Man City, Real Madrid kick off worst last 16 ties ever with inevitable wins

Man City, Real Madrid kick off worst last 16 ties ever with inevitable wins

Manchester City and Real Madrid both won as we ask ourselves whether there has ever been a set of last-16 ties so distinctly lacking in jeopardy.

We’ve tried our best to get ourselves up for the Champions League last-16. There are some intriguing ties: largely homegrown Real Sociedad vs state-funded Paris Saint-Germain; high-octane PSV Eindhoven vs Champions League trendsetters in that regard, Borussia Dortmund; wing-backs and dark arts in Inter Milan vs Atletico Madrid; a fallen giant derby between Napoli and Barcelona.

But in kicking off what should (and used to) be a month of drama, tension, and – most importantly – uncertainty with FC Copenhagen vs Manchester City and RB Leipzig vs Real Madrid we can’t help but feel nostalgic about a competition that now feels preordained to the point where neutrals are losing interest, with jeapardy at an all-time low.

The greater the financial gap, the harder it is to postpone reality and preserve doubt, and this set of last-16 ties feel more predictable than ever. Barring a giant-killing of near FA Cup proportions, Manchester City will beat Copenhagen, Arsenal will beat Porto, PSG will beat Real Sociedad, Bayern Munich will beat Lazio and Real Madrid will beat RB Leipzig. That’s five of eight ties that jeapardy-hunters need not bother with.

“This competition is a coin (toss). It was written in the stars. It belongs to us,” Pep Guardiola said at the end of last season, having won the trophy for City at the seventh time of asking. And while we can accept the significance of luck in the final, across two legs the odds are heavily stacked in the favour of teams like his, to the extent where we would ask to inspect the tossed coin for two heads.

You won’t find anyone in their right mind tipping a team to win this season’s competition other Manchester City, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, and we would suggest those fancying the latter duo are putting too much weight on the importance of history and past glories.

City being such huge favourites grants great David and Goliath opportunities, as we very briefly enjoyed on Tuesday, when Ederson fluffed a clearance and Magnus Mattson curled his shot beyond the goalkeeper.

But the ten minutes of hope was bookended by 80+ of sheer dominance from Pep Guardiola’s side, with Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden scoring the goals as they managed 27 shots to Copenhagen’s four, completed four times as many passes and had 79 per cent of the ball. 3-1 up ahead of the return leg at the Etihad. It’s done.

There is joy to be had in watching City. They’ve got outstanding footballers, who combine to play some beautiful football, which we saw in fits and starts against Copenhagen, and we’ll see more of as they continue through the rounds and they’re pushed by increasingly improved opposition.

But they’ll need to have at least one off day, two against most teams left in the Champions League, not to get to the final, and while predicting how far others will go isn’t quite so simple, we would back ourselves to get the vast majority right. It feels like that uncertainty ebbs away year on year and if we no longer have the ‘not knowing’ we’re losing the best part of football.

Brahim Diaz

Braham Diaz celebrates goal for Real Madrid against RB Leipzig.

While City were cruising to victory in Copenhagen, Real Madrid won 1-0 away in Leipzig without Jude Bellingham or their three best centre-backs. Both ties are effectively over, and with Lazio vs Bayern Munich and PSG vs Real Sociedad to come on Wednesday, we could easily have four European giants looking ahead to the quarter-finals that may as well have been printed on their calendars at the start of the season, or at least when the last-16 draw was made.

We’ll root for the underdogs, but without hope the spectacle suffers. Man City’s brilliance can only allow us to overlook the inevitability of them winning for so long. We need jeapardy in football, and in the Champions League – supposedly the greatest club competition in the world – there’s as little now as there’s ever been.

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