UEFA Champions League Returns for 2019 Season

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UEFA Champions League Returns for 2019 Season

The current Round-of-16 matchups between Europe's top clubs.

The current Round-of-16 matchups between Europe's top clubs.

SPORT.es

The current Round-of-16 matchups between Europe's top clubs.

SPORT.es

SPORT.es

The current Round-of-16 matchups between Europe's top clubs.

Soccer fans around the world have been anticipating the return of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League, the most elite club competition in the world.

This year’s league is set to be a closely contested one, with several teams such as Barcelona, Paris St. Germain, Liverpool, Juventus, and Bayern Munich having serious aspirations of winning the prestigious tournament at this point. Of course, reigning champions Real Madrid, who have won the competition three times in a row now, will not relinquish the trophy without a fight. Even so, its path will be difficult this year without Portuguese veteran Cristiano Ronaldo, who now suits up for Juve. The knockout stages got underway last week, with the completion of all the first leg matches.

These games saw the first ever usage of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in any official UEFA competition. VAR, which seeks to correct clear mistakes and aid referees in officiating soccer matches, has been met with much controversy since its introduction to various leagues all over the world.

 

Manchester United 0-2 PSG

A Manchester United side in red-hot form welcomed Ligue 1 champions Paris St. Germain to Old Trafford last week, but ultimately came up short in what was a surprisingly one-sided affair. The Red Devils lost 2-0, representing manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first loss while in charge of the club.

The Parisians were without star attackers Edinson Cavani and Neymar Jr, but were still too much for United to handle, with Kylian Mbappe and Pascal Kimpembe grabbing a pair of second-half goals. A late red card for star player Paul Pogba only rubbed salt into the United wound.

Man of the Match: Angel di Maria

 

Roma 2-1 Porto

Roma, who had a fairytale run to the semi-finals in last season’s competition that involved a stunning comeback win against Barcelona, entertained an injury-hit Porto at the Stadio Olimpico. Nineteen-year-old teenage sensation, Niccolo Zaniolo, scored a brace to put the Italian side up two goals, before Adrian grabbed a late goal for the Portuguese league leaders, giving them hope for the second leg in Italy.

Man of the Match: Niccolo Zaniolo.

 

Ajax 1-2 Real Madrid

Holders Real Madrid and Dutch giants Ajax, both traditional behemoths of the European game, battled it out during an intense affair where Ajax came flying out of the blocks. They played a free-flowing attacking football reminiscent of the famous Total Football of the 1970s and created the majority of the game’s chances.

Right-back Nicolas Tagliafico thought he had put his side 1-0 up before the break, but his goal was disallowed after intervention from VAR, which showed Serbian international Dusan Tadic to be marginally offside when obstructing the view of Los Blancos keeper Thibaut Courtois. The referee’s decision to chalk the goal off drew deafening jeers from the Amsterdam crowd, and sparked much-heated debate after the match, once again pertaining to the VAR system.

Ajax continued to dominate proceedings but were left to rue their missed shots when in-form striker Karim Benzema put Real Madrid ahead with their first real chance of the match. Playmaker Hakim Ziyech leveled the scoring for Ajax at 1-1, before youngster Marco Asensio came off the bench to score the winner for Madrid.

Ajax will no doubt be disappointed with the result given the balance of play and will seek to make amends when the second leg is played in Madrid on the fifth of March.

Man of the Match: Sergio Ramos

 

Tottenham 3-0 Dortmund

Tottenham was not given much of a chance against German league leaders Borussia Dortmund due to injuries to key English players Harry Kane and Dele Alli. However, despite strong attacking play in the first half, Dortmund missed several opportunities to take the lead and was duly punished for its profligacy in front of goal.

The side from North London, who is battling for a first ever Premier League title, took control of the tie in the second half with goals from South Korean superstar Heung-min Son and Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen, before a late strike from substitute Fernando Llorente secured the victory.

Man of the Match: Jan Vertonghen

 

Liverpool 0-0 Bayern Munich

Two European powerhouses faced off in this match at Anfield. Both sides had strong chances during the game, yet neither side was able to capitalize and score a winning goal.

Top scorer of the competition so far, Robert Lewandowski, was kept at bay by makeshift center-back Fabinho, who marshaled the Liverpool defense excellently in the absence of suspended stalwart Virgil van Dijk. Bayern will be the happier of the two teams going into the second leg at home in Munich, but the door to the next round is wide open for both clubs.

Man of the Match: Mats Hummels

 

Lyon 0-0 Barcelona

La Liga leader Barcelona was hosted by Ligue 1 underdogs Lyon. The 2015 Champions League winners were frustrated by the French side, who put up a disciplined performance to keep Barcelona from scoring. The Catalonian team had a total of 25 shots on goal, but Messi and his teammates were kept out by in-form keeper Anthony Lopes. It was actually Lyon who had the best chance of the game, with winger Martin Terrier blasting a missile that was acrobatically tipped onto the crossbar by Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Man of the Match: Marc-Andre ter Stegen

 

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Juventus

Atletico Madrid and Juventus met in a tie that saw the losing finalists of four of the last five Champions Leagues face off. Chances were spread fairly evenly between both sides, but it was the club from Madrid that created and capitalized. It was extremely unlucky to have a penalty decision reversed and an Alvaro Morata goal disallowed after interventions from VAR. However, late goals from the ever-impressive Uruguayan defensive duo Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez were enough to give Atletico Madrid a 2-0 victory. Cristiano Ronaldo was once again underwhelming over the duration of the game, leaving Juventus with a very difficult task to complete in the second leg in Turin.

Man of the Match: Diego Godin

 

Schalke 2-3 Manchester City

Bundesliga strugglers played against Premier League champions Manchester City in a rollercoaster of a game in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The English side took an early lead through a neat finish from Sergio Aguero. However, Manchester City conceded two penalties before the end of the first half, with Nabil Bentaleb putting away the pair of them, giving Schalke a 2-1 lead. City’s misery was compounded further when defender Nicolas Otamendi was sent off for a foul. The German side looked like they were heading for a shock win, yet there was a twist left in the tale. Leroy Sane, who was facing off against his boyhood club for the first time since leaving them in 2016, and Raheem Sterling scored very late on to give the Cityzens a memorable comeback victory.

Man of the Match: Leroy Sane

 

Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Tottenham and Paris St. Germain are the four teams in the strongest positions to qualify for the next round, but all sides remain in with a chance of making it to the quarter-finals of the competition. The attention of soccer fans everywhere will now turn to the second legs of all Round of 16 fixtures which are set to take place in the first two weeks of March. The final, set to be played at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid, is looming ever closer. Yet despite this time frame, it remains nigh impossible to predict the two finalists come June, as the competition looks set to be one of the most closely contested in recent history.