The first legs of all the various UEFA Champions League matches have been completed, with some of the sides impressing more than others.
Here are a couple of key points that stood out during the last fortnight’s matches.
Barcelona the team to beat
The reigning champions didn’t dominate Arsenal during Tuesday’s match, but as soon as Lionel Messi’s first goal went in, the result was never in doubt. It is a scary thought that the attacking triumvirate of Messi-Neymar-Luis Suarez were kept largely quiet and yet Barca finished two goals to the good on the night. The Catalans have turned into something of a counter-attacking side, particularly away from home, which arguably makes them a more dangerous opponent in Europe than in the hay-day of Pep Guardiola. Can they defend their Champions League title this time around? It is a feat that nobody has ever achieved, and Luis Enrique’s side has at least as good a chance as any before them.
Same old problems for Arsenal
Whilst the scores were level, Arsenal looked as comfortable as can be expected against a side of the class of Barcelona, and created quite a few chances of their own. However, after falling behind, the same old concerns over Arsenal arose once more. Whether it relates to the way Wenger sets up his teams against the big sides in Europe – a tactical battle – or more of a mental block is a moot point. After losing in the last 16 of the Champions League for five years running with a sixth a near certainty, it seems little ever changes at the Emirates Stadium.
Bayern good, but not unbeatable
For the first hour of their match against Juventus, Guardiola’s Bayern side once again looked like the outfit most likely to rival Barcelona for the title. Arjen Robben seemed back to his tricky self, Thomas Müller imposed himself where ever he popped up and Douglas Costa again showed why the Bavarians were willing to pay all that money for him. Two second half goals by Juventus showed Bayern’s frailties – do they have a tendency to shut down mentally when they think the game is won, or does the intense pressing style of their Spanish coach have a negative effect on the players in the latter stages of their matches?
There’s life in the Old Lady yet
Speaking of Juventus – the Italians are once again looking like the side that reached last year’s final. After making a disappointing start to the Serie A season, which saw them languishing as low as 14th at one point, a 15-match winning run means Massimiliano Allegri’s side are once again on top of the standings in Italy. Their domestic form seems to have been translated into Europe as well. It would have been easy for their players’ collective heads to drop after going 2-0 down to Bayern, but to their credit they stuck to their task manfully and are in with a chance of progressing to the last eight.
City are dark horses
Despite their financial clout, Manchester City have always been less than impressive in the Champions League. Until this season, it seems. City looked like genuine contenders for the title after Wednesday night’s 3-1 victory in the Ukraine, a victory which made Manuel Pellegrini’s side the first English team to win an away Champions League game in the Ukraine since Manchester United in 2007. Only a dramatic capitulation in the second leg will prevent the Citizens from advancing to the last eight for the first time in their history, and a run deeper than the quarter-finals is very much on the cards.
Results in full
PSG 2-1 Chelsea
Benfica 1-0 Zenit St Petersburg
Roma 0-2 Real Madrid
Gent 2-3 VfL Wolfsburg
Juventus 2-2 Bayern München
Arsenal 0-2 Barcelona
Dynamo Kiev 1-3 Man City
PSV Eindhoven 0-0 Atletico Madrid