6 Things We Learned from Champions League Last 16 2nd Legs: RVP United Saviour

Daniel EdwardsFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

6 Things We Learned from Champions League Last 16 2nd Legs: RVP United Saviour

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    After a marathon one-month fixture list, the Champions League last 16 enjoyed a fine send-off on Wednesday evening.

    All eyes were on Old Trafford where Manchester United relied on a shot of Dutch courage to complete a remarkable comeback. 

    Robin van Persie saved his side from certain elimination with three goals, but his performance was just one of many great games and displays we have seen from Europe's top clubs over the past four weeks. 

    But now the tournament has been cut down to the final eight, what exactly did the second legs of each clash tell us about the teams still fighting for the title? 

Barcelona & Atletico Send European Warning

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    Gabriel Pecot/Associated Press

    Domestically, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are currently trailing Real Madrid in a gruelling three-way title fight.

    But perhaps a better sign of the quality of the two Liga hopefuls is the ease with which they dispatched top-class opposition on the way to the Champions League last eight. 

    The Blaugrana formed one half of perhaps the most keenly anticipated tie, against Manchester City. But ultimately they never looked troubled, with goals from the untouchable Lionel Messi and Dani Alves sealing a comfortable 4-1 aggregate victory. 

    Atletico's win was even more emphatic. A textbook display of merciless attacking football ripped Italian giants Milan apart in the Spanish capital; a 4-1 victory ushering the dangerous Colchoneros into the European elite. 

Weakened Dortmund Capable of Surprising

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Borussia Dortmund's march to the Champions League final in 2013/14, with a vibrant squad assembled for a fraction of the cost of their European rivals, was an awe-inspiring achievement.

    If they can continue in this season's tournament and repeat that, however, it would be even more of a surprise. 

    Shorn of key talents Mario Gotze and the injured Ilkay Gundogan, coach Jurgen Klopp has responded with a slightly more conservative, safety-first game plan. 

    BVB may have gone down to Zenit at home on Wednesday but a 4-2 win in the first leg was sufficient to progress. With plenty of stars studded across the line-up, the Germans are still capable of turning heads in the Champions League's later rounds. 

     

Madrid Second String Worthy Reinforcements

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    Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    An emphatic 6-1 humiliation of Schalke in Germany meant that Carlo Ancelotti had the luxury of resting several first-team players for the return leg on Tuesday evening.

    The scary thing was that Real Madrid's reserves showed all the same potency the first teamers have been demonstrating for the last four months. 

    The Italian coach made six changes for the second leg and was treated to an excellent performance only dampened by young striker Jese suffering serious ligament damage (via Sky Sports).

    Of course, keeping Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch throughout proved that the Merengue were not exactly taking the game lightly. But it was still a warning to Champions League rivals that Madrid have the strength in depth to challenge in any situation. 

Ronaldo Hungry for Scoring Record

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    Paul White/Associated Press

    Cristiano Ronaldo's prowess in front of goal is not exactly a well-kept secret. But even so, the Real Madrid superstar is going all-out in 2013/14 to shatter the Champions League scoring record and send his team to the title. 

    Even against Schalke this week, a game rendered almost meaningless by the Merengue's 6-1 demolition in the first leg, Ronaldo was determined to keep banging in the goals. His double took him to 13 for the tournament so far, with no less than five potential games still to play up to the final. 

    The striker needs just one more to tie with Lionel Messi (2011/12) and Milan legend Jose Altafini (1962/3) as the most prolific player in a single European Cup or Champions League campaign, a mark that few doubt that he will pass.

Bayern Still Favourites for 2nd Straight Champions League

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Out of all the leading contenders for the Champions League this year, Bayern Munich were perhaps the team that made the least impression during the last 16 ties.

    Nevertheless, the side directed by Josep Guardiola are still without a doubt the hot favourites to retain the trophy won so emphatically last year. 

    A 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal may have brought to an end a 13-game winning streak for the Bavarians, but they were never troubled by the Gunners' spirited efforts to recover from a 2-0 defeat in the Emirates Stadium.

    With talent in every position across the pitch, it is debatable whether any team has what it takes to down Bayern when they approach their machine-like best. 

United Can Rely on Van Persie Magic

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    Manchester United and David Moyes have been the targets of heavy criticism this season. A lot of it, as the Red Devils have flirted with mid-table obscurity and early elimination from the Champions League, has been extremely difficult to argue against. 

    When all else fails, however, the club still have an ace up their sleeve: the outrageous talents of Netherlands international Robin van Persie. 

    In an almost single-handed effort to keep United alive, RVP smashed all three goals on Wednesday to drag his club to a 3-0 win over Olympiakos. The victory sent the Premier League champions through by the skin of their teeth, providing the miracle that could just keep Moyes in his job.