Champion League

Champions League Round-of-16 2nd Leg: 5 Standout Performers

The Round-of-16 of the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League season gave us some fascinating comebacks. Heavyweights Arsenal, Bayern Munich, and Atletico Madrid were all down by a goal in the first leg, while Barcelona was held to a draw. However, courtesy of their unwavering grit and undeniable quality, all four sailed past the tricky waters and joined Real Madrid, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), and Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals.

Before turning all our attention to the quarter-finals, let us take a look at the best performances from the second leg of the Champions League last 16. Here are the top five players who stood out in the Round-of-16 return leg:

#5 Julian Alvarez – Manchester City

Manchester City Man Julian Alvarez Was One Of The Best Performers Of Champions League RO16 Second Leg
Julian Alvarez Has Scored 16 Goals In 2023-24 Season

Reigning champions Manchester City claimed a comfortable 3-1 win over FC Copenhagen in the Round-of-16 first leg in February. In the return leg at the Etihad Stadium, City secured another 3-1 victory, with Julian Alvarez running the show.

In the fifth minute, the Argentine swung in a brilliant corner toward the near post, where Manuel Akanji was lurking. The defender made an immaculate connection with the delivery, sending his right-footed volley crashing into the back of the net. Four minutes later, Alvarez added a goal to his assist, thanks to a goalkeeping howler from Kamil Grabara.

Copenhagen’s botched clearance fell kindly to Alvarez, who optimistically went for the goal with a right-footed strike. Standing at the near post, Grabara was the favorite to stop it, but he somehow let the ball escape his grasp, handing City an aggregate 5-1 lead.

Over the course of the game, Alvarez created four chances — more than any other player on the pitch. He also pulled off a couple of dribbles, completed three crosses, and made three recoveries.

#4 Memphis Depay – Atletico Madrid

Memphis Depay Was One Of The Best Players Of UCL RO16 Second Leg
Memphis Depay Scored Once And Converted The Penalty Against Inter Milan

On Wednesday night (March 13), Atletico Madrid proceeded to the Champions League quarter-finals at Inter Milan’s expense. They won the return leg 2-1 — leveling the score on aggregate after losing 1-0 at San Siro — before claiming the win on penalties. Substitute Memphis Depay was Atletico’s best player on Wednesday night, with him producing a heroic performance to help his team see the Serie A leaders through.

In the 85th minute — seven minutes after coming on — Depay hit the post from the Inter Milan box. The Dutchman was the quickest to the loose ball inside the area and attempted to find the near corner with a snapshot. Much to the dismay of home fans at the Civitas Metropolitano Stadium, the post denied him the tie-equalizer.

The much-needed goal for Atletico arrived from Depay’s boots in the 87th minute, with him doing ever so well to penetrate the box and steer his low finish past Yann Sommer. The ex-Barcelona man also took the first penalty in the shootout, almost tearing through the netting with his piledriver of a strike.

#3 David Raya – Arsenal

David Raya Was One Of The Best Performers In Champions League Round Of 16 2nd Leg
David Raya Was Arsenal’s Hero In UCL Round-of-16 2nd Leg

Needing to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the Champions League Round-of-16 first leg, Arsenal welcomed FC Porto to the Emirates Stadium for the return leg on Tuesday night (March 12). The Gunners, however, could not overpower the Portuguese in London, as many expected. They could only level the score at 1-1 and initiate the Russian Roulette of penalty shootout.

Luckily, Arsenal had an in-form David Raya guarding their net, with him making two fine stops to ensure their passage to the quarter-finals for the first time in 14 years. Raya first denied Porto’s second kick-taker Wendell, lunging to his left and tipping the Brazilian’s effort onto the crossbar and out of play. Then, he stopped Wenderson Galeno from scoring, going to his left after guessing the winger’s intentions and pushing it away.

In the Champions League Round-of-16 second leg, Raya made a total of three saves, delivered eight accurate long balls, and recorded 10 recoveries.

#2 Harry Kane – Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich Ace Harry Kane Was One Of The Best Performers Of Champions League Round-of-16 2nd Leg
Bayern Munich Man Harry Kane Scored A Brace Against Lazio

Bayern Munich delivered an underwhelming performance in the first leg of their Champions League Round-of-16 clash with Lazio, losing 1-0 in the Italians’ backyard. The second leg, however, was a completely different story, with them playing one of their best games of the season to claim a 3-0 win and proceed to the last 8 with a 3-1 aggregate scoreline.

Striker extraordinaire, Harry Kane, was Bayern’s standout performer in the return leg, as he sealed a comfortable victory for the hosts by bagging a remarkable brace. In the 38th minute, the Englishman put Bayern on level terms, applying a sumptuous header from inside the Lazio box. He doubled his money and thrust the Bavarians 3-0 up in the 66th minute, showing impeccable awareness to intercept Ivan Provedel’s attempted clearance and steer it home.

The European Golden Shoe contender also created four chances, drew four fouls, won five of six ground duels, and delivered two accurate long balls in the second leg against Lazio.

#1 Kylian Mbappe – PSG

PSG Superstar Kylian Mbappe Was One Of The Best Performers Of UCL Round-Of-16 Second Leg
PSG Ace Kylian Mbappe Will Become A Free Agent In July 2024

PSG superstar Kylian Mbappe may very well leave the club at the end of the 2023-24 season, but he remains committed to delivering his best as long as he is on the Parisians’ payroll. The 2018 FIFA World Cup winner delivered a clear declaration of said intent in the Champions League Round-of-16 second leg against Real Sociedad, scoring a brace to propel PSG to a 2-1 victory (4-1 on aggregate).

In the 15th minute, Mbappe received the ball from Ousmane Dembele, darted in from the left side, and found the far corner with a gem of a curler. The way he measured the swerve to take it around two Sociedad defenders was a thing of beauty. The 25-year-old scored the game’s second goal in the 56th minute, exhibiting superb composure to finish from close range.

He popped up behind the defenders to latch on to a through ball from Kang-In Lee before delicately tucking it beyond Alex Remiro and into the near-bottom corner. In addition to the brace, Mbappe created two big chances, pulled off four dribbles, won nine ground duels, and drew five fouls.

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