The Champions League knockout stage spots are filling up quickly. Only four spots remain after Wednesday, with Atletico and Barcelona among those that clinched not only a spot in the round of 16, but also clinched their groups. What else did we learn from Wednesday’s matches?
City come up short against lesser foes
Manchester City have clinched their spot in the Champions League knockout stages, so they have that going for them, but they are also assured of being second in their group. That was always likely with Barcelona in their group, but City actually did well against the Catalans, winning a match. The problem is they drew Celtic and, on Wednesday, drew Borussia Monchengladbach. Now they’re looking at a difficult round of 16 opponent and it’s because of underwhelming showings like the one they put forth in Germany on Wednesday.
Atletico look comfortable at the top
Atletico Madrid weren’t supposed to win Group D. They are an unquestionably excellent team, but Bayern Munich were the favorites. And yet here we stand, with a matchday left to play, and Diego Simeone’s men are six points clear of the Bavarians. Perhaps no team in the Champions League has put together a better group stage than Atleti. They beat Bayern and have conceded just once in five matches. They’re not bagging goals by the bunches, but they’re comfortable in every match they play, keeping it in complete control. It’s what they did in beating PSV 2-0 on Wednesday and it’s what they’ve done since the start of the competition. They earned first place and the right to be seeded for the round of 16 draw.
Neymar still has some growing up to do
He’s still just 24 years old, but Neymar’s composure needs work. Barcelona had little trouble with Celtic in their 2-0 away win, but things were far from cordial during the cold night at Celtic Park. Referee Daniele Orsato brandished a total of seven cautions as the proceedings grew more and more intense. Neymar and Celtic defender Mikael Lustig came chest-to-chest at one point and both saw yellow. The caution meant nothing, as they tussled again shortly thereafter. Luis Enrique, to his credit, saw the danger of having his star man sent off and had Neymar substituted before that could happen. Yes, Barcelona won handily and wound up clinching their group, but it’d be all the more impressive if Neymar brushed off the haters instead of playing into them.
If Edinson Cavani is hurt, PSG are in real trouble
Edinson Cavani’s a real enigma. His off-the-ball movement is second to none, he works harder than nearly any player in the game and he scores goals. But MAN, does he love to spurn chances. He could’ve put Arsenal away singlehandedly at least twice, but went full Cavani and just couldn’t make it happen. His wastefulness cost them two points, and PSG fans have to feel more than a little bit of frustration towards the Uruguayan. The problem is, PSG don’t have anyone better. He’s super important to this side, not just for his goals, but because of that aforementioned work ethic and off-the-ball movement. Cavani went down with an injury toward the end of the match, but there’s no telling if he’ll miss significant action due to the knock. If he is out, their only other real option is Jese Rodriguez. He’s a good, solid player, but that puts PSG in a bad place. They need Cavani, misses and all.