The first four clubs to reach the quarterfinals of this year’s UEFA Champions League have been decided over the past two days as second-leg Round of 16 matches took place around Europe. While we do not yet know who each team will face, given that there are still four more quarterfinalists to determine next week, it is still worth our while to examine how each of the initial quartet advanced. We’ll take another look at these clubs when we get a look at the quarterfinal draw on March 18, but for now let’s at least look at the form each team will bring into the next round by evaluating their work in the octofinals.
KAA Gent v. VfL Wolfsburg
(Wolfsburg advances 4-2 on aggregate)
For most of the match on Tuesday, Wolfsburg seemed content to sit behind the ball at home and allow Gent to uselessly pass around possession. The hosts generated plenty of chances, but most of them flew wide of any threat they might have posed to Mats Selz in the Gent net. Given that the Belgians needed a 2-0 result, however, the incentive was on Wolfsburg to merely hold its position and concede nothing substantive. They did just that, holding Gent to seven scoring chances and two shots on target, and Andre Schurrle’s 74th-minute finish of a Julian Draxler setup allowed the Germans to ease through comfortably to the next round. While Wolfsburg has managed to score 13 goals in their eight Champions League matches to date, they are also allowing on average a goal per match; if they hope to advance beyond their quarterfinal opponent, they will have to be far more sound on defense to have a chance.
AS Roma v. Real Madrid
(Real Madrid advances 4-0 on aggregate)
The Italians gave themselves a chance at leveling the scoreline, setting up several spectacular scoring chances that were squandered by Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah respectively. Real Madrid took full advantage, turning up the pressure after the intermission and getting goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez to handily make their way to the quarterfinals for the sixth straight season. On the other side of the pitch, Keylor Navas fended off all four shots he faced for his sixth Champions League clean sheet in six appearances this season. Roma was something of a fortunate soul to have even made the knockout stage, having allowed five more goals than they scored in the group stage, and the difference in quality resonated throughout both legs of this pairing. Right now few teams are as hot as Real, which has lost just once in the calendar year and has been among the highest-scoring teams in Europe this year. The Spaniards have scored 23 goals to date, averaging nearly three goals per match in the Champions League, while conceding just three scores over eight contests. Nobody will want to draw Real next round.
Benfica v. Zenit St. Petersburg
Zenit was the darling of the group stage, going undefeated through their first five matches. Now they have fallen out of the tournament after losing three straight — first to Gent in the final group matchday, and then to Benfica in both legs of their Round of 16 encounter. The Russians actually went up 1-0 in the second half thanks to Hulk’s goal, but the defense crumbled in the final ten minutes. Ultimately Zenit held on to the bulk of possession throughout the match, but they couldn’t do anything substantive with their chances. The Portuguese side, on the other hand, generated nine shots on target, putting Zenit keeper Yury Lodygin under intense pressure throughout the contest in Lisbon. Finding the back of the net was another story, though Benfica finally managed to crack the net as late goals by Nicolas Gaitan and Talisca to decisively advance through to the quarterfinals. Whether this will translate to future success is an entirely different question, however, as Benfica have allowed nearly 1.5 goals per match and are about to encounter even stronger competition. It is still an accomplishment for the Portuguese giants, but their run of success could quickly be coming to a close in the next stage.
Paris Saint-Germain v. Chelsea
When Adrien Rabiot found the net behind Thibaut Courtois just after the quarter-hour mark, putting PSG up 3-1 on aggregate, it seemed to reawaken Chelsea. The Londoners were rejuvenated somehow, stampeding up and down the pitch at Stamford Bridge. They were rewarded for the effort when Diego Costa leveled the score 27 minutes in, and Chelsea maintained the pressure through the rest of the half. They couldn’t replicate the energy after the intermission, though, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic punished laxity on the other end of the pitch by finishing off Angel di Maria’s cross for a second away goal. Once again Chelsea seemed to try to amplify its pressure, but the stands had already deflated and PSG closed ranks and prevented the English side from getting any of the three goals they would have needed to advance. So it is that the French powerhouse advances to the Champions League quarterfinals for the fourth straight season, with perhaps the most complete team they have ever fielded in the competition. In eight matches the Parisians have scored 15 goals; more importantly, they are tied with Real Madrid as the stingiest team in the competition, having allowed just three goals so far through the Round of 16. With skill on both ends, PSG could finally reach its first semifinal.