Next week sees the long-awaited return of the UEFA Champions League, with eight round of 16 matches scheduled to take place on February 12th, 13th, 19th and 20th.
There’s certainly some mouth-watering contests scheduled to take place on these dates, with a resurgent Manchester Unite taking on big-spending PSG and last years’ beaten finalists Liverpool doing battle with Bayern Munich.
In this post, we’ll see which sides are most likely to reach the promised land of the quarter-final.
How will the English Sides Do?
We’ll start with Manchester United’s clash with PSG, with the first-leg of this content scheduled to take place at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
When the draw was made at the beginning of December, PSG fans would have been licking their lips at the prospect of taking on a wounded and conflicted United side that was flailing under Jose Mourinho’s stewardship.
Since sacking the Portuguese and hiring former playing star Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, however, United have won nine of their 10 games in all competitions while beating both Spurs and Arsenal on the road. At the same time, PSG have confirmed that the talismanic Neymar will miss both legs with a fractured metatarsal, depriving the Parisians of one of their key attackers.
PSG retain plenty of firepower in reserve, of course, while the bookies continue to make them narrow favourites to progress. The odds of a United win are shortening, however, and a good result at Old Trafford could go a long way to continuing their form and PSG’s poor record in the knockout stages of the UCL.
Next Wednesday, Mauricio Pochettino’s patched-up Spurs side will take on Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund at Wembley.
Both Harry Kane and Dele Alli will miss this match due to injury, and while Tottenham have managed to win three consecutive league games since losing to United at Wembley, they’ve exited both domestic cup competitions and struggled without their star attackers during the same period.
The absence of Kane and Alli has certainly weakened Spurs’ resolve ahead of their clash with Dortmund, particularly with their opponents in sparkling form and currently seven points clear at the top of their domestic league.
The German side also possess immense pace and a fluid passing game, which could well thrive in the wide open spaces of Wembley. With this in mind, Mauricio Pochettino may well be counting the cost of his high-profile absentees come Thursday morning.
Liverpool’s clash with Bayern Munich will headline on Tuesday, 19th February, with the Reds looking to balance another Champions League run with a bid to win their first top-flight domestic title since 1990.
This two-legged tie will pose a challenge to Liverpool, despite their excellence so far this season and Bayern’s patchy domestic form. After all, Jurgen Klopp’s men have flattered to deceive of late, whilst losing a five point lead at the top of the EPL. They’ve also struggled to hit the performance heights of last season, with this years’ consistency founded on a solid defence and greater squad depth rather than individual attacking brilliance.
With that being said, they’ve reserved two of their best performances for Europe this season, with home games against PSG and Napoli revealing the Reds at their offensive best.
If they can showcase the same levels of intensity and aggression against a far from dominant Bayern side, we’d back them to secure a crucial advantage in the tie at Anfield and proceed to the quarter-finals.
The last English side in action is Manchester City, with the champions in buoyant mood having recently returned to the top of the Premier League.
They’ve also been blessed with a slightly more straightforward trip to FC Schalke in the first leg of the UCL knockout stages, with the German side languishing in 12th place in the Bundesliga with just 22 points from 20 matches.
It’s hard to look beyond a City win here, with Pep Guardiola’s men having won nine of their last 10 games in all competitions and scored 38 goals in the process.
So, we’d expect them to secure a comfortable win in Germany on February 20th, before completing the job in the return leg at the Etihad Stadium.
What About the Other Ties?
From the other ties, one of the standout fixtures will see a free-scoring and youthful Ajax side take on defending champions Real Madrid.
Ajax secured a thrilling 3-3 draw with Bayern Munich during the group stages, while their pace and slick passing game will pose a threat to any side left in the competition. However, they’ll be hard pressed to beat an improving Madrid side, who are looking for an unprecedented fourth consecutive European title and continue to showcase consistency both at home and on the road.
Madrid’s Spanish rivals Barcelona will also travel to take on French side Lyon on 19th, with the Ligue 1 outfit looking to build on their superb performances against Manchester City during the group stages (they took four points off the English champions and won convincingly at the Etihad).
With Barca struggling to hit their very best form, Lyon may sense an opportunity to spring an upset and the home leg at the Olympic Stadium will prove crucial if they’re to achieve this aim.
We’ve also got our eyes peeled for the clash between Atletico Madrid and Juventus on 20th February, which is likely to produce a fascinating tactical contest between two immovable objects.
This could well be a low scoring tie where defences reign supreme, but we should not forget that Juve now boast the all-time record high Champions League goalscorer in their ranks. Even though he has now left La Liga, it would be typical of former Real star Cristiano Ronaldo to return to Madrid and put Atletico to the sword.