Five Aside: Statistical preview of Champions League last 16
The Champions League knockout round begins Tuesday. Here is a statistical look at the four matches this week, complete with Soccer Power Index (SPI) projections:
PSG vs. Chelsea (Tuesday)
PSG is a 71 percent favorite to advance to the quarterfinals according to SPI. In this exact matchup a year ago, Chelsea was a 65 percent favorite. Chelsea was unlucky in its draw, as PSG was its worst possible opponent according to SPI.
PSG has completed 88 percent of its passes in league play this season, the highest rate in Europe's five major domestic leagues (England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France). Among Ligue 1 players with at least 200 pass attempts this season, the top three and five of the top six in passing percentage all play for PSG. Not surprisingly, PSG's average pass distance of 15.2 yards is the shortest in the five major European leagues, over a full yard shorter than the next-closest team (Napoli - 16.5).
PSG has created 36 chances and scored nine goals from through balls in league play this season, the most chances and second-most goals in the five major European leagues. The French side has attempted 159 through balls in league play, 41 more than any other side. Look for them to continue this strategy against Chelsea, which has allowed opponents to complete 58 percent of through balls this season, second-worst in the Premier League.
Benfica vs. Zenit St. Petersburg (Tuesday)
Zenit is the slightest of the favorites in the Round of 16, advancing to the quarterfinals 53 percent of the time according to SPI. Despite being underdogs, this was the best possible draw for Benfica, as the Portuguese side avoided Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, among others.
Zenit had 64 shots in the group stage, which ranked 26th out of 32 teams, but made the most of them, putting 30 on target and scoring 13 times. The Russian side's on-target percentage of 46.9 percent and shooting percentage of 20.3 percent were both the highest in the group stage. Zenit also had the highest conversion percentage in the group stage (43.3 percent).
Roma vs Real Madrid (Wednesday)
Real Madrid is an 84 percent favorite to advance to the quarterfinals, according to SPI. Only Bayern Munich would have been a worse draw for Roma. It was a middle of the pack draw for Real Madrid, as Roma was the fourth-best draw out of seven possible opponents.
Real Madrid leads the five major European leagues in goals (70), shots (469), shots on target (187) and chances created (364) in league play this season. Their 19 goals in the group stage were tied with Bayern Munich for the most in the competition.
Roma will need to focus on containing Cristiano Ronaldo, who led the group stage with 11 goals on 51 shots, 23 more than any other player. Robert Lewandowski was the only one to take even half as many shots as Ronaldo.
In order to do so, Roma will need to improve upon its defense from the group stage. Roma allowed 16 goals in the six group stage matches, tied for the second-most in the competition and six more than any other team that advanced to the round of 16.
Gent vs. Wolfsburg (Wednesday)
This matchup was the optimal draw for both teams according to SPI, each getting their best possible opponent. Wolfsburg is predicted to advance to the quarterfinals 61 percent of the time, per SPI.
Look for Wolfsburg to attack through the air. They have the most completed and attempted crosses in the Bundesliga, as well as the highest completion percentage (31 percent). In the group stage, Gent allowed the fourth-highest completion percentage on crosses and tied for the third-most chances created off crosses.
For Gent, the player to watch is midfielder Danijel Milicevic. He created 15 chances in the group stage, nine more than anyone else on the team, and scored three of the team's eight goals; no one else scored more than one.