The soccer news starts with the knockout round of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League. Back in December, we put PSG and Juventus at the top of the table for the teams with the most to lose this season. It's worth asking if either of them are even favorites a couple of months later.
PSG's waltz through Ligue 1 might be the easiest prediction to make across European soccer. They're so much better than the rest of their domestic league that the focus shifted to the Champions League long ago. How far they get in the knockout round is the story of their season. It's also the justification for what they're spending. They started February with a 2-1 loss at Lyon, their first of the season. They've still got a 10-point lead over surprise club Lille and a mammoth +55 to +20 in some alternate universe where goal difference comes into play.
That goal difference is what PSG paid for, with their forwards the best in Europe right now. Unfortunately for their Champions League ambitions, Neymar is out with an injury and will miss their round of 16 series with Manchester United. PSG is certainly strong enough without him to do two things. Continue playing their same style and get past United.
It’s not easy to change your playing style overnight," PSG coach Thomas Tuchel said. "But it’s true that we are missing several key attacking players at the moment, but I’m not sure we should change our style. We are used to playing attacking football, it’s in our DNA and changing that isn’t easy."
For Juventus, it's that same familiar scenario. They're up by 11 points in Serie A, without PSG's ridiculous goal difference at +34 to 2nd-place Napoli's +24 but still in complete control with no league losses this season. It's a story in Italy when Juventus doesn't control a game. Their 3-3 home draw with Parma on February 2 in Serie A followed their Coppa Italia loss at Atalanta. This is the Juventus version of a crisis, which means it's not much of a crisis at all.
What that means against Atletico Madrid in their Champions League round of 16 series only adds to the pressure. Juventus and Atletico are the best teams in Europe over the last few seasons not to win the Champions League. Both made the final only to lose to Real Madrid (Atletico in 2014 and 16, Juventus in 2017) or Barcelona (Juventus in 2015). Atletico is currently in a fight with Real Madrid for 2nd-place in La Liga, trailing them by a point but ahead on goal difference +16 to +13. Atletico lost at home to Real 3-1 on Saturday, news that made Juventus's website.
Based solely on spending, these remain the two teams with the most to lose in this season's Champions League. Now, the focus shifts to PSG without Neymar and Juventus the next team to take advantage of a struggling Atletico. There's not enough excuses for either of them to exit the Champions League in the round of 16.
Fansided's Graham Ruthven asks the same old question about Real Madrid. The Independent's Miguel Delaney on the importance of the Champions League. FourFourTwo ranks the round of 16 teams. The Athletic's Matthew De George reports on what led to Marco Fabian moving to the Philadelphia Union.
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