Epic implosions from Barcelona and Arsenal see the first batch of Champions League clashes looking over just halfway through
The verdicts of the first set of games in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 are unexpected and heavy, with three encounters out of four almost already over. Bayern Munich humiliated Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain demolished Barcelona and Real Madrid cruised past Napoli.
But never say never, especially in football. Barcelona could pull off a miracle by scoring four in the Camp Nou without reply, and so can Arsenal in theory. But that’s stretching theory to the furthest possible sense of the word. Napoli need a 2-0 victory: possible.
The only clash of the four we saw this week that will be really decided in the return game is Borussia Dortmund v Benfica. The Portuguese side capitalised on their few chances and made the most of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s terrible night.
In Paris the game was never balanced, with PSG out-running Barcelona from beginning to end, showing strength in midfield with Adrien Rabiot, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti, combined with the quality of Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler and Edinson Cavani up front. A deadly mix. Barcelona seemed a bad photocopy of the fantastic team we’ve admired for years, and a bit like against Bayern in the 2013 semi-finals, conceded four goals to zero. It seems difficult to say the least that the Blaugrana can turn this around. Even if they were to score a few goals up one end, not conceding at the other is the real challenge.
It’s a similar situation to that of Napoli, who lost by two goals at the Santiago Bernabeu in a 3-1 loss, but clearly don’t have the quality Barcelona have. The Partenopei would need to secure a 2-0 win to knock Real Madrid out. But again, not conceding is the key. This Napoli side has always seemed quick and dangerous up front, but also very vulnerable at the back. To see Los Blancos not getting one or two goals in Naples seems a utopia.
What happened at the Allianz Arena is similar in the sense that, like in the other two games, one team was massively superior. But in this case it was even worse, with Arsenal imploding yet again in the round of 16, and after a decent first 45 minutes virtually disappearing form the pitch. It raises questions on the personality of those playing and of the man coaching them, Arsene Wenger. This is probably the lowest point in his career, and to see him stay on for another season is, frankly, difficult.
The overarching link between these three matches is that there are not a lot of reasons to watch the return games, apart from pure spectacle. The tension of a balanced encounter has been wiped away in the first leg, in a way that almost de-legitimises the competition.
What is the point in getting so excited if one of the two teams is so much better? But, as we said, never say never, and all the fans of the Champions League will be hoping to see great games in the return leg.