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The Champions League continues this week as the world’s elite club competition moves through knockout phase with the last first leg ties of the second round, starting with a superpower summit at Anfield.
Liverpool vs Bayern Munich
Two five-time champions clash as Liverpool host Bayern Munich. Jurgen Klopp will renew his rivalry with Bayern established during his Dortmund days, but Liverpool’s eye is firmly fixed on ending their 29-year English title drought. In the group stage, Liverpool won all their home games but lost all three road games, highlighting their need to take a lead to Munich.
Liverpool will be without defensive lynchpin Virgil Van Dijk through a one-match suspension. Joe Gomez is also out and there are doubts over the fitness of both Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold, leaving Klopp with a patched up defence. One forward who won’t be taking advantage of Liverpool’s defensive problems in Thomas Muller, after picking up a two-match ban, but Robert Lewandowski will play and be Bayern’s central threat.
Bayern haven’t been at their dominant best this season, but are starting to put pressure on Bundesliga leaders Dortmund. With club legend Arjen Robben eyeing one last hurrah, Bayern shouldn’t be underestimated. This tie will be closely fought and could be decided by away goals. With Liverpool’s defensive issues, Bayern might just get the crucial strike in the first leg.
Prediction: 2-1 (First Leg) 0-1 (Second Leg)
Lyon vs Barcelona
Barcelona’s trip to Lyon on Tuesday night could be a banana skin for Leo Messi and company. Lyon are trying to re-establish themselves among Europe’s elite clubs after a barren few years. Nabil Fekir is enjoying a productive season, having bagged three goals in the group phase, including the winner against Manchester City.
However, Lyon do concede goals and failed to keep a clean sheet in the group phase, despite going unbeaten with five successive draws. Barcelona haven’t been at their best this season, but still sit atop La Liga and cruised through their Champions League group. Messi has already scored 30 goals this season from just 30 games. Both Luis Suarez and Philip Coutinho have drawn criticism this season as Barca have often looked short of their best.
This promises to be a high-scoring tie with Lyon likely to go on the offensive at home, and might just win the home leg against a Barca side that has looked off-color.
Prediction: 3-2 (First Leg) 1-4 (Second Leg)
Atletico Madrid vs Juventus
Two of club football’s best defences go head-to-head as Atletico Madrid face Juventus. Diego Simeone delighted Atletico’s fans last week by signing a new contract, keeping him at the club until 2022. Their side continues to have the best defensive record in La Liga, having conceded just 17 times and sit 2nd behind Barcelona.
Juventus are now the only team in Europe’s top five leagues yet to suffer a league defeat this season, but did surprisingly lose twice in their Champions League group. They remain as solid as ever defensively, but the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo has inevitably given them an added dimension in attack. Ronaldo currently leads the way in Serie A with 17 goals, with Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala proving excellent foils for the main man.
This clash of Champions League nearly teams is unlikely to be a goal fest, and the winner will decided by which forward will take their big chance when it comes.
Prediction: 0-0 (First Leg) 1-2 (Second Leg)
Schalke vs Manchester City
If Pep Guardiola hand-picked the draw, he would have likely gone for Schalke. Runners-up in the Bundesliga last season, Schalke have slumped to 14th place this term. The sale of key man Thilo Kehrer has hampered the defence, while the team is struggling for goals at the other end.
City recovered from their slump of 4 losses in 10 games with a 6-0 hammering of Chelsea. Guardiola was able to rest star men Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva for the weekend’s FA cup win at Newport County; a game that saw Phil Foden enhance his increasing first team claims. With the League Cup Final just four days on from this game, Guardiola faces a selection balancing act.
The priority for Schalke will be to keep the tie close at home and then hope to exploit City’s inherent European match nerves in the return leg.
Prediction: 1-3 (First Leg) 0-3 (Second Leg)
Photo Credits: Soccer Laduma, Daily Star, Zimbio