Preview: Bayern most at risk in Champions League as Real Madrid, City, PSG take leads into return games

AP , Tuesday 5 Mar 2024

The four European soccer powers that lead UEFA’s club rankings return to the Champions League round of 16 in midweek with Bayern Munich looking out of form and at risk of a stunning elimination.

Kane
Munich s Harry Kane kicks the ball during the Bundesliga soccer match between SC Freiburg and Bayern Munich at the Europa-Park Stadium in Freiburg Im Breisgau, Germany, Friday March 1, 2024. AP

Real Madrid, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain all take a lead into second-leg games and all are unbeaten in 2024 in their domestic leagues.

Bayern, however, has lost three Bundesliga games since January and three of its last five in all competitions including a 1-0 defeat at Lazio in the first leg.

Bayern has reached the Champions League quarterfinals in each of the last four years and went on to win the 2020 final against a PSG team then coached by Thomas Tuchel. But the current slump has seen Bayern already announce Tuchel will leave at the end of the season after just over a year in charge.

Bayern’s home game against Lazio shapes as the game most in the balance this week. Also Tuesday, PSG takes a 2-0 lead to Spain against another slumping team, Real Sociedad.

PSG is dealing with the fallout of Kylian Mbappé’s upcoming exit at the end of the season but still has a four-month unbeaten run while Real Sociedad has lost two more Spanish league games since the first leg in Paris.

The two standout teams in the Champions League this season — and the past two title winners — play at home on Wednesday.

Madrid has a 1-0 lead over Leipzig from the first leg that was the record 14-time European champion’s seventh straight win in the competition this season.

Man City also made it seven in a row beating Copenhagen 3-1 in Denmark three weeks ago.

REST OF THE ROUND

The rest of the round of 16 is completed next week, ahead of the quarterfinal draw on March 15 at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.

On March 12, Arsenal hosts Porto trailing 1-0 from the first leg and Barcelona faces Napoli after a 1-1 draw in Italy.

Inter Milan takes a 1-0 lead to Atletico Madrid on March 13, when Borussia Dortmund hosts PSV Eindhoven tied at 1-1.

CLUB WORLD CUP

The 21 games left in this Champions League will finalize the 12-strong European challenge at the 2025 Club World Cup that FIFA is relaunching in the United States.

Borussia Dortmund or Leipzig will qualify, and it’s Atletico Madrid or Barcelona, unless Real Sociedad wins this edition of the Champions League. Juventus will go if Lazio or Napoli don’t progress much further in this Champions League.

FIFA has rebooted its club event as a 32-team tournament from June 15 to July 13 next year in the same format as the men’s World Cup has been since 1998.

It promises tens of millions of dollars in prize money and a brand-building opportunity to play competitive games in the coveted American market.

Europe’s entries are the Champions League winners from 2021 through 2024 — Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester City so far — plus the highest ranked teams based on all results in the competition over the same four-year period. The limit is two teams per country, unless Arsenal wins the Champions League this season.

Four entries are still open because five clubs already secured their place on ranking: Bayern Munich, PSG, Inter Milan, Benfica and Porto.

EUROPA LEAGUE

Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen carry their remarkable league-leading domestic form back into European competition after a pause of almost three months.

Liverpool relied on untested teenagers to help win three straight games without conceding a goal in the past week in three different competitions, including lifting a trophy at Wembley Stadium in the English League Cup final.

Jürgen Klopp’s injury-hit team goes to Sparta Prague on Thursday in the first leg of the Europa League round of 16. The second leg at Anfield is one week later.

Like Liverpool, Leverkusen has an early kickoff at 1745 GMT on Thursday, going three time zones east from Germany to Azerbaijan to face Qarabag in Baku.

Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso’s team is now unbeaten in all 34 games this season and leads the Bundesliga by 10 points over Bayern as it seeks the first league title in club history.

Also Thursday in the Europa League round of 16, Milan hosts Slavia Prague and Roma hosts Brighton.

EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE

Eight first-leg games Thursday in the round of 16 of the Europa Conference League include Ajax vs Aston Villa and two Israeli teams in action.

Maccabi Haifa hosts Fiorentina in neutral Budapest, and Maccabi Tel Aviv is at Olympiakos.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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