Two months ago we were taking a look at the UEFA Champions League knockout draw, and now that the first set of Round of 16 fixtures have played out over the past nine days it is time to look at how those predictions fared. Today the goal is twofold — to evaluate how the first legs unfolded, and how they set up the combatants for the return matches taking place over the upcoming two weeks.
In the process we will look both at the post-draw predictions, evaluating where I went right and where I fell horribly short in my initial analysis. Some teams are in better shape than others, while certain teams appear on the brink of watching their bubbles burst in the second leg. When necessary, total failures will be acknowledged and quarterfinal predictions will be adjusted.
Benfica v. Zenit St. Petersburg
(1-0 Benfica after first leg in Lisbon)
Zenit came out in the opening leg in Portugal looking exactly like a team that has taken the past two months off during the winter break in the Russian domestic season, listlessly hoping to hold on for a draw on the road before the return match in St. Petersburg on March 9. Instead, a stoppage-time goal by Jonas put Benfica ahead on aggregate before they have to reciprocate with the 3600-kilometer odyssey on the road.
That is likely going to be enough to fend off the advances of the Portuguese for Zenit. The Russians should certainly manage to challenge Julio Cesar with far more than two shots on target in the familiar confines of Petrovsky Stadium. There is always the danger that the match could go to extra time and even penalties; should that happen, Julio Cesar could be the difference-maker. More likely is that Zenit will get back to its high-flying ways to get past Benfica in regulation.
PREDICTION: 2-1 Zenit on aggregate (Zenit picked in December)
Paris Saint-Germain v. Chelsea
(2-1 PSG after first leg in Paris)
PSG managed to get past an all-too-familiar foe in the first leg at the Parc des Princes, thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s deflected free kick goal and Edinson Cavani’s clinical finish of Angel di Maria’s through ball for the winner, but there is still cause for concern as the French side prepares for its voyage to London on March 9. Despite controlling two-thirds of the possession and mustering 20 attempts on goal, the Parisians were unable to do much with those opportunities against a Chelsea side that seems finally to be shaking its way out of the 2015 doldrums that saw it plummet in Premier League play.
The prediction in December was that this contest might just come down to away goals. That might have been too optimistic a prediction, as the competitive balance is even closer between the two sides. Look for Chelsea to win 2-1 in regulation on home turf, forcing indecisive extra-time periods that lead into a shootout. Though penalties have been unkind to the Blues in the past, this time Thibaut Courtois proves the difference.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 3-3 on penalties (PSG picked in December)