UCL Round of 16 - Feb 12 & 13
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It’s felt way too long but the UEFA Champions League is back!!!
The draw was all the way back in December, many outlooks were had but many changes have occurred since then. Group stage statistics will not tell you the best picture of a team’s current form so it’s better to catch up and stay relevant to team changes that have occurred over the past few months.
These articles will give you a high-level analysis of each game so you can at least get a grasp of what to expect. Once lineups come out, that’s when the hidden gem plays pop out and the onus is on all of us to find them! Let’s keep it short and sweet!
Tuesday – Feb 12 – (2 games)
Porto @ Roma
December Outlook: An even draw with both teams pleased with their opponent, but the slight advantage going to Porto.
Current Outlook: It’s been a discouraging last few weeks for Porto. After losing their first chance at a trophy this season (falling to Sporting in a Cup final in penalties), they then went on to tie their last two league matches letting their five point advantage slip to only one now. In addition to that, they just lost Marega to a hamstring injury – he is their most influential attacker and without him there is cause for concern on the attacking side of things. He will be missed.
They have signed Pepe which solidifies their defence into a difficult task for any opponent to break through. Telles continues to be their set piece taker and with Corona suspended, he will have a monopoly over them in this first leg. Other than that, it is an away game for them and I believe a more defensive approach will be taken here.
As for Roma, they’ve been up and down all season but have been a strong home team. Dzeko is clearly their go-to goal scorer but has been a shadow of himself this season. He is still the massive target on sets which should be supplied by Pellegrini. Kolarov is a good one-two punch combo with him as well. It’s also interesting to note that El Sharaawy is Roma’s leading goal scorer in their domestic league. The one bright point to their season has been youngster Zaniolo who looks to have solidified a starting role.
PSG @ Manchester United
December Outlook: PSG by far and wide were the overwhelming favourites to proceed. Manchester United were expected to see their UCL run come to an end under Mourinho.
Current Outlook: Well, well, how things have changed dramatically.
Manchester fired Mourinho replacing him with Solskjaer and as a result, have gone unbeaten and are closing in on fourth place in the EPL which was once deemed by Mourinho as a miracle for that to be achieved this season. Pogba and Rashford have come out of their element and have been outstanding! Expect an inspiring performance from them here. Young and Mata take the majority of sets. De Gea should also be popular on this slate at his price tag and with PSG facing key injuries as will be noted.
It’s true, PSG is no longer a favourite to win this leg, or at least the first match of the tie. Neymar is sidelined for both legs while Cavani just got hurt on the weekend and has been ruled out for the Tuesday’s leg. That’s two primary attackers, 60% of PSG’s goals this year, gone! Mbappe will have to be the one to pick up the scraps but I expect United to close him down much easier with the other two ruled out. Di Maria and Draxler will look over sets and they will have to be influential if PSG is to muster anything on the United goal. Keep an eye out for where Alves aligns if he starts, he’s a free square.
Wednesday – Feb 13 – (2 games)
Real Madrid @ Ajax
December Outlook: At this point in time, Ajax honestly had a much better chance to pull off an upset. Real Madrid were trying to recover from their all-time goal scorer, Ronaldo’s, departure.
Current Outlook: Ajax still haven’t lost a league home game this year, but Real Madrid’s form has improved greatly. Along with that, Benzema has found his goal scoring touch and Bale looks to finally be healthy again. Those are two intimidating attackers that Ajax will have to deal with and it won’t be easy stopping them. But perhaps the most interesting piece to this attack is Junior who has adapted very well at the club and is lethal in attack. I still do not know why Kroos is priced so lowly given that he has a monopoly over sets.
Marcelo is always a nice piece to this attack but has seen his role diminished and he may be relegated to the bench here. No other wing back on that team has his upside but perhaps he’s defensive shape is not up to par, hence his relegation. Ramos has become Madrid’s penalty kick taker, and yes he is a centre-back. I also trust Navas more than Courtois in net, however, that will not stop me from targeting Ajax players.
Madrid has conceded an inordinate amount of goals this year, in fact, their away games in the league so far they have a +/- of zero (22 goals for, 22 goals against). Expect Ajax who is playing at home to show off their trade in front of their home crowd and I expect Ziyech to stand out among the pack. He should also be over sets along with defensive minded Schone. Tadic has also re-upped this year and has been playing much better, he is their leading league goal scorer. Tagliafico has had an impressive UCL campaign but I still have skepticism around him.
Dortmund @ Tottenham
December Outlook: These two teams keep on meeting in the UCL and I don’t think they mind it. Two even squads with equal chances of going through.
Current Outlook: This is one match where the outlook has stayed the same. There is only one major change and that is the loss of Kane on Tottenham’s side. They have felt the pain without their leading goal scorer but with Son back, it lessens the blow. Eriksen as a result has stepped up and helped to ease the pain in a more attacking role. With him partially over sets, Trippier has seen his monopoly decline and is also threatened by players like Lamela and Rose in that department.
As for Dortmund, Sancho has been their revelation this year and with Pulisic departing next season, he has been given much more playing time than he even expected this year. He has also been splitting sets with Guerreiro who is classified as a defender but has been playing in a wide attacking role. Alcacer and Reus remain their top goal scorers while Burki has lost a bit of shine but cannot disregard his clean sheet totals in the UCL.
Good luck footy fans! Let’s hear your thoughts!!!
For newbies and beginners, refer to the DFS soccer guide