UEFA Champions League 2023-24: 5 Standout Performers From Round Of 16 First Leg

UEFA Champions League Trophy
UEFA Champions League Trophy

Over the last couple of weeks, we witnessed eight fascinating matches in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. Favorites Real Madrid, Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) emerged victorious in their respective fixtures, while Bayern Munich and Arsenal fell to shock 1-0 defeats away from home. Five-time UEFA Champions League winners Barcelona also failed to live up to expectations and played out a 1-1 draw with Napoli.

We had the good fortune of enjoying quite a few memorable performances over the last four Matchdays, but this list only has space for the top five. Continue reading to meet the five standout performers from the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

#5 Nicolo Barella – Inter Milan

Inter Milan's Nicolo Barella Was One Of The Best Players In Champions League Round Of 16 First Leg
Nicolo Barella Won The Serie A Title In 2020-21

Inter Milan secured a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash on Tuesday night (February 20). Although Marko Arnautovic popped up with the winning strike against Atletico, Nicolo Barella was easily the game’s standout performer.

The Italian struck the perfect balance between attacking and defending. He created chances with his perfectly weighted through balls, made himself available to receive the ball, and put in important tackles to break the flow of opposition attackers. Against Los Rojiblancos, Barella created a game-high four chances and completed three tackles. He also played 10 passes into the final third, delivered two accurate crosses, and won seven duels.

#4 Pedri – Barcelona

Barcelona Midfielder Pedri Was One Of The Best Players Of Champions League Round Of 16 First Leg
Pedri Is Barcelona’s Most Valuable Player

Napoli ace Victor Osimhen struck in the 75th minute to cancel out Robert Lewandowski’s opener for Barcelona, holding the visitors to a 1-1 draw in the Round of 16 first leg on Wednesday night (February 21). The Blaugrana ought to be disappointed with the outcome, as they were thoroughly the better team and deserved to return to Catalonia with maximum points. Pedri, in particular, must feel hard done by the result, as he left his all on the Neapolitan pitch.

In the 60th minute, Pedri engineered a bit of space outside the Napoli box and found Lewandowski with a slick pass. The Polish striker applied a low finish to find the bottom corner. The assist aside, Pedri created two chances, completed 36 passes (84% accuracy), made nine recoveries, and won five ground duels.

#3 Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City

Kevin De Bruyne Was One Of The Best Performers On Champions League Round Of 16 First Leg
Kevin De Bruyne Won The Playmaker Award Last Season

Arguably the best midfielder in the world, Manchester City maestro Kevin De Bruyne scored a goal and claimed two assists in the 3-1 victory over FC Copenhagen in the Champions League Round of 16 first leg on February 13.

In the 10th minute, De Bruyne latched on to a reverse pass from Phil Foden, ghosted past Copenhagen resistance, and slotted the ball into the far corner. Just before halftime, De Bruyne turned provider, albeit accidentally. The Belgian uncharacteristically controlled the ball with a heavy foot, but it took a deflection off Magnus Mattsson and fell kindly to Bernardo Silva, who applied an outside-the-boot finish to find the netting.

Finally, in the 92nd minute, De Bruyne dashed to the by-line and cut the ball back for Foden, who made no mistake in thumping the ball beyond the goalkeeper to make it 3-1 for City.

In total, De Bruyne completed 50 passes against Copenhagen (88% accuracy), created two chances, played six passes into the opposition box, and won five duels.

#2 Phil Foden – Manchester City

Phil Foden Was One Of The Best Players Of Champions League Round Of 16 1st Leg
Phil Foden Has Been In Sensational Form For Manchester City This Season

Like his teammate Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden was in splendid form in the 3-1 win over Copenhagen in the Champions League Round of 16. He set up De Bruyne with a clever reverse pass in the 10th minute, and the Belgian took care of the rest. Then in the second minute of injury time (90+2′), Foden gave City a two-goal cushion, doing justice to De Bruyne’s brilliant cutback from the by-line.

Foden, who has scored 15 goals and provided 10 assists in 38 games this season, also created a couple of chances, completed 68 passes (92% accuracy), and won six duels.

#1 Andriy Lunin – Real Madrid

Andriy Lunin Was One Of The Best Performers In UCL Round Of 16
Andriy Lunin Made 9 Saves Against RB Leipzig

In the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League final, Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois made a record nine saves against Liverpool to give his team a 1-0 victory. On February 13, Courtois’ understudy Andriy Lunin also made nine saves against RB Leipzig in the Champions League Round of 16 first leg to hand Los Blancos a slender 1-0 victory. According to reports, Madrid are so impressed with Lunin’s work in Courtois’ absence that they are contemplating handing him a contract extension.

The Ukrainian exuded poise with the ball at his feet, playing 21 accurate passes (84% accuracy) and delivering seven accurate long balls. Lunin also made three high claims, had 49 touches, and recorded 10 recoveries.

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