UEFA Champions League 2022: Hits & Flops from the Round of 16 GW-1
The Champions League is back with its top sixteen teams, all qualified from the group stages. As the controversial draw had confirmed in late December, we had some really mouth-watering clashes at our disposal and with the first round culminating just less than 18 hours ago, the wait for the next week’s fixtures is just too much to handle.
A total of ten goals were scored in the first four fixtures played this week, which takes the goal count to an average of just above two goals per game. What is more interesting though, is that three of these four fixtures actually ended in under 2.5 goals being scored. Well, that brings us to our first fixture of the round, where Manchester City thwarted Sporting CP in their own backyard, taking a massive 5–0 lead to the Etihad for the next month.
In what was the clash of the heavyweights in the French Capital, Paris Saint-Germain took on Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday night. The game was heading towards a stalemate till the 94th minute when sensational Kylian Mbappe took matters in his own hands and made it 1–0 for the hosts. Now, the Parisiens sit in the driving seat ahead of their visit to the Spanish capital in March.
On the second day of the fixtures, Europe was treated to another duo of shocking results. While RB Salzburg man-handled the gargantuan Bayern Munich in Austria and almost walked away with a 2–1 win (actual result 1–1), Inter Milan dominated English side Liverpool till the 70th minute, just to lose by two goals in the last 15 minutes. Well, the footballing continent can take a breather now!
In today’s exclusive, we take a look at some hits and flops from these round of fixtures, highlighting the heroes and villains of these aforementioned results. While some of these names were expected ones, some came out as astoundingly shocking. Let’s dive straight into our list!
Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) — Hit
With Liverpool hanging on the cliff in the Italian capital around half-time, Diogo Jota’s injury meant that the Scousers were slightly heading towards a cautious draw. Jota’s replacement, Bobby Firmino has been known for his defensive abilities despite being a striker and his arrival meant that Jurgen Klopp would have to revisit his tactics.
But what ensued was just stunning. Though Firmino took a good amount of 25 minutes to settle at the San Siro, the last 20 minutes of the game probably saw the Brazilian play out one of his best performances in the Liverpool colours for a long time. Courtesy of an Andrew Robertson cross, Firmino opened the scoring in the 75th minute and inspired his side to an attacking game-play in the last 15 minutes of the game too.
With Jota facing some sidelined time now due to the short injury, Firmino could become a blessing in disguise for Klopp and his staff as they still continue to chase the Premier League and Champions League title this season.
Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain) — Flop
When Lionel Messi was announced as a PSG player, it was obvious that the Argentine legend of the game has been roped in for winning the Champions League and definitely not repeating the usual Ligue 1 success that the French side always wins. But, Tuesday night saw the greatest player of all time drop one of the worst performances of his career at the biggest stage.
Playing against Real Madrid, one of his most-known foes, Messi was expected to dominate the game by goals or assists, and at the inception it looked quite likely. But what followed towards the hour-mark was very shocking. Just on the 62nd minute, Kylian Mbappe won a penalty for the French hosts and Messi stood atop it for giving the Parisiens a much needed lead.
The ex-Barcelona stalwart failed to convert from the spot, in what is being regarded as a really poor penalty kick by critics and experts all over the world. Messi could have breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the game as PSG ended up winning by a 1–0 margin, or else any result otherwise could have totally led to a huge criticism and comments over the newly recruited forward.
The 34-year-old would be hoping to make amends when he visits Madrid next month, a place where he made his name by destroying Real Madrid every season in the La Liga.
Bernardo Silva (Manchester City) — Hit
Rarely does a player get three goal contributions away from home in a Champions League Round of 16 tie. But with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, anything seems possible at the moment. The Premier League Champions walked off the pitch at half-time with the tie done and dusted as the scoreline read 4–0 to the visiting squad. But there was one man who wanted more, and even got it.
Bernardo Silva had already had his contribution in two of the four goals scored in the first 45 minutes. While he shot a rocket at the Sporting goal-keeper in the 17th minute to extend City’s lead to two, Raheem Sterling ensured that the Portuguese starlet got another before half-time. Most of the sporting websites were already reflecting a 9.0+ rating for Silva even before the referee had kicked-off the latter half of the game. Incredible!
The second half proved to be just about hunger from the left-sided midfielder as he almost scored a hattrick in the 50th minute, just for the goal to be ruled offside moments later. But, a generous Silva repaid Raheem Sterling just 8 minutes later as City romped on to a 5–0 win and practically both feet into the Champions League quarter-final.
Not long ago last summer, there were talks of Bernardo Silva exiting the blue half of Manchester due to a drop in performances. And here he is with 13 goals and 3 assists in all competitions this season. What a comeback from the 27-year-old.
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) — Flop
The best player from the last two European footballing seasons, Robert Lewandowski had a game to forget in Salzburg, Austria on Wednesday night. Having scored 33 goals this season already and seven of them coming from the six Champions League nights, Lewandowski was expected to have a stomping ground against one of the fairly weaker opponents in the Round of 16.
But the Polish striker had a weird approach to the game and did not even proactively amend his game to the ongoing events, leading him to become the worst player on the pitch over the 90 minutes. How many times have we talked about Lewandowski not having a single shot in a game over the last two years!
With Salzburg sitting back and hitting on the counter, Lewandowski knew that he had the opportunity to get at least a couple of goals on the night. So, the Bayern legend was seen transforming into a poacher for most parts of the game, rather than his usual style of dropping back to get indulged in the buildup play. This, coupled with Salzburg’s ability to cut off supply, led to Lewandowski being an isolated figure during the game.
The 33-year-old, who was named the FIFA Best Player of the Year 2021, had the least touches (31) on the field from any other player on the pitch. With not a single shot, let alone a shot on target, he was even accused of being unfocused as he lost 7 of his 9 duels contested on the night. Is it time for a Lewandowski drubbing at the Allianz Arena next weekend?
Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid) — Hit
If Real Madrid have any chance to progress to the next round in this year’s Champions League, the entire credit goes to stopper Thibaut Courtois. Saving 8 of PSG’s 9 shots on target, the goal-keeper ensured that Madrid do not leave Paris with a humbling scoreline. In fact, till the last minute of the game, it seemed that he would almost be able to carry them to a 0–0 draw himself.
In addition to saving Lionel Messi’s penalty on the hour-mark, Courtois faced a wrath of the Parisiens’ constant attacks right from the first whistle to the last. But, the Belgian International stood strong and denied every effort that their hosts had, on his goal. If Mbappe wouldn’t have stolen the limelight in the last minute of the game, the man-of-the-match was Courtois’ for the taking.
There is no doubt that when Paris Saint-Germain visit Madrid in mid-March, Courtois will again have to face many crucial attempts on goal and this could be the deciding factor of the entire tie. But, looking at the first leg display, there is no doubt that the Real Madrid goal-keeper is the best in the world currently.
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