The biggest competition in the world of soccer has resumed, as the last 16 finally got underway in February. Just the best 16 teams in Europe remain in the Champions League this term, with Manchester City, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich among them.
The route to the final in Zenit Saint Petersburg is now being plotted by many of the leading sides in the Champions League betting markets. But, what have we learned so far from the opening legs of the clashes in the round of 16?
Dominant English Sides Look Genuine Contenders
It isn’t hard to see why many gamblers are siding with the English clubs in the Champions League this season, as the four remaining look among the best on the continent. Chelsea as the defending champions have every chance to reclaim their title, while Manchester United still has the quality in their squad to go deep if they click into gear despite being outsiders.
However, Liverpool and Manchester City look like the real deal in the competition this season. City cruised to a healthy 5-0 away win in their first leg against Sporting Lisbon, as they look to go one better after losing in the final to Chelsea last season. Liverpool could be the side that they meet in the showpiece, as the Premier League’s top two look like the two best club sides in the world on current form.
Liverpool are effectively also through to the next round after taking a commanding 2-0 win at the San Siro against Inter Milan. In that win, Mohamed Salah scored for the eighth successive away game, while Roberto Firmino opened the scoring to show that he can still play a prominent role.
Bayern Have A Challenging Minnow To Overcome
When the draw was made, many expected Bayern Munich to easily make it through to the next round after being drawn against RB Salzburg. However, the Austrian side has an aura similar to Ajax in the 2019-20 campaign, as they are fearless against Europe’s elite and are more than happy to go toe-to-toe with the best. It almost paid off for Salzburg in their opening leg, but they were cruelly denied the 1-0 first-leg advantage that they deserved when Kingsley Coman leveled the scores in the 90th minute.
However, the tie is far from over ahead of the return game in Munich in a few weeks’ time. There was no shortage of standout performance for Salzburg, including Chukwebuike Adamu, who looks to have a bright future after scoring the opener. Bayern should still be far too strong when the second leg takes place at the Allianz Arena, but the Salzburg players have already put themselves in the shop window and may yet spring an unthinkable surprise.
Mbappe Shows Real What They Are Missing
The standout tie in the opening week of round of 16 clashes was Real Madrid’s visit to PSG. There was no shortage of sub-plots, including Lionel Messi coming up against Real for the first time since leaving Barcelona and Sergio Ramos coming up against the side that he won four Champions League titles with. However, the one that was more glaring was Kylian Mbappe playing for PSG against the side that he is likely to move to on a free transfer in the summer.
There’s no doubt that the World Cup winner showed the Spanish giants exactly what they were missing in that first leg. The striker scored the winning goal in the 94th minute to give the Parisians a narrow 1-0 victory, and also won the penalty, which was subsequently missed by Messi. Mbappe was the out-ball throughout the tie for PSG, as he gave Dani Caravajar a torrid evening. In stark comparison, Real looked to have little quality in the final third, with Marco Asensio and Vinicius Jr both subbed off after giving Karim Benzema little service.
Real finished the first leg without a single shot on target, but at the halfway stage, they remain in the tie. The second leg in Madrid will be unmissable, but once again Mbappe will be the star attraction, as he looks to get his current employers into the quarterfinals.