It’s been an enthralling week in the knockout rounds for Europe’s most coveted trophy. Here’s our take on the first set of Round of 16 games in this year’s UEFA Champions League:
Manchester United 0-2 PSG
10 wins out of 11 games, the Ole Gunnar Solskjær train was going full steam ahead of a clash against the French champions at the Theatre of Dreams. Injuries to the Ligue 1 side’s key personnel made United fans believe they could take the game to PSG, but a tactical masterclass from Thomas Tuchel gave Red Devil fans a reality check.
The Parisians’ manager man marked Paul Pogba, the focal point and driving force of a destructive United attack, with Marquinhos the man tasked with keeping the Frenchman. Utilised as a false number-six, something not used efficiently for decades, the Brazilian alternated between PSG’s back four and the midfield, joining dynamo Marco Verratti when it suited their French side’s shape.
After a first-half stalemate that saw few chances for either side, the visitors broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute when Presnel Kimpembe netted in from a corner, before doubling their advantage through the devastating Kylian Mbappé just minutes later.
The home side struggled to create clear cut chances with injuries to Martial and Lingard reducing their attacking threat down the flanks from the slowness of Mata as well as an out of form Alexis Sánchez.
A 2-0 lead puts PSG in pole position ahead of the return leg in Paris. It will interesting to see how Solskjær’s side react after a first loss under the Norwegian.
Tottenham 3-0 Borussia Dortmund
With the North London side missing Harry Kane and Dele Alli, many believed a tie against Bundesliga leaders Dortmund would be a tough mountain to climb for Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
Jadon Sancho ran rampant in the first half, bursting down the right flank on numerous occasions and creating problem after problem for the Spurs back line. Fine shot stopping from World Cup winning Hugo Lloris kept the sides level going into the break at Wembley.
Yet the second half was a completely different story, a galvanised Tottenham storming ahead only two minutes after the restart through Heung Min-Son’s volley from a Jan Vertonghen cross. Alongside keeping a lethal Die Borussen attack at bay for the next 40 minutes, the Belgian was once again at the centre of Spurs’ opportunities, thumping home a volley to double their advantage.
Substitute Fernando Llorente then headed in from a corner to give the home side a stunning three goal advantage, without conceding an away goal, ahead of the second leg in Germany.
Despite not spending a penny in the last two windows, Pochettino continues to work his magic with the North London side. They’re finally performing on the big stage, something they have struggled to do in Europe for several seasons. Even with their reputation for ‘bottling’, surely this is enough to take Spurs through?
Ajax 1-2 Real Madrid
3 Champions Leagues in a row, but with the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, could Ajax prove to be a stumbling block for Real?
The first half showcased the brilliance of a dynamic, exciting and dangerous Ajax team in their return to the Champions League knockout rounds. They dominated the holders for 45 minutes with Dušan Tadić hitting the woodwork and Hakim Ziyech testing Courtois.
However, the Belgian fumbled an easy catch straight into the path of Nicolas Tagliafico who headed in to send the Johan Cruijff ArenA into eruption. Yet VAR controversially ruled the goal out for a foul on the fortunate keeper. A perhaps complacent Los Blancos side survived an early scare and went into half time level.
20 minutes after the restart and the visitors had found their feet. The talented Vinicius Júnior dribbled through the Ajax box before squaring to Karim Benzema who crashed the ball first time into the top corner. Against the run of play, Madrid were leading. Yet the hosts responded 15 minutes later when Hakim Ziyech calmly side-footed the ball past Courtois’ right hand from 10 yards. Game on.
But experience proved to be crucial for the Spanish side when Marco Asensio tapped in from a Dani Carvajal cross with just minutes to play, to give the Spanish giants two away goals and a lead ahead of the second leg at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Like last year against Bayern Munich and Juventus, Los Blancos had managed to get a result despite being second best for most of the game. They know how to win dirty and cannot be overlooked in the discussion for this season’s triumphant side.
Roma 2-1 Porto
Roma’s season has been below expectation, with the side sitting 6th in Serie A and struggling to set the world alight. However last year’s semi-finalists met Portuguese champions Porto at the Stadio Olimpico.
The Italian side perhaps edged the visitors on chances in the first half, yet neither team could break the deadlock going into half time in Italy.
Chances continued to fall for both sides in the second half, Porto’s Danilo Pereira heading wide from 6 yards out and Lorenzo Pellegrini continuing to threaten the away side’s net. The game was going back and forth with neither side able to put the ball past Mirante or Casillas.
However, Nicolò Zaniolo, the shining light in Roma’s below-par season, opened the scoring in the 70th minute before tapping in a rebound off the post to give the Giallorossi a 2-0 lead within the space of 6 minutes. The 19-year old’s stock just continues to rise and is certainly a contender for signing of the season.
However, Porto ended up getting a result to be happy with after Adrian Lopez converted from close range to give the Liga NOS side a priceless away goal. This tie is very much open, despite Roma’s lead on aggregate, ahead of the 2nd leg at the Estádio do Dragão.
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