How things stand in UEFA Champions League after first legs of knockout games

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The half time whistle has blown in the first knockout round of this season’s UEFA Champions League.

Some teams take resounding leads into their second leg matchups, a few games are balanced delicately and plenty of sides have a mountain to climb to reach the last eight of Europe’s elite club competition.

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After two weeks and four matchdays, we now have a much clearer picture of which teams will make a deep run towards the UCL final in Lisbon on May 24.

Let’s see how these first legs played out and which teams have the upper-hand to advance to the quarterfinals.

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bayer Leverkusen

This tie is all but over, as PSG’s star-studded forwards tore Leverkusen apart. Zlatan Ibrahimovic banged in two goals, including an absolute scorcher, as Laurent Blanc’s side look set for a deep run in the UCL. Can they go one better than the quarterfinal stage they reached last season? You bet. Plucky Leverkusen have done well to get this far as Sami Hyppia’s side have had their defensive weaknesses badly exposed throughout the entire tournament. If they grab an early goal in Paris they may have a chance, but PSG look a real force to be reckoned with.

First Leg: Bayer Leverkusen 0-4 Paris Saint-Germain

Second Leg: March 12, Parc des Princes, Paris

FC Barcelona vs. Manchester City

Poor old Man City. Just when they were looking good after a solid first half at home against Barcelona, wham! Martin Demchelis threw a spanner of epic proportions in the works. A combination of his slack tracking and a great run from Lionel Messi saw Demichelis take him out, handed a red card but a penalty was harshly awarded as the foul looked to be outside the box. Dani Alves’ late goal sealed Barca’s 2-0 win, as City battled hard with 10-men but one lapse cost them. Manager Manuel Pellegrini reacted angrily to the defeat and the refereeing decisions but his side were outplayed in the end. City now have to win 3-0 at the Nou Camp in the second leg, a daunting task, but with Sergio Aguero back fit and Barca dropping more points in La Liga, it isn’t out of the question that City can push this thing into extratime. A tall order but City are certainly capable of banging in the goals.

First Leg: Manchester City 0-2 Barcelona

Second Leg: March 12, Camp Nou, Barcelona

Atletico Madrid vs. AC Milan

The first leg was tight and tense affair at the San Siro, as red-hot Diego Costa was the difference between the two sides after the Atletico striker scored late on to hand Madrid a vital 1-0 win. Neither teams forced the issue in a slightly timid affair, but with Diego Simeone’s Atletico fighting for the Spanish title and brimming with confidence, it’s hard to bet against them at home. Clarence Seedorf is slowly rebuilding his AC Milan side and they have nothing to lose in the second leg so they might as well go for it. Plus, they have Mario Balotteli so they have a chance. Will we see the famous “why always me?” shirt make a celebratory appearance at Vicente Calderon when Milan come to town? The Italian international is capable of the spectacular and that’s exactly what AC need to advance. Expect another tight game, with Milan not ready to buckle just yet. First goal is crucial in the second leg.

First Leg: AC Milan 0-1 Atletico Madrid

Second Leg: March 11, Vicente Calderon, Madrid

source: Reuters
Down and out? Arsenal’s luckless first leg vs. Bayern has Wenger’s men on the brink of elimination.

Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal

I was at the Emirates Stadium for this clash, and I’ve never heard this stadium so loud after Arsenal’s swashbuckling start against reigning European champions Bayern. A crescendo of noise flooded down from the terraces and the Gunners stormed forward again and again in the opening minutes. That attacking panache resulted in a penalty being awarded, which Mesut Ozil won after being fouled. But the Germain international missed the resulting PK and the Emirates was suddenly as flat as a pancake. Soon after things got even worse, as Arsenal ‘keeper Szczesny came flying out of his goal and brought down Arjen Robben. Red card. Penalty kick. Damn. Although David Alaba missed the spot kick, Bayern bagged a tremendous goal from Toni Kroos after 60 minutes and then a stoppage time clincher from Thomas Mueller made it 2-0. Arsenal deserved better but the breaks went against them. The Gunners went to Bayern and won 2-0 in the second leg of their last 16 match last season… they will have to do that again just to keep it alive. I fear for Arsene Wenger’s men at the Allianz Arena, Pep Guardiola’s Munich side look like a monumental machine ready to stroll to a repeat.

First Leg: Arsenal 0-2 Bayern Munich

Second Leg: March 11, Allianz Arena, Munich

Borussia Dortmund vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg

A topsy-turvy game in Russia saw the away side dispatch Zenit clinically. Borussia Dortmund, last season’s runners-up, were 2-0 up inside five minutes after being gifted two goals. Then Zenit fought back and made it 2-1 before Robert Lewandowski scored to make it 3-1, but then Zenit came back again to make it 3-2 before another lapse cost them dear as Lewnadowski made it 4-2 and advantage Dortmund. Zenit only gained six points in the UCL group stages but somehow made it through to the knockout stages, on this performance you could see why. If BVB are up to their best in front of their passionate fans at a hostile Westfalenstadion in March, this has the potential to get embarrassing for Zenit. Can Jurgen Klopp lead his injury-ravaged side to another Champions League final? I don’t think many teams would want to draw them in the quarters, assuming they get through….

First Leg: Zenit Saint Petersburg 2-4 Borussia Dortmund

Second Leg: March 19, BVB Stadion, Dortmund

source: Getty Images
David Moyes’ United side have a mountain to climb after being torn apart by Olympiakos.

Manchester United vs. Olympiakos

Okay, wasn’t this readjustment period supposed to be over by now? Manchester United lost to a Greek side in the UCL for the first-ever time as Olympiakos completed their first-ever win over the Red Devils. United looked afraid, lacking in confidence and unable to make possession count for any meaningful efforts on goal in a shocking display. David Moyes called it “their worst performance in Europe” and he hit the nail on the head. Puzzling team selections like bringing in Tom Cleverley and leaving out Adnan Januzaj have been scrutinized, but something you don’t need to debate is that Olympiakos deserved the victory. United can still turn this around at Old Trafford in what promises to be another enthralling night of European soccer at the “Theater of Dreams.” Olympiakos have lost all 11 games they’ve played away to English opposition, which bodes well. But if Moyes’ United don’t overturn this 2-0 deficit in two week’s time, Old Trafford will turn into the “Theater of Screams” and it could be adios, Mr. Moyes.

First Leg: Olympiakos 2-0 Manchester United

Second Leg: March 19, Old Trafford, Manchester

Chelsea vs. Galatasaray

Chelsea started the game well in the hostile atmosphere in Istanbul as Fernando Torres scored in the opening 10 minutes, and the Blues looked to be on their way to a superb away win. However in the second half Galatasaray rallied and an equalizer from Aurelien Chedjou saw the home side take the game to Chelsea and almost bag a winner. Chelsea will see this result as a good one away in Turkey, as the tie is evenly poised ahead of the return leg at Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho will be happy with the draw but also wary that Galatasaray’s stars and Mourinho’s former players, Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, could come back to haunt him. This tie is not over by a long way but with Chelsea grabbing a vital away goal, they have a slight advantage.

First Leg: Galatasaray 1-1 Chelsea

Second Leg: March 18, Stamford Bridge, London

source: AP
Will Ronaldo win his first-ever Champions League title with Real Madrid this season?

Real Madrid vs. FC Schalke

Here we saw the team many are tipping to lift the Champions League crown in May, as Real obliterated Schalke 6-1 after Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo all scored two each. When you have three attackers of that quality in your team, there’s no way you aren’t going to punish teams for slack defending. That’s exactly what Real did and in the second leg at home this could get ugly for Bundesliga outfit Schalke. They did get a late consolation goal, and an absolute stunner at that, via former Real striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar but you fear for them at the Santiago Bernabeu. The dream final on everyone’s lips is Real Madrd vs. Bayern Munich. The former are one step closer to that, as they’re already through to the last eight… baring a miraculous comeback from Schalke.

First Leg: Schalke 1-6 Real Madrid

Second Leg: March 18, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.