UEFA Champions League: Reviewing the Clubs on Their First Leg Performances

Andrew JordanSenior Writer IFebruary 16, 2012

UEFA Champions League: Reviewing the Clubs on Their First Leg Performances

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    After the return of the UEFA Champions League from its annual winter break, eight of the 16 remaining sides in the Champions League have played their first leg of the round of 16, with some great storylines taking place.

    Now that these eight sides are halfway through an elimination round, now is a good time to analyse what each side has accomplished through the group stage and their first performance in the Champions League in 2012.

    Here are my reviews of each side based on their performances in the first leg, and whether I see that side reaching the knockout stage.

AC Milan

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    Result of First Leg: AC Milan 4, Arsenal 0

    Best Player of First Leg: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

    Recap of First Leg: AC Milan put on a masterful performance in the first leg, destroying Arsenal thanks to some incredible efforts from Ibrahimovic, Robinho and others.

    Milan made the most of their offensive opportunities, scoring on their first four shots on target. It also didn't hurt to see a breathtaking goal from Kevin-Prince Boateng start off the evening for Milan on the right foot.

    What's needed to reach the quarterfinals: Milan need to put on an average effort in order to advance. Milan completely dominated this first leg and that great play should be enough for the Italian side to reach the quarterfinals.

    Milan should not sleep on Arsenal, but there is little to no hope for Arsenal to advance here.

APOEL

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    Result of First Leg: Lost 1-0 at Lyon

    Best Player of First Leg: Paulo Jorge

    Recap of First Leg: APOEL lacked any true offense in their loss, which could have put the Cyprian side into a deep hole going into their home fixture.

    Yet APOEL's defense was spectacular. They held Lyon to one just one goal despite the French side getting 18 shots (to APOEL's one).

    What's needed to reach the quarterfinals: APOEL have to improve offensively and take some initiative into the offensive end. This means taking more than one shot in a match and actually taking the ball into Lyon's end.

    APOEL also need to stop allowing Lyon to keep such a stranglehold of the game. APOEL will need to be physical, create chances and use their riotous home crowd to their benefit. APOEL can do it, but they will need a complete team effort if they are to reach the quarterfinals.

Arsenal

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    Result of First Leg: AC Milan 4, Arsenal 0

    Best Player of First Leg: Laurent Koscielny

    Recap of First Leg: This was an awful loss for Arsenal. In 222 European games before this, Arsenal had yet to lose by four or more goals.

    Arsenal's defense went from mediocre to awful after Koscielny left with injury at the end of the first half and were never able to rebound.

    What's needed to reach the quarterfinals: A miracle. Arsenal will need to win 4-0 just to force extra time and if AC Milan score one goal, the Gunners will need six goals in order to win the tie.

    Arsenal will need to relentlessly attack and will also need Milan to play like a lower-division club if they are to advance.

    Arsenal's real goal should be to make this tie more respectable. 

Barcelona

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    Result of First Leg: Bayer Leverkusen 1, Barcelona 3

    Best Player of First Leg: Lionel Messi

    Recap of First Leg: Barcelona have been the most dominant side in Europe over the past several seasons, and they once again proved how great they are in the Champions League in a 3-1 win over Leverkusen.

    Barcelona had a brace from Alexis Sanchez in his first Champions League start and Lionel Messi scored on a great team goal to give Barcelona a convincing win.

    What's needed to reach the quarterfinals: Barcelona just need to play the football that everyone knows they are capable of playing. That means once again holding the ball for a large portion of the match (75 percent against Leverkusen) and utilizing all of their attacking options.

    Barcelona are the favorites to again win the final. They certainly look like they are up to that challenge.

Bayer Leverkusen

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    Result of First Leg: Bayer Leverkusen 1, Barcelona 3

    Best Player of First Leg: Lars Bender

    Recap of Quarterfinals: Bayer Leverkusen were probably going to need a miracle against Barcelona in order to stay in this tie, and they were able to keep Barcelona off the board for the first 40 minutes before the Catalans scored three times and took complete control of the tie.

    Leverkusen are still alive thanks to a 52nd-minute header from Michal Kadlec, but Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi both played too well for Leverkusen to come back.

    What's needed to reach the quarterfinals: Leverkusen did a solid job despite only having 25 percent of possession. Leverkusen will need to take more of initiative in gaining possession and start to attack more.

    Leverkusen will need to relentlessly attack, which might be the only way that they have a chance of reaching the quarterfinals.

Benfica

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    Result of First Leg: Zenit St Petersburg 3, Benfica 2

    Best Player of First Leg: Oscar Cardozo

    Recap of First Leg: Losing is something that Benfica have not been familiar with this year, yet they suffered a loss in a difficult setting to Zenit. Benfica played a solid match, but some inconsistent defending and a great effort by Zenit's offense led to the loss.

    Benfica did get two crucial away goals, which puts them into a strong position to advance.

    What's needed to reach the quarterfinals: Benfica will be playing at Estadio da Luz, where Benfica have never lost in the knockout stage in Champions League play. Yet Benfica will certainly need a strong offensive game considering they need at least one goal to get ahead on aggregate.

    Benfica will also need to play much stronger defensively and prevent Zenit from making their strong attacking runs that they used in Russia.

Lyon

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    Result of First Leg: Lyon 1, APOEL 0

    Best Player of First Leg: Michel Bastos

    Recap of First Leg: After getting through the knockout stage thanks to some controversial circumstances, Lyon were able to only get a 1-0 victory at home over a weak APOEL side.

    Lyon did dominate the game, yet their finishing was awful. Lyon took 18 shots on goal compared to APOEL's one shot, which only magnified how abysmal of a finishing effort that took place.

    What's needed to reach the quarterfinals: Lyon will be heading into a hostile environment in this tie, which means composure and a strong start will both be essential if Lyon are to advance. 

    Lyon certainly will need an early away goal to do this. Lyon's plan was broken down well by APOEL in the final minutes. Lyon got tired when they possessed the ball for long stretches and APOEL improved tremendously due to this fatigue.

    Lyon should advance from this tie, but they need a more inspired performance if they are going to reach the quarterfinals.

Zenit St Petersburg

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    Result of First Leg: Zenit St Petersburg 3, Benfica 2

    Best Player of First Leg: Roman Shirokov

    Recap of First Leg: It was the first game of the season for Zenit St Petersburg, and the Russian side was once again able to show why they were the Russian Premier League champions last year following an inspiring win over Benfica.

    Despite the cold conditions and their recent lack of game experience, Zenit played a great match that was highlighted by some incredible play and a fantastic late effort to win following a late Benfica goal.

    What's needed to reach the quarterfinals: Zenit will be in better condition in this second leg, which means they will have to use that extra effort in order to advance. Zenit will have the odds against them playing at the Estadio da Luz, which only magnifies the need for an away goal.

    Two years ago, CSKA Moscow beat the odds and reached the quarterfinals thanks to an inspiring win at Sevilla in the round of 16. Zenit will need either a win or a draw in order to advance.

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