The UEFA Champions League resumes this week with the second legs of the Round of 16, although half of the ties are likely out of reach.
Manchester City and Liverpool hold a four and five goal lead respectively. Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, along with Tottenham and Juventus, are still tight matchups that have plenty on the line.
PSG trails 3-1 to Madrid ahead of the return match at the Parc des Princes, while Spurs and Juve are level at 2-2 heading to Wembley. With so much at stake in those contests, the slimmest of margins can define an entire season for these sides.
With this in mind, here is the case for all four teams to progress to the quarterfinals.
There is no doubting that Juventus’ performance in the first leg versus Tottenham was disappointing. After a shaky start, Spurs dominated the remainder of the match and pinned Juve into their end of the pitch.
However, Blaise Matuidi was injured that day and he’ll be available for the second leg. The Frenchman is not a particularly strong technical player, but he makes up for it with his ability to close down space and win back possession. His presence will help Juve restrict the Spurs midfield and launch counter-attacks through the likes of Paulo Dybala or Douglas Costa.
Speaking of Dybala, he made his first start on Saturday since returning from injury. He scored a fantastic winner against Lazio at the death to clinch a 1-0 win,. The 24-year-old will enter the match on a high and full of retribution as he was left out of the latest Argentina squad, not to mention the first leg of this tie.
Defensively, Juve is as stingy as ever, keeping three consecutive clean sheets since the first leg. With the return of Matuidi and Dybala, the Serie A champions have the firepower to defeat Spurs at Wembley.
The first-leg performance by Spurs at Allianz Stadium was one of the best in recent memory. Now they return home to finish the task.
Harry Kane is still lethal, scoring seven goals in six Champions League matches, including the first meeting with Juventus. Dele Alli’s form in Europe has been phenomenal this season, recording two goals and four assists. Christian Eriksen and Heung-min Son are always dangerous in the final third as well, plus Eriksen is a huge threat on set pieces.
Mousa Dembele is the key player for Spurs, though. He’s been one of the top midfielders in the Premier League recently with his defensive domination and distribution. He could be tasked with closing down Dybala.
Spurs will also be hoping Gonzalo Higuain has not recovered from his ankle injury from the Torino match on Feb. 18. He has not played since suffering the knock and is a fitness doubt. Mario Mandzukic is not a big scoring threat like Higuain, so the Argentine’s absence would be crucial as well.
On the surface, the Neymar injury appears to be a massive hindrance to PSG’s chances of overturning the 3-1 deficit. However, this may not drastically affect the Parisians.
Neymar was fairly ineffective in the final third in the first leg. He completed more dribbles than any other player, but he seldom beat an opposing defender and wasn’t in a threatening position on the ball. The Brazilian did not make a single pass to Edinson Cavani, either, which is an issue.
Angel Di Maria, who will likely replace Neymar, is in stellar form in 2018. He has 13 goals and nine assists in 15 matches in the calendar year so far. This is also a terrific opportunity for Di Maria to convince Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli that he should start at the World Cup. The 29-year-old will have extra motivation against his former side as well.
Lassana Diarra should start in the heart of midfield. Giovani Lo Celso was clearly uncomfortable in that role at the Santiago Bernabeu. A player with Diarra’s big-game experience and his familiarity in the role are two huge upgrades over Lo Celso.
The potential absences of Marquinhos and Kylian Mbappe could be blows to the side. However, Julian Draxler can play in the front with Thiago Silva and Presnel Kimpembe starting at centre-back. Mbappe’s form over the past few weeks has declined and, in addition, he appeared heavily fatigued.
The home crowd is obviously a huge factor. Only two of PSG’s last eight Champions League second-leg matches have been played at the Parc des Princes, both in the round of 16. The Ligue 1 leaders advanced on both occasions.
PSG held on to a 1-1 draw for 83 minutes and Madrid was not prospering offensively. It wasn’t until Thomas Meunier entered the match when Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo and Marco Asensio began tormenting that flank. PSG manager Unai Emery has to utilize a pressing game and catch Madrid’s defence up high. If this occurs, then there is a strong chance of a recovery.
Neymar is out for at least the next couple of months. Mbappe has a sprained ankle and Marquinhos has strained quadriceps. PSG could be without three starters on Tuesday which could benefit Madrid.
Since the 3-1 win over the Ligue 1 side, Madrid has won four of their last five games with 15 goals in that span. A 1-0 loss to Espanyol on Feb. 27 is their only blemish. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 10 times in his previous five appearances. Gareth Bale is back on the scoresheet, plus Asensio and Lucas Vazquez are having an impact off the bench or in occasional starts in La Liga.
Madrid’s midfield trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos is arguably the best in Europe, especially in the latter stages of the Champions League. They dominated the midfield versus PSG in the first leg, so they are tipped to repeat the feat in Paris.