Lyon Tie Will Give Valverde Food For Thought8 min read
With the group stage having finished in the past midweek, the 16 teams left in the Champions League eagerly awaited news from UEFA headquarters as to who they would face in the first knockout round.
The business end of the competition is where things really begin to hot up, and those teams finishing second in their group can potentially face the toughest of opponents at this point.
Further, by not finishing top, teams have another disadvantage. That of having to play the second legs of their Round of 16 ties away from home.
Fortunately for Barcelona, their ‘Group of Death’ (Group B) appeared to be anything but, as the Catalans sailed through their six games.
Before the draw in Nyon on Monday, the Catalans already knew they would face one of either Liverpool, Manchester United, Roma, Ajax, Lyon or Schalke.
The latter, with respect probably one of the weakest teams left in the competition, were first out of the hat, but Manchester City were drawn to play them.With Atletico Madrid out next (more on them later), Barca waited for the following tie, and with Manchester United pulled out of the bowl, there was more anticipation. PSG were handed the test against Jose Mourinho’s side, however, cue more furrowed brows from the FCB contingent.
Tottenham next meant another wait, so when Lyon were drawn hopes were raised once more. And… boom! FC Barcelona.
Lyon v Barcelona
Should Samuel Umtiti be over his knee injury by February, it gives him a chance to return home. Before signing for the Catalans, the defensive colossus spent most of his youth career with the French side and then went on to make over 100 appearances for their senior side.
In the four games that the sides have played before, Barcelona have never lost, though they’ve also not won in Lyon and only kept one clean sheet in those four games.
In Group E of the 2007/08 Champions League, Barcelona had beaten the French side 3-0 at the Camp Nou before a 2-2 draw away. When they met again in the 2008/09 Round of 16, a 1-1 draw in France was followed by an emphatic 5-2 win in Barcelona.
Importantly for the Catalans, the second leg of this season’s edition is also at the Camp Nou, handing them a small advantage in the tie.
However, for anyone thinking that it’s a foregone conclusion that the Blaugrana can waltz into the quarterfinals, they can think again.
Lyon beat Manchester City away and held them to a 2-2 draw at home in this season’s group stages, and also managed two draws against both Shakhtar Donetsk and Hoffenheim. At the time of writing, they’ve lost just twice in all competitions in the last 19 games.
Third in Ligue 1 but with a game in hand on Lille in second, and only three points behind, Lyon are best placed to bring PSG into view in the second half of the season.
With this Barcelona side struggling against genuine pace and trickery, the thought of playing against Nabil Fekir, Moussa Dembele and Memphis Depay will keep Ernesto Valverde up at night.
A 3-4-3 is the preferred formation for Bruno Genesio, so the French side will come to play and happily stand toe-to-toe with the Catalans, just as they did against Pep Guardiola’s City side.
Two mouth-watering games are in store for the new year with Barcelona now priced at to win the trophy outright, and Lyon a long shot at
Atletico Madrid v Juventus
One of the ties of the round!
Cristiano Ronaldo going back to Madrid and versus a team he loves to score against, is the underlying narrative here.
Both teams rely on their defensive excellence to win their games, so we might see two games that are chess matches, for want of a better turn of phrase.
Diego Costa up against Giorgio Chiellini is a war that’s to be enjoyed too!
It’s a real test for both sides with Juve perhaps having the edge because of a better front line that the Rojiblancos. Certainly, Diego Simeone’s preference for a 1-0 win won’t work in this one.
In Group A of the 2014/15 edition, only one goal was scored across the two games between the sides, and that came from Atleti in the first match at the Vicente Calderon.
There’ll surely be more goals this time, but the margin of victory will be just as tight.
Juventus are third favourites for the trophy at whilst Atleti are a good priced
Ajax v Real Madrid
At this stage of the campaign, current holders Real Madrid have hardly convinced.
Aside from a handful of games in the league post Julen Lopetegui, this has been an awful first half of the season for Real.
Santiago Solari looked as though he’d quickly overcome the problems that dogged Lopetegui, but with 3-0 defeats at Eibar and against CSKA Moscow, as well as unconvincing wins over the bottom two in La Liga, Huesca and Rayo Vallecano, he’s already back to square one.
Defensively, they are shot to pieces, and Dusan Tadic can certainly profit if the status quo remains the same when the two teams meet.
In Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, Ajax have two exceptional talents, the latter of whom is interesting Real as well as Barcelona and PSG.
Purely because of the experience of some of their players, one should expect Madrid to progress over the two legs, however, if the Dutch side are able to get a foot hold, don’t be surprised to see them outplay their more illustrious opponents.
They’ll certainly want to do better than the only other time they faced the Spaniards, back in 2012/13 (Group D), losing 4-1 at home and away.
Los Blancos are only sixth favourite to win the cup outright at , with Ajax at
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