Champions League UCL Round of 16 Review: Great storylines everywhere as...

UCL Round of 16 Review: Great storylines everywhere as the most entertaining knockout stage in years concludes

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Arsenal have no backbone

Amidst all the “Wenger Out” chants, the tweets and memes and the endless debates over Wenger’s current position, lies an irredeemable fact—Arsenal were knocked out of the Champions League at the Round of 16 stage.

Again.

After the 5-1 loss at the hands of Bayern three weeks ago, few would have expected anything other than an Arsenal exit. Fewer still would have expected Bayern to repeat the same feat at the Emirates on Tuesday—down to the same exact score line. As such, the nature of the defeat has set tongues wagging and brought yet more stress to a club in crisis. Both legs followed a similar format—Arsenal have a good first half, lose Koscielny early in the second half, and then quickly capitulate to pressure. It is hard to say what Arsenal’s tactics were once down to ten men, but their lack of organization saw them cut open repeatedly with alarming ease. It turned out to be a historic result for Arsenal and English football albeit not in the way they would have hoped.

Neymar will lead the next generation

Now this was more like it. If a historical comeback was ever going to happen in this game week, it was always more likely that Barcelona would be the ones pulling it off. Barcelona defied the odds by coming back from a four goal deficit to win the match on aggregate. No Barcelona player contributed more on this historic night than Neymar. Whether hugging the left touchline or drifting centrally, the Brazilian was a constant nuisance to PSG. Although his constant efforts in the first leg reaped no reward, his sweat allied with skill was reminiscent of peak Ronaldinho. An expertly taken free kick, a coolly taken penalty and a superb assist for Sergi Roberto’s winner turned the game around in seven minutes. After a decade of Messi and Ronaldo dominance, Neymar looks ready to lead the charge for the new generation.

PSG have mental shortcomings

Unai Emery will count himself a lucky man if he saw it out to the end of his contract. As much as Wednesday night was a historic result for Barcelona, it also ensured PSG will live in infamy for being the biggest chokers in Champions League history. But PSG do have previous in the art of choking. In 2013/14, they conspired to lose against an under-strength Chelsea side in the quarter final—this despite having a two goal advantage from the first leg. They conspired to lose against an unfocused Man City side in last season’s quarter final—even though they probably had better players on paper. Then against all odds, they could only end up drawing against Ludogorets at home in this season’s group stages when a win would have seen them top their group. If they had topped their group they would have avoided Barcelona. If hiring Emery was supposed to fix this tendency to buckle under pressure, then it hasn’t worked so far.

Sergio Ramos the Galactico

Sergio Ramos is currently on a patch of unbelievable scoring form. His two goals against Napoli took him to nine goals in all competitions which already makes this his most prolific season ever. But it’s not just the fact he has averaged a goal every three games and more goals than Modric, Kroos and Casemiro combined. He has scored so many vital goals for Madrid this season and in so doing has quite literally led from the front at times. His goals on Tuesday night ended up killing off any chance of a Napoli comeback and helped ease the defending champions to their seventh straight quarter final. He was already destined to go down as a Real Madrid great but more goals from him could see him further cement his legacy till he is up there with the great Fernando Hierro.

Leicester are the last hope for England

It is only appropriate that as things stand, the last English club in the Champions League are the English champions. Of course, this only tells half the story, as Leicester’s fans will rightfully point out. Not that they will be complaining. Leicester fans have had more excitement in the last 2 years than most. Their club has flirted with relegation, won the league and now have reached the last eight of the greatest competition in club football. This is clearly a team of extremes and as such they will be relishing the quarterfinal draw on Friday. At this point there are no easy games but if they play with the same competitive edge they showed against the technically superior Sevilla, they will be a handful for anyone.

Monaco is the new “cool”

It seems that every season throws a team from outside the established order that captures the imagination of neutrals everywhere. In 2012, it was Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao. In 2013, it was Pellegrini’s Malaga and Klopp’s Dortmund. In 2014, most neutrals were rooting for Simeone’s Atletico side. This season Monaco have become the football hipster’s choice—and for good reason. No side in Europe has scored more goals than them. Unlike their Parisian rivals, they are accomplishing this with a nucleus of French youngsters. It also helps that they are led from the front by Radamel Falcao, a man who failed so conspicuously at Manchester United and Chelsea. His 26 goals have been vital and let’s face it, who doesn’t love a good comeback story?

A tie for the ages

When Monaco and Manchester City were drawn to face each other in December, it surely whetted the appetite of the football lover. Here are two sides blessed with some of the brightest attackers in world football, coached by two managers who don’t believe in using brakes. However even the most optimistic fans couldn’t have seen what was coming. By the time the referee blew the whistle at the end of the second leg, there had to be a collective catching of breaths. An aggregate score of 6-6 told the story in a way numbers don’t always do. While Barcelona’s comeback against PSG will undoubtedly be the main story of this season’s round of 16 games, this tie should go down in history.

Watch out for the Bianconeri

Of all the big teams still in the competition, Juventus seem to have the lowest profile. The Italian side have made it to the quarter final stage without too much fuss. But maybe that’s the problem. While Barcelona have had to beat the odds with PSG, and Bayern Munich and Real Madrid had to deal with tricky ties due to finishing second in their groups, it doesn’t seem Juve have been properly challenged. In both ties against Porto, the Italians had a man advantage before scoring their goals and the aggregate score was “only” 3-0. The good news is that bar AC Milan—at least, under Ancelotti—Italian sides tend not to sparkle and dazzle when it isn’t necessary. Make no mistake about it, Juventus will cause issues for any side they face in the quarter final.

Aubameyang makes amends

What a difference three weeks make. Despite having a night to forget against Benfica in the first leg, Aubameyang redeemed himself in the eyes of a huge audience and helped himself to a hattrick. It was a good thing for Dortmund that their star striker was back to his ruthless best, as Gotze and Reus were unavailable. With the Gabon man on fire, Dortmund will be a formidable opponent for any team in the quarter final stage.

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