The first legs of all the last 16 matches in the Champions League have now been played and we are starting to get a clearer idea of which teams might well be heading for glory in Lisbon in May. It proved to be a surprisingly fruitful round of games for the away teams with six of the eight first leg matches won by the travelling team, in convincing fashion. Those six teams are now firmly in the driving seat to qualify for the quarter-finals while there was just the one home victory and the one draw in the latest round of matches.
There is no doubt that performance of the round came from Real Madrid as they demolished Schalke in Germany to all but secure their place in the last eight with a 6-1 victory. Real put on a startling display of attacking football with Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema all scoring twice as they routinely brushed aside a decent Schalke side at home. It was a breath-taking display from Carlo Ancelotti’s men and with their progress now safe even before the return leg, they have been cut from 5/1 into 4/1 for the Champions League betting outright.
It has been a difficult round of Champions League fixtures for the English teams with only Chelsea avoiding defeat in the first leg as they drew 1-1 away against Galatasary. Arsenal were beaten 2-0 at home by defending Champions, Bayern Munich, after they had their keeper sent off and asking the Gunners to overturn a two deficit in Germany is surely going to be a bridge too far. The same can be said for Man City who also lost 2-0 at home in their match with Barcelona which has left them with a mountain to climb if they are to make the last eight for the first time.
City and Arsenal can perhaps be forgiven for their defeats against top opposition but it was Man United who suffered the most when it came to the Champions League over the past couple of weeks. The United players produced a limp performance as they lost 2-0 in Greece to Olympiakos and are now faced with a tough ask to qualify, despite initially appearing to have a very favourable draw on paper. It was the latest in a string of poor performances from United who are in danger of slipping out of the Champions League for the first time given their current league position. United will now have to come back from a 2-0 deficit in Europe for the first time in 30 years and while it is not out of the question, there is no doubt they will need to play a whole lot better at Old Trafford.
Real Madrid, Bayern and Barcelona may have stolen most of the headlines during the first legs of the last 16 but one team that continues to make stealthy progress is Atletico Madrid. The Spanish side came away from the San Siro with a 1-0 win against AC Milan and they are now hot favourites to progress given that away goal. Diego Simeone has been working wonders in the Spanish capital this season and Atletico are likely to attract plenty of backers over the next few days, with a price of 12/1 likely to appeal to each-way punters in the current Champions League winners market.
The other two teams to have taken the upper hand in the first legs of their last 16 matches are PSG and Dortmund who both managed to score four goals away from home. PSG were perhaps the most impressive as they beat Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 in Germany with Zlatan Ibrahimovich once again causing havoc for the Ligue 1 side. PSG have been a popular alternative to the market leaders in the Champions League outright betting all season and are now as short as 10/1 to win the trophy which looks a fair price. Dortmund have not been quite the same force this season as they were last, but nevertheless they are set for the quarter-finals after beating Zenit 4-2 in Russia in their first leg match.
Much of the interest in the second legs of the last 16 will focus on Man United looking to overhaul Olympiakos, while Chelsea are expected to overcome Galatasary at Stamford Bridge in the other finely poised tie. There is no doubt whatsoever though that it is Real Madrid who have taken the eye in this latest round of matches with many now starting to believe that Los Blancos can finally claim their 10th European Cup victory. They have a coach in Carlo Ancelotti that has tasted success in the competition as both a player and a coach, while their front three of Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema is bang in-form as we head into the business end of the campaign.