Better late than never: Previewing the Champions League’s return

Champions League
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On Aug. 7, Europe’s most famous club football competition will make its return. After taking the necessary coronavirus precautions, 12 teams remain in contention for a Champions League title. 

Round of 16

Before the COVID-19 postponements in March, only half of the round of 16 ties were completed. This left four matches unfinished and four quarterfinalist places undecided. Those remaining games will be played out in August at the allocated hosts’ home stadiums.

Real Madrid vs. Manchester City

First leg: Manchester City won 2-1 at Real Madrid

Preview

Jack Whaley: Manchester City already has a one-goal lead on Real Madrid going into the two sides’ second and final match. Both teams have been on a tear lately, with Real Madrid clinging on to first place in La Liga and Manchester City likely securing second place in the Premier League. With Raheem Sterling on a hot streak, his play will be key to City’s success, as will Kevin De Bruyne’s and Sergio Agüero’s. Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos is already suspended from the match, so the Citizens may find an easier time getting the ball in the back of the net. It will likely be another game with goals from both sides as these two top talents collide, but it will be too tough for Madrid to make up the 2-1 deficit that it put itself in after the first match, especially considering that Madrid was at home. City could just need one goal to see itself move into the next round, but I predict we’ll see even more than that from the light blue.

Second leg prediction

JW: 3-1, Manchester City advances

Spencer Golanka: 2-2, Manchester City advances

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen: 3-2, Real Madrid comes back and moves on

Lyon vs. Juventus

First leg: Lyon won 1-0 at home

Preview

JKS: Juventus fields a veteran, star-powered lineup. Cristiano Ronaldo is still firing on all cylinders even at age 35, with 32 goals in all competitions this season. The Portuguese forward is somewhat of an expert in the tournament, having won five Champions League titles. The Old Lady has a dynamite supporting cast flush with talent and experience, including legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who has never won a Champions League trophy.

Lyon fields the opposite: a youthful squad brimming with untested potential. The French side is centered around one of the game’s brightest young stars, midfielder Houssem Aouar, and will also welcome forward Memphis Depay back from injury for its trip to Italy. Lyon will also have additional motivation — after the cancellation of the remainder of the Ligue 1 season, a Champions League triumph is the club’s only path to European competition.

The difference-maker, however, may be form. Domestic cancellations mean Lyon will only play in several friendlies and a Coupe de la Ligue final against Paris Saint-Germain this month, but that is little compared to Juventus, which has played regularly in the resumed Coppa Italia and Serie A. While Lyon will doubtlessly make this match an interesting one, it may be unable to stop a Juventus team that has had plenty of time to shake off the rust from months of quarantine.

Second leg prediction

JW: 1-0, Lyon advances on penalties

SG: 2-0, Juventus advances

JKS: 3-1, Juventus advances

Napoli vs. Barcelona

First leg: 1-1 draw at Napoli

Preview

JKS: Both of these sides have suffered disappointing domestic campaigns. Napoli sits in sixth in the Serie A, unable to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Injuries, poor results and alleged administrative tumult have contributed to Barcelona’s slip from the top of La Liga, where it acceded the title to rival Real Madrid after the return to play.

Of the two, however, Barcelona appears to be in far worse shape. Lionel Messi has yet to sign a new contract, and questionable transfer decisions have left this squad thin. Morale seems to be low at Camp Nou, and an upset may be in the air. Napoli certainly has the potential, led by hometown hero Lorenzo Insigne and defender extraordinaire Kalidou Koulibaly.

But Messi is still Messi, and as long as his name is in the starting lineup, there is hope yet for the Catalan side. Barcelona trounced Alavés 5-0 in its final La Liga game, and Napoli does not have the quality to stop the Argentine magician if he is in form. Messi’s star power may be just enough to get Barcelona into the quarterfinals, though the squad can no longer be considered a favorite for the title.

Second leg prediction

JW: 4-1, Barcelona advances

SG: 1-1, Napoli advances after penalty kicks

JKS: 4-2, Barcelona advances to the last eight

Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich

First leg: Bayern Munich won 3-0 at Chelsea

Preview

JW: A 3-0 deficit is extremely difficult to come back from, and Bayern Munich has been in top form lately with 25 straight games across all leagues without a loss. It’s hard to imagine the team blowing this streak in a 4-0 loss to Chelsea all of a sudden. To be fair, Chelsea has had a solid year and currently finds itself in third place in the Premier League, but taking down the powerhouse that Bayern Munich is by four goals is a nearly impossible feat. Chelsea also has some key injuries to Christian Pulišić, N’Golo Kanté and Callum Hudson-Odoi. If these three injuries and a 3-0 deficit weren’t enough, I should mention that Jorginho and Marcos Alonso are suspended for this match as well. It will surely be a tough game for Frank Lampard’s squad, and Bayern will likely see itself advance.

Second leg prediction

JW: 2-0, Bayern Munich advances

SG: 2-1, Bayern Munich advances

JKS: 3-1, Bayern Munich advances 

Quarterfinals

Half of the scheduled quarterfinal ties were completed. Four teams booked their tickets to the last eight before COVID-19 brought the sports world to a halt, and those squads will face a unique last eight. Instead of home-and-away ties, the quarterfinals will be a single-game elimination tournament in Lisbon.

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Atalanta

Preview

SG: Regardless of how the round of 16 concludes, all signs point to this matchup being an epic, chaotic shootout. Paris Saint-Germain, with enough individual talent to turn any neutral fan’s pandemic depression on its head, is under far more pressure to advance to the next round, presumably because it has never in history reached the Champions League semifinals.

PSG has always had the talent to reach the promised land, but has lacked the fortitude in the crucial moments to do so. Unfortunately for the team, standing in its way is the highest-scoring Italian Serie A side in nearly 70 years. Atalanta is on a 16-match unbeaten run, its success spearheaded by its potent striker Josip Ilicic, who has tallied 21 goals in all competitions so far.

What stood before the pandemic for both of these sides still stands today: Both are more than capable of scoring, but lack the defensive discipline to comfortably put opponents away. In the special circumstances under which this tournament will commence, the team with more experience post-pandemic, which Atalanta will possess going into this tie, might have the edge.

Prediction

JW: 2-1, Paris Saint-Germain advances

SG: 4-3, Atalanta advances

JKS: 4-3, Paris Saint-Germain advances 

RB Leipzig vs. Atlético Madrid

Preview

SG: An interesting matchup nonetheless — the two-time tournament runner-up Atlético Madrid, which left Anfield triumphantly after defeating defending champion Liverpool in the round of 16, will face a hungry German Bundesliga side in RB Leipzig. Leipzig will enter Lisbon with a gaping hole in its attack after its prolific striker Timo Werner was sold to Chelsea earlier this summer.

Theoretically, the fate of the matchup lies on the shoulders of the Leipzig attack, which has scored 34 more goals domestically than its Spanish counterparts have. If it can break down Atlético’s resolute defense and get under its skin, it’s possible that Leipzig can reach the semifinals for the first time in history.

Leipzig has shown its defensive fortitude as well, having allowed only 37 goals so far this season. Taking into account each team’s lack of prominent attacking prowess, a single goal could decide who moves on.

Prediction

SG: 2-1, Atlético Madrid advances

JW: 1-0, Atlético Madrid advances

JKS: 1-0, Atlético squeaks through 

Contact Jack Whaley, Spencer Golanka and Jasper Kenzo Sundeen at [email protected].