UCL talking points: Did any team play well? Can Inter win it?

Burley: Napoli-Barcelona was really hard to watch (0:46)

Craig Burley speaks out on the poor quality of Napoli's match vs. Barcelona. (0:46)

The first legs of the 2023-24 Champions League round of 16 are all wrapped up as Manchester City look to defend their title, Arsenal make their return to knockout stage for the first time since 2017 and stuttering Bayern Munich face an uphill battle. Although there haven't been any instant classics yet, there was enough drama and upset to leave plenty at stake in the return legs.

We asked ESPN writers Gab Marcotti, James Olley and Julien Laurens to answer some of our burning questions.

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1. What caught your eye from the first-leg games?

Julien Laurens: The lack of entertainment has been quite baffling. I haven't fully enjoyed any of the games, and I don't think there was one game where both teams played well. We have had some good performances for each team's style -- like Inter Milan, Manchester City, Lazio or FC Porto -- but those games were not great overall. Some big teams like Arsenal and Bayern didn't show up, while PSV Eindhoven vs. Borussia Dortmund and Napoli vs. Barcelona also disappointed.

Gab Marcotti: I'm still not sure how I feel about abolishing the away goals rule. I mean, it makes sense and it's fairer to do so, but it has certainly reinforced the idea that the first legs are really just the first half of a 180-minute game. And I think it has changed the approach coaches take. Lazio's win over Bayern is a good example of this: they defended heavily for a long spell, went for it, scored, then lamented the fact that they didn't get a second. Under the old system, a 1-0 home win is a good result, because if you score away, the opposition basically need to score three goals or more. Now, that's not the case.

James Olley: Arsenal's timidity. They will still expect to qualify, given the narrow margin of Wednesday's 1-0 defeat to FC Porto, but the manner of the loss will be of concern, given how inhibited they appeared throughout. A raucous Emirates Stadium crowd should help turn the tide in their favour, but it was difficult not to think the occasion got to Mikel Arteta's young side -- or perhaps the weight of history, given Arsenal have exited the Champions League at the round-of-16 stage for seven consecutive seasons in which they have competed. Either way, they will need to significantly improve their level to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2010.

2. Inter remain one of the teams to stay unbeaten. Are they primed for a return to the final?

Marcotti: They have the toughest test to come -- Atlético Madrid away -- so you have to consider that. And while the squad is deep and flexible, and Simone Inzaghi continues to do an incredible job (he might be the best in-game manager we've seen this season), I'd be terrified at the prospect of one of the strikers getting injured. You need only look at what happened when Marcus Thuram had to go off and the number of chances Marko Arnautovic squandered.

Beyond that, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern are all more talented (although, of course, the latter two have a lot of negative baggage right now.) Probably Arsenal too, but experience matters in the Champions League.

Laurens: I firmly believe that they can absolutely get back to the final again this season. Despite losing André Onana, Milan Skriniar, Edin Dzeko and Marcelo Brozovic in the summer (four massive players for them last season), I think they are even better than they were last year. The replacements -- Yann Sommer, Benjamin Pavard, Thuram and Davide Frattesi -- have made this squad better. Hakan Calhanoglu is bossing it as a deep-lying central midfielder, and Thuram's impact (11 goals, seven assists in 31 games in all competitions) has been exceptional. Inter are far too good for the rest of Serie A and are also too good for Atlético; they won only 1-0 but outplayed the Spanish side for most of the game. Inzaghi and his players will go far, for sure.

Olley: It probably depends whether Inter are drawn against Manchester City. City are the strongest team in this competition by some distance, and it is difficult to imagine Inter repelling them over two legs, despite an undeniably impressive run of form that has seen them remain unbeaten since Dec. 20. They also won't take advancing past Atlético for granted, despite dominating their opponents. Atlético have struggled generally on the road this season and are a much stronger proposition at home. Álvaro Morata will also have another three weeks building up his match sharpness after a knee injury, having made his return from the bench on Tuesday.

3. Who is the player you were most impressed with during the first legs, and whom have you been most disappointed with?

Laurens: There have been some good individual performances in the first legs: Brahim Díaz's wonder goal for Real Madrid against RB Leipzig was special, as was Andriy Lunin's nine saves against the Germans. Nicolò Barella was outstanding for Inter against Atlético, as was Matteo Guendouzi in Lazio's win against Bayern and Galeno for FC Porto against Arsenal with his stunning late strike. PSG's Bradley Barcola also netted a beautiful goal in his first Champions League knockout match.

There have been many disappointments, of course, starting with Bayern striker Harry Kane, who was totally anonymous against Lazio and missed a big chance at 0-0. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia was also transparent for Napoli against Barcelona, Bukayo Saka went missing for Arsenal at Porto, and Antoine Griezmann struggled for Atleti in Italy.

Marcotti: I'll pick out Inter midfielder Barella, who showed again just what he can be. Now that he has combined intelligence and the right movements with his grit, athleticism and technical ability, he has become a special player. PSV winger Johan Bakayoko was also very good vs. Dortmund.

Most disappointing? We saw a lot of duds out there, but I'll pick Kvaratskhelia as the game against Barca was set up so nicely for him.

Olley: Given I was at Porto vs. Arsenal, I'll focus on that game. Leandro Trossard and Gabriel Martinelli were unusually subdued. Trossard has been excellent for Arsenal of late, but he struggled to influence proceedings at Estadio do Dragao as the Gunners failed to register a shot on target for the first time in more than two years. Galeno's winner was sublime, but he was also guilty of a dreadful first-half miss with the goal at his mercy. His follow-up effort then wasn't much better, either.

Evanilson and Francisco Conceição caught the eye as Porto secured an unexpected victory. Conceição's trickery caused Arsenal problems, in contrast with the visitors, who were reliant on set pieces to create any sort of threat.

4. Pick your eight teams to go through to the quarterfinals!

Laurens: Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, actually), I don't see any upsets in the second legs. The biggest teams will qualify, even the likes of Bayern or Arsenal who have lost their first games. So I have: Manchester City, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Arsenal and Barcelona going through.

Olley: Ditto, for me it's: Manchester City, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Arsenal, Barcelona.

Marcotti: On paper, it ought to be straightforward for those clubs. But I don't think that's going to happen because there are always upsets. PSV, Lazio and Porto all have a legitimate shot, while the Atlético vs. Inter tie is on a knife-edge.