Top Winners and Losers After Wednesday’s Champions League Round-of-16 Results
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One of world soccer’s brightest talents netted a massive goal in the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg between RB Leipzig and Manchester City on Wednesday night.
RB Leipzig defender Joško Gvardiol, who was one of the best young players at the 2022 FIFA World Cup for Croatia, rose high in the air to connect on a header that flew past Ederson in the 70th minute.
The 21-year-old’s equalizer gave the German Bundesliga side a lifeline in its two-legged tie with the English Premier League champion.
Leipzig was on the front foot for most of the second half, and as it built itself more into the game, Erling Haaland became more anonymous for the visiting side.
The Norway international failed to fire a single shot on target and finished with 22 touches, the lowest total of any City player.
Haaland and his teammates can still win the tie in the second leg at the Etihad Stadium on March 14, but Wednesday’s result drew some concern about the club’s inability to finish the job in European competition.
Inter Milan benefited from a strike from one of its star forwards to beat FC Porto 1-0 in the other round-of-16 first leg on Wednesday.
Romelu Lukaku fired home the winning goal in the 86th minute to give the Italian side a slight advantage ahead of the second leg in Portugal.
Winner: Joško Gvardiol
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Joško Gvardiol brought RB Leipzig back on level terms with Manchester City with a tremendous effort in the 70th minute.
The young Croatian catapulted himself high above Rúben Dias and headed home past Ederson, who was off his line slightly.
The Leipzig goal came at a crucial time of the match in which the home side mounted pressure in the final third but could not convert on some key opportunities.
Fifteen minutes before the goal, Benjamin Henrichs scuffed a shot from a wide-open position on the right side of the penalty area.
Dominik Szoboszlai then had an attempt turned away by Ederson to produce the corner that created Gvardiol’s goal.
The pressure was there for the German side, but it had nothing to show for its actions in the attacking half until Gvardiol struck.
The goal was just the second for the former Dinamo Zagreb player this season. The other was the opener in a 3-2 win over Real Madrid in the group stage.
Gvardiol still has a long way to go before he can be called a consistent big-game scorer, but his tallies against City and Madrid prove he is not afraid of the biggest stages, and that could be a trait that helps Leipzig manage the second leg at the Etihad Stadium.
Loser: Erling Haaland
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Erling Haaland failed to live up to lofty expectations he has set for himself this season.
The 22-year-old did not have a shot on target for the fourth time in five games.
The Manchester City forward went without a shot in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest in the Premier League, and he also failed to hit the target against Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa in league play as well this month.
Haaland is still one of the most dangerous strikers in world soccer, but he has just five tallies since the turn of the year.
The lack of shots on target—and subsequent goals—from the towering Norwegian may become a concern if it keeps up over the next few weeks.
City has the perfect get-right game in the Premier League on Saturday against Bournemouth, and that could be the catalyst to get Haaland going again.
If he continues to struggle ahead of the second leg on March 14, though, City could be in trouble of failing yet again in the Champions League.
The team has four Premier League titles, four League Cups and one FA Cup under Pep Guardiola, but the Champions League crown remains elusive.
An exit in the round of 16 would be viewed as a huge disappointment for the club.
Winner: Romelu Lukaku
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Romelu Lukaku has the potential to be Inter Milan’s difference-maker on a potential deep run in the Champions League.
The Belgium international scored off his own rebound in the 86th minute to give the Italian side the slightest of advantages over FC Porto.
Wednesday’s goal and Lukaku’s tally against Udinese in Serie A last weekend are positive signs that he is rounding back into form at the right time.
The Chelsea loanee has been ravaged by injuries all season. He had played in 13 matches prior to Wednesday’s substitute appearance at the San Siro Stadium.
Lukaku’s winner provided a mild sigh of relief within the Inter squad after Edin Džeko and Lautaro Martínez could not get the job done in front of goal from the starting lineup.
Džeko and Martínez have 27 goals across all competitions between them, but Inter needs another option to hurt opposing defenses if they continue to struggle.
Lukaku should gain confidence from his goals in the last week, though, and that may lead to a scoring tear over the next few weeks.
Inter must focus on getting the 29-year-old back into starting form for the second leg on March 14. The Champions League might be the only competition it can win this season since it is 15 points back of Napoli in Serie A and faces a tough Coppa Italia semifinal against Juventus.
A trip to the UCL quarterfinals may be easier to handle than in previous seasons since two of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool will be eliminated in the round of 16 through head-to-head matchups.
Losers: FC Porto’s Top Attackers
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FC Porto managed just four shots on goal inside the San Siro on Wednesday night.
The Portuguese side had opportunities to steal a victory in Milan, but Mehdi Taremi and Co. failed to come up with a goal and conceded late.
You would think Porto is in a great spot to advance because it only needs one goal at home to level the two-legged tie.
However, the team has had some trouble in two-legged affairs recently. It dropped out of the UEFA Europa League last year in the round of 16 after scoring once in 180 minutes against Lyon, and it gave up two goals in the second leg of the round-of-32 matchup with Lazio.
Two seasons ago, Porto barely advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals. Juventus scored three times in the second leg, and the Portuguese team scraped through on away goals.
To make matters worse, Porto will be without key midfielder Otávio after he picked up a second yellow card in the 78th minute on Wednesday.
Inter’s defense has held opponents to one or zero goals in its last 10 matches. The Italian side has only conceded twice on two occasions since the Champions League group stage ended on November 6.
While a one-goal deficit may seem easy to reverse, Porto is in a tough spot with its situation and may stumble out of Europe without its attackers countering Lukaku, Džeko and Martínez.