As the UEFA Champions League marks its return, we take a look at how teams have managed to cope during the troubling times and what is in the offering.
The elite European nights are back!
Months after the UEFA Champions League was put to a halt due to the global pandemic, Europe’s elite competition marks its return with two high profiles clashes this week, as Juventus and Manchester City ready themselves for the second leg of the round of 16 against Lyon and Real Madrid respectively.
While the new directives of the Champions League state the remaining games will be played in Lisbon, Portugal, the unplayed ties of the round-of-16 will be staged at the club's home ground, meaning that Juventus, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Barcelona are all set to play their final game on the home turf.
Furthermore, the quarter-finals, as well as the semi-finals, will now be played as single-leg ties, with Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica and Estádio José Alvalade jotted down as two venues.
Juventus vs Lyon
A goal from Lucas Tousart made all the difference the last time these two sides met in the competition as Lyon registered an important 1-0 lead heading into the second leg against Juventus.
Juventus, having lifted their ninth consecutive Serie A title, are expected to go in all guns blazing, and the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala, who were rested during their 3-1 defeat to Roma last weekend, are set to mark their return.
The club from Turin hasn’t enjoyed a great run of form since football resumed in Italy. They sure have bagged goals on regular intervals, but note that if Lyon manage to get one past them, the onus will be on the Old Lady to score at least thrice in order to book a place in the quarter-finals.
Watch out for:
Memphis Depay: Lyon’s speedster Memphis Depay marked his return from a long injury layoff when his squad squared off against Paris Saint-Germain in Coupe de la Ligue League Cup final last Friday. The 26-year-old, who has been out since December last year, has enjoyed a breathtaking first half of the season, having scored a whopping 14 goals and two assists in just 18 appearances.
The former Manchester United winger has averaged 3.4 shots per games in five Champions League appearances; a figure that is certain to shake Juventus’ core. With Maurizio Sarri not enjoying the greatest run of form, having lost two back-to-back games in the league, Depay will be the one hogging the limelight.
Manchester City vs Real Madrid
Free-flowing Manchester City may have missed out on the Premier League title to Liverpool, but their attacking prowess, despite missing Sergio Aguero, remains unquestionable. The Cityzens capped off their league journey with a thumping 5-0 win over Norwich City, and they will be hoping for a similar result when they welcome Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid with an away 2-1 advantage.
City have had 13 goalscorers this season, with as many as five -- Raheem Sterling (20), Sergio Aguero (16), Gabriel Jesus (14), Kevin de Bruyne (13) and Riyad Mahrez (11) -- scoring more than 10. Madrid, on the other hand, have had 21 scorers this season, with their captain and defender Sergio Ramos being their second top-scorer at 11. The massive factor which might affect the game one way or the other however remains the fact that the visiting side will be without their captain after he was shown a red in the first leg at Santiago Bernabeu.
As Madrid trail 2-1, they need at least a goal to take things back on level terms. That, however, is expected to be an arduous task as City have been truly ruthless at home since the restart, having scored 24 goals in a mere six games. They have, in fact, scored three or more on five different occasions at home, including a 4-0 drubbing of champions Liverpool.
Watch out for:
Karim Benzema: Having scored 26 goals and 10 assists in all competitions this season, striker Karim Benzema has duly led the charge for his team since football resumed in Spain. The 32-year-old Frenchman has scored seven times and assisted twice in his last 10 appearances in the league, so as he gears up to take on Pep Guardiola's defence at the Etihad, his manager would want him to continue the rich vein of form he has enjoyed of late.
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Feature image courtesy: AFP / Javier Soriano