Top Winners and Losers After Tuesday's Champions League Round of 16 Results

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2020

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Serge Gnabry of FC Bayern Muenchen celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Chelsea FC and FC Bayern Muenchen at Stamford Bridge on February 25, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Roland Krivec/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Serge Gnabry's love affair with London continued on Tuesday night in the UEFA Champions League, when the former Arsenal winger found the net twice for Bayern Munich against Chelsea. 

Gnabry's brace helped Die Roten cruise to a comfortable 3-0 win in the first leg of their last-16 tie at Stamford Bridge. It helped to have Robert Lewandowski in form, with the gifted No. 9 assisting Gnabry's goals and scoring one of his own.

Lewandowski's performance was in sharp contrast to the sluggish display of Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman toiled in relative obscurity on a night when the Blues failed to get players close enough in support of the 33-year-old.

While Giroud yearned for more from those around him, Antoine Griezmann seized the initiative himself to help Barcelona earn a 1-1 draw in Napoli. Griezmann's vital away goal cancelled out Dries Mertens' opener and gave the Blaugrana an advantage they will need in the second leg, when midfield enforcers Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal, the latter of whom was shown two yellows late on, will miss out through suspension.

   

Tuesday Scores

  • Chelsea 0-3 Bayern Munich
  • Napoli 1-1 Barcelona

Winner: Serge Gnabry

Gnabry must have heard London calling again when he scored his fifth and sixth goals in the city this season. After finding the net four times during October's 7-2 win at Tottenham Hotspur in the group stage, Gnabry was just as ruthless against the Blues.

He was on the fringes of the game for most of the first half, but the 24-year-old came to life after exchanging passes with Lewandowski six minutes after the restart, before returning the ball the striker's way on the flank.

Gnabry continued his run and met Lewandowski's low, swept cross emphatically after a costly slip from Cesar Azpilicueta had wrecked Chelsea's defensive structure.

Gnabry's second goal was even better, made once again by Lewandowski, who found space brilliantly behind Reece James. His pass released Gnabry who made an angled run from inside to out, before turning back into the box and nudging a classy finish into the bottom corner.

Both goals showcased the calmer, more refined finishing Gnabry has cultivated since leaving the Gunners and returning to Germany in 2016. His movement, pace, power and eye for goal have helped Bayern move on from the days of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben and still remain one of the heavyweights at this level.

Loser: Olivier Giroud

The contrast in Gnabry's night and the suffering of ex-Arsenal teammate Giroud was staggering. While Gnabry had players queuing up to supply him with chances, Giroud saw little in the way of support.

Any team starting the target man is sending a clear message about its strategy. He thrives when operating with his back to goal and joined by midfield runners whom he can feed with his artful link play, some of the best in the game.

Without players running off and beyond him, Giroud's natural limitations are exposed. His lack of pace and variety in his movement means he's rarely going to scare a defence or win a match on his own.

Bayern were unfazed by dealing with the big man, soon rendering Giroud obsolete until he was substituted for Tammy Abraham a minute after the hour mark. Frank Lampard made the call, but the Chelsea chief had hardly helped Giroud's cause by failing to get enough pace around him.

Even so, a trying night means Giroud is likely destined to go back to the fringes of Lampard's squad.

Winner: Antoine Griezmann

All season long there has been a feeling Griezmann has disappointed in a Barca shirt. He moved to the Camp Nou from Atletico Madrid in a deal worth €120 million in the summer, a price tag the France international has sometimes appeared weighed down by.

However, a closer look at the numbers reveals Griezmann is rounding into form as a key member of a depleted Barcelona forward line. The goal in Naples was his 14th in all competitions this term.

The finish was a simple one, with the 28-year-old sweeping in a Nelson Semedo cross. Yet the way he found space in the box and timed his move to the ball was reminiscent of peak-Atleti Griezmann.

That player is good enough to help Barca lift the trophy, despite the injuries to Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez. The Griezmann of three to four years ago is the partner Lionel Messi needs to ensure the Argentinian doesn't buckle under the weight of carrying the attacking load.

By adding a goal in Europe to the one he scored against Getafe in La Liga earlier this month, Griezmann now has two in his last three games. It's proof he's upping his game for the business end of the season.

  

Loser: Barca Midfield Depth

Having Griezmann and Messi at his disposal means Quique Setien can rest easy about the quality of his attack for the second leg on March 18. The bigger problem will be plugging holes in a midfield worn thin by the suspensions facing Busquets and Vidal.

Busquets was booked four minutes into the second half after taking out Napoli goalscorer Mertens. It was a needless infraction and one that wasted a composed and artful display from the cultured holding midfielder.

Knowing Busquets would miss out only made Vidal mixing it up with Mario Rui late on all the more baffling. The pair's initial clash earned Vidal a booking in the penultimate minute, with his anger toward Rui drawing a second yellow.

Being sent off is nothing new for Vidal, but Barca need a player with his tenacity to limit the effectiveness of Napoli playmaker Fabian Ruiz in the return fixture. Frankly, Setien's options are less than inspiring, with Ivan Rakitic out of form, while Arthur Melo and Frenkie de Jong are struggling to convince.

The problem highlights the paucity of quality and depth in an area that used to define Barcelona's success during the trophy-laden era of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.

Related

    Liverpool U-Turn on Furlough

    Reds apologise to fans and reverse decision to furlough non-playing staff

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Liverpool U-Turn on Furlough

    Liverpool FC
    via Liverpool FC

    Pep’s Mother Dies of COVID-19

    Man City confirm Guardiola's 82-year-old mother, Dolors Sala Carrio, has died in Barcelona after contracting coronavirus

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Pep’s Mother Dies of COVID-19

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    World’s Best Teen Footballers ✨

    B/R names a new top 10 list after Jadon Sancho recently turned 20

    World Football logo
    World Football

    World’s Best Teen Footballers ✨

    Sam Tighe
    via Bleacher Report

    UEFA: Liverpool Will Get Title

    President Ceferin ‘cannot imagine a scenario in which the champions would not be Liverpool’ (EkipaSN)

    World Football logo
    World Football

    UEFA: Liverpool Will Get Title

    via liverpoolecho