The international break is over, and now the remaining eight UEFA Champions League squads will begin their home and away matches on Tuesday. The English Premier League is well represented, with three of the remaining eight teams top EPL contenders, while uncharacteristically, no Bundesliga teams remain. Let’s take a closer look at the eight remaining teams and predict who will go on to the semifinal stage of the tournament.
Manchester City FC vs. Tottenham Hotspur FC
This matchup between two top-shelf EPL teams should prove to be both competitive and entertaining. Pep Guardiola has won his past three meetings against Mauricio Pochettino and City will be the favorites, but anything is possible in this match-up.
There is a sense by some that Tottenham could finally win a major piece of silverware in the CL after their impressive victories against Dortmund in the last round of play. Harry Kane and Dele Alli have returned from injury and are in top form, and the fact that Spurs will be playing in their new stadium as opposed to Wembley should provide a huge boost in their home match.
City are in great form, though, having won their last 13 games (if you include the Carabao Cup final win on penalties against Chelsea). With Fernandinho and Kevin de Bruyne back from injury, however, Manager Pep Guardiola has a full complement of healthy players. This makes Spurs’ task even harder.
Expect Tottenham to give Manchester City all they can handle, but the quality and depth of the Manchester City squad will prove to be too much to overcome for Spurs. Manchester City will advance to the next round of play by an aggregate score of 5-3.
Juventus FC vs. AFC Ajax
These matches should prove to be a great opportunity for Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo to take a step closer to the only title that has eluded them now that they have won seven straight Scudetti and are cruising to an eighth Serie A title.
CR7 showed why the club signed him for $112m at the age of 33, scoring a hat-trick in the return leg against Atlético Madrid as Juve squeezed through 3-2 on aggregate. Their manager, Max Allegri, likes to change his formation depending on the opposition and has been boosted by the recent upturn in the form of players such as Emre Can and Federico Bernardeschi.
Juve, however, should expect a battle from Ajax. The Eredivisie powerhouse rattled Bayern Munich in the group stage and embarrassed Real Madrid in the last round of CL play. Ajax prefer to play a 4-2-3-1 formation under Manager Erik ten Hag but they’ve occasionally gone to a 4-3-3, against Benfica and Bayern for example – with Daley Blind going into midfield in the latter game. The former Southampton forward Dusan Tadic has been outstanding in this European run, as has 25-year-old Netherlands-born Morocco international Hakim Ziyech. Add to that their young Dutch stars, such as Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt, and this competition shapes up as a battle of youth vs veterans.
While it was mainly the heroics of CR7 that allowed Juventus to advance past Atletico Madrid, it will be the veteran leadership of the Old Lady as a team that will see them through to the next round of play, knocking a spirited but largely inexperienced Ajax squad out of the competition by an aggregate score of 4-2.
FC Barcelona vs. Manchester United FC
This should be the most entertaining match-up in this round of the competition, with a rejuvenated Manchester United taking on arguably the best team in Europe currently. United were somewhat fortunate to advance past Paris Saint Germain in the previous round – not just because of the late VAR-penalty but the fact that PSG were the better team over the two legs. But with Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford up front, newly-appointed Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team have the attacking power to hurt Barca.
But much like Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus, the Catalan club have Lionel Messi and, as he has shown against Lyon in his last CL match, there is sometimes no answer to that man’s creative genius. Although suffering a groin injury while playing for Argentina during the international break, Messi is said to be fit and ready for the upcoming round of competition against the Red Devils. While the Blaugrana have a solid foundation under Manager Ernesto Valverde, Barca’s success will largely ride on the play of their talisman Messi.
While the home-and-away matches will be spirited affairs, the quality of Barcelona and their #10 will prove to be too much for the Red Devils to overcome. Look for Barcelona to advance to the next round of CL matches by an aggregate score of 4-3.
FC Porto vs. Liverpool FC
This is largely a repeat of last year’s round of 16 when Liverpool blew Porto away, winning 5-0 at the Dragao followed by a goalless draw at Anfield. But this year, Manager Jurgen Klopp’s team are unlikely to repeat that result as this season’s Porto squad have a tougher defensive unit.
Porto, together with Ajax, have been the surprise of this season’s Champions League competition. While it’s true that their group, consisting of Galatasaray, Lokomotiv Moscow and Schalke was one of the easiest, they have scored 19 goals in eight Champions League games and eliminated Roma in the last round (although they needed extra time to go through).
Porto’s coach, Sergio Conceição, has done a remarkable job with a mediocre squad. Their style of play is more physical than in recent years, with some of their best players, such as Alex Telles (left-back, assist maker and penalty taker), Éder Militão (rugged defender) and Danilo (defensive midfield linchpin), comprising the core of a solid defensive unit. Liverpool will miss suspended defender Andy Robertson in the first leg. But the Reds possess a wealth of talent, from a front line of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah to a back line anchored by center-back Virgil van Dijk.
Porto has yet to face an opponent with this level of quality in this year’s CL tournament and will find Liverpool to be a tough opponent. While Porto will play a more defensive style of football, ceding the Reds possession and field position while waiting for a counter-attack, Jurgen Klopp is familiar with that style of play and will be prepared. Look for Liverpool to beat Porto by an aggregate score of 4-1 and advance to the next round of play