Our round-up of the Champions League Round of 16 sees Lionel Messi hitting two to push aside Arsenal, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring his 12th of the campaign in a victory over Roma, and Man City take a peek behind the door of the last eight for the first time in the clubs history.
Barcelona remains the favourites to retain their Champions League crown after a comfortable victory over Arsenal at the Emirates in the Round of 16.
It seems the only way to play against Barcelona is to let them have the ball, hope the trident up front has an off day, and to capitalise on some sloppy defending at the back.The problem with a strategy like that?
Your entire squad needs to be on point for 100% of the game. You have to focus and work harder than at any other time in the season. This is Barcelona, the greatest team in the world.
Two lapses in concentration allowed the greatest footballer in the world to put the game beyond Arsenal with 90 more minutes to play. The first came in the 71st minute when the Arsenal midfield pack failed to keep pace with the impressive Neymar. The Brazilian streaked clear, side-footed the ball to the onrushing Lionel Messi, and two touches later the ball was in the back of the net.
That first touch by Messi, as natural as it seemed, was pure class. It was the difference between the top echelons of the game and the rest. It put Petr Cech on his ass. Nine out of ten players would have panicked and hit the ball straight at him.
Messi made it two from the penalty spot 12-minutes later when Matthieu Flamini came on as a sub, and with his first contribution, upended the Argentinian in the area. Messi subsequently dusted himself off to put the ball into the net with undue fuss.
Arsenal had their chances. Most notably a six-yard sitter by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a header palmed wide from Olivier Giroud. In the first half, Aaron Ramsay looked good enough to play for the other side, as did Alexis Sanchez, but the one man who let the side down was Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman was wasteful, lazy, and looked way out of his depth on a field full of the greatest players on earth.
Arsenal now go to the Nou Camp on Wed 16 March hoping for a miracle.
According to the bookies, there are only two teams that have the capability of preventing Barcelona from being the first side to retain the Champions League trophy since the new format was introduced in the 1992/93 season.
Bayern Munich (3/1)
Bayern Munich is eight points clear of Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga and 23 points clear of Hertha BSC in third. They have scored 56 times and only conceded 11.
In the Champions League, they won five of their six games (losing away to Arsenal), scored 19 and only conceded 3 (two of them were in that Arsenal game).
They are a juggernaut, and for the first 45-minutes away at Juventus, they looked like one, they felt like one, and they moved like one. Last year’s finalists were a permanent fixture in their own half, and the game looked all over with 30-minutes remaining after Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben had given the Germans a 2-0 lead.
“Juventus made it to last year’s final, not us. We’re not dealing with a team from the provinces.” Said Bayern’s coach Pep Guardiola.
The Old Lady pulled up her stockings, threw down the zimmer frame and started playing back. They came into this game on the back of a run that saw them conceding only once in their previous 11 matches. They are made of stern stuff, as it was proven when Paulo Dybala and Stefano Sturaro scored in the 63rd and 76th minute to set up an interesting second leg on Wed, 16 March.
Real Madrid (3/1)
Real Madrid was the only other side, apart from Barcelona, who came through the group stages without suffering defeat. Their 2-0 win away at Roma means they have now netted 21-times and only conceded 3. Only Bayern Munich can match that record.
They may have played in grey, but there was nothing dull and dreary about them as they swept Roma away with a masterful away performance. The tie is as good as dead and buried.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 33rd goal of the season in the 57th minute. It was his 12th Champions League goal of the season meaning all bets are off for the Golden Boot award. He hasn’t scored this many Champions league goals since he smashed 17 into the back of the net back in the 2013/14 campaign; Jese Rodriguez sealed things with four minutes remaining.
Man City (28/1)
If you fancy an outside bet, then look no further than the 28/1 being offered for a set of blue ribbons from Manchester being slung around the Champions League trophy.
City was immense away at Dynamo Kyiv and are odds on to go through to the last eight for the first time in the club’s history after a comfortable 3-1 victory.
Cristiano Ronaldo and the front three at Barcelona are something special. Sergio Aguero wouldn’t look out of place kicking the ball around the park with any of them. David Silva is the key man for City. He was at the heart of everything, but, more importantly, was the solidity of the midfield and their desire to work.
City will always score goals.
It’s at the other end where their cracks start to appear. Vincent Kompany looked his usual excellent self, but the rest of the back line are very suspect, to say the least, but then again, so are Barcelona’s at times.
Here is a full rundown of the rest of the Round of 16 1st Leg results.
Round of 16 Results (1st Leg)
Paris St Germain 2 v 1 Chelsea
Benfica 1 v 0 Zenit
Gent 2 v 3 Wolfsburg
Roma 0 v 2 Real Madrid
Arsenal 0 v 2 Barcelona
Juventus 2 v 2 Bayern Munich
PSV Eindhoven 0 v 0 Athletic Madrid
Dynamo Kyiv 1 v 3 Man City
Champions League Latest Odds
Bayern Munich 3/1
Real Madrid 3/1
Paris St Germain 9/1
Athletico Madrid 14/1
Man City 12/1
PSV Eindhoven 150/1
Dynamo Kiev 2500/1