Over the UCL Round of 16, Eshan Gupta analyses all the different matchups; looking at the potential most impactful players, the tie deciders, and predicts the final score. This is Match Day 3.
Napoli vs FC Barcelona
One of those tricky ties of the RO16 where the home advantage plays a huge role. The fixture is expected to be in Barca’s favour as return leg comes at Camp Nou. For Napoli, the key aspect would be the poor away form this season for Blaugranas along with the heavy memories of huge away defeats for the last three seasons. Barca would look to bounce back after Roma and Anfield disaster, whereas Napoli play for a must-win as the Camp Nou fixture is not expected to bring any surprises for the Gli Azzuris. This is also the Blaugrana’s first UCL match under the leadership of Quique Setién who is keen on bringing back the trademark tiki-taka style of play that we all love to watch Barcelona play.
Players to watch out for:
For FCB all eyes would be on their two saviours that have been consistent throughout the season. Lionel Messi, back in scoring business putting four behind the net in the last match, along with 6 assists in last 4 matches. Ter Stegen who has been assisting more than few highly paid forwards this season would be crucial amidst the defensive woes of the Blaugranas. Ansu Fati, Griezmann and De Jong are expected to be distant from the away memories and would play a crucial role in the first leg. Vidal would the next key player after Messi and MATS as he brings another dimension to the game, an absolute powerhouse with zeal and passion visible more than anyone else on the field.
For Napoli, Lorenzo Insigne and Politano are more than likely to play. The wingers play deep keeping a constant transition from attack to defence which has been paying of in last few matches. Diego Demme would be crucial in the midfield for the same reason. The extra defensive duties allotted to them has been paying off as they won against Liverpool, Juventus and Inter Milan with similar tactical setup. Fabian Ruiz, the man being a workhorse, typical box to box midfielder with great skills to press, which works against the tactical setup similar to that of Blaugranas. Milik, the Polish International, he tracks back when required and then he can drift wide to hold the ball and he has a venomous shot and can give major headaches. In the attacking phase, Milik is set to blow up as he has so many supply lines and so much freedom for movement. Callejon and Mertens who have been holding up Napoli’s attack for years would bring in a lot of experience to the side. The availability of roughly 6 forwards would make it difficult to predict who would start and who would be expected to be a super sub.
Napoli has a lot of attacking options with most players being able to convert within slightest of spaces. But the first leg won’t end the tie in the favour of Gli Azzurri under any conditions. The return leg at the fortress of FC Barcelona where they have been undefeated since May 2013 and overturned the deficit of 0-4 against PSG at the same stage, would decide the tie and keep Barcelona alive despite any slips in the first leg. However, with Ter Stegen being in form and Messi getting back the tie is expected to be wrapped up in the first leg itself. A draw away or a goal defeat for Blaugranas would still send them through probably. If Blaugranas manage to snatch an away goal the tie could be over there. However, if Napoli manage a decent victory they could still look forward at holding Barca in return leg.
Prediction: Napoli 1-5 FC Barcelona (Agg)
Chelsea vs Bayern Munich
An enticing draw setting up two European rivals who are rather opposites of when they last met in 2012, where Bayern are still the big shots of Europe while Chelsea are rebuilding themselves under Lampard with a young group of players. Any draw for Chelsea would have been tricky owing to their recent woes in front of goal whilst for Bayern in any tie they would be favourites to go through.
Players to watch out for:
For Chelsea, their midfielders will be a key lookout, namely Kante and Kovacic. They both have been sensational this season but have lacked help from their forwards. Kante has the ability to lock down the midfield all by himself while Kovavic can cause havoc in the midfield with his precise dribbling and passing. If they both are in top form contribute well in the attack while holding the midfield together and win the battle against Kimmich Thiago at the pivot, Chelsea will have a good chance of going through.
For Bayern Munich, there are a whole host of players who would be a treat to watch in this fixture. I would rather not state the obvious ones but the interesting ones one would want to look out for. Kimmich in my opinion wherever he plays could have a massive impact because he is a man with a lot of character and he always shows up in the big games. Muller has also found form recently and racked up a whole lot of assists this season. He would be an interesting watch. And of course, Lewandowski who is in beast form scoring 10 goals already in just 5 matches would look forward to breaking the record for most goals in a season.
Robert Lewandowski has had a habit in the past of crumbling under pressure in big games, especially the knockout ties of the UEFA Champions League, essentially the reason why they have not won it since they brought him in. If Thiago has an off day Chelsea’s sensationally talented midfield could overrun the Bayern side and turn the tie. Second of all Frank Lampard would be very crucial in this tie. This young Chelsea side has not been up to the mark against talented and high-quality teams. Lampard will have to work really hard to get a good enough performance to beat Bayern Munich. Finally, Chelsea have been poor when finishing off chances and if this continues they would have a hard time in this tie.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-5 Bayern (Agg)