The first leg of the UEFA Champions League is behind us and that brings us closer to the trophy. I believe we learned a lot from the games, so it’s time for analysis before the return legs.
Here are my five things we learned so far.
The Teams Are Closer Than We Thought
Most teams are still in it after the first leg. Only Atalanta and Bayern Munich seem certain for the next round, while all the other clubs will be hoping to progress.
Sure, RB Leipzig looked good and Manchester City took a solid advantage against Real Madrid last night, but I won’t be shocked if they get dumped.
That’s good news for all neutral fans out there, as every game from now on will be like a final. I know that’s a cliché, but that’s how it feels at this point of the competition.
VAR Is Not the Same in Europe and England
I’m one of the supporters of VAR despite all of its problems and I always observe carefully how the system is used. My impressions are that there is a difference in the approach in England and in the Champions League.
The VAR assistants interfere less frequently on the continent. A good example is the first goal of Manchester City last night. There was a case for a review because of a potential foul against Ramos, but the VAR team didn’t stop the match.
I think the key here is the “clear and obvious mistake” definition of the rules. I like what the UEFA officials are doing, as they are leaving close decisions to the referee on the pitch, unlike their colleagues in England that seem to stop the games every time there’s even the slightest doubt.
The Bundesliga Is Very Strong
One could say that the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga have been the dominant forces on the continent for the past two decades or so. But is the German Bundesliga making a claim for the best football league in Europe?
Bayern is flying right now, while the likes of Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig looked very strong as well. We might end up with three German teams in the last 8 and if the draw is kind, I won’t be shocked to see two or three of them in semis too.
I think that the reasonable transfer policy and the hard work of the clubs in the country are paying off.
Atalanta’s Attack is Something Else
We all know that Atalanta has the strongest attack in the Italian Serie A, but it was easy to say that the competition is not that strong and somewhat dismiss the true power of the team.
I believe that the 4-1 victory against Valencia showed us that would be a huge mistake. Atalanta can score a ton of goals and any team that underestimates the attack of the Italians will suffer a lot.
Atletico Madrid’s Defense Is Something Else
That’s hardly a shocker, but if I had to pick one team that’s suited for knockout tournaments, it has to be Atletico Madrid. The side is struggling to score but the discipline and the organization at the back are as good as ever.
Diego Simeone’s men are a legit threat for the title and Liverpool saw that first hand. The Champions League holders will need to find a way to break Atletico in the return leg and that will be a tough task.
I can’t wait to see what happens in the return leg and I think this might be one of the most exciting and competitive editions of the Champions League in a while. Teams from several different countries have a realistic chance of winning the trophy.
As soon as we know who goes through to the last 8, I will share my betting preview and prediction, so stay tuned.