Champions League: Tactical analysis of the Last 16 first leg ties

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TACTICAL football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) analyses the second four first leg Champions League Last 16 ties.

Chelsea v Bayern Munich | Tuesday 25th February 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport

The pressure is firmly on Chelsea, with a tough run of fixtures over the coming weeks shaping their season. Manchester United and Tottenham proceed this first leg, whilst an unfavourable draw against Liverpool in the FA Cup has made securing silverware this season doubly difficult.

The underlying metrics for Chelsea show a different story to their points tally, and they will need to be in clinical form against Bayern if they are to progress. Frank Lampard has shown himself to be tactically astute in some Champions League games, whilst also having to learn quickly in others, and this has also been the case in Premier League games against top opposition.

But there are ways to get at Bayern, as Leipzig in particular highlighted in the 0-0 draw. The Germans have hit form just at the right time ahead of this clash. A comfortable win over Koln last weekend and eventual victory over bottom-side Paderborn sees the Bavarians hold a one-point advantage at the top of the Bundesliga.

Bayern operate with a high line, relying on Alphonso Davies’ electric pace at the back to often get them out of trouble when David Alaba and Jerome Boateng are caught out, but if Chelsea can overload the German side on the counter, they will be well equipped to cause problems.

Whether Chelsea try and take the game to Bayern awaits to be seen, but Lampard could be tempted to sit and try hit these spaces on the break.

However, defensive worries will be in the back of Lampard’s mind, and the overlapping full backs from Bayern will be well equipped to cause his side problems, whilst the threat of Robert Lewandowski cannot be overlooked. Spurs found out the hard way that playing a high line against the German giants doesn’t work, with Serge Gnabry running riot.

It should be a cracking affair, with plenty of tactical talking points to break down ahead of the clash. But could Bayern’s kind schedule impact on the game, with Chelsea having to contend with two top four tussles in the week leading into the contest?

Napoli v Barcelona | Tuesday 25th February 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport

Prior to Christmas, this would’ve looked like a certain Barcelona win. Napoli were in crisis, with Carlo Ancelotti’s sacking and Gennaro Gatusso’s slow start, whilst Barcelona were sat top of La Liga and looking like they could kick on in the second half of the campaign.

It looks a totally different picture, as Napoli look revitalised post-Christmas, as a win over Lazio in the Coppa Italia kick-started their season and has led to five wins in six. Wins over Inter and Juventus highlight their strength, and it has been helped by Gatusso realising what his best side is, and how to get the best out of the likes of Fabian Ruiz in midfield.

Ruiz has thrived alongside January signing Diego Demme, who has arrived from Leipzig, and his willingness to get stuck and do the hard graft has freed up the Spanish midfielder further forward to create, whilst the return of Dries Mertens to the attack in recent games has helped massively.

However, Napoli’s defeat to Lecce did highlight the worries they can have, with chance creation not the problem, but actually making the chances count the issue, much like the aforementioned Chelsea. Coupled with a side that can overcommit players forward, this can leave them particularly vulnerable at the back at times, although the return of Kalidou Koulibaly at the back from injury will help their hopes.

Barcelona will pose a different threat to what they are used to domestically, but Quique Setien’s side are currently a little inconsistent, so knowing what to expect of the Spanish giants is tough. Wins over Betis, Getafe and Eibar will fill Barcelona with more confidence as Setien continues to adapt to Luis Suarez’s absence, and they are particularly vulnerable defensively to the threat of Napoli, playing such a high line.

Lionel Messi has been taken an even more influential role on in recent weeks, and coming up against a side I’d expect to sit in and counter, he and Antoine Griezmann will be fundamental in their hopes of breaking down the Italian defence. Wary of the counter, it could see the goals flow, and Napoli demonstrated their ability to upset the big guns in victory over Liverpool in the groups.

Although Barcelona will go off as favourites, the changes in recent form and potential injuries for the Spanish giants may mean it’s not as cut and dry as first thought.

Lyon v Juventus | Wednesday 26th February 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport

It is particularly hard to see past Juventus here as they take on a struggling Lyon side.

Injuries have plagued Lyon, losing key men Memphis Depay and Jeff Reine-Adelaide to season-enders, and this has impacted on their domestic form.

Sat 11th in Ligue 1 , the hosts’ had success in cup competitions, winning every game in January, but their indifferent league form has come back to haunt them, and Les Gones are now without a league win in four, and only a cup success over Marseille to show for in recent weeks.

Worryingly, although scoring 38 goals this season, Lyon have only done so with an Expected Goals (xG( output of 30.24, and there has been a huge reliance on Moussa Demebele up top with 13. He is outperforming his own xG of 8.60, and coming up against such a solid, consistent defensive unit for Juventus, it will be particularly worrying for the French side as to how they will break them down.

However, cracks have appeared in Maurizio Sarri’s side in recent weeks, and the counter-attacking performance of Verona and Milan’s domination in the Coppa Italia in recent weeks will give Rudi Garcia hope he can set his side up to frustrate Juventus, before making them pay on the counter.

However, PSG showcased how to take apart Lyon in their 4-2 thrashing, and with the attacking trio of Paulo Dybala, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain showing signs they are clicking up front, it could be a long evening. Miralem Pjanic will offer excellent control at the back, whilst Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado will be able to get forward and exploit the wide areas for Juventus.

Juventus will be keen to get an away goal before the second leg in Italy, and I believe they are well suited to causing problems to the French strugglers, and it is hard to overlook Sarri’s side.

Both defences are strong in this encounter, and it could see quite a low-scoring, cagey initial game, but over the two legs, Juventus should definitely have enough to see them through.

Real Madrid v Manchester City | Wednesday 26th February 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport

The toughest tie to call, the added dynamic of Manchester City’s Champions League ban has increased the importance on Pep Guardiola’s side making it a successful year in Europe and could be the last chance saloon for a number of players in the City side to win the competition with the Citizens.

It is a particularly tough game to unpick, but City will be confident they can cause problems to Zinedine Zidane’s side, as despite their strong defensive record this season, there were signs against Celta Vigo and Levante that they can still be vulnerable, and be targeted in certain areas.

Playing such a high line is often risky, let alone against City’s dynamic attack, and the movement in behind of Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero is certainly something the Spanish side will need to be aware of.

The midfield battle will be particularly exciting, with Federico Valverde and Casemiro tasked with keeping Kevin De Bruyne quiet, whilst Rodri will have a similar task keeping Toni Kroos from creating. Who can dictate possession in this clash and keep the oppositions’ immense creative talent quiet will be crucial to the outcome, but the defensive frailties City have shown this season could lend to an exciting, open affair.

The full-back areas will be key for Real having joy, with City being opened up by sides both on the break by overcommitting defenders forward, whilst the lack of tracking back of Sterling in particular can cause problems.

Dani Carvajal will look to exploit this, whilst on the opposite flank, the returning Eden Hazard could hold the key up against Kyle Walker. Hazard impressed on his return from injury against Celta last Sunday, despite the 2-2 draw, and Real will hope he can regain full match sharpness in time despite picking up a weekend knock.

The toughest to call by far, how each manager adjusts tactically will make for a fascinating first leg clash, and it could be worth erring on the side of caution with the goal markets in this one, despite the vast array of attacking talent on display, with importance being placed on not losing the game, rather than winning at this early stage.

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