Ewan James picks out the takeaways from the half-way stage of the Champions League Round of 16…
- Out With The Old In With The New?
While we are so used to watching Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo dominate on the European stage, in this first leg of the Round of 16 they both went under the radar. As both Barcelona and Juventus suffered defeats, the lime-light was taken away from the record-breaking goal scorers and snatched up by two new legends in the making.
After 22 year old Kylian Mbappe stunned the, albeit empty, Camp Nou with an incredible hattrick, the Norwegian wonderkid Erling Haaland responded with a devastating brace against an in-form Sevilla side. In an interview after Haaland’s MOTM performance, he claimed: “when I saw Mbappe scored a hat-trick, I got free motivation so thanks to him.”
In response to these comments, the footballing world went wild with talk of a new scintillating rivalry taking shape.
If Mbappe and Haaland continue to ignite the footballing world with such incredible performances, it seems fans won’t be losing the added excitement of an intense goal scoring rivalry
Although Ronaldo and Messi are still at the top of the European game and continue to battle it out for the GOAT title, it does seem that fans are looking ahead at life after these two stars hang up their boots. And, if Mbappe and Haaland continue to ignite the footballing world with such incredible performances, it seems fans won’t be losing the added excitement of an intense goal scoring rivalry.
- English Clubs Are Back At The Top
Looking back at the last 10 years in the Champions League, it has, without question, been dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona. Spanish teams have won 6 of the last 10 champions league trophies. There have also been 2 all-Spanish finals in that time.
Although it ended in defeat, Liverpool made the final in 2018, the first English team to do so for 6 years. In 2019 Liverpool won the trophy in an all English final, leading many to believe a spell of English dominance may return to the competition.
Despite a lack of English success in last year’s competition, this year looks very promising. All 3 English teams which made the knockout stages won convincingly in their first legs away from home.
By contrast, the Spanish struggled with Barcelona, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid all losing and Real Madrid only narrowly beating a 10-man Atalanta.
- Manchester City Might Actually Win It
While the first leg of the knockout stages was good for English teams in general, Manchester City beat Borussia Monchengladbach to go 26 games unbeaten in all competitions, leading to speculation that this year really could be their year in Europe.
During an astonishing run of form in the Premier League, which seems almost wrapped up in February, it will be interesting to see if they can maintain this form in Europe as well.
City have notoriously struggled in the Champions League, never making it past the quarter-finals, however it has been Pep Guardiola’s mission since his arrival at the Etihad to bring club football’s most treasured trophy, home.
- Liverpool’s Last Chance
Despite a woeful few weeks in the Premier League for Liverpool, dropping down to 6th and without doubt, out of the title race, their form in the Champions League still appears strong, after beating RB Leipzig 0-2 in their away leg.
If their form continues its downwards trajectory in the Premier League, success in Europe might be their only route back into the competition next year.
Liverpool are proven European giants and have shown before they can perform on the biggest of stages, even when struggling domestically
For other clubs this may be a fantastical idea, yet Liverpool are proven European giants and have shown before they can perform on the biggest of stages, even when struggling domestically.
Winning the Champions League may also be the only way out of total humiliation this season for Liverpool. After winning the league last year, many Reds’ fans were suggesting this team was the greatest in English history. Yet, after such a poor title defence, such claims are being, understandably, ridiculed.
- What Is Happening To Teams At Home?
So far this year in the Premier League, and in leagues across Europe, it seems that fan-less stadiums have caused the home advantage to vanish. In England, of the 17 teams that were also in the top-flight last season, 12 have seen dramatic drops in their home form.
This trend appears to have taken hold in the Champions league as well with every team but Porto losing at home in this first set of knock-out games.
Although slight differences at home were to be expected without the support of fans at games, it appears odd that the advantage has in fact been reversed and teams are now struggling more at home.
While, obviously, fans would much rather be in stadiums supporting their teams, this trend has made the Champions League in particular more exciting, due to plenty of away goals.
Now, we just have to wait for the second legs and see who will make the quarterfinals.
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