The round of 16 ties of the 2021/22 edition of the UEFA Champions League had every ingredient a popular football tournament should have – nerve-wracking games, major upsets and underdog stories
While the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester City proved to be too hot to handle for their opponents, teams like Atletico Madrid and Villarreal fought hard and put their lives on the line to make it to the quarter-finals by beating Manchester United and Juventus respectively.
Defending champions Chelsea also comfortably made it to the next round, but beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most enthralling game of this round was the match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, where the former overcame a two-goal deficit in only seventeen minutes to earn their quarter-finals ticket.
Let us have a look at the six standout performers from the round of 16 of 2021/22 UEFA Champions League:
6. Darwin Nunez
Some of the world’s biggest teams are closely monitoring the development of Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez, and in the round of 16, we found out why the Artigas-born player can attract mega-money bids in the summer transfer window.
After narrowly making it to the round of 16, Benfica played out a 2-2 draw in the first leg tie against Ajax, who were in sensational form coming into this round. The second match was heading to a goalless stalemate when Nunez delivered a hammer blow by scoring the winner for the Portuguese side in the 77th minute.
5. Bernardo Silva
When the going got tough, Bernardo Silva not only got going, but he is running, flying and dominating. Around this time last year, Bernardo Silva was topping the list of players Manchester United were willing to let go of.
However, the Portugal international has turned things around in a spectacular fashion and has emerged as one of the key players for the Cityzens. He justified his selection in the team by scoring a brace in the first leg tie against a team from his birthplace, Lisbon – Sporting Club de Portugal. Silva scored in the 17th and 44th minute of the match to help Pep Guardiola’s team register a 5-0 rout.
4. Christian Pulisic
Christian Pulisic was not quite having the perfect season until he faced French outfit LOSC Lille in the round of 16 tie. As he did last season as well, the American winger stepped up when it mattered the most.
He scored Chelsea’s second goal in the first leg tie to help his team secure a 2-0 victory. The Ligue 1 side drew first blood in the second leg and just as when it seemed that they might equalize on the aggregate, Pulisic got the Blues back the driver’s seat again with an exquisite goal.
3. Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe’s team, Paris Saint-Germain might have bowed out of the competition on a whimper, but the wonderkid himself can be immensely proud of his performance against Real Madrid. It was his 94th-minute strike that gave Mauricio Pochettino’s team a 1-0 victory in the first leg tie,
In the second leg as well, Mbappe made Real Madrid’s right-back Dani Carvajal’s life miserable with his lightning-fast runs and silky footwork. He scored the first goal in that game, but unfortunately, it was not of any use because of Karim Benzema’s magic, about which we will talk later in this article.
2. Robert Lewandowski
Given his influence over European football in the past few seasons, it will not be an exaggeration to call Polish goal-machine Robert Lewandowski an ‘inevitable phenomenon.’ His team, Bayern Munich wanted him to fire in the second leg tie after a disappointing 1-1 stalemate in the first leg against a comparatively much weaker opponent from Austria, Red Bull Salzburg.
Lewandowski obliged, as he was seen in his usual rhythm in front of 25,000 supporters at the Allianz Arena. The match was over before it even started for Salzburg, as the 33-year-old scored a hat-trick inside 23 minutes.
1. Karim Benzema
To fully comprehend how special Karim Benzema’s performance was in the second leg tie against Paris Saint-Germain, we need to put things into perspective. The French side had won the first leg tie 1-0, and had also taken a lead in the second leg clash.
An hour of the match was already played and Real Madrid needed to score a minimum of two goals in less than thirty minutes to take the game to extra time. While that does not seem absolutely improbable in itself, what made things worse is the body language of Los Blancos, which hinted that they had already accepted defeat way before the full-time whistle. As he always does, Benzema stepped up to be Real Madrid’s Messiah just when his team had its back to the well. He brought the deficit down with a 61st-minute strike, and then made it 2-2 on aggregate with a 76th-minute goal. While the Parisiens were trying to figure out what hit them, Benzema struck again – not only completing his hat-trick in the process but also taking Real Madrid to the quarter-finals.
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