After an enthralling start to the Champions League knockout stage last week, the competition continues with four more alluring matchups.
This week features the defending European champions Bayern Munich, who've played like anything but since returning from the Club World Cup. A 3-3 draw with promoted Arminia Bielefeld coupled with a defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt has the Bavarians sputtering ahead of their midweek clash against Lazio.
Elsewhere, La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid take on Chelsea, Atalanta faces Real Madrid and Borussia Monchengladbach battle the Manchester City juggernaut.
Here is a storyline to watch for each game this week.
Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea
Can Thomas Tuchel keep up the momentum in Europe?
Chelsea suffered its first setback under Thomas Tuchel after drawing 1-1 with Southampton on Saturday. Not only did it snap Tuchel's winning streak to begin his stint with the Blues, it was also the first goal conceded by the club since the German took charge.
Now Tuchel is facing another stern test in La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid, and while Atletico has stumbled recently, there's still plenty of danger in that side.
Only Lille (17.6) and Manchester City (17.7) have a lower expected goals against (xGA) in Europe's big five leagues than Atletico (18.1). Defensively, los Colchoneros are always stingy, which is why they pose a huge threat in two-legged ties.
But with Luis Suarez banging in goals, 21-year-old Joao Felix evolving into a more complete forward and Marcos Llorente settling into an attacking role, Atletico possess some proper firepower in the final third.
Deploying a 3-4-3 has shored up Chelsea's defence – it has conceded 0.39 xG and 10.1 touches in the box per 90 minutes under Tuchel – and has controlled possession in all games so far, which obviously alleviates pressure on the back line.
In the final third, the wingbacks will be crucial for Chelsea. Callum Hudson-Odoi, despite his controversial substitution vs. Southampton, should start on the right with Marcos Alonso on the left. Both have been heavily influential in the final third, as evidenced by their deep progressions, key passes, xGBuildup and shot-creating actions per 90 minutes under Tuchel.
To add more intrigue, Atletico's wingbacks in Kieran Trippier and Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco are suspended and injured, respectively. That should give Chelsea a notable advantage on the wings.
Lazio vs. Bayern Munich
Can Lazio add to Bayern's misery?
Ever since Bayern Munich lost Thomas Muller to COVID-19, the Germans have become a house of cards.
Metrics such as expected assists (xA), shot-creating actions (SCA) and key passes highlight Muller's value to Bayern, and he's in the elite percentile in most categories among other attacking midfielders in Europe's top-five leagues, so losing him clearly has an effect on performances.
Muller's absence alone is difficult to overcome. But with Leon Goretzka not starting in the loss to Frankfurt, there were massive gaps in the midfield that the hosts capitalized on in the first half.
Take the buildup to Amin Younes' goal in the 31st minute as an example. Younes created the initial counter-attack after Bayern's midfield, along with full-back Alphonso Davies, pushed up when they should've closed the gap between themselves and the defence.
However, even with Muller, the reigning champions have been more susceptible to counter-attacks this season. It could be due to the pandemic condensing the fixture list, which has led to more fatigue, but whatever the case, Lazio will be salivating.
The Roman club has attempted 14 shots from counter-attacks in Serie A this season, the second-highest tally in the league. Plus, the majority of its attacks are generated via its left flank, which is also where Eintracht Frankfurt and Arminia Bielefeld targeted a fair amount of their attacks vs. Bayern.
Bayern is still favoured, but this could be a tricky situation for the champions.
Atalanta vs. Real Madrid
Will Atalanta cause one the biggest upsets in Champions League history?
If Atalanta eliminates Real Madrid, this would be a monumental upset.
That alone highlights how much of an advantage Madrid should have over Atalanta, yet it's the latter who should relish this matchup.
Anyone who has watched Atalanta knows about its fluid, man-marking system that has confused several opponents over the years. But the last few weeks have called for some tweaks after captain Alejandro "Papu" Gomez joined Sevilla last month. Luckily for coach Gian Piero Gasperini, Colombian strikers Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata haven't skipped a beat.
Atalanta lead thanks to their Colombian connection pic.twitter.com/4H0C76li4V
— DAZN Canada (@DAZN_CA) February 21, 2021
Given how tepid and error-prone Madrid has looked in some marquee matches, especially when building from the back, this could present tons of issues for the Madridistas against Atalanta's high press.
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Manchester City
Does 'Gladbach stand a chance of snapping its recent skid?
Borussia Monchengladbach's Marco Rose was announced as Borussia Dortmund's next coach on Feb. 15, although there were rumblings for a few weeks beforehand, which has seemingly affected the team's performances. The Foals are winless in their last four league games, which leaves the club nine points adrift of the Champions League places.
According to expected goals (xG) data from Understat, 'Gladbach hasn't exceeded 0.66 xG in a game since the Dortmund win, but the team has exceeded its xG for most of the season, so this is simply a case of the clinical finishing drying up.
The Champions League would be a nice distraction if it wasn't for 'Gladbach's opponent being Manchester City, who has won 18 matches in a row across all competitions. Couple that with Marcus Thuram missing out, this will be a tough ask for the Germans.
There is one potential Achilles' heel for Man City, though. The Premier League leaders were noticeably exposed on their right flank. Arsenal tried to exploit this on Sunday but it wasn't decisive enough in the final third to capitalize. The Gunners had Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka combine down that side but the final pass into the box was missing.
If Ramy Bensebaini and Valentino Lazaro can replicate this, that could be one method for 'Gladbach to stun City.