The UEFA Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious club competition, is entering its knockout stages. The group stages containing 32 teams has finished as the tournament moves on to its round of 16. To decide which teams would play each other, a draw was made in which teams that topped their group were paired with teams who finished second in their respective group. The only rules that prohibit some possible pairings were that teams in the same group couldn’t be drawn against each other and neither could teams from the same country.
Now, eight two-legged knockout ties await, in which the club that finished second in their group will host the first match before the following game where the club that finished first in their group will host the decisive game to see who moves on. Away goals serve as tie breakers, and if the scores are tied on aggregate after the two legs, the match will go to extra time and penalties if required. Eight teams will move on to the quarterfinals, but before that, here is an assessment and predictions for the round of 16 matches to be played in February and March. Four ties have already started, but here is a look at upcoming matches to come.
Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich
One of the most exciting draws of the round of 16, Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich should be full of entertainment. As mentioned previously, they Merseyside club made it all the way to last season’s final and will be looking to go one step further this time around. The team made some reinforcements over the summer bringing in players like Alisson Becker, Xherdan Shaqiri (who previously played for the German giants), and Fabinho, while Naby Keita has joined the squad after an agreement was made to bring him in last January. The Reds are top of the Premier League, three points clear of second place and have the best defensive record in the league after only conceding 15 goals so far. Their defense was much criticized last season due to mistakes from the goalkeeper or individual defenders, but all of that is largely behind them now as they have addressed the goalkeeping issue with Alisson and the defense is well marshaled by Virgil van Dijk.
Their opponents are having a disappointing season so far as Bayern Munich find themselves five points behind Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund. They have won the last six Bundesliga titles, many of them with a large gap between themselves and the chasing pack, but this season may be where they stumble. New coach Niko Kovac has been under fire during his short time in charge of the Bavarians and will see the UCL as a competition to restore belief and trust into his squad.
Prediction: Liverpool to advance.
The English side are much more organized this season and will represent a challenge for Bayern Munich to break down. With one of, if not the most, potent attacking trio in Europe made up of Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino, the Reds will also threaten Bayern Munich on the break. The Bavarians do have a strong team, and with a second leg to be played at the Allianz Arena, they could very well come out on top, but they don’t look as strong as they usually do while Liverpool have only improved since their run to the final.
Lyon vs. Barcelona
This tie can be easily overlooked as a clear one to predict, but it might be closer than many think. Lyon are one of Ligue 1’s strongest clubs, and they are currently in third place, just three points behind Lille. Last season, they finished in third place and were just two points away from second place Monaco. During the summer, additions to the squad such as the permanent signing of Tanguy Ndombele from Amiens and Moussa Dembele from Celtic were made. Both of these players have added to the already vastly talented team Lyon has. Players like Memphis Depay, Nabil Fekir, and Ferland Mendy contribute to making the club so strong.
Meanwhile, Barcelona are flying high in La Liga finding themselves five points ahead of second place Real Madrid with a game at hand. They won the title last season by a total of 14 points and look set to defend their title this season. To put it bluntly, their team has more quality than Lyon’s, boasting the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, and others.
Between both clubs, there is more pressure on Barcelona to advance. The Spanish giants are debatably the best team in the world and are expected to go far in the tournament. Plus, the success of Real Madrid who have won three consecutive UCL titles and four in the last five seasons means that Barcelona are all the more desperate to have their own success in Europe. That, coupled with last season’s unexpected disappointment when the Cules were eliminated by Roma in quarterfinals, emphasizes the importance in winning the Champions League once again.
However, their opponents will not be knocked out without a fight. Lyon remain undefeated in the tournament after coming against Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Hoffenheim in the group stages where they finished in second place. Looking specifically at their performances against City, Lyon have shown they aren’t to be seen as just a formality for Barcelona’s progression. Pep Guardiola’s side play a possession style of football he has developed and adapted from his time at Barcelona. Lyon beat City away from home and tied in France, which is an hugely impressive feat to say the least.
In addition, one aspect of this Lyon team is their capability of playing with a back five, a system Barcelona has struggled with so far this season. Of their four losses this season, all have been against teams that have played with a back five – Sevilla in the first leg of the Copa Del Rey, Levante in the Copa Del Rey, Real Betis in La Liga, and Leganes in La Liga. With all that being said, it is very possible for Lyon to win against the odds.
Prediction: Barcelona to advance.
Although this tie will be a lot closer than many believe it will be, Barcelona just seem to have too much quality for Lyon. Plus, in two of the games Barcelona lost this season in the Copa Del Rey, they managed to win the second leg and qualify for the next round. In both matches, they beat teams using a back five.
Schalke vs. Manchester City
Perhaps the most one-sided tie in UCL round of 16 this season, Schalke will be hoping for a miracle against Manchester City. This season hasn’t been the best for the German side, as they have slid down the Bundesliga standings since last season’s second place finish. The club are in 13th place in the league and could fall to 14th by the end of the weekend. Schalke have lost about half of their league matches and have issues scoring goals as well as keeping them out. Adding to these issues are their number of injury concerns. Among them are Benjamin Stambouli, Guido Burgstaller, Alessandro Schopf, Steven Skrzybski, and Breel Embolo. Schalke qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League by coming second in their group consisting of Porto, Galatasaray, and Lokomotiv Moscow.
Conversely, Manchester City are in second place in the Premier League and are in some very good form. In the last eleven games played, City have won all their games except for a loss to Newcastle United. During that time, they only conceded five goals and scored an incredible 39 goals. The squad has talented played like Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and Ederson Moraes to name a few. City topped their group, finishing above Lyon, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Hoffenheim.
It’s hard to make a case for Schalke posing a real threat to City’s progression to the next round other than the unpredictability of football. The German side will have to make the most of the first leg, given it is at home, to have any chance of progression in the return leg in Manchester.
Leroy Sane will be returning to his former club Schalke for the first time.
Prediction: Manchester City to advance.
This tie may end up displaying the largest gap between two teams in the round of 16, as City may well and truly outclass Schalke in both legs.
Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus
A clash of two of Europe’s best defenses in recent years, Atletico Madrid coming up against Juventus will probably not be a high scoring affair. Los Colchoneros find themselves in third place in La Liga, just a single point away from city rivals Real Madrid. However, they aren’t in the greatest form with just one more game before their first leg match against the Italian giants. They have lost their last two matches against Real Betis and Real Madrid. Yet, despite these losses, the club still has conceded the least goals in Spain’s top flight along with also having the fifth-highest number of goals scored.
Under coach Diego Simeone since 2011, Atletico Madrid have developed an identity as a team built on a strong defense and a fighting spirit embodied by both the players as well as their manager. With Simeone, the club has displaced La Liga’s duopoly by winning the league and have reached two UCL finals. The team has some truly phenomenal players like Jan Oblak, Diego Godin, Koke, Saul Niguez, and Antoine Greizmann. They qualified to the round of 16 after narrowly missing out on a first-place finish in their group after tying on points with Borussia Dortmund. Instead, they had to settle for second place below Borussia Dortmund and above Brugge and Monaco.
On the other side of the coin, Juventus are running away with the Serie A title as they lead second place Napoli by eight points with a game at hand. They are still yet to lose a match in the league, and like their opponents, have the best defensive record. La Vecchia Signora also have scored the second most goals in the Serie A. Juventus are currently on a run of seven consecutive league titles and also mirror Atletico in that they have also reached two Champions League finals without winning. Summer signing Cristiano Ronaldo might be the missing piece as he seeks to win a fourth consecutive UCL title.
Mario Mandzukic will be returning to former club Atletico Madrid for the first time when Juventus travel to Madrid for the first leg.
Prediction: Juventus to advance.
Both clubs are obviously very strong defensively and it seems like the smallest details may be what separates these two teams. With the second leg to be held in Turin and Juventus having Cristiano Ronaldo in their team, Juventus appear to have a slight upper hand.