Football News

A bittersweet debut plus other stats and stories you might have missed in the Champions League this week

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:00, 14 February 2024 | Updated: 14:49, 28 March 2024

World football’s premier club tournament returned as the Champions League knockout phase began this week.

This latest edition of the European Cup entered the Round of 16, but like in recent years, the two-legged ties — being held during February and March — are staggered over four weeks.

The first batch of those opening legs was played this week, and the remaining four will occur in a week’s time. Defending champions Manchester City visited FC Copenhagen, while 14-time winners Real Madrid faced RB Leipzig away.

Perennial underachievers Paris Saint-Germain then hosted this season’s surprise package, Real Sociedad, with Lazio taking on a wounded Bayern Munich to round off tonight’s fixtures.

Even with fewer games being played, missing an important or memorable event is still possible. But don’t worry – Squawka is here with five things you might have missed from these last two evenings.


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Bundesliga hoodoo long gone

There was a time when Real Madrid dreaded visiting Germany during the Champions League knockout stages. But those fears are long gone, with Carlo Ancelotti’s side’s latest success at RB Leipzig further stamping a recent buckling trend.

Los Blancos hard-fought 1-0 success against the fifth-placed Bundesliga was their fifth victory in their last six away knockout games against German opposition in the Champions League (one loss), after managing just one win in their previous 17 in the Champions League/European Cup (four draws and 12 losses).

Spanish delight

After weathering an early Leipzig storm, Real broke through Marco Rose’s defence through Brahim Díaz, who netted minutes into the second half, which ultimately extended an impressive streak as all four of Díaz’s goals in this competition have put his side one goal in the lead (two for Milan and two for Real Madrid).

It was another significant goal; coupled with Dani Carvajal’s assist, this was the second time two Spaniards combined for a goal in the Champions League this season for Real Madrid (also Fran García assist for Joselu against Union Berlin), as many times as in the previous four seasons in the competition combined.

Furthermore, the 24-year-old forward has registered three goal involvements (two goals and one assist) in his last four Champions League appearances, one more than he managed in his previous 14 (two).

Enter Mattsson

Seeing Magnus Mattsson play in the Champions League for long-time Eredivisie watchers must have felt surreal. The one-time NEC midfielder returned to his native Denmark earlier this year before facing off against the European champions. Mattsson, who previously turned out for Danish side Silkeborg, was thrust into Jacob Neestrup’s starting lineup. Mattsson saw Pep Guadriola’s side go through via Kevin De Bruyne, but that lead didn’t last long.

Ederson’s clearance went straight to Mohamed Elyounoussi, with his shot blocked by Rúben Dias, but the ball then deflected to Mattsson, who swept home on his debut and sent the Parken wild. His effort made him the second player in Champions League history to debut in the knockout stages and score against the reigning champions after Leroy Sané for Schalke 04 against Real Madrid in March 2015.

However, they couldn’t maintain parity as Bernando Silva (from a De Bruyne assist) saw the visitors go back in front on the stroke of half-time. Phil Foden celebrated his 50th appearance in the competition by adding City’s third late.

Neestrup, though, was pleased with Copehangen’s newcomer’s performance. “Magnus came in with confidence and energy and scored a great goal. So I’m happy about that.”

Keeping up with Mbappé

If anyone were to score for Paris Saint-Germain, their talisman, Kylian Mbappé, would be the one. He continues to make headlines on and off the pitch, having been linked with Real Madrid again. If that’s not enough, the Parisian forward is once more tasked with carrying PSG to a promised land they’ve desired for a decade. On paper, Real Sociedad are favourable opponents. However, the Ligue 1 champions have made it a habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and this was a trap game considering La Real’s overexceeding performances in the competition.

Imanol Alguacil’s side frustrated their hosts going into the break level 0-0. But after resuming this opening leg, Mbappé breached the Txuriurdin defence, subsequently becoming the 20th different club he’s scored past in the Champions League from 24 played. It was a landmark goal. Mbappé’s 47th in the Champions League means he’s overtaken Raúl (43) for most goals scored in the competition while 25 or under, with only Lionel Messi (59) netting more. Not only did he score in each of his last five Champions League games against La Liga opposition — netting seven goals in total in these matches — Mbappé is the first player in competition history to register a goal in 10 consecutive home starts, bagging 13 goals in this run.

PSG now take a healthy 2-0 lead to Spain (as many as Real Sociedad conceded in the entire group stage), with Bradley Barcola scoring his first-ever Champions League goal to seal victory. The exciting prospect has two goals and three assists in his last six appearances for Luis Enrique’s team in all competitions. As for Mbappé, he’s been directly involved in 38 goals in 30 appearances for PSG this season (31 goals and seven assists), the most of any player in Europe’s big five leagues across all competitions.

His boss, Enrique, maintains a proud record of never losing a home match in the knockout stages of the Champions League (seven wins and one draw) – following tonight’s victory, the Spaniard is now level with Fabio Capello for the most home games overseen in the knockout stages of the competition without ever losing (eight).

Imperator Immobile

Perhaps this was the best time for Lazio to face Bayern Munich, who came into tonight’s first leg in Rome, smarting from the mauling Bundesliga rivals Bayer Leverkusen inflicted on them. Thomas Tuchel’s future is now in doubt, and matters were not helped when Dayot Upamecano received a straight red just after the hour mark.

The first immediate dismissal for Bayern since Thomas Müller against Ajax in December 2018, with the last such punishment during the knockout phase coming in April when Franck Ribéry was given his matching orders against Lyon in the semi-finals.

Upamecano departed, having also handed the Italians a spot-kick, which Ciro Immobile buried. He’s now scored each of Lazio’s last four goals in the Champions League, making him the first player to score four successive goals for the Serie A side in the competition since Simone Inzaghi in March 2000.

Even more impressive is that Immobile has scored double figures in all eight seasons with Lazio across all competitions.

Immobile’s effort from 12 yards ultimately decided the contest, with Bayern having it all to do when both teams reconvene in Munich next month. This was their first defeat to an Italian side in the Champions League since March 2011 against Internazionale, ending a 12-game unbeaten run against such opponents (10 wins and two draws).

Equally damaging, the visitors from Bavaria failed to record a single shot on target despite having 17 shots – the most by any side on record (from 2003-04) in a Champions League game without one being on target.

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