It’s back, Ladies and Gentlemen. The UEFA Champions League is back! After two long months (and one extra week) of waiting, we get to see Europe’s elite football teams vie for supremacy (and the most coveted trophy in all of European club football), once again. Pull up a chair, everyone, because we’re heading right into the knockout stages, with the 2016/17 Round of 16.
The first round of matches will kick off today, the 14th of February (because football is your one, true love) and we’ll get to see Paris Saint Germain host Barcelona, at the Parc des Princes, and Borussia Dortmund travel to the Estadio da Luz, where they’ll be welcomed by an in-form Benfica team (both matches kick off at 8:45 p.m., West African Standard time).
At the same time, tomorrow (the 15th of February) we should see the Santiago Bernabeu and Real Madrid play host to Napoli, while Arsenal will make its biennial trip to the Allianz Arena, to, once again, square off against Bayern Munich.
Let us now kick off our review with a look at today’s games. Enjoy.
Benfica vs. Borussia Dortmund:
Both of these teams will be extremely eager to improve on their recent European records. Benfica hasn’t been at the summit of European football since 1961/62 and Dortmund’s solitary UCL win came back in the 1996/97 season. With both of these teams being considered as “outsiders”, in this year’s tournament, they’ll be looking to make the most of whatever chances come their way, in the hopes of proving all their detractors wrong. Let’s take a look at how prepared they are for tonight’s meeting.
Benfica’s been enjoying a truly dominant season, in the Portuguese Primera Liga. They’ve won 16 of their 21 games and they’re 10 whole points ahead of Sporting CP, in 3rd place. They’ve scored the most goals, conceded the second fewest and are in the top 3 of virtually every statistical category; if it hadn’t been for Porto (who sit just one point behind them), they would’ve been out of sight at the top of the table, by now.
Although their UCL group was a tough one, where their qualification remained undecided until the final day, Rui Vitoria will maintain utmost confidence in his team: a whole greater than the sum of its parts, they’ve sustained their runs in the League & UCL with contributions from several players, all over the pitch, and will be looking to continue in the same vein.
- Kostas Mitroglou (Benfica’s top scorer in the League) grabbed a brace against Arouca, giving him 12 goals in his last 12 games. Their top goal-scorer and assist provider in the UCL (Eduardo Salvio), however, is an injury doubt and Benfica fans will be playing that he gets cleared to compete.
- Left-Back, Alejandro Grimaldo, will continue to remain unavailable. Prior to his injury in November, he had made some impressive cameos in the Champions League. Goncalo Guedes will also no longer be available for the team, after completing a move to PSG, in January.
Dortmund added another chapter to its topsy-turvy 2016/17 season with yet another shocking result, on Saturday. In their Champions League group, they impressed everyone by finishing two points above Real Madrid and losing none of their games. They were also the highest scoring team, with 21 goals in 6 games. In the Bundesliga, however, Dortmund’s run has been far from impressive; they’ve won only 9 of their 20 games (drawing 7 and losing 4) and the perennial title contenders are currently struggling to hold on to a UCL qualifying spot. They come into tonight’s game on the back of a loss to Darmstadt (the Bundesliga’s bottom team) and we’re not quite sure what to expect from Dortmund, next.
Dortmund’s erratic form has been mirrored by the instability of their lineup. Due to several injuries (and Aubameyang’s AFCON absence), Thomas Tuchel has had to make several big decisions regarding his selections and he’ll be hoping that they can maintain a little consistency in the squad, moving forward, now that Aubameyang and the UEFA Champions League are back.
- The Bundesliga’s top goal-scorer is also Dortmund’s top scorer in the UCL (with 4 goals). Pierre Emerick Aubameyang returned to the squad after Gabon got eliminated from the AFCON, but he’s only scored 1 goal in his 4 matches, since then. This has coincided with a relatively goal-shy run for the team, as they’ve averaged just a goal per game, through all 4 of those games.
- Raphael Guerreiro has since returned to the side, after injuries forced him to miss out on their last two UCL games. His goal scoring performance against Darmstadt means we’re very likely to see him feature, tonight.
- Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek are reportedly in doubt for tonight’s game and they could end up missing the game altogether, with the likes of Nuri Sahin, Mari Gotze, Sven Bender and Sebastian Rode.
There’s a sharp contrast in the forms of both teams, heading into this. Benfica is rock solid at home, with 8 wins in their last 9 and 11 clean sheets in their last 15. Dortmund, on the other hand, have been terrible away from home. Their solitary away win in January, this year, is also the only one they’ve had since September.
Rui Vitoria will want his players to press their home advantage here, with contributions from all areas of the pitch, as usual.
Wasteful finishing and poor luck in front of goal have led to Dortmund’s scoring totals dropping in the past few weeks, but fans will be hoping that they can turn it up once again for the UCL, like they always seem to do. They might still end up being slight favourites, tonight, but the Estado da Luz should prove to be one of their toughest challenges yet.
This is their first time both teams have been drawn against each other in a European competition, so whoever wins this tie will earn immediate bragging rights over the other.
(Move to page 2, for PSG vs. Barcelona.)