After a two-month layoff, the 16 remaining UEFA Champions League teams begin their home-and-away matches on Tuesday. The European continent is well-represented, with seven individual countries represented by those 16 teams. Let’s take a closer look at those clubs, and predict who will go on to the quarterfinal stage of the tournament.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Tottenham Hotspur FC: Currently in the top spot of the Bundesliga and having lost just once in 21 games, manager Lucien Favre has his squad playing at their highest level in years. While star attacker Marco Reus is unlikely to play in the upcoming match due to a muscle injury, BVB has other scoring options, with Jadon Sancho likely to be thrust into Reus’ spot should the veteran not be fit in time. But as the game on Saturday demonstrated against Hoffenheim, it is their defense that will determine BVB’s fate, having given up three goals in a 12-minute period late in the match while settling for a draw.
Tottenham have played well despite having lost world-class striker Harry Kane and midfielder Dele Alli to injury, and both players will be missed in their opening match against Dortmund. With both players expected back for the second leg of round of 16, Spurs fans are guardedly optimistic that their team can reach the next stage of the CL tournament. While BVB will give Spurs all they can handle, look for Mauricio Pochettino’s men to advance to the next round of play by an aggregate score of 5-3.
Real Madrid CF vs. AFC Ajax: After a slow start to the Real Madrid season which led to the termination of first-year manager Julen Lopetigui, his replacement Santiago Solari has led a resurgent Real Madrid team to second place in La Liga. With a solid defense led by captain Sergio Ramos, they seem to have weathered the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo by relying more on veterans Benzema and Bale, as well as Brazilian teen-age phenom Vinicius Junior.
Ajax, currently in second place in the Dutch Eredivisie, relies upon a potent offense, having scored a league-best 72 goals in 21 matches in league play. Widely known for developing talent at the youth level, they recently completed a deal to send their star midfielder Frenkie de Jong to Chelsea for a reported $85 million at the end of the spring campaign. While being a top team each year in the Eredivisie, they will likely prove to be no match for the Galacticos, who are in the midst of a resurgence. Real Madrid will easily advance to the quarter-final round of the CL with an aggregate score of 7-2.
Paris Saint Germain FC vs. Manchester United FC: While PSG once again is cruising to yet another Ligue 1 title, it is the European titles that have eluded them. PSG ownership have been keen to win the Champions League each year, yet they have been eliminated from competition before the final rounds are played. They will have a tough road to the finals, though, with superstar Neymar out until late April at the earliest with a metatarsal injury. Further injuries on Saturday include striker Edinson Cavani and full-back Thomas Meunier. Both of whom will be out for at least the first leg of the Manchester United matches.
Expect a PSG front line led by 20-year-old Kylian Mbappe along with Julian Draxler and Angel Di Maria. With PSG being a formidable opponent against most adversaries, Manchester United have been playing arguably the best football in Europe since Jose Mourinho was replaced by former Red Devil Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. With the possible exception of Alexis Sanchez, every player seems to have taken their level of play to the next level, led by French international midfielder Paul Pogba. With the Red Devils seemingly destined to advance and PSG having some key players out due to injury, look for a spirited home and away competition between these two regional titans with Manchester United advancing by a combined score of 4-3.
FC Porto vs. AS Roma: Currently in the top spot of Portugal’s Primeira Liga, Porto are led by veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who has featured in 20 successive UEFA Champions League campaigns and will be playing in his 100th CL match. The Dragons’ strength is their defense, which is anchored by veterans Pepe and Felipe, and have ceded just 12 goals in 21 matches in league play, and important tip for betting.com fans that bet on soccer.
Roma, currently in a three-way tie for fourth place in Serie A, are led up front by strikers Stephan El Shaarawy and Eden Dzeko, with midfielder Daniele De Rossi and central defender Aleksandar Kolarov the other key field players for Roma. Expect both teams to play conservatively, relying on their defense while taking advantage of counter-attacks and free kick opportunities. In the end, look for Roma to advance to the next round of play by an aggregate score of 3-2.
Juventus FC vs. Atletico Madrid: With the Old Lady comfortably in front of second place Napoli in Serie A, Juventus have set their sights on the CL cup, having last played in the final two years ago and losing to Real Madrid 4-1. While Juventus have several key players on their roster, none have the star power of Cristiano Ronaldo, who arrived from Real Madrid at the start of the season. Having scored 17 goals with 6 assists in 23 matches, CR7, along with fellow striker Mario Mandzukic, have tallied half of Juventus’ goals this season.
The Old Lady faces a formidable opponent in Atletico Madrid, currently in third place in La Liga. Led by goal-scorer and French international Antoine Griezmann, they possess a stingy defense led by center-back Diego Godin and goalkeeper Jan Oblak. This matchup is expected to be one of the toughest ones in the round of 16, with both teams evenly matched. Look for the front line of Juventus to be the difference-maker between these two solid teams, allowing the Italian side to squeeze past Atletico 4-3 and advance to the next stage of competition.
Manchester City FC vs. FC Schalke 04: After overtaking Liverpool to take sole possession of the top spot in the EPL standings via a 6-0 shellacking of Chelsea on Sunday, Man City now set their sights on German side Schalke. Scoring a league-leading 74 goals in just 27 matches, they are led offensively by Sergio Aguero with 14 goals, Raheem Sterling with 10 goals, followed by Leroy Sane with eight and Gabriel Jesus with six. The midfield is led by Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho with veteran Vincent Kompany anchoring their defensive.
For Schalke, who finished second in the Bundesliga last season, they now find themselves mired in 14th place and just seven points clear of the relegation zone. Offensively they have scored only 25 goals in 21 matches, with their top scorer, midfielder Daniel Caligiuri, netting just four goals. Their defense has fared slightly better, ceding 32 goals in those 21 games. Can this defense hold back the goal-scoring machine that is Man City? This competition would seem to be the most one-sided in the round of 16. Look for a combined two-match score of 7-1 with Man City advancing to the CL quarter-finals.
FC Barcelona vs. Lyon FC: Currently in the top spot of La Liga, Barca can feel Real Madrid breathing down their necks. For Barcelona, their first key injury was to defender Samuel Umtiti, with forward Ousmane Dembele just returning from injury on Sunday. More critically, Lionel Messi has been in the lineup either as a starter or a substitute, but it’s clear that he has sustained an injury that is hampering his level of play. Barca has had to rely on Philippe Coutinho, who has been a disappointing $170 million purchase from Liverpool FC, and Luis Suarez, who has just been, well, disappointing.
Currently in third place in Ligue 1, Lyon relies on veteran leadership on defense, with their starting back line averaging 30 years of age. But their midfield and forwards have one player who is 25, with the rest of squad in their early 20s. If Lyon is to have any chance to beat Barca, they will have to use this youth (and pace) to their advantage. But even without a few key players, Barca has seen this before, and they will adjust to it accordingly. Look for Lyon to put up a spirited battle, but Barcelona will emerge to advance to the next CL round via a 5-3 aggregate score.
Bayern Munich vs. Liverpool FC: While there is still ample time left in the Bundesliga, Bayern find themselves in second place, five points behind Borussia Dortmund. But this is a team with a goal differential of +23 that is capable of beating any team given the talent and depth of their roster. Bayern’s offense is led by Robert Lewandowski, who has netted 13 goals in 21 league matches. And with their central defense anchored by Jerome Boateng and Matt Hummels, this is a team that can shut down even the best goal-scorers. They also have starting goalkeeper and team captain Manuel Neuer returning to the lineup, having missed the past three games due to a hand injury.
For Liverpool, they have found success this season in the EPL, trailing Manchester City on goal differential but still have a game in hand. While they are led offensively by Mohammed Salah with 17 goals and Sadio Mane with 12 goals, they also have Roberto Firmino (9 goals) and Xherdan Shaqiri (6 goals) available. The midfield is controlled by veteran James Milner and England international Jordan Henderson, while the defense has made huge strides from prior seasons with the addition of Virgil Van Dijk. This might be the closest and most evenly matched of all the teams in round of 16, but I think an improved defense on the part of Liverpool will pay dividends and their offensive weapons will be too much for Bayern to counter. Liverpool lost in the CL final to Real Madrid last year, but will advance at least to the quarter-final rounds by beating Bayern Munich by an aggregate score of 5-4.