The Early Sub: The Champions League, What We Learned

Now that the first leg of matchups in the Round of 16 are in the books. We took some notes and learned some valuable lessons in watching the midweek results. Plenty to take away from all 8 sides that showcased their skillsets this week. Here’s what we learned from Europe’s gargantuan slate of games.

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Real Sit on the Throne. Challenge Them If You Dare.

Los Blancos are undoubtedly the best team on the planet right now. Madrid may have stumbled from being eliminated from La Copa and having their excellent unbeaten streak snapped but they were business as usual against their Italian rivals. Napoli came into the game being one of the highest flying sides in Europe with Dries Mertens scoring goals at an absurd pace. Napoli have been challenging for the Scudetto all the same even without Higuain and Milik. They are a formidable, attacking and disciplined Italian side which would be the perfect sleeper to pounce and shock the famed club. But behind Karim Benzema’s wonderful play at the top of the attack, Madrid stood tall and dispatched of Napoli 3-1. Madrid is never weak. They are never meek. They are never to be doubted. And they are on pace for a 12th Champions League trophy.

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The End of an Era In Barcelona

I’m not saying that their La Liga chances are diminished, and they’ll still win La Copa (hopefully), but their 4-0 submission to Paris told it all. Things need to change at the Nou Camp. The midfield just can’t do it anymore. They turned the ball over as easily as a pancake being flipped over on a griddle. They were uninspiring. In fact, they were predictable and it made them vulnerable. Iniesta was ineffective and it may be time to search for other options in the midfield. And guess what? Gomes is not that heir. Oops. He’s just not that good, everyone from the Valencia crop that comes to Barca lately have been that way. Mathieu, Alcacer, Gomes, Aleix Vidal. All are lost. Answers are needed and Luis Enrique will not be on the job past this summer to answer it.

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Ancelotti’s Bayern Are an Unstoppable Machine

This is really where you fear them. Philipp Lahm has voiced his frustration in Bayern’s play as of late. Their persistence of winning games late against inferior opponents surely isn’t an ideal habit to get used too. But they have been winning non-stop since chasing down Leipzig and their form at home has been unreal. Arsenal unknowingly walked into a pit known as the Allianz, and they were smothered. The Gunners’ penalty was even debatable and Alexis missed the kick from the spot anyways. Without the PK, Alexis would have never put in the rebound and Neuer would’ve kept a clean sheet. But perhaps the PK was what set Bayern off on their murderous four goal rampage to pound Arsenal into submission. It was a demolition, and surely a warning to all of Europe for the rest of the competition.

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Lovely Paris Are Savages

It felt like it was personal this time around for PSG. Was it the 5-0 beating that Angel Di Maria had to take when he donned the Madrid crest? Maybe that explains his wonderful free kick and his inspirational individual curler from outside the box that took the life out of the Blaugrana. Or was it the embarrassment that Paris undertook from Barca in 2015 that made all of PSG’s money look useless against Suarez’s genius. Well whatever it was, this new look Paris are scary. Di Maria and Draxler are two of the best wingers on the planet. That’s right, I said Julian Draxler. He dazzled at the Euros last summer and he’s been spectacular for Paris since arriving from Wolfsburg. Barca got a taste of what this young man can do, and he’ll only get better. No Zlatan? No problem for this new pummeling Paris team.

Lorenzo Insigne

Napoli Are Good. Thanks For Playing.

Napoli had a great chance at upsetting the faltering Blancos  but those dreams were quickly erased with Benzema’s display. There is still plenty of room to grow for Napoli and they are a dangerous side. A side that is going in the right direction but there’s no getting past Madrid. The buck stops now for the Italians and now they’re focus will have to be on the League.

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They’ll Comeback.

Borussia Dortmund is really damn good. Their loss to Benfica did tell a lot, maybe they aren’t as good as they think. But this is what I know. They’ll comeback from the 1-0 deficit in the 2nd leg. Signal Iduna Park is a madhouse, and the maniacs of the Yellow Wall will not let Benfica leave with a ticket to the Quarterfinals. PE Aubameyang may have fluffed some chances, but the fact that he’s there constantly and being in those situations to put in goals makes him dangerous. And normally he nets them, Dortmund will comeback from this. And go to the QFs.

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Arsenal Are Toothless. #WengerOut

It’s time to realize the fact that Arsene Wenger will not make it past this season. Time to lineup the Allegri’s, the Tuchel’s, (the Enrique’s?) the Sampoeli’s and anyone else that the British media wants to name as a candidate. Arsenal is a giant market with plenty of cash and fans to get  behind a deep run in Europe. This current squad and this current coach is not going to do to the trick though. There are MAYBE four players in the current Arsenal squad who should be playing in the Champions League and Mesut Ozil is not one of them. Alexis, Koscielny, and Cech have to drag this side to European mediocrity and it’s going to end after this season. A new man will take up the North London mantle and be assured that changes are coming.

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Benfica Are Formidable, Not Much Else

Benfica has definitely taken a stepback since losing Gaitan and Sanches and with even more swirling rumors and with the sharks circling around Lindelof. Benfica don’t seem to pack much of a punch. A 1-0 win over Dortmund at home, while Dormund fluffed multiple chances, is not going to take you to Champions League glory. They’ll lose in Germany and will have to reload with more young talent in the summer like they always do.

 

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