Champions League round of 16 action began on Tuesday with Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid scoring impressive victories while contenders Liverpool and PSG were sent home with a loss and work to do.
Liverpool, the reigning champs, lost 1-0 at Atletico Madrid on Saul Niguez’s winner as the Reds didn’t record a single shot on goal. Dortmund got two goals from 19-year-old Erling Haaland to put a foot into the round of 16 with a 2-1 victory over PSG, though Neymar’s away goal could prove crucial come the second leg.
This wasn’t vintage Liverpool. In fact, the Reds followed up that rough display against Norwich over the weekend by not testing Jan Oblak at all.
Atleti’s signature high pressure didn’t prevent the Reds from passing the ball well, but there was little room to work with, especially down the wings. Atletico’s intensity, drive and teamwork saw the Reds’ first team lose for just the second time all season and the first time since September.
In the second leg, don’t be surprised if Atleti goes all out defense and just tries to poach a goal on the counter. If Atletico can score at Anfield, Liverpool will then need three goals to move on. Atleti hasn’t conceded three goals in any game this season.
The Reds remain the slight favorite to go through because of how sharp they are at home, but squeezing by in Europe is what Diego Simeone-led Atleti does.
If you want to know just how good Erling Haaland has been, consider that he has scored more goals in the Champions League this season (10) than Barcelona (9). The Norwegian rising superstar scored his first one from close, but his winner in the second half was absolutely out of this world with an assist from 17-year-old Gio Reyna, who became the youngest American to play in the competition.
Before Haaland joined Dortmund in January from Red Bull Salzburg, this was a matchup that PSG was expected to win. Haaland’s presence makes that big of a difference, and now nobody will be surprised if he scores a couple more in the second leg and Dortmund knocks PSG out again in the round of 16.
Neymar and company have a lot of work to do, because when it comes to facing stronger opponents, the French side can be average. Usually dominant in Ligue 1, PSG actually drew struggling Amiens 4-4 last weekend after going down 3-0.
Marco Verratti and Thomas Meunier out of the second leg due to suspension, Dortmund is probably the very slight favorite entering the March 11 rematch at the Parc des Princes.