Who on earth will win the Champions League?



Photo: Michael Probst (AP)

Barcelona. Real Madrid. Liverpool. Juventus. Manchester City. These are all European football teams, and in particular the UEFA Champions League round of 16 teams that seemed the most likely to win the double ear trophy on 1 June. Barcelona and Real Madrid have won the last five titles in the Champions League. Liverpool and Juventus have been losers in the last two finals and Manchester City has the best coach on the continent, Pep Guardiola, and is probably the best European team on paper.

You expect all these teams to win their round of 16 with relative relative ease; Liverpool and Juventus have drawn Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, both of which are neither child's play, but are not quite so good. that their recent history might have you believe. Naturally, the big teams in the round of 16 have almost almost unanimously dropped huge points on the procedure.

Barcelona and Liverpool have both played a draw 0-0, against Lyon and a team from Bayern who can not decide if it's good or not, respectively. (As a reminder, Bayern was not good on Tuesday, with the exception of Mats Hummels, who made his defensive performance of the season.) The Spanish champions have relied on Lionel Messi to almost comical this season and when he has a day is whitened by the opposition, as in Lyon, the blaugrana looks lost. At the same time, Liverpool's fast counterattack style continues to fight organized defenses, although the Pool Boys have and should have beaten Bayern if Sadio Mané had not forgotten how to hit the ball in the goal.

Last week was pretty much the same thing. Of course, Real Madrid won a 2-1 win over Ajax in Amsterdam, thanks in part to the improvement of its squad and partly to the superiority of Sergio Ramos. But the three-time defending champions had the chance to escape with this victory; Ajax beat them from the start and a strangely-named goal could have given new impetus to the young Dutch if it was the new addition of video criticism to the tournament. Madrid will likely advance comfortably, since it hosts the return match to Bernabeu, but the spark that she has always lit when the Champions League came into the playoff phase seems less likely to manifest this season .

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On Wednesday, the two favorites lined up on the story of the fight, one more embarrassing than the other. Juventus went to the stadium of Atletico Madrid, which is the site of this season's final, and lost 2-0 because of the rush into the area that led defenders to Atleti, José María Giménez, just minutes from goal scored. away by VAR – and captain Diego Godín. Atleti's much vaunted defense was also good on the other side of the pitch and kept Cristiano Ronaldo and his team-mates. to raise many credible threats. And now, they go to Turin for the second leg knowing that a classic defensive performance of Atleti will be enough to qualify for the quarter-finals. At the very least, Giménez's goal offered us a glorious celebration of Diego Simeone, which was undoubtedly aimed at VAR shenanigans:

Manchester City, the best team in Europe mentioned above, avoided a little more embarrassing defeat against Germany, Schalke 04, 14th in the standings. Two preventable shots for City in this match, as well as a second yellow of Nicolás Otamendi. the return match. But, Manchester City was overwhelmed by concern, they managed to bring in Leroy Sané, who scored a superb free kick in the 85th minute to tie at 2-2. Another goal from Raheem Sterling in the 90th brought the score to 3-2, which seemed to give the advantage to the Egyptian team. City will come home with three goals at the bank, but the way forward is not entirely clear. Fernandinho also received a yellow card, and the team seems significantly worse without their small tornado in the center of the field; their winter difficulties can be attributed to his prolonged absence.

While the traditional powers showed very little, the most appealing teams in this round of games were two teams with injury records longer than their bottling history. Tottenham defended his poor football pitch at Wembley with a complete 3-0 victory over German league leader Borussia Dortmund. Although we have already discussed the difficulties of the Spurs, the absence of Harry Kane has not slowed the number of goals scored. This is because left-wing and clever left-back, Jan Vertonghen, decided to play completely out of his mind, to establish the first game of Tottenham and to score one of his own to put the game out of reach.

And then, there is Paris Saint-Germain, who entered Old Trafford and defeated Manchester United. Despite the demise of Neymar and Edinson Cavani, the two most productive and productive players, PSG placed United behind the left foot of expert troll expert Angel Di Maria and video game speed of Kylian Mbappe. Neymar is probably back for the next round and unless a collapse of the PSG like that to which the Paris team is no stranger, the champions of France could find their shape and their health just in time to scare the favorites in contention.

And that's the problem: of course, this is just a round of matches and most favorites are likely to move forward. Liverpool faces the toughest route, needing to exit Bayern's Allianz Arena with a positive result; at least he will have the rule of goals on the outside in his favor. But the problems that have arisen in these first matches are not only related to the Champions League.

Barcelona continue to increase their lead in La Liga due to the propensity of their rivals to show a mediocre form, but their Messi problem is more than anything to the inability of one of his teammates to win. Luis Suarez looks straight forward, washed and more likely to fall than score when he receives the ball. Ousmane Dembélé was a flash, but he has also come back from another injury. Philippe Coutinho, his replacement, has not settled in the Catalan club and could leave this summer, if we believe the rumors.

Liverpool seemed to be a different team than the beating machine that beat the world in 20 undefeated games earlier this season, and its form on the outside in the Champions League was excruciating – three defeats in three matches, including defeating. Red Star Belgrade. Madrid is not going to see Ronaldo go through that door again and must score goals as he can. It is not ideal that 18-year-old Vinicius Junior is their best hope for goals, no matter how good.

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United may be in a minor upsurge with interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but overcoming a 2-0 deficit on the road is difficult for either team. Juventus has Ronaldo, but even he is not at his best in the tournament; he has only one goal in five Champions League matches for Juve, although he has at least 21 goals in national competition. The bianconeri also have a crisis of injuries and suspensions, Alex Sandro will miss the return match against Atleti, Sami Khedira will be away for at least a month and wingers Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi will both blows since the beginning of the month. And, as mentioned above, Fernandinho (in the middle) and Otamendi (in defense) will miss in City. That's enough to give Schalke at least a glimmer of hope to Etihad.

For the first time since the start of the race to dominate Real Madrid in 2014, there is no big favorite to win the Champions League trophy. Apart from the winner of the draw between Rome and Porto, there is no opponent that a team in progress should feel comfortable against the quarter-finals. Even if all this has resulted in disappointing performances and disappointments in the quality of the matches, parity among the very high European elites should make the next three rounds of the competition a fight more fierce than we have seen recently.

And who knows where we are going from here? At the end of all this, we could see Tottenham against PSG in the final, facing young players of third string out of necessity. Nothing that has happened so far in the round of 16 seems more likely than that. No one else is good.


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