UEFA Champions League: A look at all eight Round of 16 ties
The UEFA Champions League returns with the Round of 16
After three months without continental club football in Europe, the Champions League is back. We have reached the Round of 16, the business part of the competition.
This round will feature recent final rematches, some first time clashes, and, as always, high stakes matches. Here is a feature of the matches to come, as well as a prediction for each of the eight ties.
Paris St. Germain vs Bayern Munich (1st leg 14 Feb, 2nd leg 8 Mar)
It seems as if these two clubs cannot get enough of each other. For the fourth time in six seasons, PSG will face Bayern in the Champions League.
Les Parisiens had little trouble in the first half of the season, including an unbeaten showing in the group stages. They were pipped for top spot by Benfica on away goals scored. Still, Christophe Galtier’s side is a menace to whomever they face. They have been wobbly in recent games, including back-to-back defeats to Marseille (Coupe de France) and Monaco (Ligue 1). Regardless, they will surely be at their very best across both legs.
As per usual, Bayern is having a fine season of their own. Top of the Bundesliga, six wins from six in the group phase of the UCL last fall, there is practically nothing new for the Bavarians. They have lost just two of their last 37 matches in this competition, the last home loss coming to PSG themselves. It goes to show that in the Champions League, Bayern is a winning machine.
In what promises to be a highly entertaining two legs, it is difficult to say who will progress from this one. On form, the easy choice is Bayern. However, it is impossible to count out PSG’s alarmingly strong squad. For that, I will have to go with the Parisians in this one.
AC Milan vs Tottenham Hotspur (1st leg 14 Feb, 2nd leg 8 Mar)
For the third time in UEFA club competition history, Milan and Spurs were paired together, setting up an intriguing clash. Neither side has been fantastic this season, meaning anything could happen over the two matches.
The Rossoneri took second spot in Group E behind Chelsea, losing both games to the Blues. Their form of late has gone out the window though. Before their weekend win over Torino, the Scudetto winners of last May had lost four in a row. That included two defeats to arch rivals Inter. A considerable improvement in form will be required from the seven-time winners if they are to advance.
Spurs is a mixed bag this calendar year when looking at form. A record of 5-0-4 proves that very point. While they managed to top their section, Antonio Conte’s men have not been able to stay reliable. A recent win at Manchester City’s expense was followed by a humiliating 4-1 reverse at struggling Leicester. Can the North London side bring it together over the 180 minutes against Milan?
Here is a stat: across four previous matches between the two teams, Spurs has never lost to Milan (2-2-0). I do believe there is a first time for everything, but based on Milan’s showings of late, I cannot foresee their luck against their English opposition changing. Tottenham to win this one.
Club Brugge vs Benfica (1st leg Feb 15, 2nd leg Mar 7)
The only pairing in this round not to feature teams from the “Big 5” leagues, Club Brugge faces Benfica in what is the former’s first ever knockout round tie in the Champions League.
Winners in Belgium for the third year running, Club Brugge stormed to four consecutive wins in the group stage back in the fall. The Blauw-Zwart failed to win their final two group games though, which included a 4-0 hiding at home to Benfica’s rivals Porto. Add that to their torrid domestic form, and the Club will need all the luck they can get.
Meanwhile, Benfica has had a fantastic campaign thus far. Only Sporting Braga has managed to defeat the two-time European Cup winners this season. They are the only side left in the Champions League to have played in the qualifying rounds. In their 10 games in the competition this season, their record reads 8-2-0, both draws coming against PSG. Despite losing Enzo Fernandez on transfer deadline day, this team is looking quite scary.
Despite both teams being regulars in Europe, this is the first time Club Brugge and Benfica will meet in UEFA club competition. Given the Belgian side’s weak record of late, it is incredibly difficult to see them getting past this strong Benfica side. I favour the Portuguese club to go through.
Borussia Dortmund vs Chelsea (1st leg 15 Feb, 2nd leg 7 Mar)
Another first-time clash in a UEFA club competition, Borussia Dortmund will face Chelsea in their last 16 clash.
The Germans have been steady throughout the campaign, but have started to come into their own of late. Six wins on the spin sees Die Schwarzgelben head into their meeting with Chelsea on an excellent run. They will be looking to end their disastrous return against English opponents of late. They are winless in their last 10 against English teams (0-2-8) since topping Spurs in the 2015/16 Europa League.
While Dortmund has been fantastic lately, the same cannot be said for Chelsea. Despite going on another spending spree in January, the Blues have won just once this calendar year (1-4-3). They have, however, prevailed in their last four Champions League games. That form will have to replicated over the two legs against this strong Dortmund side. Anything less, and Graham Potter’s side will surely be punished.
Although I mentioned Dortmund’s poor showings against English teams of late, this is the best chance they will have in quite some time. Chelsea has more to lose here, as it is looking increasingly likely that a third Champions League triumph is the Blues’ only way back to the tournament next season. With that said, I am really liking the Bundesliga side’s chances here, so I am backing them.
Liverpool vs Real Madrid (1st leg 21 Feb, 2nd leg 15 Mar)
For the fifth time since 2014/15, Liverpool and Real Madrid will go at it. The pair did not have to wait long to see each other once again, as Carlo Ancelotti’s Galacticos triumphed at the Reds’ expense in last May’s Champions League final.
For Liverpool’s lofty standards, this season is already viewed as a failure. Eliminated in both domestic cup competitions (which they won last year), the Reds are well out of the title race in the Premier League. Even qualifying for the Champions League via the league for next year is looking unfavourable for Jürgen Klopp’s men. Picking up just their second win of 2023 in their Monday night derby with Everton, fortunes must change quickly.
Meanwhile, Real continues to dominate. The 14-time European champions won the FIFA Club World Cup once again, proving their endless hunger for trophies. They are in an excellent position for what would be their first-ever LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble. Facing a side who they never have problems with, Real should feel confident about going through.
This is a chance at revenge for Liverpool. And, like Chelsea, it is very likely that the Reds will need to lift the Champions League trophy in June to return next September. That in mind though, Real has their number, and is in much better form. So, I expect the Spaniards to add more misery to the Merseyside club.
Eintracht Frankfurt vs Napoli (1st leg 21 Feb, 2nd leg 15 Mar)
Last season’s Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt face current Serie A pacesetters Napoli in what should be an enthralling matchup.
Die Adler was the only team in this season’s Champions League to partake in the competition for the first time in the the UCL era. Oliver Glasner’s side turned things around on Matchday 6 to beat Sporting CP and make it through. Fighting for a UCL spot in the Bundesliga, Frankfurt will be motivated for their meeting with Napoli.
The Partenopei has impressed all year. They have lost just twice this campaign, both away. Luciano Spalletti’s charges are cruising in the Serie A and can put their full focus on their two games with Frankfurt. Goals are not hard to come by for Napoli, who have already scored 76 times at the time of writing.
Frankfurt progressed in the 1994/95 UEFA Cup at Napoli’s expense, courtesy of two 1-0 wins. This time around, the Italians have to be considered favourites. They have been ruthless this season, and I think that will be the difference here.
RB Leipzig vs Manchester City (1st leg 22 Feb, 2nd leg 14 Mar)
For the second season running, Leipzig and Manchester City will square off. The stakes are higher this time, as they meet in the knockout stage.
A 4-0 demolition of Shakhtar Donetsk back in November allowed Leipzig to stay in the competition, the match being do-or-die. Marco Rose’s side has looked good in recent times despite their 2-1 defeat to Union Berlin in their most recent game. A pivotal month is coming up for the Saxony-based team, who is still fighting on three fronts. Outscored 7-5 in their matches with City last year, they will need a strong showing across both legs.
Despite the off-field problems, Man. City is continuing to perform well. Also playing in three competitions at this stage of the season, Pep Guardiola’s men are one of the favourites to go the distance this year. Whether they will be able to go one better than they did in 2019/20 is another matter.
I find it hard to look past City in this tie. Leipzig certainly has the ability to go through, but based on what the two clubs have shown of late, there is still one clear winner. This one is City’s tie to lose.
Inter Milan vs Porto (1st leg Feb 22, 2nd leg Mar 14)
We end with an interesting clash between two teams that may be overlooked by many. Yet, Internazionale and Porto meet in what should be a quality match.
It has been an impressive start to 2023 for Inter, who have lost only once since the turn of the year. Second in Serie A, the Nerazzurri is looking strong once more. Losing out to bitter rivals Milan last May for the league, they did beat their local foes twice of late, highlighting the good form they are in. Finishing second behind Bayern in the group stage, Inter will be up for the challenge that awaits them.
No strangers to springtime European football, Porto has also been on a blistering run. Their last defeat came at the hands of heated rival Benfica back in October. In the 21 games since, the Dragões have won 18, including nine on the spin. Of the teams left in Europe, they are on the longest active winning run.
This is another tie I feel could go either way. Both teams are in the perfect shape to make this tie a must-watch. I have a sneaky feeling that this one will go Porto’s way. Going 21 games unbeaten does not happen by chance, so I will put my faith in the Portuguese side to move on.