A look ahead to Manchester City v Real Madrid, Juventus v Lyon, Barcelona v Napoli and Bayern Munich v Chelsea
The Champions League makes its long awaited return after almost five months this weekend, with eight teams hoping to reach the quarter-finals. Atalanta, Atlético Madrid, PSG and RB Leipzig have already secured their places in the mini tournament in Lisbon later this month but there are still four last-16 ties to complete, starting with games in Manchester and Turin on Friday night.
Manchester City v Real Madrid, Friday 8pm BST
Manchester City hold a 2-1 advantage against La Liga champions Real Madrid, who must score twice at the Etihad to have any chance of progressing. Madrid are not the attacking force they once were – Barcelona scored 16 goals more than them in the league this season – and Zinedine Zidane will no doubt set up his side to exploit City’s weakness on the counter rather than going at the hosts from the outset.
City had to come from behind to win at the Bernabéu with two goals in the last 12 minutes, but they were good value for the result, with Raheem Sterling’s introduction in the second half proving the catalyst. Sergio Agüero has been included in City’s 25-man squad for the Champions League but he has been ruled out of this game, leaving Pep Guardiola with a big decision about who should lead the line. Bernardo Silva operated as a false nine in Madrid, with Gabriel Jesus out on the left. Guardiola will probably try to spring another surprise on Friday.
City’s forwards will not have to worry about facing Sergio Ramos, who was sent off late in the first leg and is banned. Real Madrid have won 15 of the last 16 matches the centre-back has missed through suspension, but he is important in big games – in both boxes. Ramos has scored 13 goals this season, including five since the restart. His role as the club’s penalty taker helps top up that tally, but this Real Madrid team are not exactly free-scoring. Ramos and Karim Benzema were the only two players to score more than four league goals for the club this season. Zidane will need another big performance from his star striker, who has enjoyed perhaps his best season in a Real Madrid shirt. Prediction: Manchester City to win on the night and qualify.
Juventus v Lyon, Friday 8pm BST
Lyon pulled off the biggest surprise of the first legs when they beat Juventus 1-0 back in February. However, they come into this game having played just one competitive fixture in the last five months: the Coupe de la Ligue final, which they lost to PSG on penalties. While Lyon have been missing out on Ligue 1 action in France, Maurizio Sarri’s side have won the league in Italy.
Leading Juventus to their ninth straight Serie A title was a triumph for Sarri, but the Old Lady were beaten by Napoli in the Coppa Italia final and only stuttered over the line in the league, finishing just a point above Inter after losing three of their last four games. They rested players towards the end of the campaign but this Juve team is not the dominant force of old in Italy.
Sarri’s side did not come out on top in any key metric – bar points, of course – in the league. They did not score the most goals, take the most shots, have the most possession, concede the fewest goals, concede the fewest shots or have the highest pass accuracy. The four teams that finished directly below them in the table all scored more goals. So much of Juve’s attacking play goes through the 35-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo. Paulo Dybala has been in fine form since the restart, but their midfield in particular looks suspect.
By contrast, Lyon have real emerging talent in that area, with Houssem Aouar and Bruno Guimarães the pick of the bunch. If Lyon can match Juventus for fitness, there may be an upset on the cards. Memphis Depay has returned after a long-term injury to give his team a boost, so expect another even battle. Prediction: Lyon to go through on away goals. Continue reading