the travelling specialists in the competition this season.

The San Siro has been a happy hunting ground for the Anfield giants this season, and they made it two wins from two at the famous Italian landmark with a straightforward 2-0 success against Inter. They restricted the Serie A champions to zero shots on target in the 90 minutes, and smashed two goals in the final 15 minutes with their only two shots on goal.

Roberto Firmino came off the bench to score an excellent header to open the scoring after 75 minutes, before Mohamed Salah maintained his excellent record in away European fixtures with the clinching second goal seven minutes from time. Inter will need to come out and attack Liverpool in the second leg, and that is only likely to play into the hands of the Reds.

European Champions Comfortably Ahead

Only Real Madrid in the modern era of the Champions League have been able to successfully defend their title. Chelsea are looking to join that illustrious group this season, and Thomas Tuchel’s side already look to have one leg in the quarterfinal draw after a comfortable showing against last season’s Ligue 1 champions Lille.

Lille haven’t been able to reach the same heights as last season, as they are languishing outside the European places in the French top-flight. They would have likely taken pride from their performance at Stamford Bridge in the first leg, as they did give it a go, and managed two shots on target. But, ultimately, they just didn’t have the quality to really test Chelsea.

The first goal was the first nail in the coffin of Lille at Stamford Bridge, as the Blues went ahead after just eight minutes. Last season’s winning scorer in the final Kai Havertz continued his love-affair with this competition with a fine finish. Lille showed signs of getting back into the game early in the second period, but the hammerblow for the French side came on the counter-attack as Christian Pulisic put the European champions 2-0 ahead.

The first goal could still be important in the return leg, but it looks incredibly unlikely that Lille will be able to get back into the game, even with a vocal support behind them. I’d expect Chelsea to cruise to a second straight victory and secure their place in the quarterfinals without conceding a goal in the tie.

Old Lady Fail To Get Over The Line

While Bayern Munich’s place in the quarterfinals is still in question, they appear a safe bet to get through. That means the biggest shock of the round could come in the fixture between Villarreal and Juventus. The Old Lady had been expected to get through this tie, but few would have expected them to make easy work of it. The first leg certainly follows that belief, as they will need to get past the reigning Europa League holders the hard way.

Villarreal have been somewhat of a specialist in European competition over recent seasons, and that was evident in their Europa League success last season. But, any chance of them going deep in the Champions League this season appeared to be unlikely. Their aim in the first leg would have been to stay in the tie, which looked like a harder assignment after Dusan Vlahovic opened the scoring less than a minute into his Champions League debut.

However, Villarreal have often been a rigid side to break down, and they were able to close up shop and reduce the Old Lady to just a single shot on target in the remainder of the game. Once they were able to feel defensively solid, they tried to get back into the game, and produced a number of openings before finally getting on the scoresheet through Dani Parejo with just under half an hour remaining. They looked the more likely of the sides in the closing periods, but they will head to Turin knowing that a narrow victory will send either through to the quarterfinals.

Atletico And United’s Fates Hang In The Balance

The most interesting tie in the round of 16 saw Manchester United and Atletico Madrid clash in the Spanish capital. Interest was high regarding this tie, as both sides have failed to reach the highs that many expect of them throughout the 2021-22 season, and the Champions League is realistically the best hope that either have of getting their hands on silverware this campaign.

United needed Cristiano Ronaldo to make it through to this stage of the competition, while Atletico also failed to hit top gear in the group stages, and needed their fair share of luck to progress. It was the hosts that started the better of the sides, and they deservingly went ahead after just seven minutes courtesy of a superb header from Joao Felix.

However, despite the dominance that Atletico enjoyed in the first half, they couldn’t register another shot on target, and were made to pay as United played their way into the game. The Red Devils stole an equaliser in the 80th minute as Anthony Elanga came off the bench to give United the draw that keeps their hopes of reaching the quarterfinals in tact.

The second leg is once again a very open affair. United’s troubles at Old Trafford this season have been well documented, while Atletico haven’t managed to get into any kind of form on the road. Fans could be in for a long night at the Theatre of Dreams, as a penalty shootout could be needed to separate the sides.

Ajax Squander Glorious Chance

Ajax were the third side still boasting a perfect record as the round of 16 got underway in the Champions League, but like Bayern, their record came to an end with a draw in their opening leg match-up against Benfica. The match couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for the Dutch outfit, as they went ahead after 18 minutes through Dusan Tadic.

Benfica’s home form in the competition this term has been impressive, and confidence would have been high after beating Barcelona 3-0 in the group stages. The Portuguese side levelled the scores in the 26th minute through a Sebastien Haller own-goal. However, one of the star’s of the competition so far made amends just three minutes later, as he rattled in his tenth goal in the competition this season to put Ajax back ahead.

The Dutch side had countless opportunities to put the game out of sight, and were made to pay for not doing so when Benfica levelled for the second time on the night through Roman Yaremchuk with 18 minutes remaining. The tie now moves to Amsterdam with Benfica looking to cause an upset. However, I still struggle to see past Ajax advancing through with a straightforward win at the Amsterdam Arena.

City Remain Clear Favourites In Betting

Manchester City remain the side at the top of the betting to win the Champions League after the first legs. City are currently 9/4 favourites with Bet365, with fellow Premier League side Liverpool second favourites at 7/2. Bayern Munich may be considered as the value play at present, as they are 9/2 since their place in the quarterfinals is far from assured.

However, I like the chances of PSG winning the competition this season, and 7/1 is excellent value given that they were much shorter than that at the beginning of the 2021-22 season.

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