All three La Liga teams in the Champions League Round of 16 have good reason to like their chances of advancing to the final eight.
Real Madrid won a tough away match 2-1 against a talented opponent in Ajax. Atlético Madrid turned in one of the best halves of the round to beat Juventus and longtime nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo 2-0 at Wanda Metropolitano. Barcelona will return to Camp Nou with a great chance to advance against Lyon after a 0-0 draw.
Atlético Madrid-Juventus Champions League Leg 2
|Juventus -150||Draw +280||Atlético Madrid +430
Manager Diego Simeone’s side was as impressive as anyone in the Round of 16 on Wednesday against Juventus. Seeing them at +430 here is a bit of a surprise.
The stout defense and intensity that have long been Atleti hallmarks were on full display at Wanda Metropolitano. But it was the suddenly potent offense that gave the La Liga side the look of a team that could play for a Champions League trophy at its home stadium on June 1. Atlético scored both its goals on set pieces, with defenders José Giménez and Diego Godín scoring in the 78th and 83rd, respectively.
Juventus was fortunate it did not lose 4-0 or 5-0, as Antoine Griezmann, Diego Costa and Álvaro Morata all had great opportunities. Costa used his speed and physicality to get behind the defense twice. In the first half, he was tripped and earned his team a free kick. Later, he took a perfect pass from Griezmann and beat his man for a one-on-one opportunity against Juve keeper Wojciech Szczesny, but pushed the shot wide of the net in the 49th. Minutes later, Griezmann nearly chipped a beautiful goal over the head of Szczesny, who was able to push the ball to the crossbar with his fingertips. Morata then appeared to score his first goal since joining Atlético earlier this month, but VAR took his header off the board, ruling that he pushed his defender to make space.
Those chances all came on a night when Atleti also stifled CR7, who ripped a free kick that required a great save by Jan Oblak and had a chance at a late header, but was otherwise limited. Simeone and Co. will travel to Turin for the second leg a heavy favorite to reach the quarters. With another performance like Wednesday’s, nothing will seem out of reach for them in this tournament.
Barcelona-Lyon Champions League Leg 2
|Barcelona -440||Draw +550||Lyon +950
The team that fared “worst” of the bunch, Barcelona, needs only a win at home in the second leg. But it might officially be time to worry about the Catalans’ offensive woes. In Barça’s last four games – one in the Copa del Rey, two in La Liga and Tuesday’s CL match – they have scored just twice, and one of those came on a penalty kick by Lionel Messi. Thanks to strong defense and some incredible work by keeper Marc-André ter Stegen, the offensive issues have not produced any losses. Manager Ernesto Valverde’s side is going to have to find some scoring soon, though. Otherwise, it will be another early Champions League exit – at least by Blaugrana standards – after the club bowed out in the quarterfinals a year ago.
The lack of scoring against Lyon was particularly frustrating considering Barcelona took 25 (!) shots, but just five on goal. The recent drought is even more puzzling considering Barcelona has scored 61 goals in 24 La Liga matches this season. It’s hard to imagine a team with this much firepower continuing to struggle to finish in front of the net for long.
The encouraging news for Lyon is that they earned a draw without captain Nabil Fekir, who was suspended for Tuesday’s match. The striker’s return for the March 13 rematch, and the fact that Lyon can advance with a draw as long as they score, are legitimate reasons for optimism.
I wouldn’t bet against Barcelona, though, unless more injuries pile up between now and the second leg. The -440 price is long though.
Real Madrid-Ajax Champions League Leg 2
|Reak Madrid -170||Draw +320||Ajax +450
Los Blancos are in great position to advance thanks to a late goal by Marco Asensio in Amsterdam.
Ajax left this one feeling unlucky after a first-half goal was taken off the board when it was ruled that Dusan Tadic interfered with RM keeper Thibaut Courtois on a goal by Nicolas Tagliafico.
Neither team scored until Karim Benzema gave Real Madrid a 1-0 lead in the 60th after being set up by Vinicius Jr.
This was as evenly played as any round of 16 match-up, and the stats backed that up. Possession ended up exactly 50-50, and Real Madrid narrowly edged Ajax in shots on goal, 8-7. Even fouls (10 for Ajax, 11 for Real Madrid) and corners (three for Ajax, two for RM) were even.
The return leg at the Santiago Bernabéu will likely be another hard-fought battle, but homefield advantage plus the experience factor – not to mention the Spanish side’s edge on the scoreboard – mean the smart money is on RM to go through and give La Liga three teams in the quarterfinals.