The 2018 Champions League knockout rounds promise to be some of the best in recent memory. In Manchester City, the Premier League offers at least one threatening title contender. Barcelona remain strong as ever, while slumping Real Madrid are out to prove their worth. With Jupp Heynckes back from retirement and at the reins, Bayern Munich have gained steam in the Bundesliga and look to reach the same level his last squad attained. Finally, clubs like Basel and Besiktas bring an underdog element to the highest level. With that in mind, The McGill Tribune previews each matchup for the upcoming round of 16.
Juventus vs. Tottenham Hotspur
The round of 16 kicks off with Tottenham facing last year’s finalists, Juventus. The latter look promising in this draw, only having lost Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci from last year’s Champions League final team. Massimillio Allegri’s Juventus are currently one point out of first in the Serie A, and are in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia. While the Italian side appears solid again this year, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham should not be ruled out. Despite their current fourth-place position in the Premier League, Spurs were strong enough to beat Real Madrid to secure first in their group in the fall. Harry Kane has been dominant again this year for Tottenham, with 23 goals on the season so far. This draw will likely be decided based on the success of each manager’s defensive tactics and the ability of their teams to replicate them on the field.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Real Madrid
The face-off between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) promises to be the best draw in the round of 16. The Spanish side have been in poor form this year, increasing pressure on Manager Zinedine Zidane, who has already admitted that the outcomes against PSG should decide his future at the club. However, Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest of the Madrid side should not be underestimated. Ronaldo, current holder of the FIFA Ballon d’Or, helped lead this same team to their second straight Champions League trophy last year. On the opposite side, the French club has dominated with an attacking front led by Edinson Cavani, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe. PSG’s number 9 leads the team with 28 goals across each competition, their 222 million-Euro Brazilian has 27 goals, and their promising 19-year-old striker has 15 goals this season. This draw has the potential for many spectacular goals.
Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain
Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Fans of Roma and Shakhtar should be relieved that their sides managed to escape draws against stronger European sides. In past years, neither team has been very successful at this stage in the Champions League. Despite Chelsea’s interest in Roma’s Edin Dzeko, the club managed to keep their star player over the winter transfer period. Shakhtar, on the other hand, sold their star midfielder Fred. Though Roma finished first in their group in the fall, they currently sit in fourth place in the Italian Serie A. On the other hand, Shakhtar remains first in the Ukrainian Premier league, three points ahead of Dynamo Kiev. Both of these clubs are known for their passionate fans, and the support they receive during each leg may well be an influential factor in this draw.
Manchester United vs. Sevilla
Sevilla are currently struggling in sixth place in La Liga. The Spanish side scraped through the group stage—winning only two games and twice tying Liverpool. While they haven’t been convincing this season, they did win twice against Atletico Madrid to reach the Copa del Rey semi-finals. Still, Sevilla face a big challenge in Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United squad, who are currently second in the Premier League and have the potential to thrive in this tournament. Mourinho coached his side to a Europa League title last season, and many United fans will be hoping for another strong European performance this season. Their new signing, Alexis Sanchez, may provide the slight advantage necessary to push United through to the next round.
Prediction: Manchester United
Barcelona vs. Chelsea
Chelsea are probably kicking themselves for conceding three goals at home to Roma in the group stage, condemning them to finish second. As a result, they now face the monumental task of dismantling La Liga leaders Barcelona. One of the toughest round of 16 draws, this fixture won’t be an easy match for either team. Luckily, Chelsea have two former Barca players of their own—Pedro and Cesc Fàbregas—who know the Spanish side’s strengths and weaknesses well. But, although the Blues have had a decent season, Barca have more star power in almost all areas of the pitch, emerging from the group stage unbeaten with only one goal against. What’s more, their domestic goal differential is twice as large as Chelsea’s, and with new Manager Ernesto Valverde under pressure to continue the club’s recent history of success, it will take quite a stroke of brilliance for Chelsea to make it past Barcelona.
Liverpool vs. Porto
After losing their star number 10 to Barcelona during the winter transfer window, Liverpool are out to prove that their now fab-three—Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mané—can still keep the goals flowing. In the group stage, they scored 23 goals—a feat surpassed only by PSG’s 25. Liverpool’s recent achilles heel, however, has been their inability to hold things together at the back end. One potential defensive solution for the Reds lies in newly-signed centre back Virgil van Dijk. Porto, on the other hand, have a similar penchant for scoring goals, but a significantly better domestic track-record in terms of goals against. Currently Portuguese league-leaders, Porto should be taken seriously; however, competition is admittedly less tough in the Primeira Liga than in the Premier League. When these two attack-minded teams go head to head, the question won’t be if goals are scored, but how many.
Manchester City vs. Basel
Manchester City have been nearly unstoppable this season. Although they haven’t yet faced particularly tough Champions League competition, they’ve lost only once in Premier League play, scoring 79 goals in the process. So far, Manager Pep Guardiola has been successful in replicating the dominance he achieved at Barcelona; however, Manchester City are relatively new to the European football top tier, and have never actually won a Champions League title. That all might change this year, as City have received yet another favourable draw for the round of 16. This is undoubtedly a game of contrasts—the market value of City’s squad is estimated at 529.26 million pounds—which is over 12 times that of FC Basel. For their part, Basel are not the highest-scoring team by any stretch, but they did manage a 1-0 win over Manchester United in the group stage, showing their potential to compete against big opponents. The key for their defence will be to figure out how to contain an attack headed by Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling, neither of whom are easily contained.
Prediction: Manchester City
Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas
Like Barcelona, Bayern have a well-established core in the likes of Arjen Robben, Jérôme Boateng, and Thomas Müller, all of whom were a part of the side’s 2013 Champions League-winning squad. After narrowly missing out on first place in the group stage to PSG, Bayern have nonetheless secured a relatively favourable draw. Besiktas’ first place finish ahead of both Porto and Monaco in the group stage is impressive in its own right, and summer acquisition Pepe from Real Madrid brings valuable Champions League experience to the team. Yet, while Bayern sit 18 points clear atop the Bundesliga, Besiktas are languishing in fourth in the Turkish Süper Lig, suggesting that Besiktas’ odds are slim. Although Manuel Neuer’s prolonged recovery from foot surgery is a blow for Bayern, their comfortable position in the Bundesliga leaves them the option of resting key players during league games in order to save their star power for the European stage.