Over four days on February 15, 16, 22 & 23; six out of eight teams forked out a minimum of 2-goal lead over their rivals in first-leg Round-16 games and therefore placed themselves in advantageous positions going into the second-leg beginning on March 8, 2017. In opening matches, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid inched one step closer to quarterfinals, but Barcelona & Arsenal found themselves in deep ditches. The only close result was a 1-0 home victory for Benefica over Borussia Dortmund. A week later, other four first-leg Round-16 matches also produced surprisingly similar results. Three teams obtained 2-goal first-leg leads as Atletico Madrid beat Leverkusen 4-2; Manchester City outscored Monaco 5-3; Juventus defeated Porto 2-0 while Sevilla edged out Leicester City 2-1.
On February 15, the game between PSG and FC Barcelona sent shock waves with PSG thrashing Barcelona 4-0. Ex-Madrid star Angel Di Maria was the show-stealer on his 29th birthday with a beautiful free-kick in 18th minute. Julian Draxler’s 40th minute goal made it 2-0 for Paris at halftime. Then Di Maria scored his second in 55th minute and Edinson Cavani completed the Barca route with a 72nd minute strike. Incidentally, Cavani was also celebrating his 30th birthday. Barca looked completely off-color with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique being reduced to bystanders. When these two meet again at Camp Nou on March 9, Barca will have a nearly insurmountable task of wiping off a huge first-leg deficit.
Like PSG, Bayern Munich also crushed Arsenal 5-1 and virtually secured the quarterfinal berth. It didn’t look so bad in first half, even though Bayern took an early 11th minute lead through Arjen Robben’s goal. In 30th minute, Bayern star Robert Lewandowski brought down Laurent Koscielny and Arsenal earned a penalty. After Alexis Sanchez’s attempt was saved by Manuel Neuer, the Chilean got the bouncing ball and struck it through the legs of several defenders. When the game began at 1-1 after halftime, Bayern changed course and struck 4 times. After Lewandowski headed home in 53rd minute, Thiago Alcantara scored twice in 56th and 63rd minutes and Thomas Muller brought the finishing touches in 88th minute as Bayern finished 5-1 winners. The Gunners will host Bayern on March 8 but they know how bleak their chances would be.
At Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid defeated Napoli 3-1. The 2-goal advantage will work positively, when they travel to Naples on March 8 for second-leg game. Madrid were down 0-1 in 9th minute with Lorenzo Insigne producing an extraordinary long-range shot that caught goalkeeper Navas off-guard. 10 minutes later, however, the defending champions equalized through Karim Benzema, who neatly headed a pass from Dani Carvajal. Four minutes after halftime, Tony Kroos struck from Cristiano Ronaldo’s fine pass and Casemiro sealed the 3-1 victory with a fine volley in 54th minute.
Though Benefica scored a 1-0 home win against Dortmund, they will have a tough task on hand, when they go to Germany on March 9 for second-leg game. Dortmund looked a dominant side at times but after the goalless first-half, Kostas Mitroglou put Benefica ahead. Dortmund were unlucky as they squandered a penalty and couldn’t convert many close chances.
In the first game a week later, Atletico Madrid defeated Bayer Leverkusen 4-2. Atletico’s forward line comprising of Antoine Griezmann, Kevin Gameiro and Saul Niguez left Leverkusen’s defense in tatters. Niguez began Atletico’s charge with a 17th minute goal and Griezmann made it 2-0 eight minutes later. Four minutes after halftime, Leverkusen reduced the deficit but conceded a 59th minute penalty to trail 1-3. The hosts looked like making a comeback after an own goal by Atletico defender Stefan Savic but substitute Fernando Torres scored Atletico’s fourth goal in 87th minute for a 2-goal first-leg lead. In second-leg game at Madrid on March 16, Leverkusen must produce a miracle to stay alive in Champions League.
On the same night, Manchester City also derived a 2-goal first-leg advantage by beating AS Monaco 5-3 in one of the best Champions League matches in recent memory. City took an early 26th minute lead from Raheem Sterling’s goal but Monaco reversed the order, when Falcao equalized in 32nd minute and Kylian Mbappe’s long run and clean finish in 40th minute took Monaco 2-1 ahead. City could have trailed 1-3 after halftime, but Falcao missed a penalty. City equalized at 2-2, when Monaco goalie allowed an Aguero shot to deflect through his legs into the goal. But Falcao scored again in 61st minute to make it 3-2 for Monaco. However in last 30 minutes, Manchester City scored three goals. Aguero produced a great shot off a corner in 71st minute and 6 minutes later, John Stones did the same from another corner. In 82nd minute, Leroy Sane made it 5-3. Now the two teams meet again on March 16 at Monaco.
In Turin, Juventus defeated a 10-men Porto team 2-0. In a closely contested match, Juventus began by missing a 15th-minute penalty but two late goals from two substitutes made the difference. Five minutes into play, Marko Pjaca put Juventus 1-0 ahead in 72nd minute before Dani Alves made it 2-0, two minutes later. Alves himself had been on field for just 2 minutes.
English Premier League champions Leicester City put in a disappointing performance in a 1-2 loss to Sevilla. The Spanish side played much better despite missing an early penalty and took a 1-0 lead through a powerful header by Pablo Sarabia in 25th minute. Joaquin Correa made it 2-0 at the hour-mark. Though Leicester star Jamie Vardy reduced the deficit to 2-1 with a goal in 73rd minute, the Englishmen couldn’t produce the performance worthy of Premier League champions. No wonder, Claudio Ranieri lost his job as Leicester City manager in the next 24 hours.
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