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The Last 16 - Second leg, Match week 1
While the theoretically stronger teams play away from home in the first leg of a Champions League Round of 16 tie (as they topped their group in the earlier stage, rather than finishing second), this advantage was well and truly hammered home this year.
There was just one home win (for Porto) and seven victories for the away sides in the first leg. Since the competition switched to its current format in 2003/04, there have only been an average of 2.7 first-leg defeats by home sides in this round, and never more than six - did we see a display of the true impact of the lack of fans on football?
Whatever the reason for the dominance of the away sides - several matches being played at neutral venues due to the covid pandemic may have played some part - it means that there aren’t too many ties in the balance.
Or will the underdogs have their own day playing on the road this time around? Let’s take a look at what lies in store this week.
Borussia Dortmund v Sevilla (3-2)
Both of our tips for the first leg proved to be correct, with the German side recovering from Suso’s early goal to hit back through Mahmoud Dahoud and a first half brace from the favourite in the Top Goalscorer market, Erling Braut Haaland.
But while the last seven Champions League first legs that ended 2-3 all saw the away side ultimately go through, this tie had the closest first leg of the round on expected goals, which may give Sevilla some hope. Dortmund are away at Bayern Munich on Saturday too, which is a very testing fixture to play so close to this one.
However, in six of those seven previous examples, the home side in the second leg won to nil, and only two sides in the Bundesliga have kept more clean sheets on their own patch than Dortmund have this season.
The German side were able to cut through Sevilla’s defence almost at will in the first leg, and they should have plenty of chances again here as the visitors need at least two goals to proceed.
With Julen Lopetegui’s side failing to score more than once in an away La Liga match against a top-half opponent this season, this should be another instance of a comfortable home win after a five-goal first leg.
Match result: Borussia Dortmund to win (2.02)
Both Teams To Score: No (2.45)
To win the competition: Dortmund (20.8), Sevilla (100)
Juventus v FC Porto (1-2)
Porto’s win was the only home side victory in the first leg, and, statistically speaking, by an intriguing scoreline too. The majority of historic first-leg scores show a definite trend towards whether the home or away side goes on, but a 2-1 home win has proven to be a very mixed bag.
In the 14 instances that it has happened in this round in the last 17 years, the home side has gone through six times and been eliminated eight. Did Federico Chiesa’s 82nd-minute goal turn the tide in Juventus’ favour?
It’s reasonable to assume it did, and things could’ve been worse for the Portuguese side as Alvaro Morata missed Juve’s only clear-cut chance of the night a minute later.
Ultimately, the two teams’ contrasting records at this stage could prove to be the difference. Porto have won none and only drawn four of their previous 13 away matches in the Champions League knockout phase, while Juve rarely lose at home at this stage of the competition, having not done so since 2004.
Andrea Pirlo’s team have also only lost two home matches in league and Europe this season, and in both cases had a man sent off. Porto only need a draw - or a one goal defeat in a high scoring game - but it’s still a big ask.
We picked Juventus to win last time and we’ll do so again. As they’ll want to keep things tight to try to ensure they don’t concede, we’ll also back the Under in the total goals market too.
Match result: Juventus to win (1.42)
Total goals: Under 2.75 (1.75 alternative line)
To win the competition: Juventus (16.8), Porto (75.3)
Liverpool v RB Leipzig (2-0)
If these were normal times then few people would give RB Leipzig a prayer of coming back from a 2-0 defeat in a second leg at Anfield, which is known across the world for the magic of its European nights.
But this match will be staged in Budapest, just as the first leg was. With the Reds having the worst home form in the Premier League, Julian Nagelsmann might’ve preferred for his side to actually play at an empty Anfield.
The first meeting boiled down to defensive errors, with mistakes by Marcel Sabitzer and Nordi Mukiele resulting in goals for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, respectively. However, Leipzig also hit the woodwork and had two other big scoring opportunities of their own; indeed, this was the only one of the eight first leg matches where both teams had at least two non-penalty clear-cut chances.
And while teams have prospered against Liverpool recently by ‘parking the bus’ at Anfield and looking to hit them on the counter, Leipzig will have to play in a fashion likely to suit Jürgen Klopp’s side. The Reds should win an entertaining match featuring several goals - so let’s take the Over in the goals market.
Match result: Liverpool to win (2.11)
Total goals: Over 2.75 (1.82)
To win the competition: Liverpool (7.93), RB Leipzig (248)
Paris Saint Germain v Barcelona (4-1)
It could all have been so different. Little over a minute after Lionel Messi had opened the scoring in the first leg, Ousmane Dembélé had a glorious opportunity to put Barcelona 2-0 up, but his weak shot was straight at Keylor Navas. It would prove to be the home side’s final clear-cut chance in a tie that rapidly became the Kylian Mbappé show.
And in truth, even if Barca had gone two goals up, there’s every chance PSG - last year’s losing finalists - could’ve got back into the game, such was the pace and inventiveness of their attack when up against the leaden-footed defending of the Catalan side.
Of course, the teams have been here before, back in 2017. The Parisiens won the first match 4-0 before losing 6-1 at Camp Nou. But the two clubs are in very different places now, with the French side having since acquired Mbappé and Barca having failed to rebuild successfully as their legendary squad has either aged or moved on.
It’s certainly not inconceivable that Barca score a goal or two in this match, but - much like in the Liverpool vs. RB Leipzig fixture - it’s impossible to see their defence not being torn apart on the counter in the process.
History shows that teams that lose Champions League first-leg matches by at least three goals at home almost always lose the second leg as well - and expect the same to happen here, with PSG set to lay down a marker of intent ahead of the quarter-final stage.
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