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The Champions League is back with the first four ties in the round of 16 wrapping up this week. Favorites Manchester City seem bound for the quarterfinals where they may well be joined by Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. Here are four players to keep an eye on come Tuesday and Wednesday. As always, you can catch all the Champions League action as well as pre and postgame coverage across CBS, Paramount+CBS Sports Network and CBS Sports Golazo Network.

1. Erling Haaland, Manchester City

player headshot
Erling Haaland
MCY • F • #9
Premier League: 18 goals, 21 expected goals

Erling Haaland is probably going to win the Golden Boot this season. It is not at all beyond the realms of possibility that the two greatest scoring seasons in Manchester City's history outside wartime are Haaland's 2022-23 and 2023-24 campaigns. You would get pretty decent odds on him being a Treble winner once more too. Given all that then, why does year two of the greatest finisher on earth at its greatest club feel slightly underwhelming?

Injuries have certainly played their part and it says a great deal about Haaland's goalscoring excellence that he can miss five games and still hold a two goal cushion over Ollie Watkins, the Aston Villa forward in the form of his life. The standards City's forward has set might just be unreachable for the rest of the game. They might even be a little beyond Haaland too, at least at this moment. Since returning from a stress fracture in his foot, Haaland has nine goals in nine games but five of them did come in an FA Cup beatdown against Luton Town. His comeback trail has been more defined by the chances he has missed -- the 1.58 expected goals (xG) without a goal against Chelsea, the flick over the bar on Sunday that Gary Lineker labelled perhaps "the worst miss I've ever seen at this level" -- as the scoring streaks he has delivered.

It was not that dissimilar at the start of this season either. The goals were coming but so were the misses. Haaland's first season in English football, that blitz through records known and unknown, had been defined by a remorseless ability to convert so many more of the high value chances than anyone might reasonably expect. In last season's Premier League he had 30 non-penalty shots worth 0.3 xG or higher. He scored 17 off 13.7 xG. This season he has 23 of those high value chances, totalling 10.5 xG. Haaland has scored just four goals from those chances.

Shots taken by Erling Haaland worth 0.3 xG or more in the 2023-24 Premier League TruMedia

All these high value chances gone to waste set the stage for a statistic that instinctively feels more remarkable than it ought to. For the first time since Haaland left Norway as an 18 year old, he is tracking for a season where he underperforms his xG in a domestic league. There are plenty of games left to turn that around and if you were picking anyone in the Premier League to turn 18 goals off 20.94 xG into 24 off 23.5, you'd pick Haaland. Well, maybe after Son Heung-Min.

Trouble's brewing then? Not really. In fact, not in the slightest. There is perhaps enough of a sample size of Haaland shots to reasonably assume that the Norwegian could be a plus xG finisher over the course of his career, in much the same fashion as Son or Lionel Messi. You don't need to watch many of his games to make a reasonably educated prediction that this combination of freakish athletic gifts and cold-eyed ruthlessness makes Haaland the sort of high grade talent who can perform at the outer limits of xG, maybe a 10% or 20% uptick on average. Last year wasn't just some plus xG year though, it was an obliteration where he outperformed his underlying metrics by more than 25 percent. One season like that for a talent like Haaland's is plausible. Keeping that up year in, year out is altogether less so.

Contrary to popular belief, Haaland is not a cyborg sent back through time to destroy humanity's final hope, Jarrad Branthwaite. Or if he is, sometimes his processors are not running at maximum efficiency. Dust will get in the mechanisms. Haaland's form will wax and wane like anyone else's but to hear Pep Guardiola explain it, that does not matter a jot.

"The great, great players I met, I was lucky to manage many of them, they forget [misses] in an instant," he said after Haaland missed a sitter and scored a better goal in the 3-1 win over Manchester United. "They forget as quickly as possible. Footballers, basketball players. They miss. They just smile and get on with it and he did it. He has an incredible ability to forget. That defines the great players."

Staying in the moment defines great players. So does making those moments happen time and time again. Haaland averages 0.87 non-penalty xG per 90 minutes this season. His nearest rivals in Europe's top four leagues are Harry Kane and Victor Boniface at 0.8, both of whom have the considerable advantage of getting to attack Bundesliga defenses. Since returning to the fray Haaland might not be raining down goals on Premier League defenses but in the six games he has started his final shot count has read: three, four, nine, six, four, four. 

The Premier League's scoring records he set may remain safe for this season. He may not be quite as devastating now as he was a year ago. The laws of xG may be unbroken. But make no mistake, Haaland is still a class above the field when it comes to Europe's best shooters.

2. Aleksandar Pavlovic, Bayern Munich

For all their struggles in recent weeks, it seems reasonable to assume that Bayern Munich will get the goals they need against Lazio at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday. This is a team that can attack as well as any in Europe. The question that befuddled Thomas Tuchel for so long that it is ultimately costing him his job is whether Bayern can attack with ferocity while also keeping the back door bolted. Even if the two goals conceded to Freiburg were moments of individual brilliance, a host of the 17 shots that came the way of the Breisgau Brazilians were down to a midfield that offered precious little protection for the backline.

Shunting Joshua Kimmich to full back does not seem to have solved Bayern's engine room issues, but it does mean that the pressure will be extremely high on Aleksandar Pavlovic if he retains his spot in the XI on Tuesday night. Leon Goretzka will roam from box to box because that is what he does best, but that means a 19-year-old has to mind the shop while he goes roving. Pavlovic is no ordinary teenager and at his best has shown composure beyond his years in what are some of the most trying circumstances Munich has seen on a football pitch for the past decade. That is what will be needed if Lazio's dynamic midfield is to be kept out of the pockets it found with such frequency in the first leg.

3. Brais Mendez, Real Sociedad

We'll always have the group stage. Back in the winter, the Real Sociedad southpaws blew Europe away with their inventive interlinking across the frontline, attacking opposition from all angles while hoarding more than enough possession to quell any threat at the other end. Brais Mendez's goal against Salzburg was one of the best this competition has seen and he combined a real eye for shooting chances with industry off the ball, the star turn in an extremely impressive squad who pipped last season's finalists Inter to top spot in Group D.

That Real Sociedad were so disappointing in domestic play only made more remarkable the form of Mendez et al on the biggest stage. It has not lasted, however, and Tuesday's visit of Paris Saint-Germain to San Sebastian is surely the last we will see of La Real, who have won just one of their last nine games in all competitions. In that time they have scored only six goals. They will need three if they are are to eliminate PSG. The team of the autumn might have had a chance. This iteration almost certainly does not. So enjoy Takefusa Kubo, Ander Barrenetxea and Mendez while you can. It may be a while before we see them back here.

4. Benjamin Sesko, RB Leipzig

The latest RB Leipzig forward to earn covetous glances from across Europe, Sesko's recent form in front of goal makes it easy to see why the 20-year-old has long been viewed as a potential breakout star. His last six Bundesliga games have delivered four goals with the 6ft 4in striker beginning to look like quite the penalty box poacher. He might have a way to go before he lives up to comparisons with Haaland and Zlatan Ibrahimovic but you can see a path to something special for a player who ranks in the German top flight's 20 best for npxG per 90 minutes, no mean feat when Leipzig are sharing their shots around him, Lois Openda, Dani Olmo and Xavi Simons.

Sesko's performance in key attacking metrics against other Bundesliga forwards TruMedia

Real Madrid will be as aware as anyone of the threat Sesko can pose in the penalty area, his close range header in the first leg ruled out in contentious fashion to deny Leipzig a first leg draw. Had that counted, it would have been the first set piece goal Carlo Ancelotti's side have conceded all season, though given that there are nine teams in Europe's top four leagues who give up fewer shots and fewer xG from dead balls per game, that looks like a record that may not last much longer. If anyone is going to test that form it might just be the man mountain from Radece.