The Champions League finally picked up where it left off, as the four remaining second legs of the round of 16 were wrapped up this week. The matches did not disappoint, as upsets, goals and Robert Lewandowski left their impact and paved the way for the quarterfinals in Lisbon.
Juventus 2, Lyon 1 (Tied 2-2 on aggregate, Lyon advances on away goals)
Chanun Ong: With the proud pedigree of Cristiano Ronaldo leading the line, Juventus entered the competition as dark horses to lift the trophy. Nobody expected Mr. Champions League to bow out in the round of 16, even after a Lucas Tousart first-leg goal stunned the Italian champions.
Lyon led 1-0 heading into the second leg in Turin, but it had played only two competitive matches in the intermission, while Juventus had played a full Serie A schedule. Still, the French side came out with an initial attacking swagger that had the Bianconeri on edge. Ten minutes in, Houssem Aouar burst into the box and Federico Bernardeschi unfortunately tripped him to hand Lyon an early penalty. Then, Memphis Depay audaciously converted with a Panenka to secure a crucial away goal.
Ronaldo refused to go quietly as he scored both goals for the Old Lady, one from the penalty spot and the other with a rocket of a weak-foot shot from well outside the box. He came agonizingly close to a hat trick in the 70th minute, which would have sent Juventus through, but he was ultimately the lone bright spot in an attack that was stuck in neutral gear.
The shocking elimination spelled the end of manager Maurizio Sarri’s tenure, and his replacement, Andrea Pirlo, may need to rally reinforcements to aid his golden goose if Juve plans to make a deep Champions League run soon. With the way that Ronaldo has been aging (that is, seemingly not at all), expect to see Juventus back for more next year.
Manchester City 2, Real Madrid 1 (Manchester City wins 4-2 on aggregate)
Jasper Kenzo Sundeen: With captain Sergio Ramos suspended, concerns inevitably began with his replacement in Real Madrid’s starting squad, Éder Militão. It would, however, be his veteran defensive partner Raphaël Varane who would have the night to forget as Real Madrid tumbled out of the Champions League. The Frenchman was caught in possession deep in his own box in the game’s opening stages, as Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus easily dispossessed the defender and teed up Raheem Sterling for a tap-in finish.
Los Blancos remained undeterred, growing into the game as the first half wore on. Real Madrid looked dangerous, attacking from the wings and feeding star forward Karim Benzema. That work paid off 28 minutes into the first half, as Benzema decisively nodded in a cross to put the Spanish champions even on the evening.
The match settled into a steady back-and-forth, as both sides sought a crucial next goal, which seemed more inevitable after each missed chance. Both goalkeepers stood out, but it was Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois who really performed, as he consistently denied the Citizens at close range and kept his team in the tie.
The tie stayed balanced on the edge of a knife through halftime, but it could not last, as a Varane error proved to be the death blow for Real. An errant backpass left the ball in no man’s land, and Jesus was — once again — on hand to take advantage of his opponent’s mistakes. The Brazilian skipped through the defense and turned a decisive chip past Courtois.
For the second consecutive year, Real Madrid has been eliminated in the round of 16. After three consecutive triumphs in the middle of the decade, this result may trigger a shake-up at the Santiago Bernabéu. Manchester City, however, will seek to supplant the vanquished royalty in Lisbon.
Barcelona 3, Napoli 1 (Barcelona wins 4-2 on aggregate)
CO: It’s been awhile since Barcelona looked this vulnerable. Domestically, La Liga rival Real Madrid mounted a late push to steal the title, as the Catalans suffered a decisive, unceremonious loss to 10th-placed Osasuna. To compound problems, the sale of 24-year-old midfielder Arthur Melo to Juventus in a swap deal for an aging Miralem Pjanić and 12 million euros had fans questioning the priorities of the club’s board.
On the back of Lionel Messi’s brilliance and the support of youngster Frenkie de Jong, the otherwise-mediocre Blaugrana came away with a much-needed win in their return to the Champions League. Napoli’s Dries Mertens nearly caused a first-minute calamity after a bounce off of Gerard Piqué put him through on goal, but the Belgian clanged his shot off the crossbar. Clément Lenglet headed in a corner kick to open the scoring, but Messi would open the floodgates later in the half.
A spectacular solo effort saw the Atomic Flea turn three defenders inside-out, fall over and get back on his feet before curling a shot past a helpless David Ospina. The Argentine also won a penalty after a timely press unsettled Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, who tried to clear the ball and ended up kicking Messi’s left boot instead — Luis Suárez converted to put the match out of reach on the cusp of halftime. Lorenzo Insigne scored a spot kick for the visitors in response, but it was merely a consolation goal as Barcelona squeaked past the Italians and into the quarterfinals.
Bayern Munich 4, Chelsea 1 (Bayern Munich wins 7-1 on aggregate)
JKS: To call this result surprising would be a gross exaggeration. Trailing by three away goals in the tie, Chelsea entered this tie without key men César Azpilicueta and Christian Pulisic. Bayern Munich was the winner of 17 straight competitive matches and made it clear from the start that this would be No. 18.
Lewandowski has been one of the world’s best this year, and it took him all of 10 minutes to prove why. The Polish striker earned and converted a penalty before adding two assists and another goal throughout the course of the game. Chelsea had a charming Callum Hudson-Odoi goal called back by video review and scored to end the first half, courtesy of Tammy Abraham’s left boot and Emerson Palmieri’s silky play, but the Blues’ lackadaisical defending stood in sharp contrast to Bayern’s energetic press. The Bundesliga champions could have scored several more — Thomas Müller was particularly dangerous — but were content to use all five substitutes in the game’s latter stages, attention already on a quarterfinal clash with Barcelona.
Chelsea’s revitalized attack will surely be back for more after ensuring Champions League football next season, but for Bayern Munich, all eyes are on the treble.
All four winners will travel to Lisbon for a unique, single-game elimination format. The other four quarterfinalists have already been decided, and both halves of the bracket are set. Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester City or Lyon will challenge Paris Saint-Germain, Atalanta, RB Leipzig or Atlético Madrid for a Champions League title.
Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona
CO: If you can contain Messi, you can contain Barcelona. Strike partners Suarez and Antoine Griezmann have turned in lackluster performances in recent matches, and Messi is odds-on to shoulder most of the offensive burden as the Catalan side looks to overcome a favored Bayern Munich.
Stopping the six-time Ballon d’Or winner is no cakewalk, and Bayern knows this better than most. In a moment memorialized in internet memes, Messi broke the ankles of Jérôme Boateng and chipped a shot past Manuel Neuer as the Bavarians collapsed in the 2015 Champions League semifinals. That year, the attacking spark provided by Neymar and the creativity of club legend Andrés Iniesta supplemented the Argentine’s genius. Now, with Barcelona struggling to find answers that don’t start with “Lionel” and end with “Messi,” a rejuvenated Bayern can smell blood in the water.
Striker Lewandowski has consistently played in the shadow of Messi and Ronaldo on the continental stage, but the Polish national has been unerringly reliable this campaign for the Bundesliga champions. The Bayern talisman is currently the Champions League’s top scorer, supported by an eccentric cast that includes local hero Müller, clinical Serge Gnabry, dangerous utility man Joshua Kimmich and a host of many other capable threats. Their cohesion shows — Bayern’s 18-match winning streak in all competitions is a testament to the completeness and depth of its squad. Both teams will need time to feel each other out in a one-legged tie, but Lewandowski will be lurking to pounce on any errors by the Barcelona defense. Expect Messi to be ever-present in the final third, but the amount of space that Bayern gives him can decide the game.
CO: 3-1, Bayern Munich
JKS: 2-1, Bayern Munich
Manchester City vs. Lyon
JKS: If Lyon proved nothing else in its previous matchup against Juventus, it solidified its status as a wild card, as Lyon unceremoniously dumped Juventus from the competition after playing a solitary competitive match in the prior four months. Manchester City has been a wild card in an entirely different fashion. The Citizens were aided by several mistakes in their second-leg tie against Real Madrid and have looked alternately unbeatable and vulnerable in domestic competitions. Manchester City star Sergio Agüero may be absent, but all eyes will stay on these two teams’ attacks. The Sky Blues will be led by Jesus and Sterling, with star man Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings from the midfield. Depay will be Lyon’s key man, and the sensational Aouar will seek opportunities behind him. Ultimately, however, this will come down to which defense cracks first. Manchester City will pour on the attack, while Lyon will seek to hold fast in hopes of a solitary winner.
CO: 4-1, Manchester City
JKS: 3-0, Manchester City