The eight match-ups for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 are set.
1–Juventus will play Tottenham, 2–Basel v Manchester City, 3–Porto v Liverpool, 4–Real Madrid v PSG, 5–Chelsea v Barcelona, 6–Bayern Munich v Besiktas, 7–Sevilla v Manchester United, and 8–Shaktar Donetsk v Roma.
The first duo seems evenly matched up with Juventus having the inside track. The second duo has Man City as the obvious favorite. The third match up favors Liverpool. The fourth pairing is the bomb.
The champions against the best-playing team in the competition. A Real Madrid that has yet to find its stride with any semblance of a starting line-up, against a PSG that is so on they are actually relishing the match-up. This duo will be the most exciting to watch and PSG have to be the favored side.
The fifth pairing favors Barcelona, only this time around Chelsea might be competitive. The easiest duo seems to be the sixth where Bayern Munich should not have too much to overcome given their current form under new/returning coach, the 72-year-old Josef Heynckes.
The seventh pairing seems an even draw with Man U perhaps favored. The eighth match-up also seems competitive but favors Roma.
This is going to be one of the better UEFA Champions League Rounds of 16 in recent memory. Juventus has been working itself toward their accustomed top of the Serie A table but are not there yet and seem keen to prove themselves. Tottenham has slipped to sixth place and also seem to feel they have something to prove. This will be a tough battle between sides that might see European competition as their season’s redemptive option.
Man City is running rampant over all competition and Basel could not have gotten a tougher draw than a Pep Guardiola club with an axe to grind. The uber coach had been at pains to make his system work in the Premiership and now that it seems to be producing results a splash on the European stage would be just the thing to certify his position among the crop of special ones now plying their trade in England.
Liverpool in fourth place in the Premiership is nonetheless only 3 and 5 points behind third and second place respectively. Though 16 points behind leaders Man City, coach Jurgen Klopp has his side convinced they have been victimized by shoddy officiating and poor luck. Porto might just be the tonic to assuage this team’s slings-and-arrows injuries. This might be the time when Liverpool explodes and shows everyone why so many pundits feel it is a side with boundless potential waiting for its moment to shine.
Real Madrid seemed to reach a different gear against Sevilla at the weekend, one it has not achieved since the summer. But an early goal and a return to scoring form for Cristiano Ronaldo in a single La Liga game are not surefire signs of a reset. Politics at Madrid require a recuperating Gareth Bale be given a starting chance, that Karim Benzema continue to play, and that Asensio be brought in only as a last resort regardless of how well the team plays with him on the pitch. The favored Isco is bound to re-emerge and coach Zinedine Zidane seems yet to have learned any lessons about reading a game in progress. So the 5-0 might just be a blip.
That all said, it is Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappe, and company that are already hitting on all cylinders. They will have an easier time with the Real defense than the Madrid side will have with the likes of Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Dani Alves and Presnel Kimpembe. Look for a great couple of matches here with the Parisiens the favored side, but with the Merengues perhaps ready to surprise with a return to form.
Chelsea has a lot more to prove than Barca this year as the Blues are 14 points off the pace in the Premiership. But much like Liverpool’s Klopp, Chelsea coach Antonio Conte wants to show his club has more to show than has been shown. He is adamant to not let his budding tenure become a one-title stand. The Blues have the guns to make the Blaugranas have to work, but Lionel Messi and company feel they do have one thing to prove and that is that they are also good on the European stage post-Neymar. This will be a hard-fought match-up with home field performances crucial and the second leg the determining factor.
Bayern will be meeting a Besiktas team unlucky to have its fantastic Champions League run bump up against a slumbering giant who has come fully awake. Die Roten have a lot to atone for given domestic and European play of late but Heynckes seems the right man at the right place and time and Bayern is just too strong when playing up to their standard. This should be the warm-up the Bavarians need to fine tune before true competition.
Sevilla and Manchester United are having similar seasons. Both teams are outperforming their early expectations, but neither is quite reaching their potential. The Spanish side will be hurting from their 5-0 shellacking but will take comfort in the freakish nature of it. They are tough at home and will put Man U to the test. Jose Mourinho will relish a return to Spanish soil, if only to do his best scorched earth impersonation. He has the superior tools, and after losing the Manchester Derby (and more decisively than the score indicated) over the weekend, he will be looking for some measure of ego rehabilitation on the European mainland. Look for a competitive match-up but with a decidedly Portuguese-English aftertaste.
Roma is one of three Serie A teams within five points of table leaders Inter Milan. They have been alternating between stellar and middling if at least better when facing a tougher opponent. But they have not been convincing over time. Shakhtar Donetsk boast ten South Americans on their roster but it is their Ukranian players who carry a chip on their shoulder for having been but one loss away from World Cup qualification in what was a competitive UEFA Group I. The team will be looking for redemption and their December 6th 2-1 victory at home over Man City will be a rallying memory. This will be a competitive match-up but Roma should pull it out.
The game schedule for the home and away, knock-out competition, where the higher seed gets to play the rubber leg at home, is:
Juventus v Tottenham (13 February and 7 March)
Basel v Manchester City (13 February and 7 March)
Porto v Liverpool (14 February and 6 March)
Real Madrid v PSG (14 February and 6 March)
Chelsea v Barcelona (20 February and 14 March)
Bayern Munich v Besiktas (20 February and 14 March)
Sevilla v Manchester United (21 February and 13 March)
Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma (21 February and 13 March)