After two months waiting, the Champions League is finally back for the first knockout round. Four matches of the first leg were played this week, involving the current holders Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were beaten by a usually overly defensive Diego Simeone team and they will have to come back at Anfield. Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham was quite lucky to only lose 0-1, after Leipzig confident exhibition in London.
Meanwhile, a young Norwegian prodigy continues to shine in the Champions League and Atalanta confirms to be the dark horse to keep an eye this season. Look out the players who have been in top form this week:
Atletico Madrid 1 x 0 Liverpool
As Liverpool defends their invincible status in Premier League, where they are running rampant, the expectation was high for their Champions League game against Atletico. The ‘Colchoneros’ have not exactly been having their best season and are currently 5th in La Liga.
However, the current Champions League holders found themselves trailing early in the match and Simeone’s men took advantage of it. Atletico scored the opener after just 4 minutes, following a chaotic mess of a corner, leaving the ball for Saul to tap it in.
Atletico saw themselves in front and did what they do best: sit back and counter-attack effectively whenever was possible. Morata could have doubled the scoreline, but Alisson was able to make a fine save.
The Reds even saw Salah getting the equalizer, but the goal was overturned quickly by VAR. Liverpool was forced to try their luck outside the box, as Atletico swarmed the box, allowing no space to be filled.
Felipe, Thomas Partey and fullback Renan Lodi with brilliant exhibitions keep the visitors shut. Liverpool had only a decent chance throughout the game, as Jordan Henderson sent the ball wide. However, Oblak had barely any action in the game, showing how Atletico’s defense was compact.
Jurgen Klopp already promised the team will come back at Anfield. Nonetheless, Liverpool will need to step up their game on the second leg and show why they are the favorites to retain the title.
Borussia Dortmund 2 x 1 Paris Saint Germain
Neymar returned into the PSG lineup for the Champions League knockout rounds, but there was another star on the pitch to steal his spotlight. We talk about Erling Haaland, the 19-year-old Norwegian who moved from Salzburg to Dortmund this Winter.
He had already scored 8 goals in 6 Champions League games during the group stage with RB Salzburg. A pretty good record already, but the youngster increased his tally, tieing up as leading goalscorer of the competition with Robert Lewandowski.
In the Signal Iduna Park, the first glimpse of a goal was from PSG, as Neymar’s curled free-kick passed just outside the near post.
Dortmund answered immediately, with Jadon Sancho forcing Keylor Navas to a top-quality save. Then Haaland threatened to score, but his effort was slightly wide.
If the first half was a disappointing stalemate, the second one would be the opposite. Even though the teams got closer to the goal, we had to wait until the last 20 minutes for the opener.
It had to be Erling Haaland of course, as the youngster showed how much smell for a goal he has. Cross from Hakimi, attempt from Raphael Guerreiro and Haaland in the rebound confirmed it.
PSG answered almost immediately, as Mbappe made an incredible run, offering the ball on a silver plate to Neymar. A goal that seemed to set PSG to a positive draw away from home.
It would have been a perfect score if Haaland had not again discovered the back of the net. The Norwegian showed a tremendous sense of opportunity as he saw some space at the edge of the box and fired an indefensible rocket.
The visitors still hit the woodwork, through Neymar again, but the Brazilian and his teammates will have to score in Paris to go through. That and also hold Haaland quiet, which seems quite a difficult task.
Tottenham Hotspurs 0 x 1 RB Leipzig
Jose Mourinho saw himself in trouble, as Son Heu-Ming has injured his arm and will be away for a couple of months. Add it to the absence of fellow target man Harry Kane and we know Jose was probably sweating for solutions.
The North Londoners hosted RB Leipzig for the first leg and as mentioned, the lack of attacking solutions proved costly. Not only that, but Spurs looked clumsy defending, unable to hold the fast-paced attack from the Germans.
In the 2 opening minutes, Leipzig had twice the chance to break the deadlock. First with Timo Werner allowing Lloris for a save and afterward with Angeliño, signed this Winter from Manchester City, hitting the woodwork.
Hugo Lloris was again on focus, as he stopped once again Timo Werner from opening the scoreline after the first half-hour. On the other side, Gulacsi also shined as he denied Lucas Moura’s attempt.
The only goal of the match appeared in the first quarter of the second half, as Ben Davies clumsy defending brought down Konrad Laimer. Timo Werner was called to convert the penalty and completed the job successfully.
Leipzig could have doubled the lead if Lloris had not been again brilliant on goal. Schick completed a deadly counter-attack from the Bundesliga table leaders, but his effort was denied by the French keeper.
Then it was Gulacsi who replied, jumping to defend Lo Celso’s curled free-kick.
The result kept the same until the end, and Tottenham has a hard task of operating a comeback in the away fixture. They will have to repeat the feat they did in Amsterdam in last year’s semifinals.
Atalanta 4 x 1 Valencia
During the group stages, Atalanta achieved the feat of being the first team to qualify for the knockout round, after losing the first 3 matches. Therefore, many tipped them as the underdog in the last 16, but a favorable draw set Valencia as their opponents.
The Spanish side had crushed Ajax’s dreams and topped a group that included Chelsea too, but they are not exactly on their peak form in La Liga. Currently ranked 7th, they have been struggling to keep a clean sheet and the injuries of Garay and Gabriel Paulista left a gap in their defense.
Mangala and Diakhaby are the options remaining for the center back position, but it is safe to say the Valencian supporters must not be thrilled about the duo. Atalanta took advantage of that and ran rampant with a confident result.
The Italians have the highest goal tally in Lega A table, with 63 (8 more than Lazio and 19 more than league leaders Juventus). Their attacking mentality showed and Papu Gomez broke Valencia’s fragile defense with a pinpoint cross to Belgian midfielder Hateboer.
Before halftime, Atalanta doubled the advantage, as Ilicic dribbled through Valencia’s defense like they were made out of butter. The Slovenian fired a strong shot that Cillessen was unable to stop.
The second half was not kinder to Valencia, as Papu Gomez once again offered a goal, this time to Freuler. The Swiss midfielder fired a finesse shot and ended the game result for good.
Hateboer made his second of the game and 4th for Atalanta just minutes later, a memorable scoreline for their first Champions League knockout game ever.
Cheryshev got a consolation goal for the Spanish side, who will need to score 3 times and keep the Atalanta team shut down in the Mestalla to go through. Atalanta is another step closer to history.