There’s been a two month holiday for Europe’s greatest cup competition, but it’s now – thankfully – back. The Champions League and its Round of 16 is here and it won’t be long now before we find out which of the remaining clubs – from seven Euro nations – will march through to the tournament’s Quarter Final stage.
Four of the eight ties see their first legs take place this week, across Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. While next week sees the remaining four ties kick off. England has four teams still left in – more than any other country. Let’s take a look at those games, shall we? And afterwards we’ll take a quick squizz at the other ties that make up this stage…
There’s plenty of enticing action in this week’s Champions League games. A rejuvenated Manchester United host French behemoths PSG, while top-of-the-Bundesliga Dortmund head west to Wembley to test Spurs. Porto travel to last year’s semi-finalists Roma and Ajax host Real Madrid, who are now seemingly coming out of their poor patch of form.
Manchester United vs. Paris Saint Germain (Tuesday, 8pm)
It’s the same old, same old for the French champions. Flush with cash, they’ll walk the league and crash out of the Champions League at some point. The manager will carry the can, they’ll sack him and next year do exactly the same thing again. Rinse and repeat.
As for Manchester United, well, it’s been a rather different first half of the season for them. Meandering under the increasingly poisonous tenure of Jose Mourinho, the board bit the bullet and dispensed with the Portguese sulker. They brought in old boy Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to steady the ship and he’s worked wonders. The club have won 10 or their 11 matches under him.
The big news here is that Neymar is out. Not only that, but so too is Edinson Cavani. PSG still have Kylian Mbappe, of course. And Julian Draxler. And United old boy Angel di Maria. But with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba in such imperious form, we see the Red Devils getting through this.
Our prediction? We could be in for some goals across these two matches. It could well be tight, but we fancy United for it.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Borussia Dortmund (Wednesday 8pm)
Back in 2016, Spurs suffered a rather humiliating spanking at the yellow hands of Borussia Dortmund. Since then, under former Nice boss Lucien Favre, they’ve just got better and better. Mind you, so have Spurs. The difference being that Spurs haven’t really strengthened their squad all that much recently. Alright, at all recently. This hasn’t been a huge problem to now. But with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Ben Davies all out through injury for this tie, they’re down to the bare bones. Whereas Dortmund boast the likes of Christian Pulisic, Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho all fully fit and all in great form.
Our prediction? Spurs will have to work hard to stand a chance here and they’ll not embarrass themselves. But Dortmund will go through after the two legs.
Roma vs. Porto (Tuesday, 8pm) – Eusebio Di Francesco’s Romans sit fifth in Serie A, which may seem okay… But given the quality of the league, it’s nothing to shout about for Roma. A recent 7-1 defeat at the hands of Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia hasn’t helped lift spirits, either. Edin Dzeko remains their main goal threat, with Stephan El Shaarawy an able foil. But they face a tough task here. Porto are unbeaten in 25 games in all competitions (going all the way back to the beginning of October). 22 of those being wins. True, the Portuguese league is even weaker than the Italian, but winning becomes a habit. Roma may hold firm at home, but we can see the 2004 winners nicking it at the Estádio do Dragão. A narrow Porto aggregate victory.
Ajax vs. Real Madrid (Wednesday, 8pm)– This tie decides itself, right? Very few people will be lumping on the Amsterdam side to knock out the mighty – and winners of the last three Champions Leagues – Real Madrid. Yet back when the draw was made in December, Ajax might have fancied themselves (especially given they’re averaging 3.5 goals every time they play this season). Real were in a right ol’ state. That’s now been sorted out and the Spanish giants are nearly back to their glittering best. We’re expecting a comfortable win for Gareth Bale and Co. here.
The two days of action next week has plenty to look forward to as well. A couple of European heavyweights meet at Anfield when Liverpool take on Bayern. While Pep’s free-scoring Manchester City jet over to Germany to play Schalke in a game they’re expected to win. Lyon also host Messi & Co. and Cristiano Ronaldo heads back to Madrid to play old rivals, Atléti.
Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich (Tuesday, 8pm)
Both of these sides are locked in tough battles for domestic glory, with Liverpool looking ever so slightly more capable of pulling it off. Bayern are used to Bundesliga domination, but find themselves five points off the pace this year, behind Dortmund. Niko Kovač’s first year in charge isn’t going brilliantly, but a Champions League win would more than make up for his relatively slow start. To achieve that, first they need put Liverpool to the sword.
It’s tempting to call Liverpool’s recent form a blip, but while they’ve surrendered their league lead to Man City somewhat of late, they rarely ever lose matches. The Anfield side’s biggest weapon is their attacking force. Mohammed Salah has 17 goals this season, Sadio Mane has 12. Roberto Firmino 9 and Xherdan Shaqiri 6 goals. But will they outscore Munich? Well, it’s possible. But Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer might disagree. So too might Robert Lewandowski, who has 13 goals from 21 league games this year.
Our prediction? Despite the likes of Hummels, Neuer, Van Dijk and Allison gracing the pitch, we can see this as something of a goal-scoring slugfest. One Liverpool might just squeak through on. We can see a 6-5 or 5-4 aggregate score here.
Schalke 04 vs. Manchester City (Wednesday, 8pm)
The blue half of Manchester will have been more than relieved to draw Schalke. The Gelsenkirchen side may have finished second in the Bundesliga last year, but they’re a shadow of their former side now. Sitting just seven points clear of the relegation zone, they require a mammoth performance to beat a Man City that have scored 120 goals already this season.
Domenico Tedesco’s side organise themselves pretty well and can defend (they’ve conceded only just 32 goals in 21 league games so far this season, no bad for a side sitting 14th). But they need to play unusually well, catch City on two bad days and hope for a bit of luck too.
Our prediction? A easy progression for City, with two comfortable victories.
Lyon vs. Barcelona – Lyon have impressed in Europe this season, but their league form has wavered a little. They currently sit third, behind PSG and Lille in Ligue Un. They can frustrate Barcelona in this home tie at the Olympic Stadium, though. Messi is playing with a knock, defensive rock Umtiti is out and Barca aren’t quite the force they once were. We’d still expect the Catalans to get through the two-legged fixture, though.
Atlético Madrid vs. Juventus – Dropping just six points in 22 games in the Serie A this season, The Old Lady can win her league with her eyes shut. So her focus is bagging the Champions League. It’s why she splurged £100m on the ageing – but still devastating – Cristiano Ronaldo. Can Juve get past Diego Simeone’s Atléti, though? Diego Godin and Jan Oblak will have something to say about it. We can see this being a 0-0, 1-1 or 1-0 to the Spanish hosts. But Juve could well have too much for them in the second tie and should progress. But only just.