The knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League kicked off on Feb 13-14, with four of the Round of 16 clashes. The other four were played out this week on Feb 20-21.
Of the eight ties, three have been all but settled. Liverpool, Manchester City and Bayern Munich have more than just one foot in the last eight, with landslide wins against their opponents.
Liverpool were at their devastating best, as they conjured the result of the Round of 16 so far, beating Porto 5-0 away with Sadio Mane grabbing a hat-trick. Man City almost pulled off the same result away to FC Basel, where the English league leaders won 4-0, with Ilkay Gundogan scoring a brace. Bayern Munich, meanwhile, thumped Besiktas 5-0 at home, with braces each for Thomas Mueller and Robert Lewandowski to virtually put themselves in the quarters.
Of the remaining five first legs, Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk won their home matches, however both did concede away goals. Shakhtar came from behind to overcome AS Roma 2-1, with goals from Faccundo Ferreyra and Fred, leaving the tie on a knife-edge for the return leg at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Two-time defending champions Real Madrid would have been comfortable favourites to put the tie to bed in the return leg having won at home 3-1, had they been playing any other side. However, against a Paris Saint Germaine side that is firing on all cylinders, especially at the Parc des Princes, the tie is far from settled. Even the 3-1 final score line, wasn’t quite reflective of the match, where proceedings were dominated in large part by the away side.
All three of the other Round of 16 clashes ended in draws, with all three away sides feeling confident of doing the job at home. The most impressive of these results was mustered by Tottenham Hotspurs, that pulled off a staggering comeback after going 2-0 down to end the first leg at 2-2. Gonzalo Higuain scored a brace for the home side to put them 2-0 within 10 minutes, and then missed a penalty after Harry Kane had made it 2-1. Christian Eriksen scored late to make it 2-2, leaving Spurs a low-scoring draw or a home win away from the quarters.
The two contests between English and Spanish clubs ended in draws, but left the Premier League sides with contrasting tasks in the return legs. After Willian made it 1-0 for home side in the second half, Lionel Messi equalised, scoring his first goal against Chelsea in his ninth attempt, meaning that Barcelona take a 1-1 draw to the Nou Camp. This means that Chelsea will have to score away, and more intimidatingly, need to stop a rampant Barca side from winning at home.
Manchester United will be happier with their 0-0 away draw at Sevilla, especially since that is what they set the stall out to achieve, and now need a home win to reach the quarters. However, failing to score in the first leg means that United can’t afford a scored draw at home, and considering how difficult it is to stop this Sevilla side from scoring – even though Jose Mourinho’s side managed to do that in the first leg – the English side would in all likelihood need to win the match to qualify – barring of course another 0-0 draw and penalty shootout.
With Liverpool, Munich and City all set for the quarters, the remaining five slots are still very much up for grabs. The three highest profile matches Real-PSG, Juventus-Spurs and Barcelona-Chelsea can still go either way, but Barcelona would be the overwhelming favourites at the Nou Camp.
Spurs would fancy their chances to not be beaten at the Wembley Stadium against Juventus. However, it is important that Mauricio Pochettino’s side don’t let go of their modus operandi, knowing that restricting Juve could also suffice in their qualification through to the last eight. However, with the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Mattia De Sciglio missing out on the World Cup with Italy, the Champions League remains their ultimate ambition this season – especially after losing the final to Real last year. However, Spurs might have too much attacking flair at home and might just edge out the Italian champions.