The new staggered fixture schedule for Champions League matches is great isn’t it?
No more waiting two weeks for UCL football, to pick which game to watch from a full slate of 8 matches. There are now games in play every week, giving us an opportunity to see more of Europe’s finest clubs do battle on the world stage. While I’m often critical of UEFA and its shenanigans, this change is certainly one I agree with.
In Fantasy League terms, more match-days theoretically means more opportunities to utilize manager substitutions and roll the captain’s armband until you strike gold. For me though, this blessing has turned out to be a curse.
I gave the armband to Paul Pogba at home to an injury hit PSG team, banking on his fine domestic form carrying over to Europe. Not only did he produce an indifferent performance, but his red card means that (per UCL Fantasy Rules) the captaincy cannot be changed, nor he can he be substituted. I’m now stuck with that stiff -2 through the remaining matches of this round.
With that knife firmly placed into the heart of my UCL Fantasy League team, I’ve decided to shift focus to the exciting matches on deck.
Tuesday 19th February
The week begins with a mammoth encounter that pits last year’s UCL finalists Liverpool against German champions and UCL juggernauts Bayern Munich. The Germans have an enviable UCL record and are accustomed to progressing to the latter stages. However, the EPL league leaders are one of the continent’s top teams of the season so far and will look to go one better than last season in their bid to grab the trophy with the big ears. This is must see TV!
As always, Liverpool will be emboldened by their incomparable home support in front of the baying Kop, so will try to get on the front foot early. They have some serious defensive issues with Virgil Van Dijk suspended, Dejan Lovren struggling for fitness, and injuries to their other center backs. Jurgen Klopp’s troops will rely on the firepower of their fearsome front three (Mo Salah / Roberto Firmino / Sadio Mane) to deliver.
Bayern arrive here in strong domestic form, emerging from their winter break with verve and enthusiasm. Their defensive record makes for difficult reading, but they certainly have goals in them. Robert Lewandowski will be the chief threat, but in Arjen Robben, Kingsley Coman and Thomas Muller, Robert Kovac’s men have the weapons to grab that crucial away goal to take back to the Allianz Arena.
Elsewhere, Lyon tackle Barcelona in a tricky match-up for the La Liga front runners. A glance at the Ligue 1 table would suggest easy pickings here for Barcelona, but the truth is that this particular Lyon team has the ability to run with the best.
As exhibited in their Group stage matches against Manchester City, Bruno Genesio’s men play a patient counterattacking brand of football that is more than comfortable sacrificing possession and waiting for the right opportunities. In Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore, they have true quality within their ranks.
While Barca on the other hand have stormed to the top of La Liga, there are a few question marks as to their resilience to go the distance. Leo Messi, as always, is the main man in the center of the action, but there are some question marks over Luis Suarez’s declining form, Ousmane Dembele’s ability to rise to the occasion, and a defense that can be porous at times. Ernesto Valverde’s men have been held to three draws in their last five matches, so they’ll need to up their game to overcome this plucky French outfit.
Wednesday 20th February
This match will likely not deliver the avalanche of goals that you’ve been waiting on.
Here we have two of Europe’s best defensive teams facing each other in a match that will appeal to the purists but promises to be a tough watch for the neutrals. It’s just a pity that one of these legitimate trophy contenders will have to depart at this early phase.
Cristiano Ronaldo takes center stage as his bid to deliver a UCL title to a third team picks up pace. He’s in great nick with five goals in his last five matches. Alongside the in-form Paolo Dybala, the Old Lady appear to be peaking at the right time.
Atletico Madrid on the other hand have been slightly underwhelming, suffering two domestic losses in their last three games, slipping to seven points behind Barcelona in La Liga. Nevertheless, Diego Simeone’s men will have their customary self belief and vast resources of grit and fight in front of their fans at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Elsewhere, Schalke entertain Manchester City in a match that appears to lean heavily in favor of the visitors. Schalke may have squeezed into the knockout phase, but their league form has been fairly average. That will likely not be good enough to withstand a Manchester City attack that has swept aside all comers in recent weeks. In Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and the Silvas, City have enough firepower to put this tie to bed with some important away goals.
These are the remaining fixtures for this week’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 First Leg:
Tuesday 19th February
- Liverpool vs Bayern Munich
- Lyon vs Barcelona
Wednesday 20th February
- Atletico Madrid vs Juventus
- Schalke vs Manchester City
Which match(es) will you watch? Have you revamped your team? Who’s your captain (hopefully not Pogba)? Whom do you think will progress to the next round? Please join us in the comments as all of the exciting action unfolds!