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Who the hell will win the Champions League?



Photo: Michael Probst (AP)

Barcelona. Real Madrid. Liverpool. Juventus. Manchester City. These are all European soccer teams, and more specifically the Champions League round of 16, likely to be home to the double-eared trophy on June 1. Barcelona and Real Madrid have won the last five Champions League titles between them, Liverpool and Juventus have been on the losing side of the last two finals, and Manchester City has the best coach on the continent of Pep Guardiola and is probably the best European side on paper.

You expect all these teams to win their round of 16 binds with relative ease; Liverpool and Juventus drew Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, none of which is a pushover, but both are not as good as their latest story can make you believe. Of course, the round of 16 major pages has almost unanimously lost massive business on the case.

Barcelona and Liverpool both saw plodding 0-0 draw on Tuesday against Lyon and a Bayern side who can not decide whether it is good or not, respectively. (For the record, Bayern was not good on Tuesday, except for Mats Hummels to put in his defensive performance of the season.) Spanish masters have relied on Lionel Messi for almost comical degrees this season and when he has an off-day or is tamed of the opposition, as it happened in Lyon, the blaugrana blazed. Meanwhile, Liverpool's fast-paced fire-retarding style against organized defense, although the Pool Boys wanted and should have beaten Bavaria, Sadio Mané had not forgotten how to kick the ball into the goal.

Last week was more of the same. Sure, Real Madrid scraped out a 2-1 win against Ajax in Amsterdam, partly because of having a better team and partly because Sergio Ramos is a very talented hothead. But the three-hour defending champs were lucky to escape with that win; Ajax outplayed them from the word go and a strange called goal could have shifted speed to the Dutch children, if not to the new addition of video review to the tournament. Madrid will probably come comfortably as it hosts the second leg of the Bernabeu, but the spark as they always turn on when the Champions League arrived at the knockout stages seems less likely to flare up this season.

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On Wednesday, both favorites fell in line with the battle story, even more embarrassing than the other. Juventus entered Atletico Madrid's home stadium, which by chance is the site of this season's final and lost 2-0 thanks to the scrambles in the box that led to goals from Atleti defenders José María Giménez-just minutes after Álvaro Morata had a goal. away from VAR and Captain Diego Godín. The sharp Atleti defense was also good across the track and held Cristiano Ronaldo and co. from raising many credible threats. And now they go to Turin for second place and know that a classic athletic defensive performance is enough to see them through to the quarterfinals. At least Giménez's goal gave us a brilliant Diego Simeone celebration, undoubtedly aimed at VAR shenanigans:

Manchester City, the aforementioned best team in Europe, narrowly avoided an even more embarrassing loss against Germany's 14th place, Schalke 04 Two clear penalties almost condemned City in this, like a Nicolás Otamendi second yellow who wants to see the Argentine Miss returned. But because Manchester City was stacked out of faith, they were able to bring Leroy Sané, who scored a beautiful free kick in the 85th minute to tie it to 2-2. Another goal from Raheem Sterling in the 90s made it 3-2, apparently unlocking the English side. City will head home with three-way goals in the bank, but the way forward is not entirely clear. Fernandinho also picked up a yellow card and then looks strangely worse without their tornado in the middle of the field. their winter fight can be traced back to his prolonged injury absence.

While the traditional forces showed very little, the best teams in this round of games have been two teams with injury reports longer than their history of bottling. Tottenham defended their foam home at Wembley with a massive 3-0 victory over German league leaders Borussia Dortmund. Although we have written about Spurs & # 39; injury games before, Harry Kane did not miss the goal scoring. This was because the center back was returned to the left when Jan Vertonghen decided to play out of his stupid mind and set Tottenham's open and scored one of his own to put the game out of reach.

And then there is Paris Saint-Germain who entered Old Trafford and put an absolute blow to Manchester United. Despite missing Neymar and Edinson Cavani, the club's two best and most productive players, PSG United jumped behind the left foot of expert troll Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbapp's video game speed. When Neymar is likely to return to the next round and exclude a PSG breakdown of the sort that the Paris side is unaware of, the French champions could round off in form and health just in time to scare the fighting favorites.

And that is the case: It has only been a round of battles, and most of the favorites are still likely to move on. Liverpool will undoubtedly face the toughest path to leave Bavaria's Allianz Arena with a positive outcome; At least, it will have gone beyond the goals to its advantage. But the problems that sprang up in these first games are not problems only in the Champions League.

Barcelona continues to expand its La Liga lead because of its rival's propensity to show poor form, but their Messi problem boils more than anything that any of his teammates can't do. Luis Suarez looks straight up washed, and more likely to fall over than he must score when he gets the ball. Ousmane Dembélé has been a bright place, but he has just returned from another injury; former replacement Philippe Coutinho has not joined the Catalan club and could be on his way out this summer if rumors are to be believed.

Liverpool have looked like a side other than the world-killing death machine that went 20 games without home help earlier this season, and its away form in the Champions League this year has been terribly-three losses in three games, including reducing Red Star Belgrade. Madrid will not see Ronaldo go through the door again, and then one must produce goals, but they can. It's not ideal that their best hope for goals is the 18-year-old Vinicius Junior, no matter how good he is already.

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United may be in a minor resurgence during interim chief Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but overcoming a 2-0 deficit on the road is not easy for any side. Juventus has Ronaldo, but himself he is not the best in the tournament; He has only one goal in five Champions League matches for Juve, although at least he has 21 goals in domestic. Bianconeri also has his own injury and suspension crisis, as Alex Sandro will miss the return leg against Atleti, Sami Khedira is out for at least a month, and the wings Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi are both careers from earlier this month. And as mentioned above, City will miss Fernandinho in the midfield and Otamendi in the defense. That's enough to give Schalke at least a glimpse of hope at Etihad.

For the first time since Real Madrid's domination began in 2014, there is no overwhelming favorite to take home the Champions League trophy. Apart from the winner of the Roma-Porto band, there is no opponent that any progressive team should feel comfortable in the quarterfinals. Although all this has made for some disappointing performances and some letdowns where match quality is concerned, the parity across Europe's very elite level should make the next three rounds of competition more of a dog's stroke than we have seen in the latest memory.

And who knows where we are from here? At the end of all this, we could see Tottenham against PSG in the final and play third-star youth players out of pure necessity. Nothing that has happened so far in the knockout round seems somewhat more likely than that. No one else is good.


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