After a near 2 month absence, the best competition in club football returns! With enticing ties like Liverpool vs Bayern Munich and PSG vs Manchester United, Europe’s footballing Elite get ready to play to get one step closer to the Wanda Metropolitano for the final.
Schalke vs Man City;
As of writing, Schalke has lost 50% of their Bundesliga games this season but convincingly advanced in Group D over Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Moscow. Their opponents Man City have yet to maintain their stranglehold on the Premier League and Champions League group like they did last season.
With Liverpool and Spurs putting pressure on Guardiola’s side domestically, an early continental exit for City would be an embarrassment akin to their 5-1 aggregate loss in last year’s quarter-finals. But there’s almost no chance Schalke progress here. Man City’s squad depth fields a sub bench arguably better than Schalke’s starting 11. Schalke will have one eye on avoiding the dreaded play-off position for Bundesliga’s 16th placed team (they currently sit 12th with an 8 point advantage over Stuttgart), whilst City’s focus may begin to shift towards the Champions League if Liverpool starts to open a gap in the Premier League title race.
Prediction: Man City
Atletico Madrid vs Juventus
Perhaps Europe’s best defence versus one of its most frightening attacking lineups. Cristiano Ronaldo will make his return to the Spanish capital to perhaps once again be a factor in ending Atletico’s Champions League dreams.
In my eyes, this is the most difficult tie to predict: Atletico Madrid at their home stadium is nigh on impossible to score against. So this tie all goes down to what happens on the 12th of March in Turin. Juventus have begun to concede heavily and with alarming frequency over ‘lesser teams’ like Atalanta and Parma. If Gervinho can score a brace past the Old Lady, what can Griezmann and co do?
But the Champions League is Ronaldo’s stomping ground. Arguably the ultimate big game player and one of the two greatest players of all time, he shows no signs of slowing down. If Juve goes into the return leg needing a miracle, he will most likely be the one to deliver it, Yet I anticipate the less favoured Atletico to grind out a narrow victory and continue their run as a slight outsider to always be reckoned with.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid
Man United vs PSG
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is on fire as Man United manager, yet is still likely getting fired at the end of the season for the sake of Pochettino being brought in. With the only blip in his tenure being a 2-2 draw to Burnley in the Premier League, the red devils finally meet elite opposition (sorry Spurs and Arsenal fans) in P$G; a side almost unbeaten domestically but were unconvincing in the Champions League so far.
Neymar has been ruled out through injury, who will only just have to rely on Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe to tear holes in what is regarded as an appaling defence for a club at this stage in European football.
Anything but Champions League success should lead to a season being considered a failure; victory is imperative for the Parisians. Whilst Man Utd are often defensively stubborn with a threatening counter-attack through Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford’s improved link-up play, this is PSG’s tie to lose.
Spurs vs Borussia Dortmund
In last season’s group stage, Spurs stunned the European club football scene with victories over holders Real Madrid and the ever-popular Dortmund (topping the group of death) before stumbling in their Round of 16 clashes with Juventus.
One season later, both sides are in fine form: Spurs sit second in the Premier League, and Dortmund hold a commanding lead in the Bundesliga, with a revitalised side of Paco Alcacer, Jadon Sancho, and Achraf Hakimi mixing it up with veterans like Marco Reus. A neglected transfer window does not seem to have hindered Spurs as much as the absence of Harry Kane and Dele Alli has: narrow victories over Fulham, Watford, and Newcastle show signs of midfield fragility and a misfiring attack.
Like Juventus vs Atletico, this tie will depend on the battle between Spurs watertight defence vs Dortmund’s prolific attack. Astounding victories over the likes of Bayern and Atletico by great margins does give Dortmund the edge, as Spurs’ hopes rely on an in-form Heung Min Son to fulfil a striker role: without him, Spurs risk a blistering and overwhelming attack
Lyon vs Barcelona
Let’s keep it brief. As promising as Lyon’s young talent like Ndombele and Aouar are, combined with in-form Memphis Depay and Nabil Fekir, and Lyon would certainly be a fair call in almost every other tie.
But Barcelona has only progressed and looked more and more impressive as the season’s gone on. This is Barcelona’s game. Simple. The favourites should cruise through.
Roma vs Porto
On paper, this tie seems to be the least enticing or anticipated. Roma enjoyed a wildly successful run in last year’s competition, providing 2 of the best games of the whole season in their home legs victories over Barcelona (3-0) and Liverpool (4-2), and Porto topped the arguably lacklustre group with Schalke.
This season, however, the tie is more balanced: Roma have yet to replicate their form from last season in either the Serie A or Champions League, but Porto are clutching onto the top of the Liga Portuguesa with promising players in Brahimi, Marega, and Alex Telles making Porto a convincing dark horse.
Two evenly matched sides, Roma have looked more consistent in their goal scoring recently and can turn on the gas when needed. Dzeko and SES will lead them to the next stage, but not without a stubborn fight with the sole Portuguese side in the competition.
Ajax vs Real Madrid
A month ago, this result would have been an interesting one. Real were reeling after disappointing result after disappointing result, whilst Ajax’s young talent in Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt were wowing casual fans with their potential. Following an unconvincing group run (including a loss to eliminated CSKA Moscow), Real’s firm grasp on the Champions League that they’ve held for 3 consecutive years looked to be loosening.
However, something’s changed in the Real team. A new manager, a hungry prodigy in Vinicius Junior, and a convincing El Clasico draw against a more favoured Barcelona puts Real right back into the conversation as a potential winner.
Ajax’s resurgence as a talked about European club has been one of the sporting stories of the season so far, but ultimately, the Madrid Machine will march on.
Prediction: Real Madrid
Liverpool vs Bayern Munich
This is a mouthwatering tie, isn’t it? Many have dismissed Bayern as being past their 2013 peak due to Dortmund’s incredible Bundesliga performances, whilst others believe Liverpool will slowly edge City away and claim that long sought after Premier League title. So surely this result is a foregone conclusion?
Wrong. I see something going wrong in the Liverpool camp. A side plagued with defensive injuries and an inconsistent set of players in Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino, and you think Bayern has a chance?
Then you factor in Robert Lewandowski being the best striker the Liverpool defence, a weakened one remember, will have faced this season, and then you question how fragile is the Liverpool defence when not at full strength?
Jurgen Klopp has often come out of results with Bayern on the losing end, and whilst I think each side will steadily emerge victorious in their home leg, it’s going to go down to away goals or some other controversial fiasco destined to rile up fans. This should be a treat of a round of 16.
Prediction: Bayern Munich