Following two months of rest, the premier club competition in European football is finally back. After an eventful group stage, only 16 teams remain as we enter the first segment of the knockout stages, the Round of 16. At this point of the tournament, each team has been drawn against one other and will play them twice, one home and one away. The winner on an aggregate score of goals goes through to the Quarterfinals. The Champions League Round of 16 officially started on Tuesday, Feb. 16 and Wednesday, Feb. 17, but will continue onto Feb. 23 and 24 as all the teams will play their first leg of the round. Then one month later, in mid-March, the second legs will finish. Offering several interesting matchups, the Round of 16 is a must-watch as we get closer and closer to crowning the 2021 Champions of Europe.
Barcelona (Spain) 1-4 Paris Saint-Germain (France)
In what is seen as the marquee matchup of this round, Barcelona welcomed their bitter rivals Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) to their famous fortress, the Camp Nou. As well as being two of the biggest clubs in Europe, Barcelona and PSG have a long history between them in this tournament. Most notably, at this very stage in the 2016/17 season, Barcelona lost 4-0 only to beat PSG 6-1 in the second leg, the biggest Champions League comeback of all time known as the Remontada. Later that year, PSG famously signed Neymar Jr. from Barcelona in what would be the most expensive transfer of all time. However, four years later, both teams are in very different positions.
The match definitely lived up to its billing as it was very fast-paced and exciting throughout the 90 minutes. With Marco Verratti pulling the strings, PSG dominated the midfield early on, creating many chances. However, Barcelona were able to play out of their pressure and won a penalty after Frenkie de Jong was fouled in the box. Lionel Messi expertly converted the penalty and Barcelona went up 1-0. PSG were quick to respond after a clever flick from Verratti and a deft dribble from Kylian Mbappe led PSG to equalize 1-1. With the first 45 coming to a close, PSG seemed to dominate the match but Barcelona arguably had the better chances leaving the match wide open heading into the second half.
Given that Neymar, unfortunately, missed this game due to injury, this match was billed as Messi vs. Mbappe, or the current best player vs. the future. On this day though, it would be Mbappe who would come out on top as PSG completely upped the ante in the second half. Capitalizing on suspect defending from Barcelona, PSG scored two goals in quick succession with Mbappe and Moise Kean adding to the tally. As Barcelona were scrambling to get a goal back late in the match, Mbappe was able to complete his hattrick with a pinpoint curling shot following a speedy counterattack. With four away goals, it seems almost guaranteed that PSG will go through as Barcelona’s transitional season is going from bad to worse. PSG on the other hand, look to be serious contenders for the trophy with this statement win.
RB Leipzig (Germany) 0-2 Liverpool (England)
While not as anticipated as PSG vs Barcelona, last year’s semifinalists, RB Leipzig faced off against Liverpool, the 2019 Champions, in a match that neither side seemed to have a clear advantage going in. Due to Germany’s updated travel restrictions due to COVID-19, Leipzig, unfortunately, were not able to play in their home stadium, instead having to settle in a neutral venue in Budapest, Hungary. This lack of home advantage really showed as Liverpool walked away with a good win and already one foot in the next round.
Despite Leipzig having some good chances, Liverpool were slightly the better team throughout the match and two major defensive mistakes from the Germans saw Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane easily score early into the second half. Liverpool have had a torrid time with an injury crisis and a dreadful run of form as of late, but they will take this moral victory as a huge opportunity to finally turn their season around. While Leipzig are having a decent season so far, it does not seem that they will be able to go as far in this competition as they did last season with Liverpool looking too big of an obstacle to overcome. And while this tie is still far from over, it looks very likely Liverpool will be the ones to march on.
Sevilla (Spain) 2-3 Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
In what is no doubt the most equally balanced (and arguably most exciting) matchup in this round, Borussia Dortmund traveled to the South of Spain to face the reigning Europa League champions, Sevilla. So far this season, both teams have had their ups and downs, Dortmund just recently got a new coach in December while Sevilla are not as resolute as the side that dominated the Europa League last year. Dortmund and Sevilla are similar in the sense that they are pretty good going forward, but a little shaky at the back. Out of the two, Dortmund’s attack has been more effective this season, but it must also be said that their defense is also much more vulnerable than Sevilla’s.
The match started out like predicted, with exciting, end-to-end football. Out of nowhere in the seventh minute, Sevilla took the lead when Suso found space after a quick dribble before taking a well-placed shot on goal, taking a deflection off Mats Hummels and bouncing in. This goal seemed only to energize Borussia Dortmund, though, as they immediately came back swinging. From a similar distance to Suso’s goal, Dortmund got their equalizer after Mahmoud Dahoud’s magnificent dipping longshot crept in at the far post. Only moments later, Dortmund would score yet again after a formidable counterattack saw the enigmatic Erling Haaland power through the Sevilla defense before playing a one-two with Jadon Sancho. As Sancho cleverly flicked the ball over Sevilla’s backline, Haaland easily tapped the ball into the net, giving Dortmund the lead in what was an absolutely beautiful goal. The Westphalians smelled blood in the water and their relentless attacking saw Dortmund score yet again after a bad defensive mistake from Sevilla and a perfect pass from Marco Reus put Haaland through to calmly make it 3-1 in their favor.
After the first half shellshock, Sevilla came out the locker room much more organized, and Dortmund were not given the opportunity to run riot again. However, Dortmund’s defense held up as well and despite a nice set-piece volley from Luuk de Jong, Sevilla were not able to equal the score, leaving them with an uphill battle to fight at Dortmund’s home stadium in March. While Borussia Dortmund certainly has the advantage, this tie is far from over.
Porto (Portugal) 2-1 Juventus (Italy)
In what could turn out to be the biggest upset of this Champions League season so far, Porto utterly shocked Juventus and deservedly walked away from this match with a victory. A very talented but widely overlooked team, Porto were able to take advantage of Juventus’ topsy-turvy form this season in what is really a transitional year for them as well as the manager’s, Andrea Pirlo’s first-ever job in coaching.
From the first minute to the last, Porto outplayed Juventus in every department. And when I say — first minute, I mean that literally as Mehdi Taremi pounced on a lazy back pass from Juve’s Rodrigo Bentancur to put Porto 1-0 ahead within the first 60 seconds. After their early lead, Porto played their game plan efficiently, allowing Juventus very few chances on goal. The next 45 minutes were exactly the same as the first as Moussa Marega doubled Porto’s lead within the first minute of the second half. Cristiano Ronaldo and company had a match to forget as the whole team looked slow and sluggish while Porto were the complete opposite. Juventus were able to claw back a late goal after Federico Chiesa hit a wonderfully placed side-footed shot into the net. But to be honest, Juventus were lucky to get even a goal. Regardless, Chiesa’s strike was hugely important as this away goal will serve as a lifeline for Juventus as they head back to Italy for the second leg. Given that Juventus are one of the biggest teams in Europe, they still have a great chance to turn this tie around. But if Juve do not improve and Porto plays like they did today, we could potentially see the first-ever Champions League Quarterfinals with neither Messi nor Ronaldo since the 2004-05 season.