Today marks the return of the UEFA Champions League, and I will be breaking down each tie and giving my prediction for the aggregate score.
February 12/March 6
Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain
A month and a half ago, this looked like a very different tie. Manchester United were a club that were struggling against the “negative tactics” of José Mourinho (who would later be sacked), and PSG were in top form. Today, Manchester United have their mojo back, and are a team that are brushing aside just about any team they face. This will be a massive test for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men, but PSG are missing two key pieces in Neymar and Edinson Cavani. I still think PSG have sufficient quality to compete with Manchester United, but they may have to grab a crucial away goal or two.
Prediction: Manchester United through 4-3 on aggregate
AS Roma vs. FC Porto
I would like to think that there is no such thing as a straightforward knockout round tie, but Roma would have been pleased to learn that they drew Porto when they could have drawn the likes of PSG, Juventus, or Bayern Munich. Still, FC Porto have a good deal of quality about them, and have Iker Casillas leading them as their goalkeeper, and his experience should never be counted against. However, I still think that Roma have too much quality for Porto to contain throughout the tie. I believe Roma will advance, but their inconsistency could make it less straightforward.
Prediction: AS Roma through 5-1 on aggregate
February 13/March 5
Ajax vs. Real Madrid
Ajax are probably one of my favorite stories on the continent of Europe. A club that truly embraces developing its own youth to the point, where they have a standardized program for all of their youth academy players from the time they are about 8-year-olds until they become a part of the senior training setup. Sadly, their reward for making it out of the group stage is one of the toughest possible ties that they could get. Real Madrid should relish their chances in this tie, but that does not mean that they can underestimate the Dutch side who took a point from an exciting 3-3 draw. Real Madrid are loaded with quality and have put themselves together, but this still isn’t a foregone conclusion that they are through.
Prediction: Real Madrid through 6-2 on aggregate
Tottenham vs. Borussia Dortmund
Tottenham managed to barely get out of their tough group after getting some help from PSV Eindhoven on the final matchday that saw them clinch a spot in the knockout stages. Domestically, Tottenham have been getting the necessary results, but the absences of Dele Alli and Harry Kane should cause panic among Tottenham supporters. Dortmund fans may be happier because their opponents don’t have their top-class goalscorers, but they have had a leaky defense at times this season. They possess plenty of quality from the likes of Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus, but Dortmund will have to play 90 tough minutes twice if they hope to get the better of their English counterparts. If Dortmund can secure an away goal or two, it will go a long way to punching a ticket into the next round.
February 19/March 13
Lyon vs. Barcelona
Lyon present an interesting opponent to Barcelona as they have gone toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in Europe, Manchester City. While they haven’t been convincing domestically this season, Lyon are still a quality side and possess sufficient attacking quality to hurt Barcelona with the likes of Nabil Fekir and Memphis Depay. Barcelona have been far from convincing lately, and head into the match following a 1-0 victory over Real Valladolid this past weekend. They have been better in Europe, but their defensive fragilities could be exposed if they are unable to get off to a fast start against Lyon.
Prediction: Barcelona through 3-2 on aggregate
Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich
Liverpool look like a side who have rediscovered themselves following a series of disappointing draws in the Premier League. Their European form has been a little more mixed, but this tie could be the most intriguing of all the matchups in the last 16 of the Champions League. Bayern Munich have surged up the Bundesliga table, and sit only three points behind Borussia Dortmund. They cruised in the group stage of the competition, but Liverpool has the quality to hurt a Bayern defense that has looked exposed at times throughout the season.
Prediction: Liverpool through 2-2 on aggregate (away goals rule)
February 20/March 12
Atlético Madrid vs. Juventus
Atlético Madrid are one of the most interesting cases in the Champions League as they have a degree of team spirit about them, but they find ways to advance despite their lack of goalscoring ability at times. I don’t doubt their quality in this kind of tie, but they are not facing a team that possesses a flowing attack, and therefore is a team that they can frustrate until they nick a goal or two. Juventus are a prototypical Italian team: solid defensively with enough attacking prowess to bag the goals when needed. They have dominated Serie A for years now, and this represents another major hurdle for the team now led by the masterful Cristiano Ronaldo
Prediction: Juventus through 3-2 on aggregate
Schalke 04 vs. Manchester City
Schalke represent an interesting opponent because their domestic struggles have seemed like an alternate reality in Europe’s top competition. They certainly have the skills to give Manchester City plenty of problems, but may not have enough to overcome the gap in quality during the away leg. Manchester City would be happy with this draw as they avoided the likes of Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich by virtue of topping their group. City should be able to navigate this tie, but they will want to bag an away goal or two so that they won’t have to sweat out a nervy home leg.
Prediction: Manchester City through 5-2 on aggregate