Messi and Mbappe ready for Real Madrid, Mahrez could dominate – Champions League in Opta numbers

By Sports Desk February 14, 2022

The Champions League returns on Tuesday as the round of 16 gets underway, and what a way to kick things off.

Paris Saint-Germain host Real Madrid in what is widely considered to be the tie of the round, with particular interest in PSG duo Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe for differing reasons.

Sporting CP welcome Manchester City to the Estadio Jose Alvalade in the other first-leg encounter, with Ruben Amorim's men hoping to spring a surprise against the champions of England.

What do the numbers say about the opening games of the Champions League knockout stage, though? Stats Perform takes a look to decipher who is likeliest to come out on top.

Paris Saint-Germain v Real Madrid

Real Madrid have a slight edge over PSG in their 10 previous meetings in European competition, having won four and lost three. The French side lead 2-1 in the head-to-head in the knockout stages, eliminating Madrid from the 1992-93 UEFA Cup quarter-final and the 1993-94 Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final.

The last meeting between the two came in the group stage of the 2019-20 Champions League, a 2-2 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu. PSG won the previous game at Parc des Princes 3-0, and ultimately finished five points ahead of Madrid in Group A.

Los Blancos did win their last Champions League knockout game in Paris, beating PSG 2-1 in the round-of-16 second leg in 2017-18.

PSG will hope to improve their home record, having won just one of their past six such Champions League knockout games, a run including four defeats.

Since the start of the 2020-21 campaign, Mbappe – who is being linked with a move to Madrid when his contract expires at the end of the season – has been involved in more open-play sequences ending in goals (17) than any other player in the Champions League. He also has the highest expected goals sequence involvement of any player in this period (16.4).

Mbappe's France team-mate Karim Benzema, who is battling to be fit for the game, has found the net in each of his past four outings in the Champions League. Should he do so again on Tuesday, he will become just the third player to score in five consecutive appearances for Madrid in the competition, after Cristiano Ronaldo (four times, between 2013 and 2018) and Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2007.

The Spanish giants won all three of their away games in the group stage without conceding a goal. The only previous Champions League campaign in which they won their first four away games was in 2014-15, during Carlo Ancelotti’s first spell in charge.

 

Sporting CP v Manchester City

Sporting and City have only ever faced each other twice in European competition, which was their two legs in the round of 16 in the 2011-12 Europa League, with the Portuguese side going through on away goals.

City have only won once in their past six matches in Portugal (D2 L3), including their 1-0 defeat in last year's Champions League final to Chelsea in Porto.

This will be just the second time Sporting have played in the Champions League round of 16, with the previous occasion seeing them lose 12-1 on aggregate to Bayern Munich in 2008-09, the largest aggregate defeat in the competition's history.

City have kept just one clean sheet in their previous 11 matches in the Champions League and conceded at least once in all six group games this season. Still, should they win this game, Pep Guardiola's team will be the first in Champions League history to win five consecutive away games in the knockout stages.

Sporting boss Amorim, at 37 years and 19 days old, will be the second-youngest Portuguese coach to take charge of a Champions League knockout-stage tie after Andre Villas-Boas (34 years and 127 days) with Chelsea against Napoli in 2011-12. Villas-Boas was sacked prior to the second leg.

Among Portuguese players, only Ronaldo (six goals) has been directly involved in more Champions League goals this season than Sporting’s Pedro Goncalves (five – four scored, one assisted) and Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo (five – two scored, three assisted).

Saturday's 4-0 win at Norwich City was the first time Riyad Mahrez has failed to score for City since early December. The first of his seven-game scoring run was the final Champions League group clash, a 2-1 defeat at RB Leipzig.

Mahrez has also scored nine goals in his past 10 appearances in the Champions League and has been directly involved in six goals in his most recent six games in the knockout rounds (four scored, two assisted). Since the start of last season, Mahrez has scored at least four goals more in the competition than any other City player (Gabriel Jesus is next with five).

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  • Super Cup winners Real Madrid 'on another level' says Eintracht coach Glasner Super Cup winners Real Madrid 'on another level' says Eintracht coach Glasner

    Real Madrid were simply "on another level" to Eintracht Frankfurt, according to head coach Oliver Glasner, who nevertheless demanded his team find a way to improve further.

    Glasner's Eintracht side were comfortably beaten 2-0 by the Champions League winners in the Super Cup on Wednesday.

    David Alaba put Madrid ahead in the first half at Helsinki Olympic Stadium, before Karim Benzema netted midway through the second half to put the result to bed.

    In the process, Benzema became Madrid's outright second-highest goalscorer, having scored 324 times for Los Blancos.

    While Glasner did not believe his side delivered the "special" defensive performance he asked for before the game, he knows Madrid are a difficult team to match.

    "I think we improved from the last game [a 6-1 defeat to Bayern Munich], but you can't give Madrid two chances," Glasner told a news conference.

    "The team did it well most of the time. After that, it was difficult and, in the end, Real Madrid was the better team and they deserved the win."

    He added: "I think you could see we had defensive stability for many periods today. The last ball, the last pass, did not come enough.

    "We want to improve, we need to improve at this, but the performance today left me quite optimistic. We've seen at this level, this kind of opponent, it's not quite enough.

    "It's nagging at me, but I have to accept it and it's important now to have that ambition, the whole team, club and staff to work really hard to make that one step closer to such teams. Real Madrid are on another level. We knew that beforehand, but I am not like that, I want to improve.

    "I think all of us, the whole team, we played at our highest level. The fact is that it wasn't enough against Real Madrid. Now it's about pushing our personal level a little higher, as a team. That is the task that is presented to us right now. If all of my players are as motivated as I have seen, we will increase our level."

    Eintracht were without Filip Kostic, with the wing-back on the verge of moving to Juventus. Nevertheless, they had some good opportunities, particularly early on, when Daichi Kamada forced a fine stop out of Thibaut Courtois, who has saved all 19 shots on goal he has faced from opposition players in his four finals with Madrid in domestic and UEFA competitions.

    "It was a decisive situation. I don't know if it would have been enough but, of course, it would have been easier to lead the game at 1-0," Glasner said.

    "Against teams like Real Madrid, Bayern, Barcelona, you have to create your chances when you get them. How early Courtois sees where Kamada would put the ball was really world class. He showed this in the Champions League final against Liverpool."

  • Brazil to oppose FIFA demand to replay suspended Argentina World Cup qualifier Brazil to oppose FIFA demand to replay suspended Argentina World Cup qualifier

    Brazil do not want to play the suspended World Cup qualifier against Argentina due to risks ahead of Qatar 2022, with the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) to rule later in August.

    The Selecao, along with the Albiceleste, both comfortably qualified for Qatar 2022 despite the September fixture in Sao Paulo being halted after six minutes when Brazilian health officials objected to the participation of four Argentinian players who they claimed broke quarantine rules.

    The officials sensationally entered the pitch to remove those four players, with the Argentinian players subsequently walking off amid the chaos. The fixture was suspended.

    FIFA fined both national bodies and insisted that the qualifier needed to be completed despite its irrelevance to qualifying.

    The Brazil Football Confederation (CBF) and the Argentine Football Association (AFA) took the case to the CAS, who will rule later this month.

    No date has been set by FIFA for the fixture, but it is anticipated it will be in September.

    CBF president Ednaldo Rodrigues said the national team did not want to play the fixture two months out from the World Cup due to risks with injuries and suspensions along with a possible Argentinian boycott.

    "We will reach out to FIFA so this match is not played," Rodrigues said in a statement.

    "I will make every effort to answer to the request of our coaching staff.

    "Our priority is to win a sixth World Cup in Qatar. If that match is not recommended by the coaching staff of the Selecao, we will work for it not to be played."

  • Casemiro cites Madrid team-mates Modric and Kroos as world's best midfielders Casemiro cites Madrid team-mates Modric and Kroos as world's best midfielders

    Casemiro has crowned team-mates Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as "possibly the best two midfielders in the world".

    Madrid ran out 2-0 winners over Eintracht Frankfurt in the Super Cup on Wednesday, thanks to goals from David Alaba and Karim Benzema.

    Carlo Ancelotti stuck with the same line-up that had started against Liverpool in May's Champions League final, and midfield trio Casemiro, Kroos and Modric turned in a supreme display.

    Modric, the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner, completed 53 of 57 passes (93 per cent) and laid on two chances for team-mates in Helsinki, while Kroos enjoyed 120 touches, completed 97 passes and gained possession nine times.

    Only UEFA's man of the match Casemiro (10) bettered that latter figure, and the Brazil international also went close to a spectacular goal when he rattled the crossbar from long range on his weaker left foot – that shot was teed up by Modric.

    The trio's performances led Carlo Ancelotti to highlight Madrid's experience as a crucial factor in their victory after full-time, and Casemiro knows he is playing with two of the best in the business.

    "We know each other just by looking at one another," he told a post-match news conference.

    "I've got an easy job, we're talking about Kroos and Modric who are possibly the best two midfielders in the world. 

    "There are things in football that cannot be explained, some things just happen in football. I hope we'll continue to be together for a long time to come."

     

    While Madrid's thrilling 2021-22 Champions League triumph saw several energetic cameos by young midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, the 14-time European champions have further bolstered that area of the pitch with the recent acquisition of Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco.

    Casemiro welcomes the competition provided by the 22-year-old's arrival and has high hopes for the France international.

    "It hasn't annoyed me, everyone knows about my character and loyalty for this club, I'll be working in the same way," Casemiro said.

    "You only see the 90 minutes but I'll keep making sacrifices, including on the pitch and in training.

    "I think Tchouameni is a top player, this club speaks for itself – everybody gives their all. All I can say to him is keep doing what he's doing, keep showing in training and do it out on the pitch."

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