The UEFA Champions League round of 16 continues this week with four more enticing round-of-16 matches.
Many clubs are feeling the effects of a gruelling season, so this should make for fantastic viewing. It’s imperative every player performs at their peak, especially those who will be leaned on more than others.
Here is the key player – or X-factor – for the eight teams in action.
Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
There’s really one method of exploiting Barcelona: Constantly press Sergio Busquets and the team loses its rhythm.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. However, Busquets has slowed down over the past couple of seasons so there have been occasions when that lack of pace has been exploited in marquee matches.
If Arturo Vidal is able to help out defensively and cover ground, this should allow Busquets to circulate the ball versus Lyon. That’s vital considering he’ll be battling the energetic Houssem Aouar and Tanguy Ndombele.
Tanguy Ndombele (Lyon)
With Nabil Fekir suspended, Ndombele will be leaned on even more for Lyon against Barcelona.
Ndombele was brilliant in both matches against Manchester City in the group stage and put on a show against Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of the month.
Tanguy Ndombélé's game by numbers vs. PSG:
4 long passes
1 chance created
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 3, 2019
The Frenchman’s combination of dribbling, creativity, vision and strength makes him a constant threat for Barcelona, so they’ll have to be on high alert.
Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
Liverpool looks like a more complete side with Georginio Wijnaldum in the midfield. He’s able to connect the attack with the midfield and frees up Naby Keita in doing so.
Virgil van Dijk’s absence will also place extra responsibility on Wijnaldum to track back and recover possession, which he does gracefully.
Even Bayern Munich’s players are aware of Wijnaldum’s importance to Liverpool’s system.
Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich)
Due to van Dijk’s suspension and Dejan Lovren battling to recover in time for Tuesday’s first leg, it’s likely that Fabinho will partner Joel Matip at centre-back. If this occurs, Kingsley Coman could have a field day.
Coman is a winger, but right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold will need to be extra careful with his positioning, especially with an unfamiliar centre-back partnership beside him.
To top it off, Coman is coming off Bayern’s victory over Augsburg having contributed two goals and an assist. He’ll certainly be riding high entering this first leg.
Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)
There may not be a more underrated top-tier goalkeeper than Jan Oblak.
His importance to the side can be quantified by Atletico Madrid’s expected goals allowed (xGA) in La Liga this season. Atletico are outperforming their xGA and that’s largely due to Oblak pulling off incredible saves on a weekly basis.
Look for Oblak to produce another sublime performance against Juventus.
Miralem Pjanic (Juventus)
Due to Atletico Madrid’s intense high-pressing system, Miralem Pjanic will be under immense pressure in this round-of-16 clash.
That’s what makes Pjanic the X-factor for Juventus in this matchup. He has to navigate through Atletico’s press and circulate the ball forward whenever possible.
The Bosnian has generally performed well in the Champions League this season, but this is obviously a massive test for Pjanic and the rest of the Juventus players.
Fernandinho (Manchester City)
The numbers speak for themselves: Manchester City are superior with Fernandinho starting.
The Brazilian’s ability to receive a ball, seamlessly turn and distribute is crucial to Pep Guardiola’s system. If Schalke manages to contain Fernandinho, then they could produce a few quality chances on the break.
Ahmed Kutucu (Schalke)
The 18-year-old has started three-straight matches in all competitions for Schalke thus far. He even scored against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Feb. 9.
Kutucu is blessed with incredible composure, so if he’s in a position to shoot, he will more than likely capitalize.