What we learned from the Champions League round of 16 first legs

The first legs of the round of 16 ties in this season’s Champions League have now taken place and it’s fair to say they didn’t pass without incident.

All three English clubs left in the competition picked up vital wins, while Barcelona and Juventus have it all to do if they’re to progress through to the quarter-final stage (by ‘all to do’ we mean ‘climb an absolute mountain’ in the former’s case).

Let’s take a look at everything we learned from the first legs of the round of 16.

Atletico Madrid were forced to play in Budapest following Covid-19 restrictions
Atletico Madrid were forced to play in Budapest following Covid-19 restrictions | DANIEL MIHAILESCU/Getty Images

It’s not like we had any great expectations following the announcement that Atletico Madrid would be forced to swap the Wanda Metropolitano for the National Arena in Budapest – but it really was rubbish.

It wasn’t just Diego Simeone’s men who were forced to play their home leg in a neutral venue, with Borussia Monchengladbach and RB Leipzig forced to do likewise, and funnily enough they all got beat – so much for home advantage.

There was just something not quite right about seeing these sides play at completely random venues, and – fans or no fans – the occasion lost its spark a little.

Olivier Giroud scored a crucial away goal against Atleti
Olivier Giroud scored a crucial away goal against Atleti | Stefan Constantin/MB Media/Getty Images

Spend all the money you like on fancy new strikers, if you’ve got a beautiful Frenchman by the name of Olivier Giroud in your squad then chances are he’s your number one.

Thomas Tuchel and Frank Lampard before him have experimented with their frontline this season, with neither really settling on a preferred centre forward.

Giroud led the line for the Blues in the most important game of their season so far against Atleti, and once again he produced a moment of brilliance when it mattered most, with his over-head kick handing his side a potentially crucial one-goal lead going into the second leg.

He may be in the twilight of his career and may not have the blistering pace many fans like to see in a centre forward, but Olivier Giroud is still Chelsea’s best striker.

Ronaldo vs Messi is no longer the big debate in world football
Ronaldo vs Messi is no longer the big debate in world football | David Ramos/Getty Images

The end of an era.

For years we’ve debated who is better out of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but finally the debate has come to an end. Is it because we’ve got the answer? Nope. It’s over because there’s a new debate in town.

Kylian Mbappe’s superb hat-trick against Messi’s Barcelona all but assured Paris Saint-Germain of a place in the quarter-finals, while Norwegian wonderkid Erling Haaland’s brace the following night for Borussia Dortmund against Sevilla handed his side the advantage.

Move over Messi and Ronaldo, it’s Mbappe vs Haaland now.

Paulo Dybala has seen his appearances in the first team limited this season
Paulo Dybala has seen his appearances in the first team limited this season | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

To say Andrea Pirlo’s first season in charge at Juventus has been underwhelming would be something of an understatement.

The Old Lady are well off the pace in Serie A and are now in danger of crashing out of the Champions League following their 2-1 defeat to Porto on Wednesday night.

Paulo Dybala was an unused substitute for the clash having only recently recovered from injury, though whether he would have featured even if fully fit is up for debate considering he’s been on the fringes of first-team action this season.

Juve lacked a spark and weren’t clinical enough against Porto, and it’s clear they need to integrate Dybala back into the first team sooner rather than later.

Obviously Robert Lewandowski score for Bayern Munich
Obviously Robert Lewandowski score for Bayern Munich | ALBERTO PIZZOLI/Getty Images

You may think this one is something we already knew considering they’re the European champions, but a lot can change in six months.

Since their return from Qatar for the Club World Cup, Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga form has been far from stellar, leading many to question whether the extra fixtures could impact their bid to retain their European title.

Hansi Flick’s men laughed off the suggestions, producing a clinical display as they brushed aside Lazio in a 4-1 win to pretty much confirm their place in the last eight of the competition.

Zinedine Zidane's side laboured to a 1-0 win over ten-man Atalanta
Zinedine Zidane’s side laboured to a 1-0 win over ten-man Atalanta | Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

With city rivals Atletico looking good value for a first Spanish title since 2014, you’d think Zinedine Zidane’s side would be hell bent on focusing their attentions on Champions League success – they may well be, but they’re just not very good.

Their last 16 tie with Atalanta looked far from easy, but with the Serie A side reduced to ten men early on after a very harsh red card, you’d have fancied the La Liga behemoths to run riot and end the tie at the halfway point.

Instead, Real Madrid laboured and only just secured the advantage heading into the second leg with a late Ferland Mendi goal.

If they’re to notch their 14th European crown they’ve got a lot of work to do.

Let’