The Champions League is back – cue iconic pre-match anthem and inevitable goosebumps.
Most of the Round of 16 ties are still alive and kicking, with Atalanta and Bayern Munich the only two teams who could be forgiven for thinking that their passage to the quarter-finals is a mere formality.
While we’ve witnessed the odd minor shock result in this season’s competition, all the usual suspects remain and will rightfully believe in their chances of lifting Ol’ Big Ears in Istanbul this May.
But, when we decided to take a deep data dive into the Twenty3 Content Toolbox, some surprising statistics emerged.
Here are seven of the most intriguing insights.
Dries Mertens has scored as many goals in the Champions League as in Serie A this season
It’s no secret that Napoli have endured a wretched season so far – at least domestically – in part, thanks to a ritiro put in place by club president Aurelio De Laurentiis which led to some unfortunate consequences.
The back-to-back Serie A runners up currently sit sixth in the Italian top-flight, which is perhaps not too disappointing given the off-field distractions, but certainly not high enough for a team of their calibre.
Gli Azzurri have been in inspired form in the Champions League though, with Europe providing a timely distraction from issues at home. They’ve beaten and drawn with world champions Liverpool, as well as sharing the spoils with Barcelona in the first leg of their last 16 tie.
Dries Mertens has enjoyed a similar purple patch of form on the continent, scoring six goals – as many as he’s managed in Serie A, but in 723 fewer minutes.
His stunning strike against Barça saw the diminutive Belgian draw level with Marek Hamšík as the club’s all-time leading goalscorer, with 121 goals to his name.
With his contract up in the summer, the Napoli No.14 will see Europe’s greatest stage as the perfect shop window.
Serge Gnabry has scored more goals in London than Munich this season
They say there’s no place like home, and whilst Gnabry’s current residence is Munich, and his birthplace is Stuttgart, it’s fair to say that whenever the German steps foot in London, the English capital feels like his stomping ground.
Gnabry swapped England for Germany in 2016 and after impressing during spells at Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim, has since flourished in Munich and established himself as a regular in Bayern’s side.
The former Arsenal man clearly loves returning to the Big Smoke though, having cooked up a storm at both the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Stamford Bridge this season.
The Bayern winger bagged four against Spurs in a 7-2 romp, before then sentencing Chelsea to a likely last-16 exit by firing a brace last time out.
Incredibly, the one-time West Bromwich Albion player has scored more goals in London (six) than Munich (four) this season.
Marco Reus has missed the most Big Chances without scoring
Reus, who has been sidelined since February 2 with a muscle injury, has been uncharacteristically profligate in the Champions League so far, missing an incredible seven Big Chances – the most of any player without scoring.
Luckily for manager Lucien Favre, Die Borussen can now rely on the Champions League’s most ruthless converter, Erling Haaland, who has scored 10 goals from just 13 shots on target in his debut season in the competition (including two in his European debut for Dortmund v Paris Saint-Germain).
Reus has shown far more finesse in front of goal in the Bundesliga though, scoring nine Big Chances and missing seven – a 56 per cent conversion rate versus 0 per cent in Europe.
The injured Dortmund skipper will hope the Black and Yellows can hold out in Paris this week, so he can rediscover his scoring boots on Europe’s greatest stage.
Hugo Lloris has conceded as many goals as he’s made saves
A World Cup winner, Lloris is something of a goalkeeping enigma. Capable of making sublime saves and ridiculous errors, you never quite know what you’re going to get from the Tottenham captain.
The France international has endured a tough season so far, dislocating his elbow in October against Brighton, undergoing surgery and only returning to action in late January.
Lloris’ Champions League stats look a little out of place too – the Spurs keeper has conceded as many goals – ten – as he’s made saves.
Granted, the seven he shipped against Bayern in early October skew the numbers somewhat, but the 33-year-old will be hoping to put things right with a much-needed clean sheet against RB Leipzig on Tuesday night.
Lionel Messi is underperforming his open-play xG
The word underperforming rarely features in tandem with the name Lionel Messi, but in this instance it’s unavoidable.
The Barcelona star is known for overperforming his expected goals (xG) values year in year out, yet in the Champions League this season, Messi has scored fewer times than expected from open-play, based on Twenty3’s xG data.
Our model suggests the six-time Ballon d’Or winner should have netted 3.89 goals from open-play, yet the Argentine magician has only hit the back of the net twice.
For context, last season in Europe the Barca No.10 registered nine open-play strikes against an xG total of just 5.02.
Fully expect a Messi hat-trick against Napoli next week then…
Cristiano Ronaldo has only scored two goals from 31 shots
It’s no secret that the principal motive for Juventus investing so heavily in Ronaldo in July 2018 was to end their quest for an elusive third Champions League title – having last lifted the trophy in 1996.
The Portuguese star is the competition’s all-time top goalscorer with 129 goals, while only iconic Real Madrid winger Paco Gento has won more European Cups (six).
Despite equalling the record for scoring in the most consecutive Serie A games (11) by netting against SPAL – an honour previously held by Gabriel Batistuta and Fabio Quagliarella – Ronaldo has only managed a paltry two strikes from 31 shots – with an xG value of 2.63 – in Europe this season.
The five-time Champions League winner is notorious for coming to life in the latter stages though, with five goals in three games last time out and 65 career strikes in the knockouts – more than any other player in the competition’s history.
Kyle Walker has made as many saves as Gianluigi Buffon this season
Well, this is a bit of a weird one.
On Matchday Four in the group stages, Manchester City experienced a bizarre goalkeeping drama. Ederson started the game in net, before being replaced by Claudio Bravo at half-time due to a suspected injury. Bravo then got sent off in the 81st minute after taking out Josip Ilicic with a misjudged slide tackle outside the box.
On came Kyle Walker to make his debut between the sticks. A right-back by trade, the 29-year-old stood out like a sore thumb – mainly because of City’s garish third strip.
The England international was only the third outfield player to go in goal during a Champions League match and managed to make more saves (one) – from a bouncing free-kick by Ruslan Malinovskiy – than both of the Citizens’ recognised keepers in the match.
Walker also boasts the honour of saving as many shots in this season’s Champions League edition as Italy and Juventus legend Gigi Buffon, who has played 90 minutes for the Old Lady.