As we have a week left until the best club competition in the soccer world, the UEFA Champions League, returns, now is a great time to look back at the last 2 weeks’ leg 1 matches, and predict who will be making it into the quarterfinals.
For those who are less familiar with this competition, it is to determine the best soccer club in Europe. The way it works is that teams from the best domestic league in every major European soccer country (ex. England, France, Spain, etc) are put into a giant pool of 32 teams based on who finishes at the top of their league the prior season. Then, those teams are placed into 8 groups of 4 teams each. Each team in the group plays each other twice (home and away) and points are assigned to each team based on those results (3 points for a win, 1 for a tie, 0 for a loss). The top 2 teams, points-wise, from each group move on to a 16 team bracket where they are all then drawn randomly against each other.
In this bracket, each matchup is played twice so both teams get the chance to play at home. The first matchup is played, then two weeks later the second is played at the other team’s stadium. Over the two games, the teams’ total scores (usually referred to as “aggregate score”) are added up and whoever has the higher score after the 2 games moves onto the next round. For example, if Team A is drawn against Team B, and the first game ends 1-0 in favor of Team A, when they play again, Team A only has to either tie or win that second game in order to have more total goals over the 2 games- and move onto the next round.
The one last important rule to remember is that, in the event of both games ending with a tied score, the first tiebreaker is “away goals.” This means that if both games end and both teams have the same number of total goals, whichever team scored more goals at the other team’s stadium gets to go through to the next round. For example- if Team A is on the road for the first game, and wins 2-1 against Team B, then in the next game Team A is at home. If they lose 1-0 in that next game, the total score over the two games is 2-2. However, because Team A scored 2 goals when they were on the road, but Team B only scored 1 goal when THEY were on the road, Team A still gets to advance to the next round.
Now that the more casual fans might have a better idea of how the competition works, here are my predictions for how the next two weeks’ matchups will shake out and who will still be alive on the other side.
FC Schalke @ Manchester City (Agg. 2-3)
March 12- Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England
The first leg of City-Schalke was arguably the best game of the first round of matchups. Sergio Aguero gave City an early lead on a tap in into an empty net, before two penalty kick goals by Nabil Bentaleb gave Schalke a surprise lead at halftime, 2-1. Nicolas Otamendi was sent off with a red card in the 68th minute, giving Schalke hope of protecting their goal and going into the second game with a lead. However, a beautiful free kick by Leroy Sane evened the game out at 2:
City likely would have been happy if they had ended the game at this 2-2 scoreline- tying a game on the road, especially when scoring 2 goals, would be a big step setting yourself up for the next match- however, Raheem Sterling shocked the Schalke home crowd with a 90th minute goal to give Man City a huge 3-2 win. That sets up the second leg of their matchup like this: If Man City wins, they go through. If the game ends tied, they go through. Schalke will have to score at least 2 goals in order to have any chance of going through, and if City scores even one, Schalke will need 3 goals to go through because of that away goals rule. Given the fact that Schalke needed two penalty kicks to score at all in the first leg, I don’t believe they have much of a chance to advance in this matchup.
Prediction: Man City 1, Schalke 1 (4-3 aggregate score, City advances)
Atlético de Madrid @ Juventus (Agg. 2-0)
March 12- Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
The Indian Express
This was another one of the most entertaining games out of the first round of games that took place over the past 2 weeks. Cristiano Ronaldo, as a player, dominates the Champions League no matter where he goes and whoever he plays with. He has won 5 Champions League titles and owns almost every scoring record that exists for the competition. This had many pundits and analysts picking Juventus as a favorite to win this year. However, Atletico Madrid had other ideas- behind an electric home crowd and an outstanding defensive performance, they defeated Juventus in the first leg, 2-0.
Now, they head to Turin on March 12 to attempt to defend that lead against Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, and Juventus’ powerful scoring attack. This will likely be the most entertaining game of the second legs- Juventus will undoubtedly be pushing to score early from the first minute of the game, and Atletico will have the tough task of trying to balance sitting back and defending with attempting to score a huge away goal which would put them in a great position to go through.
Prediction: Atlético 0, Juventus 2- Juventus scores in overtime- (3-2 aggregate score, Juventus advances)
Manchester United @ Paris Saint Germain (Agg. 0-2)
March 6- Parc des Princes, Paris, France
Even with Manchester United’s struggles over the past couple years to sustain success domestically, they were largely considered a favorite in the first leg of this matchup. This is because PSG was missing star Neymar and lead striker Edinson Cavani, leading to many people thinking this was a prime opportunity for Man United to strike and hopefully take a lead heading into the second leg in Paris. However, the game ended up being a disaster for United. Second half goals by defender Presnel Kimpembe and forward Kylian Mbappe put PSG up 2-0, before United’s problems got even worse when star midfielder Paul Pogba was sent off with a red card= meaning he will be suspended for the second leg.
So with these circumstances- Game played in Paris, Man United missing Paul Pogba, and PSG likely getting back Cavani, it is hard to see PSG not advancing.
Prediction: PSG 2, United 1 (4-1 aggregate, PSG advances)
Tottenham Hotspur @ Borussia Dortmund (Agg. 3-0)
March 5- Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, Germany
In the first leg of this matchup, each team was missing key players- Tottenham was without striker Harry Kane, while Dortmund was missing winger Marco Reus and striker Paco Alcacer. You’d think this would even the odds, but Tottenham put on a dominant display, winning 3-0 in front of their home fans and putting themselves in a great position to advance. In the next leg, they will have Kane back while Dortmund will have Alcacer back but are still unsure of Reus’s status.
Prediction: Spurs 1, Dortmund 1 (4-1 aggregate, Spurs advance)
Check back later this week for my predictions for the other 4 matchups and feel free to leave your thoughts and predictions in the comments!