The UEFA Champions League (UCL) is back. Round of 16 play began on Feb. 16, and four of the eight teams have played their first leg. After Feb. 24, all the first legs will be complete. The round of 16 consists of two legs, and the team that wins on aggregate score advances. The McGill Tribune brings its predictions for the round of 16.
Manchester City vs Borussia Monchengladbach
Manchester City are currently on the top of the Premier League, 10 points ahead of Manchester United, who reside in second place. Recent performances in the Premier League have been excellent, with Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan, and Bernando Silva all scoring goals.
Borussia Monchengladbach deserve credit for placing amongst the top four teams in the league and earning a Champions League spot this year with tough competition in the Bundesliga. They are currently seventh and have won two of their last five games. However, it is unlikely the German side can advance to the next round with the current performance of Manchester City. The Manchester City Manager, Pep Guardiola, has never won a Champions League title with the team, and this could be the season it happens.
Bayern vs Lazio
Bayern were dominant in the last UCL campaign. They won 11 straight games before eventually becoming champions. Incredibly, the same team is mostly intact, with the exception of holding midfielder Thiago Alcântara, who joined Liverpool. Nonetheless, players such as Robert Lewandowski and new signing Leroy Sane mean Bayern is still performing at full strength.
Lazio, on the other hand, do not boast the same type of dominance. They are currently in seventh place in Serie A, and if they continue their current streak they will not qualify for the Champions League next year. Having a striker like Ciro Immobile makes the Italian side impossible to rule out, but this tie looks to be a shoo-in for the German giants.
Chelsea vs Atletico Madrid
In his short time as the manager of Chelsea, Thomas Tuchel has proven himself in the Premier League, winning four out of the last six matches in the league. However, the Champions League is a different tactical game altogether. With players like Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic, Tuchel has the firepower at his disposal to defeat any defence in the world if he can get the best out of his players.
With star strikers Diego Costa and Luiz Suarez, Atletico Madrid will be tricky opponents, as they currently lead in La Liga, six points ahead of Real Madrid with one less game played. Due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions on U.K. flights to Spain, the first leg to be played at Atletico’s home stadium has moved to a neutral location in Bucharest, Romania. With this change, Chelsea might edge ahead of the Spanish team with a home game advantage in the second leg.
Liverpool vs Leipzig
Liverpool won the first leg of this Champions League tie. Both sides had many opportunities to take this game by the scruff of its neck, even though the eventual 2-0 scoreline does not reflect that. Leipzig’s Dani Olmo hit the post five minutes in, and Liverpool keeper Alisson Becker saved a breakaway opportunity all before the first goal of the game.
Marcel Sabitzer has been an engine in midfield for Leipzig this year. Unfortunately, it was his errant back pass that played Liverpool forward Mohammed Salah through on goal, who made it 1-0. Salah’s partner on the wing, Sadio Mane, also capitalized on a defensive mistake from Leipzig, bringing the score to 2-0. Despite a convincing win, this tie is far from over. Liverpool have not been at their best, and, most importantly, they are missing centre backs Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez. It is hard to imagine Liverpool fumbling this lead, but with emergency centre backs starting, anything is possible.
Juventus vs Porto
The first leg result between Juventus and Porto was an unexpected one—Porto defeated Juventus 2-1. The game had some defining moments, the first goal scored by Porto, a result of a Juventus defensive mishap, and Ronaldo being denied a penalty in extra time. The Porto defence contained Ronaldo, who has an impressive record of scoring 134 goals in 175 appearances in the Champions League. Overall, Juventus’ offence was unimpressive with only five out of 12 attempts on target. However, Frederico Chiesa’s away goal for Juventus may be crucial in deciding who advances to the next round. Juventus manager Andrea Pirlo faces the challenge of a one-goal deficit in the second leg on Mar. 9. With an away goal and home advantage for Juventus, either team can advance to the next round.
Real Madrid vs Atalanta
Real Madrid are the most successful club in UCL history, with 13 titles to their name. Understandably, Atalanta cannot compare to that feat in the slightest. Last year was their first season in UCL, but they shocked everyone when they advanced to the quarterfinals. This current Real Madrid team is not as dominant as previous lineups, but Atalanta are no longer having the same success they had last year either, and losing star midfielder Papu Gomez to Sevilla does not help. Even though this Real Madrid side is weaker than usual, they are still in second place in La Liga and have a strong core of stars like Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, and Toni Kroos. The Madrid side has a tendency to play well under manager Zinedine Zidane in the Champions League, and it should be no surprise to anyone if they deliver a convincing victory in this tie.
Barcelona vs PSG
Catalan giants Barcelona lost 4-1 in a dismal first leg to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). PSG looked strong under manager Mauricio Pochettino, even without star striker Neymar and winger Angel Di Maria. Mbappe’s hat trick only boosts the French striker’s confidence going into Camp Nou on Mar. 10 for the second leg. Barcelona are an ageing team with vulnerable defence, reliant on the experience of Messi, Busquets, and Pique. PSG are a relatively younger squad, with a manager who almost won the Champions League with Tottenham Hotspur in the 2018-2019 season. Even with an away goal and home advantage going into the second leg, it is unlikely that Barcelona will recover a three-goal deficit and advance to the next round.
Dortmund vs Sevilla
The first leg ended in a 3-2 Dortmund win. It took only seven minutes for Sevilla to open the scoring with a deflected strike from winger Suso. Yet, it was Dortmund that eventually took over, led by young striker Erling Haaland. Haaland assisted the equalizer and then scored Dortmund’s second and third goals of the game. The 20-year-old Norwegian now has a remarkable 18 goals in 13 UCL appearances. The Spanish side did fight back, however, with Luuk De Jong netting a consolation goal with six minutes left before added time. This goal gives Sevilla a lifeline going into the second leg in Germany. Dortmund have not been great domestically, but netting three away goals going into the second leg means they should be able to finish this tie in Germany and advance to the quarterfinals.
The Champions League round of 16 fixture is a delight for every soccer fan, as one witnesses the top teams in Europe play one another. This year’s fixtures are no different, with clubs like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and PSG battling to advance to the next round. The league this year is different from previous years, with no in-person spectators and certain games played at a neutral location, but the excitement remains the same, however, for soccer fans across the world.