Last week saw big guns like Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain crash out of the Champions League despite enjoying an advantage after the first leg. Spanish giants Barcelona will be hoping that they get the job done against Lyon following a goalless draw in the first leg.
Ernesto Valverde’s men forgot their scoring boots in Barcelona when they drew blank in Lyon last month and failed to do justice to all the chances created by the midfield. Lyon on the other hand clearly missed the suspended Nabil Fekir and looked lost in the final third.
The tie is wide open and 90 minutes – or possibly more – at the Camp Nou will decide which team will be advancing to the quarter-finals. We take a look at the key-players who can make the difference in this potential nail-biter.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Lionel Messi is usually the difference-maker in most ties involving Barcelona, but this game is different. The Argentine has rightly been accused of ghosting in crunch Champions League fixtures in the past couple of seasons and this is his chance to come clean.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner failed to inspire his team and prevent a debacle against Roma last season. In the 2016/17 season, Barcelona were knocked out from the competition by Juventus in the quarter-finals and Messi was unable to stamp his name on the big stage yet again.
After being named the captain of the team, Messi famously addressed the Camp Nou crowd and promised that the team would do everything to bring the Champions League trophy back to Catalonia this season. In light of that, this could be his most important game of the campaign so far.
The potential absence of Ousmane Dembele means that Messi will have to step up a notch and have to power Barcelona to the quarter-finals. The 31-year-old is definitely aware that this is Barcelona’s best chance to win a sixth Champions League, with some of the big guns out of the picture. Messi will be looking to take advantage of this situation and provide the Camp Nou crowd a night to remember.
Nabil Fekir (Lyon)
Nabil Fekir has arguably been Lyon’s best player in the Champions League this season. The Frenchman – who missed the game due to suspension – was sorely missed in the first leg in which the hosts failed to create any clear goal-scoring opportunities.
Fekir registered about 2.6 key-passes per 90 minutes in the group stages of the competition. Only Messi (3.6) and Neymar (3.6) created more.
One goal from the visitors will leave Barcelona needing at least two. The past few seasons are witness to the fact that the Catalans are bad at chasing a game in a crunch European fixture.
Fekir will be looking to link attack and defence and perform as the focal point of Lyon’s attack while having a goal at go himself if needed. The Frenchman can definitely hit the headlines on Thursday morning after an inspiring performance against the tournament favourites.
Lyon’s midfield outplayed a one that was coached by Pep Guardiola earlier this season and that is probably one of the biggest compliments they can get. On Wednesday, Arthur will be tasked to control the tempo against such a midfield.
The visitors are bound to press hard to get an early goal and Barcelona will be looking to get the press-resistant Brazilian on the ball very often. The pressure on the midfielder will be immense and it will be interesting to see how he will react.
Tanguy Ndombele and Houssem Aouar have impressed in midfield this season and are already attracting interest from top European clubs. With Nabil Fekir adding extra pressure, this could very well prove to be Arthur’s biggest test in midfield.
The Brazilian completely dominated the likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric twice this season but the stakes are much higher now.
Should the Brazilian assert his dominance in the centre of the pitch, Barcelona will be handed a significant advantage in terms of controlling the flow and tempo of the game. He needs to assist Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets in order to dominate Lyon’s midfield.
Bayern Munich are in a slightly precarious position heading into the home leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie against Liverpool. A 0-0 draw in the first leg means any score draw would send the Reds into the quarter-finals on away goals, so Niko Kovac’s side pretty much have to go for a win on Wednesday.
But Kovac has masterminded a turnaround in form for his side that has seen Bayern erase a nine-point gap to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and in fact take the lead in the title race, albeit only on goal difference, and thus they enter this clash against Liverpool high on confidence.
Here’s a look at the tactical talking points Kovac will be weighing up as he looks to plot Bayern’s path to the quarter-finals. Check out analysis of Liverpool’s tactics here.
AN ATTACKING 4-2-3-1 COULD UNLEASH BAYERN’S CREATIVE DUO
Over the last month, as Bayern have closed the gap on Dortmund, Kovac has alternated between a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 formation.
In essence both become a 4-1-4-1, or almost a 4-1-2-3, with Bayern in possession, as Javi Martinez sits as the deep-lying midfielder while Thiago Alcantara and James Rodriguez, who plays as the left-sided midfielder in a 4-3-3 and a No 10 in a 4-2-3-1, stay forward and assume playmaking duties.
As a basic shape, the 4-3-3 is slightly more conservative, and asks more defensively of Thiago and especially James. But Bayern can be conservative even with a 4-2-3-1, as they showed in the first leg with the fear of Liverpool’s counter apparent all night. At home, and needing a win, the more attacking nature of that formation can come to the fore, bringing the best out of the two attacking midfielders.
BAYERN NEED TO BE WARY OF LIVERPOOL COUNTER
Speaking of the Liverpool counter. As mentioned above, Bayern gave it great respect in the first leg, sacrificing some attacking thrust to ensure they weren’t caught out.
The priorities have changed slightly for the second leg, with another 0-0 draw unlikely but a draw by any other score good enough to knock Bayern out. So the calculation for Kovac is undoubtedly that Bayern must go for an outright win – perhaps negating any concerns about conceding an away goal.
But even if conceding is not a great worry, negating Liverpool’s counter remains the key tactical challenge for the Bayern manager. Martinez on his own will not be enough to do that – so could he reduce the attacking responsibilities of his full-backs, and trust the rest of his attack to get the job done without the help? David Alaba and Rafinha could then concentrate on Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, while their team-mates hunt for the goals.
Liverpool’s Champions League tie against Bayern Munich is finely poised heading into Wednesday’s second leg, locked at 0-0 after the two sides’ draw at Anfield last month.
Jurgen Klopp’s team may have the slightest of advantages, knowing that simply scoring an away goal would increase the pressure on Bayern, but an outright win for the hosts will see the Reds crash out disappointingly at the last-16 stage having made last year’s final.
Here’s a look at the key tactical talking points for Klopp to consider as he plots his side’s route to the quarter-finals. Check out our analysis of Bayern manager Niko Kovac’s tactics here.
A RETURN TO THE LIVERPOOL OF OLD FOR KLOPP
Liverpool have adjusted to playing a more patient, possession-based game at times this season as Klopp has adapted to sides sitting deep against his team and looked to conserve his players’ energy over the course of a long, grueling campaign.
But this is the perfect occasion for last season’s Liverpool to make an appearance. The counter-attacking, gegenpressing, heavy metal football that is Klopp’s forte should be perfectly suited to this game, where Bayern, playing at home and unlikely to play for a 0-0 draw and penalties, need to score.
Expect full-backs pressed up high, and Roberto Firmino leading the Reds’ front three in harassing Bayern’s defence throughout. If all goes to plan, Liverpool could replicate the 5-1 aggregate triumph over Man City in last season’s quarter-finals, blitzing Bayern en route to another famous European win.
PUSH UP HIGH AGAINST BAYERN’S FULL-BACKS
To make the counter-attack even more lethal, Klopp could instruct Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, notionally the wide players in his attack, to stay as far forward as possible, even when Liverpool are defending. Matched up against Bayern right-back Rafinha, Mane could be the one to profit the most from this tactic.
Rafinha will be a key part of Bayern’s attack, with the German side’s playing style involving the full-backs coming forward whenever they’re in possession. Stationing Mane in an advanced role would mean he could regularly catch Rafinha out of position, or force Bayern manager Niko Kovac to instruct his right-back to stay back and guard against the counter.
With Salah doing the same to Alaba on the other flank, Liverpool could neutralise both Bayern full-backs and reduce the potency of the home side’s attack – or leave themselves open on the counter.