The Champions League is back with just two games to go for clubs to stamp their place in the last 16. As always you can catch all the action across CBS, CBS Sports Network and CBS Sports Golazo Network. PSG welcome Newcastle to France, while elsewhere Barcelona face Porto, and Real Madrid face Napoli.
Here are five players I'll be keeping an eye out for:
1. Rodrygo, Real Madrid
What a difference two games make. It was not so long ago that there were reasonable questions about Rodrygo's slow start to the campaign, one that had delivered just one goal and one assist in his first 12 La Liga appearances. Jude Bellingham might be shouldering an almighty burden for Madrid, but, if Carlo Ancelotti's side were to achieve big things in the wake of Karim Benzema's exit and the all too frequent injury absences of Vinicius Junior, their right winger would have to make another leap.
The 14-time-champions will certainly face greater tests than a trip to Cadiz in the latter stages of the Champions League, but Los Merengues had struggled out of the traps on their trip to Andalusia on Sunday. A shaky first 14 minutes were dispelled, however, when Rodrygo picked the ball up on the left, darting through two defenders, around another pairing, before lifting the ball into the roof of the net, just as his balance looked to be faltering. Another excellent goal would come before an assist for Jude Bellingham, and just like that a fiddly contest turned into an on-paper rout thanks in large part to a youngster who had come into the game with concerns over a possible knee issue.
Suddenly, the metrics are looking a bit more encouraging too. After two seasons of fairly significant expected goals underperformance, Rodrygo now has five La Liga goals from 5.9 xG, averaging over four shots per 90 in a team that needs him to be able to shoulder a significant offensive burden. His chances per 90 minutes have also leaped from 1.8 to 2.1. The output hadn't been there before the start of this month, but perhaps the 22-year-old had already made that step up that Madrid needed.
Certainly, it would seem a safe bet to back Rodrygo to take his league form into the Champions League, a competition where he invariably excels. Remarkably for a player who seems to have emerged as a regular only over the last two years, he already finds himself Madrid's fourth highest scorer ever in the competition, his goal in the 3-0 win over Braga last time out drawing him level with Vinicius and Fernando Morientes on 17. There is a long way to go before Rodrygo reaches the podium -- 49 goals separate him from Raul -- but time is certainly on his side.
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2. Sacha Boey, Galatasaray
Wednesday should see the Group of Banter reach its nonsensical peak. If any match is primed for drama and nonsense in equal measure it is the visit or Manchester United to Istanbul, where they will face Galatasaray somehow trailing the Turkish and Danish champions by just a point after four matches riddled with self-inflicted wounds.
Galatasaray are scarcely any less chaotic but through four games they have proven themselves to be dangerous opponents. The 5-2 aggregate scoreline across their two meetings with Bayern Munich does not do any justice to the real headaches Okan Buruk's side gave to the group leaders. This is a team that defends forcefully and attacks with pace when given the opportunity to break out, ranking sixth among the 32 clubs at this stage of the competition for direct speed. If anyone typifies the intensity of Cimbom, it might just be their right back.
Boey is an all-round menace of a fullback. He bombs to the byline with the best of them, but he is no less effective when his team doesn't have the ball. Indeed, no defender can better his 35 ball recoveries in the group stage of this competition, while he is a dueling machine, winning two-thirds of his 15 aerial battles and 56.1% on the deck. His explosive pace is an almighty defensive weapon, as United themselves can attest. Only his brilliant burst into his own box denied Bruno Fernandes what might have been a game-changing goal in the 53rd minute.
At Old Trafford, Boey combined that with a fearsome attacking display, flying past weak link Sofyan Amrabat to create crossing opportunities and, on one occasion, firing just over Andre Onana's bar as Galatasaray chased a fourth. Even in the 83rd minute, the 23-year-old had plenty left in the tank to fly up and down the pitch. The Frenchman may not have as consistently easy a path this time out with Luke Shaw back in the United team, but if the England international should tire in his second match back from injury, he cannot expect the same from his opponent.
It was no wonder that the days after Galatasaray's win in England saw Boey linked with a move to Old Trafford, though with Arsenal having also kept an eye on his progress any team that prises him from the Super Lig is likely to have to beat off competition. That will only grow more intense if he can guide this team to the knockout stages for the first time since 2014.
3. Anthony Gordon, Newcastle
Eddie Howe's side might have it all to do in their final two group stages games, and, in the midst of an injury crisis, precious few players to do it with but you suspect that Anthony Gordon in particular will not stop chasing this cause, even if it does indeed prove to be a lost one. The 22-year-old might have started slowly after his £45 million move from Everton in January, but his diligence has got its rewards over the last few months, as has his quality.
More on the latter to come, but the defining trait of Gordon's fine form this season might be the energy with which he goes about his work. His display in Saturday's 4-1 win over Chelsea might have been his best of the season but it was in keeping with so many of his recent games. From the kick off onwards he harassed Reece James and Thiago Silva. Every time they stole possession from Gordon the youngster would be snapping at their grille, forcing the sort of mistakes that both these senior pros would deliver in atypical fashion.
When his industry is combined with searing pace, it makes for a nightmare for opposing full backs. Achraf Hakimi had better get used to seeing him in his face. Prior to the international break, no Newcastle player had attempted more pressures, covering more than three kilometres just in closing down the opposition. Gordon ranks among the Premier League's top three wingers for fouls committed and suffered. He is a real scrapper, typifying the aggression that has propelled Newcastle so far.
You do not pay the third biggest fee in your history just for hard work though. Gordon has infused Newcastle's season with real quality, the brilliant cross with which Jamal Lascelles headed his side into the lead on Saturday, the shimmy and shot for the Magpies' fourth, an excellent back post run and first-time finish against Crystal Palace.
Five goals and three assists is already a season-best return for the youngster, whose manager is not putting any ceiling on what Gordon's goal return could be. "I've not thought about that, and I'd never give you a number on that," said Howe when asked what might be a good goal return from his No.10. "The important thing for Anthony is he continues to perform in the way that he has. I thought he was very good against Chelsea. He was a constant menace for them down that left-hand side. His ball for the second goal was an exceptional piece of play that probably wins us the game, and his finish at the end just highlights a growing confidence in front of goal."
A few months after looking like a sizeable overpay, Gordon is a vital outlet for Newcastle, his 41 progressive carries placing him 11th in the Premier League while his 65.2% dribble success rate is third. This is a player who can test the very best defenses and who prays on teams that are guilty of the sort of blase approach that often comes with Paris Saint-Germain in Europe. They have been warned once before about what happens when you don't match the intensity of Newcastle and Gordon. The consequences could be severe if they have not learned their lesson.
4. Santiago Gimenez, Feyenoord
Why Gimenez's excellent club form is yet to translate to Mexico is one of the biggest mysteries emerging from this international break, all the more so because early evidence in the Champions League would suggest he is capable of excelling at a higher level than the Eredivisie. A suspension for Feyenoord's first two games mean his sample size is tiny but two goals, 10 shots and 1.85 non-penalty xG is a great start to your first 169 minutes of top tier continental football.
Already on two hat tricks for the season, Gimenez should see every reason why he can add to his tally when Diego Simeone's side come to Rotterdam. After all, this is not your older cousin's Atletico Madrid. The competition's leading scorers (thanks to... Alvaro Morata???) have given up a shade over 1.1 xG per game in the Champions League this season, not exactly the Washington Generals, but hardly the lockdown defense of a decade ago. Part of the reason that number is so high is the 2.5 xG Feyenoord registered when these two sides met last time out, a thrilling clash Atletico edged through Morata and Antoine Griezmann. On that day great openings slipped Feyenoord by. Perhaps now that Gimenez is available they won't.
5. Robert Lewandowski, Barcelona
They are not quite there yet, but for now at least, Barcelona go into their final two group games without a footballing and financial cataclysm on the horizon. That is always a plus. Having said that, this team is starting to feel a little less like the serious contender it looked to be a few months ago, in no small part because there are questions to be asked over their No.9. Given everything he has done after turning 30, it feels more than a little premature to call the end of Lewandowski. However if that was something you wanted to do, well, the signs are there.
The goals are not as frequent as they were, eight from 15 across all competitions. The non-penalty xG that was at 0.9 per 90 minutes in his final year at Bayern Munich and 0.74 in his first at Barcelona is now at 0.59. A player who habitually averaged well in excess of four shots is now scraping above three. As the shot map below suggests, he is still getting to his prime finishing spots, just not with the regularity of years gone by. About the only thing that is on the up is the injuries with Lewandowski having missed three games with an ankle issue already.
None of that is to say with certainty that we are entering post-prime Lewandowski but we are at the stage where it is worth thinking about what that might entail. Less for Barcelona's long-term version, the Pole's salary reduces next season for the final two season of the four year deal he signed in 2022, but more for their prospects of winning Europe's biggest prize next June. With Lewandowski at the peak of his powers you could see a scenario where Barcelona were as well placed as anyone to win the competition if something happened to Manchester City. If he is on the downslope, however, our assumptions about what this team might achieve could do with some reassessment.