A night of intrigue lies ahead as the Champions League resumes on Tuesday after a break of more than two months. Neymar’s absence will almost certainly be felt in a heavyweight bout while the wriggling Liverpool have a tough test.
Paris Saint-Germain versus Barcelona
As much as Mauricio Pochettino is likely to itch after kick-off in his first game for PSG in the Champions League, the French champions know that a performance that reflects his recent appearances in Ligue 1 can mirror the disaster he is suffered at Camp Nou in 2017.
4-0 after the first leg that night, PSG were beaten 5-1 in the most harrowing of the three consecutive defeats they’d suffered to Barca since the teams met in the 2012 round of 16.
As is tradition today, Neymar was knocked out of the first leg of the last 16 despite hoping to recover from a thigh problem for the second leg on March 10, which makes it all the more important that PSG stay at competitive distance if they lose in Spain.
Angel di Maria – a tireless midfield inspiration for much of an inconsistent season – is also facing a thigh problem, but neither the Argentine playmaker nor Neymar would save PSG if they did another of the unconvincing performances that characterized them in the last few weeks.
Saturday’s late 2-1 home win against midfield Nice came after a 1-0 win at Caen from the second division and a 2-0 win over ten-man Marseille, who played from a pitch for much of the season has spent, undeserved disaster to the next.
Worse for Pochettino: the bogey team Barcelona have achieved something that approaches their usual standards in league form. She has won the last seven games, including a 5-1 win over Alaves in which Lionel Messi scored two goals on Saturday.
Messi’s stats hardly need mentioning, not least because, as usual, Leo will take the lion’s share of the pre-game attention, picking up his suitors for the next season with an unmatched record of 27 goals in 30 games during this period. Only Cristiano Ronaldo is more experienced in the round of 16 and appears twice more.
Even so, last season’s finalists with a former finalist at the helm have come closer to the title in recent years than Barca. Kylian Mbappe is particularly overdue in the final stages of the Champions League, where he has only scored once in nine games for PSG.
Everton flop Moise Kean is also worth a nod as the show’s unlikely youngest star for his loaner club. Kean has little pedigree in the competition, and maybe child prodigy Italy and Mbappe will enjoy the unknown element in terms of the impact they’ll have on an elusive tie. If 50:50 games in the Champions League mean gold dust, Barcelona-PSG have plenty of it.
RB Leipzig versus Liverpool
Tuesday’s second game, Liverpool’s trip to Leipzig, looks less balanced after most measures, though decidedly less clear-cut than it was in December.
Leipzig is a dangerous team. You don’t have a clear goal scorer, but the goals are shared by the team. You have 5 players with 4 goals. Liverpool need to be up to date tonight and have better communication on defense. We can beat Leipzig, but we have to improve our game.
– Homes (@LFC_Wahome) February 16, 2021
Liverpool could rightly look back on this past golden age. Since Christmas, the reigning champions have won two out of ten Premier League games, with three of their five losses in the last three games.
In a week in which he had to fend off possible suggestions that he needs a break, a trip to the Colombian Bundesliga rivals Leipzig seems to be the challenge that Jürgen Klopp’s outsider does not need after heavy defeats against Manchester City and Liverpool.
Or maybe that’s exactly what Klopp would want if he really wanted to get on with the program, presumably in the expectation that his previously brilliant side would be inspired by adversity and dangerous adversaries.
Liverpool were ahead at Leicester – even in the Premier League this season – ahead of a disastrous 15-minute final, and it was similar in City, where Klopp’s men faced the rampant leaders ahead of a terrible 20-minute final that could have happened could catch up with every team.
Injury defensive impoverishment remains a major problem, but Leipzig are among the least obviously well-placed teams in the competition that could ruthlessly exploit these difficulties by relying on former city defender Angelino to be the best for them with seven goals Result achieved this season.
The comfortable win over Tottenham at this stage last season showed what this Leipzig high pressure side can do against uninspired opponents, and Liverpool need goalkeeper Alisson to restore the imperial form that made him one of the best goalkeepers in the world and not continues to be responsible for groundbreaking howlers in their last two defeats as an obvious cheater.
A win for Leipzig would not be a big surprise, but of the two teams Liverpool should have a superior quality to move forward even with a bad result in Germany. If they face difficulties along the way, Klopp could see this as an opportunity to prove their heightened resilience before a massive battle for the Premier League top 4 ensues.
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