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UCL speaking factors: Did any group play nicely? Can Inter win it? Get hold of US

The primary legs of the 2023-24 Champions League spherical of 16 are all wrapped up as Manchester Metropolis look to defend their title, Arsenal make their return to knockout stage for the primary time since 2017 and stuttering Bayern Munich face an uphill battle. Though there have not been any on the spot classics but, there was sufficient drama and upset to depart loads at stake within the return legs.

We requested ESPN writers Gab Marcotti, James Olley and Julien Laurens to reply a few of our burning questions.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, extra (U.S.)

1. What caught your eye from the first-leg video games?

Julien Laurens: The dearth of leisure has been fairly baffling. I have never absolutely loved any of the video games, and I do not assume there was one recreation the place each groups performed nicely. We’ve got had some good performances for every group’s type — like Inter Milan, Manchester Metropolis, Lazio or FC Porto — however these video games weren’t nice total. Some huge groups like Arsenal and Bayern did not present up, whereas PSV Eindhoven vs. Borussia Dortmund and Napoli vs. Barcelona additionally disenchanted.

Gab Marcotti: I am nonetheless unsure how I really feel about abolishing the away objectives rule. I imply, it is sensible and it is fairer to take action, however it has actually strengthened the concept the primary legs are actually simply the primary half of a 180-minute recreation. And I feel it has modified the method coaches take. Lazio’s win over Bayern is an effective instance of this: they defended closely for an extended spell, went for it, scored, then lamented the truth that they did not get a second. Underneath the outdated system, a 1-0 residence win is an effective outcome, as a result of should you rating away, the opposition principally want to attain three objectives or extra. Now, that is not the case.

James Olley: Arsenal’s timidity. They are going to nonetheless count on to qualify, given the slender margin of Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat to FC Porto, however the method of the loss might be of concern, given how inhibited they appeared all through. A raucous Emirates Stadium crowd ought to assist flip the tide of their favour, however it was tough to not assume the event obtained to Mikel Arteta’s younger facet — or maybe the load of historical past, given Arsenal have exited the Champions League on the round-of-16 stage for seven consecutive seasons during which they’ve competed. Both method, they might want to considerably enhance their degree to achieve the quarterfinals for the primary time since 2010.



Takeaways from Inter’s victory over Atletico Madrid

Craig Burley reacts to Inter’s 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid.

2. Inter stay one of many groups to remain unbeaten. Are they primed for a return to the ultimate?

Marcotti: They’ve the hardest check to come back — Atlético Madrid away — so you must take into account that. And whereas the squad is deep and versatile, and Simone Inzaghi continues to do an unbelievable job (he is likely to be one of the best in-game supervisor we have seen this season), I would be terrified on the prospect of one of many strikers getting injured. You want solely have a look at what occurred when Marcus Thuram needed to go off and the variety of probabilities Marko Arnautovic squandered.

Past that, Manchester Metropolis, Paris Saint-Germain, Actual Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern are all extra proficient (though, after all, the latter two have a number of unfavourable baggage proper now.) Most likely Arsenal too, however expertise issues within the Champions League.

Laurens: I firmly imagine that they’ll completely get again to the ultimate once more this season. Regardless of shedding André Onana, Milan Skriniar, Edin Dzeko and Marcelo Brozovic in the summertime (4 huge gamers for them final season), I feel they’re even higher than they have been final yr. The replacements — Yann Sommer, Benjamin Pavard, Thuram and Davide Frattesi — have made this squad higher. Hakan Calhanoglu is bossing it as a deep-lying central midfielder, and Thuram’s affect (11 objectives, seven assists in 31 video games in all competitions) has been distinctive. Inter are far too good for the remainder of Serie A and are additionally too good for Atlético; they gained solely 1-0 however outplayed the Spanish facet for many of the recreation. Inzaghi and his gamers will go far, for positive.

Olley: It in all probability relies upon whether or not Inter are drawn in opposition to Manchester Metropolis. Metropolis are the strongest group on this competitors by far, and it’s tough to think about Inter repelling them over two legs, regardless of an undeniably spectacular run of type that has seen them stay unbeaten since Dec. 20. Additionally they will not take advancing previous Atlético as a right, regardless of dominating their opponents. Atlético have struggled typically on the street this season and are a a lot stronger proposition at residence. Álvaro Morata will even have one other three weeks build up his match sharpness after a knee damage, having made his return from the bench on Tuesday.



Leboeuf: Arsenal weren’t ready in loss to Porto

Frank Leboeuf explains why Arsenal did not play their finest of their 1-0 Champions League loss to FC Porto.

3. Who’s the participant you have been most impressed with through the first legs, and whom have you ever been most disenchanted with?

Laurens: There have been some good particular person performances within the first legs: Brahim Díaz‘s marvel aim for Actual Madrid in opposition to RB Leipzig was particular, as was Andriy Lunin‘s 9 saves in opposition to the Germans. Nicolò Barella was excellent for Inter in opposition to Atlético, as was Matteo Guendouzi in Lazio’s win in opposition to Bayern and Galeno for FC Porto in opposition to Arsenal along with his gorgeous late strike. PSG’s Bradley Barcola additionally netted a wonderful aim in his first Champions League knockout match.

There have been many disappointments, after all, beginning with Bayern striker Harry Kane, who was completely nameless in opposition to Lazio and missed an enormous probability at 0-0. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia was additionally clear for Napoli in opposition to Barcelona, Bukayo Saka went lacking for Arsenal at Porto, and Antoine Griezmann struggled for Atleti in Italy.

Marcotti: I am going to pick Inter midfielder Barella, who confirmed once more simply what he could be. Now that he has mixed intelligence and the correct actions along with his grit, athleticism and technical potential, he has change into a particular participant. PSV winger Johan Bakayoko was additionally excellent vs. Dortmund.

Most disappointing? We noticed a number of duds on the market, however I am going to choose Kvaratskhelia as the sport in opposition to Barca was arrange so properly for him.

Olley: Given I used to be at Porto vs. Arsenal, I am going to concentrate on that recreation. Leandro Trossard and Gabriel Martinelli have been unusually subdued. Trossard has been wonderful for Arsenal of late, however he struggled to affect proceedings at Estadio do Dragao because the Gunners did not register a shot on course for the primary time in additional than two years. Galeno’s winner was elegant, however he was additionally responsible of a dreadful first-half miss with the aim at his mercy. His follow-up effort then wasn’t significantly better, both.

Evanilson and Francisco Conceição caught the attention as Porto secured an sudden victory. Conceição’s trickery induced Arsenal issues, in distinction with the guests, who have been reliant on set items to create any kind of risk.

4. Choose your eight groups to undergo to the quarterfinals!

Laurens: Sadly (or perhaps thankfully, really), I do not see any upsets within the second legs. The largest groups will qualify, even the likes of Bayern or Arsenal who’ve misplaced their first video games. So I’ve: Manchester Metropolis, Actual Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Arsenal and Barcelona going by means of.

Olley: Ditto, for me it is: Manchester Metropolis, Actual Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Arsenal, Barcelona.

Marcotti: On paper, it should be simple for these golf equipment. However I do not assume that is going to occur as a result of there are at all times upsets. PSV, Lazio and Porto all have a respectable shot, whereas the Atlético vs. Inter tie is on a knife-edge.

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