The Champions League round of 16 has produced some mouth-watering draws with big name upsets on the cards. With a total of five English teams making it through to this stage, with convincing performances throughout the group stages for all, could this be the return of English dominance, or will Spain conquer Europe again?
This begins with a huge game between Juventus and Tottenham. Juve have come heartbreakingly close to securing this title in recent years, with loses in the final to Barcelona and Real Madrid. A very experienced side, who are seeing more competition in their domestic league than usual, The Old Lady currently sit second behind a strong Napoli side. A tough draw for Tottenham who certainly lack experience at this stage of the competition, with a poor group stage exit last season. Currently situated in fifth just outside champions league qualification, Pochettino’s side have enjoyed a good spell of form over the festive period, and have one of the most in form players in the world right now leading their line, Harry Kane. Juventus’ defence poses one of the biggest problems for Spurs, and having won their previous 10 games, carry serious momentum into the draw. Juventus will certainly be remarked as favourites for this match and I expect them to carry out a professional victory over a weaker Spurs side.
Manchester city travel to Basel on the same evening as huge favourites to continue to the quarter finals. Basel, who finished second to Manchester United, put in strong performances throughout their competitive group and lie five points behind Young Boys in the Swiss Super League. Manchester City are absolutely flying at the minute domestically and in Europe and are expected to continue their ruthless goal scoring in this tie. A very kind draw for the league leaders, who were defeated at this stage last season to a very strong Monaco side. Neither team lack serious experience at this point of the tournament, and with both teams frequent scoring domestically, this game could be in for a goal fest. That being said, I would imagine Man City reining victorious and would imagine Guardiola’s side progressing to the quarters.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated draw follows the following week between Real Madrid and PSG. Two massive teams at the opposite ends of league success. Madrid have won the past three out of four European championships and look to win their third consecutive cup. Los Blancos however have been heavily out of form for the majority of the season, losing to Barcelona in the first classic of the season and putting in unconvincing performances home and away. Perhaps too much reliance upon Ronaldo scoring? PSG however have established themselves as one of the biggest threats in Europe with the likes of Neymar tearing up the French league. A loss to Bayern Munich however poses the question of can they do it against the big clubs. Madrid have recently come back into form however and their experience in this competition leads me to think that Zidane may have something special up his sleeve for this tie.
Manchester United against Sevilla. A draw in which Manchester United fans can be relatively happy after avoiding some of the big names. Sevilla however can be seen as a very underrated side with comebacks over Liverpool in the group stage and constant Europa League success in recent years. A strong group stage for both teams means this game may not be as simple as Jose might think. On paper, United side should proceed to the quarter finals, but something tells me that Sevilla could snatch this game away from The Red Devils. With loses to Basel, Bristol City and Newcastle this season, inconsistency and lack on definition in the final third has been present at times for Mourinho. Old Trafford does not seem to be the same fortress that it was under Sir Alex and an upset could be on the cards for this tie.
Chelsea are perhaps gifted with the hardest draw of all. Barcelona. Not only does this game come at a bad time in terms of league games, (with Manchester City and Manchester United to face in between the home and away legs of the tie) it also come at a time of instability at the club. Chelsea have run into poor form at the worst possible time with back to back league loses and the unsure future of Antonio Conte. Barcelona however have been in inspired form this season, with their only loss so far in the first leg of the Copa Del Rey to arch rivals Espanyol. They currently sit seven points clear at the top of La Liga and play Sevilla in the final. They are playing some of the best football in the world and with the current situation at Chelsea, cannot see them being beaten. Players such as Hazard and Courtois will need to shine on order for Chelsea to avoid being knocked out at the hands of Barca again.
Liverpool go into their tie against Porto in form that can only be describes as strange. Just over a month ago, Liverpool stopped Man City’s unbeaten record in phenomenal style which was shortly followed by losses to Swansea and West Bromwich Albian, and a thrilling draw with Tottenham. Liverpool’s inconsistency could play into Porto’s favour, who sit 2 points clear at the top of the Primeira Liga with a game in hand. With Marega and Aboubakar scoring 15 goals each already this season, can they find the cracks in Liverpool’s defensive problems? Anfield however may be the difference in the Champions League for Liverpool, as on their night, they could beat any team due to the atmosphere on European nights. Again, on paper Liverpool should win this game and I believe they will but can also see them making it hard for themselves and/or bottling it against a Porto side off the back of a victory against Sporting.
Bayern vs Beşiktaş is a game that the Turkish giants will have to be their best at to beat a strong Munich squad. Bayern never seem to be in any doubt of winning the Bundesliga year in year out, and are 18 points clear at this stage. Beşiktaş however are situated fourth in a very tight top four in the Turkish Super Lig, and with losing their main goal scorer Cent Tosum to Everton in the previous transfer window, they are most definitely the underdogs for this match up. Could that play into their favour? To win a group with teams like Monaco and Porto is no easy task however, so shouldn’t be wrote off straight away. Bayern came second in the group only to the goal difference of PSG, and have proved themselves time after time as European giants in this cup, enjoying recent success in 2013. This was their fifth win of the cup, and have the talent and depth of players to overcome a weaker Beşiktaş side.
Shakhtar Donetsk hold the difficult of facing Roma, which could be one of the most underrated games of the tie. Roma have not had the season they dreamed of, and seem to be constantly chasing the top Italian teams but not reaching the top of the table. Shakhtar however are playing some very exciting football and have earned their spot at the top of their domestic league, not to mention the fact that them and Liverpool are the only two teams to beat Manchester City this season. Napoli, who are above Roma in Serie A, placed 6 points behind them in the group stage. An impressive 2-0 victory in the final game of the group stage showed that they are a team to be taken seriously. I feel that this tie could go either way and is one of the hardest to call. Roma are the clear favourites but this could be one of the upsets of the tournament with the pace and clinical finishing of a flourishing Shakhtar team.
Monaco, after reaching the semi-final stage last season and playing some of the best football in Europe, only received 2 points throughout the group stage. A poor result for the current French champions, especially when their group was seen as one of the easiest to progress through. Monaco however have always been a selling club, and the amount of quality players lost in the summer ultimately was their downfall this season. Mbappe, Bakayoko, Silva and Mendy were all key components to the success of last season, and the replacements brought in have not stepped up to the same level. It is a shame to see such an exciting team leave the tournament at this stage, but has now opened the door for Beşiktaş and Porto to shine in the round of 16.
Athletico Madrid exited the tournament extremely early after reaching the final twice in recent years. They suffered a last-minute loss to Chelsea in the group, which ultimately was the undoing of them, as they finished 4 points behind them and Roma. With the league all but wrapped up and knockout from the Copa Del Rey is this the end for Diego Simeone? I felt that this was the fair result for this group and perhaps shows that this is the end of Spanish dominance.
Dortmund faced a difficult group, but performed poorly throughout. The real battle was between Spurs and Dortmund as Real Madrid were the favourites to top it and before the season had started, I would have backed Borussia to finish second. This is not how it has panned out and only managed 2 draws at this stage. Another team who play some incredible football at times, but perhaps the loss of Marco Reus and the aging backline played into the hand of Madrid and Tottenham.
Could this be the year of English dominance? With the possibility of an all English semi-final, there is no doubt that there will be shocks, upsets and brilliant football.
WRITTEN BY CONNOR WHITELEY