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Champions League

2019-20 UEFA Champions League – Round of 16 – 1st Leg – Matchday 1 and 2

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The Round of 16 started with champions Liverpool drawing a rare blank as they came back from Spain empty-handed in their 1st leg tie with Atletico Madrid. Saul Niguez’s early goal in the 4th minute was all the hosts needed as they hung to the lead to finish the game 1-0 and move to Anfield for the second leg with an advantage. Atletico’s Diego Simeone produced a defensive masterclass as they permitted the normally rampant Reds only a couple of clear chances and quite amazingly, no shots on target. Hogging nearly 73 per cent of the possession Liverpool’s only chances came from Mohamed Salah, who headed wide and Jordan Henderson, whose hooked shot just missed the untested Jan Oblak’s far post. Atletico’s midfield and defence maintained ther composure throughout and their marking of Liverpool’s key players was simply fabulous. Jurgen Klopp replaced Sadio Mane and Salah with Divock Origi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but neither made an impact.

Nineteen-year old Norwegian sensation Erling Braut Haaland continued his remarkable scoring form this season with two more goals to give Borussia Dortmund the advantage over Paris St-Germain in the other Champions League Round of 16 tie of Tuesday night. The double strike took Haaland’s tally this season to an incredible39 goals from 29 appearances and 11 from only 7 outings since joining Dortmund from Red Bull Salzburg in January for a reported fee of 20 million Euros. 

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In an enthralling first half at Dortmund that went goalless, the session post-interval sprang to life when the predatory Haaland pounced on a rebound off PSG keeper Keylor Navas from a Raphael Guerreiro shot to slide the ball in for a 1-0 lead for the hosts in the 67th minute. Neymar briefly drew level for the Parisienne visitors in the 75th, slotting in a brilliant low Kylian Mbappe cross. But the parity was short-lived as Haalland stretched out his left leg to deliver a cannonball of a shot from 20 yards that nearly took the net off to give Dortmund the winner in the 77th minute of play. The French champions have a chance to put things right in the return leg in Paris next month having exited the Champions League at this stage in each of their past three campaigns.

Tottenham face an arduous task to keep their Champions League hopes alive after a 0-1 defeat at home by the highly impressive RB Leipzig in the first leg in London on Wednesday night. A Spurs side handicapped by long-term injuries to their star forwards Son Heung-min and Harry Kane would have suffered even a larger margin of defeat had it not been for the heroics of their French goal-keeper Hugo Lloris. Timo Werner was the star for the visiting Bundeliga runners-up as he orchestraed attack upon attack on the Spurs goal, culminating into the 58th minute penalty which he coolly converted. The hosts had their moments when Leipzig keeper Peter Gulacsi turned Giovani Lo Celso’s free-kick on to the post and Lucas Moura headed over from close range – but with the vital away goal in the bag it is advantage to the Saxony-based club going into the second leg. European runners-up Spurs, however, should not be written off after the heroics of last season when they overturned a 0-3 deficit against a rampant Ajax to move to the finals. But without Kane and Son it would be an outstanding feat if they were to overcome Dortmund on their trip to Germany next month.

Italian side Atalanta’s fairytale Champions League debut campaign looks set to continue into the quarter-finals after they thumped Valencia to take a commanding lead into the second leg of this Round-of-16 tie. Two-time finalists and La Liga stalwarts Valencia were shell-shocked by the pace of their opponents who run roughshod over them 4-1. Right-back Hans Hateboer’s brace in the 16th and 62nd minutes of play, a goal from Josip Ilicic in the 42nd and a superb curking strike from Remo Freuler in the 57th accounted for the damage caused by the Serie A side. Denis Cheryshev’s low shot to reduce the deficit in the 66th minute was the visitors’ only saving grace.1

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It has already been a wonderful few months for Gian Piero Gasperini’s side, who finished third in Serie A in the 2018-19 season to earn their spot in the competition and then qualified for the knockout stages despite losing their opening three group games. Only some serious bungling in their 2nd leg fixture in Spain could prevent Atalanta from making it to the Round-of-8.

Next week’s first leg Round of 16 fixtures

Tuesday, February 25th – Chelsea v Bayern Munich

Tuesday, February 25th – Napoli v Barcelona

Wednesday, February 26th – Lyon v Juventus

Thursday, February 26th – Real Madrid v Manchester City

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