With most teams lacking their sea legs and results mostly topsy-turvy, the past ten days have put all contenders to the test in the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League knock out stage.
On February 18, Dortmund defeated favored visitors PSG 2-1, and Atletico Madrid defeated favored visitors Liverpool 1-0. On February 19. Atalanta made a statement at home defeating favored Valencia 4-1, while RB Leipzig made their own noise winning 1-0 away to favored Tottenham Hotspur. Four matches, four upsets.
Yesterday, Barcelona got a hard-earned 1-1 away draw to Napoli, while Bayern Munich came into Stamford Bridge and demolished Chelsea 3-0. Though both of these results were not unexpected, Chelsea’s total capitulation at home and Barcelona’s struggles with Napoli were. Precious few teams have shown to have the sea legs needed for the voyage ahead.
Then came today’s matches. Manchester City came into the Bernabeu and in six minutes 78th to 83rd) turned a 0-1 deficit into a 2-1 win over Real Madrid to go home with a commanding lead. Lyon hosted Juventus and the French side took a 1-0 home victory. Both results were unexpected if not necessarily upsets. The problem is the sea gets rougher as the stages progress and finding sea legs in the midst of rolling waves is no easy task.
With the return legs still to come next month, some ties might still be, arguably, in the “to be decided” column, but in several cases, the initial results seem conclusive. It would be as hard to see Valencia scoring four on Atalanta at the Mestalla, as it would be to see Chelsea scoring four at Allianz Arena. Similarly, Real Madrid, who will play without red-carded Sergio Ramos, also do not seem to have the guns to pull off the type of win needed at Manchester, while Tottenham will be hard put to win at Red Bull Arena. There seems to be fog moving into the seas many teams will be traversing.
So, at this early stage, it would seem we can expect Barcelona, PSG, and Juventus to take care of business at home, while Real Madrid, Valencia, Chelsea, and Tottenham seem to be on a very steep climb. Only Atleti and Liverpool are at arguably even odds to advance. Expectations are that PSG, Man City, Atalanta, Munich, Juve, and Barca will advance, probably to be met at the quarterfinals by Liverpool and Leipzig.
Though these potential quarterfinalists would include the four Papa previously ranked as having the best chance to win it all, at this point in time, with Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski out of contention for a lengthy spell, Barca shaky and showing it is lacking what Luis Suarez always brings to the pitch, and Juve and Liverpool sputtering, it would seem early loser PSG—who many feel were correct in feeling aggrieved at the officiating in their away match—could be the looming force to find steady legs and surge forth amidst the swirling fog.