ATALANTA TO SHOCK PSG, MADRID GO OUT AND MORE: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PREDICTIONS
Following the conclusion of European leagues towards the end of July, Europe’s most prestigious competition resumes this Friday. Although a different format ensues with one-off games kicking off after the Round of 16, it promises to keep the fans entertained for the month of August. More Than A Game take a look at the first round of games and what we can expect as Champions League football is back.
Manchester City vs Real Madrid
One of four round of 16 legs, City lead the tie 2-1 and are seemingly in control. The first tie at the Bernabéu was a tactical masterclass from Pep Guardiola, with his use of two false 9s in Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva working as a master stroke that Real Madrid never got to grips with, with Gabriel Jesus starring as a sort of a left wing-back. Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane had no idea where to go, and City dominated the midfield and were able to break in behind.
The return leg promises to be a different game, considering Madrid were imperious following the lockdown and swiftly wrapped up La Liga in style. City, on the other hand, have been somewhat patchy, form wise. They have blown away sides like Liverpool and Arsenal but equally, their losses to Southampton, Chelsea and a limp display against the Gunners did not put them in particularly good stead for the most important 90 minutes of their campaign yet.
The defensive frailties that have cost them the title this season have re-emerged and with Karim Benzema leading the attack in ferocious fashion, Los Blancos are always likely to score. Whether they can grab two or more without response remains to be seen, but this is Real Madrid and the Champions League. Expect the unexpected. No Sergio Ramos is the factor that disproves that theory as the club’s lionhearted captain is synonymous with Madrid’s heroic comebacks in the competition.
Pep, however will have a masterclass up his sleeve once again and unlike previous seasons, they are defending not only a lead but have two away goals. This task might just be one too much for the Galacticos to overcome.
Manchester City 1 Real Madrid 1
Juventus vs Lyon
When Juventus were drawn against Lyon, the Old Lady were probably already looking ahead to the quarter-final. Lyon just about scraped through into the knock-outs and were anything but convincing in the group games. Juventus on the other hand won five and drew one and with Ronaldo at the helm, the Serie A champions are one of the favourites, prior to the knockout ties.
A Lucas Tousart goal in the 31st minute was enough to win the game for Lyon and take a precious 1-0 victory to Turin. However, the return leg promises to be different, even without the passionate fans on both sides.
We can expect Juventus to be fully on it from the first whistle to the last and the quality they possess might be too much for the French outfit to handle. We saw last year how Juventus blew Atlético Madrid apart with a Ronaldo hat-trick and it’s going to take a gargantuan effort for Lyon to stop the Juve avalanche of attacks to go through.
Plus, how can we forget about Ronaldo. The legend lives for Champions League nights like this, crowd or no crowd. Expect the Portuguese superstar to perform and Juventus to go through. Standard procedure.
Juventus 3 Lyon 0
Barcelona vs Napoli
Another tie in the balance, the Neapolitans travel to Catalunya with the game tied at 1-1. This is a result that suits Barcelona and they would be expecting to go through to the quarter finals. Napoli’s all-time top scorer in Dries Mertens put them into the lead before Barça grabbed a priceless away goal through Antoine Griezmann to put the tie firmly in their favour.
The second leg promises to be interesting. Barcelona have talked about how they have never truly recovered from Liverpool last season and Roma the year before, and they were in much more commanding leads. A goal from Napoli at any stage will make it extremely nervy for the Catalans, bringing flashbacks of European campaigns gone by. However, Barcelona could take advantage of the lack of a crowd. The loyal fans demand success at the Camp Nou and if Barcelona were to concede, the pressure might make some players shrink and hide. No crowd could allow the Blaugrana to play free from pressure and allow their quality to shine through.
And of course, we need to talk about the greatest player on the planet, Lionel Messi. The genius pulled another impressive season out of the bag, with 30 goals and 25 assists in all competitions.; outstanding considering he is in the twilight of his career. Messi will be hoping to finish this season with a trophy, after losing out on the league and with the Copa Del Rey suspended.
The Champions League has alluded them for 5 years and winning it would be the only way to truly heal after Roma and Liverpool. Expect Messi to stand up and force Barcelona through, by hook or by crook.
Barcelona 2 Napoli 1
Bayern Munich vs Chelsea
The last of the Round of 16 fixtures and definitely the one least in the balance. A quickfire double from Serge Gnabry followed by a customary Robert Lewandowski goal all in the second half saw Bayern Munich go to Stamford Bridge and run riot with a 3-0 win. It was a performance of champions and Bayern will be looking to complete the fabled treble for the second time in a decade following Jupp Heynckes’ success in 2012/13. Chelsea, on the other hand, will not be expecting anything from the tie.
Victory in the FA Cup final would have topped off an excellent first season for club legend Frank Lampard and bought more silverware to West London. Nevertheless, a top 4 finish was much needed and Chelsea have plenty to look forward to with Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner’s additions already confirmed, Kai Havertz likely and a few more could make the Blues serious contenders next season.
From this tie, expect Bayern to go full strength. The Bundesliga finished on the 27th June and whilst the players will be well-rested, they won’t be match sharp. With the game already wrapped up, it will be a chance for Bayern to give their players time to fully get into their strides for the Round of 16. Chelsea will go there with a depleted squad, having suffered injuries to key players Christian Pulisic, César Azpilicueta and Willian in the FA Cup final, with N’Golo Kanté missing the clash against Arsenal anyway could be a miss once again.
However, they will not want to suffer embarrassment and will go there for a win. We expect an uneventful encounter with little or no goals to be ensue.
Bayern Munich 1 Chelsea 0
Atalanta vs PSG
The first of the confirmed quarter-final ties and probably the most exciting on paper is between Gian Piero Gasperini’s firecracker of an Atalanta side and PSG and their band of ballers. Both clubs like to attack and have an abundance of talent in forward areas. In a one-off, winner takes all, it promises to be the game of the round.
PSG will be hoping Kylian Mbappé is fit- plain and simple. The mercurial forward has 18 league goals this season and his pace, in what looks to be an open game will be devastating. For all their investment, the Parisians have never made a Champions League final, usually bottling it in the second leg of ties. Apart from that, the absences of Marco Verratti and Ángel Di María are also bound to be huge.
However, the purchase of Idrissa Gueye from Everton was an astute one from Thomas Tuchel. Whilst obviously not the biggest name in the PSG side, he is an out-and-out holding midfielder, something they have been crying out for and the Senegalese showcased his worth with a masterful display against none other than Real Madrid in the initial stages of the competition. Gueye’s addition means they can see out games in a manner that the best sides in Europe do, and can only be a good thing in this season’s Champions League. Of course, Neymar remains the man to watch out for, but the entire ensemble must come together to make the mission possible for France’s heavyweights.
Atalanta have been this season’s Ajax. They have played an attacking brand of football that has demolished sides and won the hearts of the neutrals. If a one-legged tie was going to suit any side, it was going to be Atalanta. The strikeforce of Luis Muriel, Duván Zapata and Papu Gomez is a threat to any side and without the fear of away goals, they can attack almost fearless, just like they’ve done all season. Despite the outstanding Josip Iličić missing out, Atalanta are stacked in attack.
The Northern Italians will be confident they can outscore any side in the competition and we fancy them to be dark-horses for this year’s trophy. This is surely going to be a high-scoring game and one which will see the Atalanta fairy-tale continue.
Atalanta 3 PSG 2
RB Leipzig vs Atlético Madrid
Another fascinating quarter-final presents us with both sides playing English clubs in the round before and going through, although in different circumstances. Leipzig breezed past Spurs with 4-0 victory on aggregate. Atléti beat the English champions 4-2 over the two legs, with three of their goals all coming in extra-time at Anfield.
If Atalanta suited the one-off game tie format the most, the Rojiblancos suit it the least. As we have seen over the years, Diego Simeone’s warriors thrive on defending away from home and nicking 1-0 victories at the Wanda Metropolitan. The new format due to the pandemic will force Atlético Madrid to attack and that could see them exposed in the earlier stages. Almost certainly, the Madrid-based outfit will look for an early goal and then sit back and do what they do best. Do not be surprised to see Atletico go for the kill in the first 15 minutes of the game seeking that goal.
Leipzig would fancy their chances against Atléti, considering they are an amazing attacking side and can easily play on the counter. Like their opponents, they too will be seeking an early goal that will force Atlético out and leave space to attack in behind. In this game, the first goal is key and may be the only goal in the game.
A major loss for Leipzig of course, is Timo Werner. The striker had scored 28 goals for the Germans this season and his pace and lethal finishing is the face of Julian Nagelsmann’s stunning system. Chelsea’s brand-new No.9 will be a big miss for Leipzig as the Blues would want him ready from the get-go next season.
This game will be go right to the wire and one we expect to go into extra-time, possibly even penalties.
1-1 (Atlético Madrid 2-1 AET)