With less than three weeks left before the restart of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, here is a breakdown of the big four matchups:
Juventus vs Lyon
With crowd noise and impact out of the question, it will be an even playing field in terms of the game setting. However, the game will be very intense as Lyon lead 1-0 on aggregate. Juventus, who do not have an away goal advantage, will have to keep a clean sheet in Turin. But, this may prove to be a daunting task, even for Juve’s backline. With Depay back from injury, and Moussa Dembele having looked threatening before the league was canceled. Lyon has proved that they can score. However, Lyon have been susceptible at the back and will need to once again have a great showing to stop the dynamic duo of Ronaldo and Dybala.
Not having played since March 8 – the squad will play in the Coupe de la Ligue final against PSG on July 31 – fitness and game readiness will prove to be a problem for the Lyon side. Juventus who have been playing excellent soccer since the restart and are top the table (once again), are looking like an attacking threat. Juventus have long solved their midfield issues which they faced against Lyon, with the trio of Rabiot, Bentancur, and Pjanic, along with Ramsey and Matuidi, working like a well-oiled machine. Their front three with Ronaldo, Dybala, and Bernardeschi has looked unstoppable, with Dybala finally finding his form.
Their fullbacks however will be the concern. Cuadrado has a natural attacking side to his game but lacks speed when chasing players back down the wing. Danilo has looked sharper, while Alex Sandro who has recently come back from injury is taking time to get resettled. Although Lyon does hold the 1-0 advantage, we know what Juventus are capable of – or you can say what Ronaldo is capable of, like we saw the previous year.
Manchester City vs Real Madrid
Once again, this matchup will not be affected by the crowd due to the restrictions in place. This matchup will certainly be the most interesting from the rest. Manchester City who were unable to secure a three-peat domestically, but coming off an important victory against UEFA, are looking to the Champions League to cement their status as European champions, albeit the first time.
Aguero is said to be injured for the clash, leaving Pep to start Gabriel Jesus, who has been performing better and better with each game. Their midfield is arguably the best in the world right now with the Spaniard David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne who have combined for 29 assists and 17 goals. They also have excellent wingers in Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, and Bernardo Silva who have the ability to change the game on their own.
Their defense is looking better with main-man Aymeric Laporte fully fit and playing regularly. Real Madrid who have come off a title-winning campaign are looking at their very best. Benzema, who was just short of the Pichichi, has been the leading force in Madrid’s attack, and become the focus since Ronaldo left the team. Kroos, Modric, and Casemiro are well functioning. Their defense has been the highlight of the season, having conceded just 25 goals, their best since the 1982-83 season.
Although Sergio Ramos will not be available for the game through suspension, the responsibilities will most likely be on Varane and Militao to shut out City. This matchup will be the one to look out for, as City look to win their first UCL, while Madrid is looking to add to their 13 trophies.
Bayern vs Chelsea
With this game pretty much sealed in favor of Bayern, there is very little to discuss. Bayern who not only leads 3-0 on aggregate but are also favorites to lift the trophy, should have no problem in keeping their lead. Bayern will look for a comfortable win, and try to get ready for whoever they draw next.
Chelsea, who is fighting for a spot in the top four, will have a daunting task in trying to overcome the deficit. Their offense may pose a threat, but their defense will certainly let them down – which has been the recurring theme of the season in Lampard’s first season in charge. This game should be shut and close, but in the Champions League miracles do happen, which Chelsea will certainly be wishing for.
Barcelona vs Napoli
This game will definitely be one of the more interesting matchups. This game will be of whose weaknesses will get the better of them. For Barcelona, who gave up their crown to rival Madrid, have lots of issues to fix, on and off the pitch. Even Messi criticizing the team and the management, saying that this team has no chance of beating Napoli, is a major cause for concern. Although finishing the season on a high note with a 5-0 victory over Alaves, they will have to perform similarly if they have any hopes of advancing.
Their overall team is clearly not at their best, and with Setien under pressure, Barcelona will hope to cling on to the away goal advantage to win the fixture. Napoli, under the lead of Gatusso, has looked much better than the beginning of the season. They know that even though Barcelona has not been playing at their best, they are still a formidable team to face. Napoli will have to win the midfield game and put pressure along the flanks.
Their defense will have problems going up against Messi, Suarez, and either Griezmann or Fati. Napoli knows they have a chance at winning this game, but once again it will come down to which team’s weaknesses will get the better of them. This matchup should still be exciting to watch, but both teams know they will likely be facing Bayern in the quarter-finals, which will be another difficulty itself.
Photo: Taiwan News