Last week’s Champions League games once again reminded us how unpredictable things can get at this stage of the tournament.
Juventus needs a dominant, if not miraculous, performance, as it’s down 2-0 and (obviously) cannot tally any away goals in Turin. Lyon also has a tough task traveling to Barcelona. Below are breakdowns of what to expect Tuesday at Juve’s Allianz Stadium at 4 p.m. Eastern and Wednesday at Camp Nou at the same time.
Los Rojiblancos were extremely impressive in the first leg in Madrid. Considering the opponent and the way the game played out, Manager Diego Simeone’s side’s 2-0 victory was among the strongest performances of the tournament. The Italians were very fortunate the game remained scoreless until the 78th. At this point, Atleti not giving up scoring opportunities is hardly newsworthy, even against an opponent with a goal scorer like Cristiano Ronaldo. But it was the La Liga club’s offense, particularly on the counter, that turned heads, especially after halftime.
Between their dominance in the first leg and their quiet streak of stellar play – they’re unbeaten since a now-baffling 3-1 loss to RM on February 9 – it’s easy to understand why FiveThirtyEight gives Atleti an 88% chance to advance.
There’s just one very handsome catch, though: CR7. Atleti fans are thrilled that their crosstown rivals were bounced last week, and not just because of the bad blood. Simeone’s men have had plenty of UCL success in recent years, but never against Los Blancos. While they’re now out of the picture, Ronaldo is not, at least not yet.
On one hand, if there’s any team that could advance when all they need to do is hold the opposition in check, it’s likely Atlético. On the other, it’s never wise to count out a team like Juventus, which boasts a dangerous combination of desperation, homefield advantage and a transcendent player in Ronaldo. The opening minutes will be pivotal. If Juventus hasn’t managed to get on the board by halftime, I think the second half will be academic. As we’ve seen plenty of times, though, an early goal by the heavy home underdog could change the tenor of the match in a hurry.
It will be interesting to see how aggressive Atleti will be. Considering the circumstances, parking the bus is not a terrible idea. But spending 90 minutes holding on for dear life is not advisable, either, so Atlético has an intriguing decision to make regarding their approach.
Ultimately, I think the odds are stacked too heavily against Juventus. This, however, remains a must-see match, and betting on a draw (+260) feels like the smart move.
Maybe it was the upsets last week. Or it could be the lingering feeling that Barcelona’s tendency to turn it on and off is going to make them pay sooner than later. Whatever is, this has the feel of the game of the week, and one Barcelona could very well lose. Lyon at +950 is hard to resist in this one, and not just because the first leg ended in a draw.
For Lyon, the most encouraging thing about that game, other than Barcelona failing to get a crucial away goal, was giving themselves a chance with their captain, Nabil Fekir, unavailable. That’s got to be a huge confidence boost for a team that lacks Barcelona’s star power. The Ligue 1 side also caught a break this week in the form of an injury to Ousmane Dembélé, who is doubtful with a hamstring injury. Barcelona is just about unstoppable when the Frenchman is healthy and clicking alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, so that’s a big plus for Lyon, even though Barça remains, well, Barça.
While this game deserves close attention for the reasons above, Barcelona have the luxury of a great defense in addition to their superstars up top. Marc-André ter Stegen is a big reason why they’ve won a number of games this season without being at their best. It’s also hard to imagine another lackluster start, or any prolonged lull by Barcelona, in a game of this magnitude in front of their home fans.
So while Lyon is absolutely worth a flier at +950, I’m going to be boring, but consistent: the favorites in these two games will advance and give La Liga two teams in the Champions League quarterfinals.