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UEFA competitions return, Manchester City dislodge Arsenal & more

Midweek football is back in full swing now, as UEFA competitions returned in Europe for the knockout phase.

Naturally, they make up most of the matches we will be covering this week, but there are a couple of other big ones too.

🏆 UEFA Champions League: Paris Saint-Germain 0-1 Bayern Munich

The Champions League knockout stage got underway with an absolutely cracking match-up on Tuesday night between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, both of whom would have previously been expected to make it past the round of 16.

The French champions went into this match having lost their last two fixtures and sweating over the fitness of a couple of their superstars. Lionel Messi did manage to start the game, but Kylian Mbappé could only make the bench.

In his absence, PSG looked toothless in attack and found themselves defending in a compact 4-4-2 block for most of the first half.

For all their domination of possession and territory, Bayern were quite disappointing in the final third. They did not create a single big chance and needed 55 minutes to take the lead through ex-PSG man Kingsley Coman.

And then, on came Mbappé.

(Image credit: Opta Analyst)

His presence on the pitch single-handedly changed the complexion of the match, as PSG started to dominate and Bayern sunk deeper and deeper.

The Frenchman had an equaliser ruled out for a close offside call, while his teammates also created a couple of other presentable chances. They could not impact the scoreline in this match, but they showed very promising signs for the second leg.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England: Arsenal 1-3 Manchester City

The Champions League was not the main attraction on Wednesday, though, as the Premier League stole the show when its top two faced off for the first time in the season.

Arsenal had a three-point lead over Manchester City and a game in hand when they welcomed them to the Emirates Stadium for a potentially pivotal occasion in the title race.

Pep Guardiola was up to his old tricks again as he deployed Bernardo Silva at left-back from where he inverted into midfield in possession – just as he had done against Aston Villa on the weekend.

A great tactical battle ensued between him and his former assistant Mikel Arteta, but the match was decided by moments as it always is.

A poor backpass under pressure from Takehiro Tomiyasu in the 24th minute gave Kevin De Bruyne the opportunity to latch onto the ball, but he still had a lot to do as he lifted a bouncing ball over the onrushing keeper with his left foot to put City in front. The two sides went in level at the break, though, as Eddie Nketiah won a penalty which Bukayo Saka slotted home.

The pivotal moment of the match from a tactical point of view came after the hour-mark when Riyad Mahrez made way for Manuel Akanji, allowing the visitors to play in a more conventional 4-3-3 system.

They controlled the match thereafter, taking the lead again through Jack Grealish about 10 minutes later, after which Erling Braut Haaland put the result beyond doubt.

(Image credit: Opta Analyst)

So, at the end of a pretty close match, Man City climbed up to the top spot in the Premier League thanks to a significantly superior goal difference, but the net lead remains Arsenal’s thanks to their game in hand. It could all look very different by the time these sides face off again in late April.

🏆 UEFA Europa League: Barcelona 2-2 Manchester United

The Europa League knockout stage kicked off with a tie that felt like it deserved a spot in the Champions League, both because of the two competitors’ stature and their overall performances this season.

However, only one of Barcelona and Manchester United can make it to the Europa League’s round of 16, and it is all in the balance after a frenetic first leg.

(Image credit: The Analyst)

There were no goals in the first half, but lots to discuss positionally as Man United started Wout Weghorst in midfield (as he had ended the last league match) with Bruno Fernandes on his right and Marcus Rashford up front.

Barcelona were certainly caught off-guard, as they presumably chose to deploy Ronald Araújo at right-back to neutralise Rashford but he was left chasing shadows.

Within the first fifteen minutes of the second half, we saw three goals. Marcos Alonso opened the scoring for the hosts from a corner, but Rashford was quick to respond from a very tight angle after which a Jules Koundé own goal turned the scoreline on its head.

We were back level with about 15 minutes left on the clock when Raphinha’s cross crept in, and that is how it ended.

🏆 UEFA Europa Conference League: Trabzonspor 1-0 FC Basel

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that hit the southern region of the country, football has obviously taken a backseat in Türkiye. The leagues have been temporarily suspended, but one side was in action in Europe.

Trabzonspor played hosts to FC Basel in the northeast of the country for a Europa Conference League fixture, which was the first competitive professional match after the earthquakes.

There were some heartwarming scenes before the match, as the crowd came together to honour the rescue workers that have been working day and night in the aftermath of the disaster.

There were some great images in the stands too, where fans of various historic rivals came together in this time of adversity.

This was yet another example of how football is the most important of the least important things in the world. The game becomes almost irrelevant right after such a big disaster, but clubs and fan groups have come together and helped out by contributing to the rescue effort by raising funds.

For those watching, this match would have provided a couple of hours worth of escape. And it would have been enjoyable too, as Trabzonspor came away with a 1-0 win on the night in a result that even the staunchest Basel fan cannot be disappointed with.

🏆 SheBelieves Cup: USA 2-0 Canada

This year’s edition of the SheBelieves Cup was set to be a special one, as the contestants planned to use it to prepare for the upcoming FIFA World Cup. For Canada, though, there are some immediate issues to be worried about.

The national team was planning to go on a strike and boycott the tournament to protest against the federation’s budget cuts and lack of equal pay and support.

They reversed that decision following a meeting between the two parties, but not because a solution was found. Instead, the federation reportedly threatened to sue them, thereby forcing their hand.

They took on hosts United States for the opener, where a first-half brace from Mallory Swanson decided the outcome on a night when Alex Morgan was honoured for reaching 200 international caps at the senior level.

Canada will face Brazil next before meeting Japan on the final day.

👀 What To Watch Next:

Here are some interesting matches to look forward to this weekend.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England: Newcastle United vs Liverpool (Saturday, 17:30 UTC)
After finally getting their first league win of 2023 in the Merseyside derby on Monday, Liverpool have a much tougher test coming up as they visit fourth-placed Newcastle United. The Magpies haven’t tasted defeat in the league since August, but Liverpool must change that if they want to close down their gap to the Champions League spots.

🇳🇱 Netherlands: Feyenoord vs AZ Alkmaar (Saturday, 20:00 UTC)
The Eredivisie title race is one of the closest ones among Europe’s top leagues, and this could be a big weekend. The top two are facing each other as Feyenoord take on AZ Alkmaar, but Ajax and PSV Eindhoven are lurking right behind them and will be keeping a close eye on this match.

🇩🇰 Denmark: Lyngby vs FC Nordsjælland (Sunday, 13:00 UTC)
The Danish Superliga returns to action this weekend after a long winter break. One of the first matches sees league-leaders FC Nordsjælland visit newly-promoted Lyngby, who are six points adrift at the bottom of the table.

Stats courtesy Opta via FotMob.

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