The Catalans are enjoying a successful campaign but cracks in their set-up have regularly been exposed this season and Les Gones – with the tools at their disposal – will be hoping to pull off an upset at the Groupama Stadium.
Following a narrow 1-0 home win over Real Valladolid, Ernesto Valverde would’ve wondered how his side failed to register more goals. It seemed like every member of the Catalans’ attack missed gilt-edged opportunities in front of goal. To the away side’s credit, they limited their illustrious hosts remarkably in the first half but came under increasing pressure in the second.
Barca peppered Valladolid’s goal with 20 attempts. Ousmane Dembele saw a couple of chances go begging while new signing Kevin-Prince Boateng managed to squander a glorious one-on-one opportunity to cap off another disappointing display. His eventual replacement, Luis Suarez, didn’t cover himself in glory either when he came off the bench and completely miscued an effort from close range.
Lionel Messi bagged the decisive goal from the spot and created several opportunities but even the great Argentine was out of sorts. When Philippe Coutinho won a second penalty later in the encounter, former Barca keeper Josip Masip was able to deny Messi. La Liga’s leading goal-scorer had enough chances to add to his tally but he struggled to find the target.
Messi had a total of 12 attempts on the night – the most by a player during a single game across Europe’s top five leagues this season. Valladolid didn’t boast the quality to punish the league leaders for failing to put the game to bed but Lyon certainly do. Barca’s inefficiency in front of goal against the White and Violets was inexplicable but they need to put it behind them in a hurry.
LYON LACK EXPERIENCE
Bruno Genesio’s Lyon outfit can be extremely dangerous and proved as much during their opening group game of this edition when they beat a high-flying Manchester City 2-1. With the likes of Memphis Depay, Bertrand Traore and Moussa Dembele leading the line, they boast plenty of attacking potential even in the absence of the suspended Nabil Fekir.
However, they go into this encounter as underdogs and with good reason. Apart from their opening victory over Pep Guardiola’s side, they could only manage draws in their remaining five group games. Not only are Barcelona the stronger side on paper, they also have within their ranks enough experience to guide them into the next round.
Lyon are sorely lacking in that department. In fact, this is the first time in seven seasons that they’ve reached the knockout stages of the Champions League. Also, five of their last six last-16 ties have ended in defeat.
Samuel Umtiti has been included in the squad but barring an injury crisis in defence, it’s unlikely that the centre-back will be risked on his return to Lyon.
The France international is recovering from a long spell on the sidelines and hasn’t played a game since November. Though he’s been back in training this week, throwing him into a Champions League knockout game would be a questionable move from Valverde.
Maybe an emotional run-out in the final moments for the defender who came through the ranks at Lyon can’t be ruled out.
There’s more of a case for Carles Alena to be drafted into the line-up on the other hand. The 21-year-old impressed during the 75 minutes he spent on the pitch against Valladolid.
The Spaniard proved to be a creative force, making two key passes and completing three dribbles. He was outstanding in possession as well, second only to Gerard Pique (83) with 80 passes despite being substituted 15 minutes early while also completing 90 per cent of them.
With Arthur out injured while Coutinho and Arturo Vidal continue to disappoint, Valverde may be tempted to field the youngster.
Premier League title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City face German opposition in the last 16 of the Champions League this week.
Meanwhile, Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo will continue his quest to win the competition with three different clubs.
Here, Press Association Sport highlights some of the main talking points surrounding the midweek matches.
Klopp seeking European revenge against familiar foes
Liverpool’s loss to Real Madrid last May was the second Champions League final disappointment for manager Jurgen Klopp. In 2013, his Borussia Dortmund team suffered heartache at the hands of Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich at Wembley following a late strike from Arjen Robben.
He will be keen to avenge that significant setback when the Reds meet the German champions for the first time since the 2001 UEFA Super Cup final, a game in which current Bayern boss Niko Kovac played. Klopp, who began his coaching career at Mainz, has won nine of his previous 23 meetings with the Bavarian club, losing 10 and drawing four.
The 51-year-old may fancy his chances of turning the tables as Bayern are currently failing to hit previous heights under Kovac.
City fighting on four fronts
It is another big week for Man City as they once again chase an unprecedented quadruple under Pep Guardiola. City ultimately fell two trophies short last season after a shock FA Cup loss at Wigan was followed by European elimination by Liverpool.
Wednesday’s away game against Schalke comes four days before the English champions contest the Carabao Cup final with Chelsea having eased into the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday by beating League Two Newport.
The last-16 draw was reasonably kind to Guardiola’s team and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, who returns to his home town of Gelsenkirchen, admits City are “clear favourites”. The tie also holds individual significance for Leroy Sane, who began his career with the German club.
Ronaldo returns to Madrid to resume rivalry
Former Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf remains the only man to win the tournament with three different clubs. Ronaldo, who lifted the trophy four times with Real after first triumphing with Manchester United in 2008, could emulate that achievement this term after joining Juventus.
In order to do so he must first overcome old adversaries Atletico Madrid, starting with a return to the Spanish capital on Wednesday. The Portuguese has a history of inflicting misery on Atletico.
He scored the decisive penalty against them in the shootout which decided the 2016 Champions League final, after also registering in the 2014 showpiece – one of 22 goals against them in all competitions.
Barca backing Valverde
Barcelona have slipped into the shadow of great rivals Real Madrid on the European stage in recent seasons. The five-time champions clearly believe current head coach Ernesto Valverde has the capability to turn the tide back in their favour, in the short-term at least.
Valverde, who looks on course for back-to-back domestic titles, was backed with a one-year contract extension on Friday, keeping him at the Camp Nou until 2020. The Catalan club have previously been eliminated only twice at this stage of the competition and are expected to overcome a Lyon side failing to compete with Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1.
The French club, who host Tuesday’s first leg, did defeat Man City in the group stage but their cause will not be helped by the suspension of captain and top-scorer Nabil Fekir.
Controversy never too VAR away
Video Assistant Referees (VAR) have been introduced into the competition for the knockout stages. The technology quickly sparked debate following the contentious decision to disallow an Ajax goal against Real Madrid last week.
There initially appeared to be little wrong with Nicolas Tagliafico’s header until Dusan Tadic – who was in front of Real’s flapping goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois but did not touch the ball – was shown to be fractionally offside and adjudged to be interfering with play.
VAR is very much still at the teething stage and currently seems in constant danger of becoming the main talking point in any game in which it is used.
The first-leg clash will be the first meeting of the two continental heavyweights, who have each won the European Cup on five occasions, since the Reds beat Bayern in the final of the UEFA Super Cup in 2001.
Niko Kovac’s Bundesliga champions qualified for the knockout stages by topping Group E ahead of Ajax, Benfica and AEK, while Jurgen Klopp’s men finished second in Group C, behind Paris Saint-Germain, and ahead of Napoli and Red Star Belgrade.
Both sides currently sit second in their domestic leagues. Ahead of the clash, here’s our data preview.