Champions League Round of 16 Preview: Which teams will advance to the next round?

Champions League Round of 16 Preview: Which teams will advance to the next round?

Soccer

Champions League Round of 16 Preview: Which teams will advance to the next round?

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After a two-month layoff, the remaining 16 contenders begin their home and away matches on Tuesday, February 18th.  The European continent is broadly represented except for the Netherlands and Portugal, who failed to have any teams qualify beyond the group stage.  Let’s take a closer look at the 16 remaining teams and predict who will go on to the quarter-final stage of the tournament.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Paris Saint Germain: Currently near the top of the Bundesliga table, BVB have lost four matches in 21 games, which is as many as they lost all last season.  With Jadon Sancho having a stellar season with 12 goals and 13 assists and striker Marco Reus netting 11 times, the front line of Dortmund has played well this season.  The back line, however, has been disappointing, having given up key late goals that have kept BVB out of the top spot.  Their defense will have to improve if they are to get past Paris Saint Germain, who are offensive- minded as well.  While PSG once again is cruising to another Ligue 1 title, it is the European silverware that has eluded them.  PSG ownership has been keen to win the Champions League each year, yet they have been eliminated from competition before the final rounds are played. Having already scored twice as many goals as their nearest rival while ceding the least goals in Ligue 1, PSG once against sets their sights on European domination. With key offensive weapons Cavani, Neymar and Mbappe keen on leaving Paris at the end of the current campaign, this might be the best opportunity for PSG to show Europe just how dominant a French team can be.  Look for offensive-driven matches with plenty of shots, with PSG advancing to the next round by an aggregate score of 8-5.

Real Madrid CF vs. Manchester City: Credit Zinedine Zidane with his team currently in the top spot in La Liga, having lost just once so far this season.  With an impressive offense, the big difference is the team’s stingy defense, ceding the fewest goals in La Liga this season.  With oft-maligned Karim Benzema already scoring 13 goals and with six assists, almost every player has contributed offensively.  And with new man Eden Hazard spending most of the season on the sidelines due to injury, the team will only improve once he returns.  As for Manchester City, with Liverpool firmly in control of the top spot in the EPL, Champions League silverware will be a target that manager Pep Guardiola would relish.  With Aguero, Sterling and Jesus ensuring the Sky Blues have scored the most goals collectively in the EPL during their current campaign, the defense has let the team down this season.  Key defender Aymeric Laporte was injured early in the season and is only now starting to return to the line-up.  Kyle Walker and Nicolas Otamendi are beginning to show their age, while former Everton defender John Stones has proven to be a disappointment.  This should be an entertaining match-up, with City having slightly more firepower and Real holding the edge defensively.  Look for Real Madrid to advance to the next round of play by an aggregate score of 4-3.

Atalanta vs. Valencia: Atalanta continues to be the dark horse in European football, yet is currently in fourth place in Serie A.  With a payroll 1/6 the size of Juventus, the team earned about $140 million when they advanced beyond the CL group stages, which effectively covers their payroll for the entire year.  Having scored the most goals in Serie A so far this season, they rely up front on double digit goal-scorers Josip Ilicic (14) and Luis Muriel (12), with precision-like passes from midfielder Alejandro Gomez (10 assists).  Their defense is somewhat porous, however, having ceded the most goals of the top six teams in Serie A.  As for Valencia, they currently find themselves in seventh place in La Liga, having finished fourth last season.  Crashing out of the Copa del Rey against mid-table Grenada after hoisting the trophy last season, they were able to beat Barcelona the week before, demonstrating what an unpredictable team this really is.  Offensively they are led by Maxi Gomez and Dani Parejo (9 and 6 goals), with midfielder (and Barcelona transfer target) Rodrigo having 7 assists.  With an average defense, these two teams would seem similar on the surface, but many observers see Valencia on a downward spiral with Atalanta being somewhat of a CL Cinderella story.  Look for Cinderella to advance to the next round of play against Valencia by an aggregate score of 3-2.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. RB Leipzig: After a slow start to the season that saw long-time manager Mauricio Pochettino sacked, Spurs have shown a bit of a resurgence under new manager Jose Mourinho.  Tottenham have played well despite having lost world-class striker Harry Kane for the rest of the season due to a ruptured tendon. But the Special One seems to have rallied the troops, with their last EPL match a 2-0 upset win against Manchester City.  With Kane out, Spurs rely on striker Son Heung-Min and midfielders Lucas Moura and Dele Alli for their offensive output.  Defensively they are anchored by a veteran duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, along with long-time keeper Hugo Lloris.  For Leipzig, currently fighting for the top spot with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, they are led offensively by forward Timo Werner, who has netted 20 times in 21 appearances his season. But their strength is their defense, placing them second in the Bundesliga in goals ceded in the current campaign.  Although Tottenham got as far as the finals in last year’s CL competition (losing to EPL rivals Liverpool), Leipzig has played well since their holiday break, tying Bayern Munch in an away match.  Look for a hard-fought set of matches with RB Leipzig advancing to the next round by an aggregate score of 3-2.

Liverpool FC vs. Atletico Madrid: With Liverpool firmly in control of the top spot of the English Premier League, they can focus on repeating as European champions.  It’s hard to imagine them crashing out of the tournament given their teams’ balance. They are led offensively by Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane, while the Reds have a strong midfield with Roberto Firmino, veteran James Milner and England international Jordan Henderson. Defensively, Virgil Van Dijk is probably the best center back in football.  Add in Brazilian keeper Alisson, and Liverpool looks like a team destined for glory in 2020. For their Spanish opponent Atletico Madrid, the season has not gone as well as manager Diego Simeone would have liked. Having crashed out early in the Copa del Rey and unlikely to surpass Real Madrid and Barcelona in the La Liga table, this might be Atleti’s last chance for silverware in 2020.  It’s unlucky that their opponent is among the best in the world right now.  They picked up starlet Joao Felix in the summer transfer window, but also lost several key players in that same window.  Atleti relies heavily on their defense, given their anemic goal-scoring abilities.  That might be enough to secure them a spot in next years’ Champions League competition in La Liga, but it will not be enough to find their way through to the next round of play.  Look for Liverpool to advance to the quarter-finals by an aggregate score of 6-2.

Lyon vs. Juventus: While Lyon finished in third place last season to qualify for a Champions League spot, they currently find themselves in 9th place.   Offensively they are led by Moussa Dembele with 13 goals and Netherlands international and former Manchester United striker Memphis Depay, who has netted nine times so far this season.  The midfield is anchored by Thiago Mendes, who leads the team with six assists.  Their defense against Ligue One opponents is strong, having given up just under a goal a game this season.  Unfortunately, their opponent is Serie A perennial powerhouse Juventus, with former Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri at the helm. Currently battling Internazionale as well as Lazio for the top spot in Serie A, Old Lady supporters are already calling for Sarri to be sacked and for former manager Max Allegri to return, so the Champions League matches are critical if Sarri is to retain his stature (and his job) in Turin.  Juve are led by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo up front, who has scored 20 goals in 20 Serie A matches.  Supporting CR7 up front are Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, each of whom have netted five times.  Their midfield is led by veterans Juan Cuadrado and Blaise Matuidi, with Bonucci and Sandro controlling the back line.  While they are fighting for the top spot domestically, the matches against Lyon should be considerably easier, with the Old Lady comfortably advancing to the next round of play by an aggregate score of 7-2.

FC Barcelona vs. Napoli: While currently in a dogfight for the top spot of La Liga with Real Madrid, Barcelona is a team in turmoil.  Having fired their manager Ernesto Valverde last month, the job was turned down by Barca legend Xavi Hernandez and Dutch manager Ronald Koemann until third choice and former Real Betis manager Quique Setien agreed to take the helm in a deal that could see him gone at the end of the season. With age catching up with the team and injuries decimating their front line (Suarez and Dembele), there have been internal squabbles as well.  Even the great Lionel Messi has been unable to single-handedly turn their fortunes around, perhaps due to his advancing age.  For the Blaugrana, their one saving grace might be facing a team whose problems are worse than their own.  Napoli, having finished runner-up in Serie A last season, now find themselves in the bottom half of the current table and have lost more games than all last season.  Firing managerial legend Carlo Ancelotti in December now seems like a move of desperation, as the team has nose-dived in the Serie A table. Managed by former AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso, they have some talented pieces, with Dries Mertens and Hirving Lozano up front and Kalidou Koulibaly anchoring the defense.  But this team seems unable to play well as a unit and may well be blown up in June.  As for their chances of advancing to the next round of play, look for Barcelona to beat Napoli by an aggregate score of 4-2 and advance to the next round of play.

Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea: While there is still ample time left in the Bundesliga, Bayern find themselves fighting to maintain the top spot in the Bundesliga with only four points separating the top four teams.  But this is a team with a goal differential of +35 that can beat any team given the talent and depth of their roster.  Bayern’s offense is led by Robert Lewandowski, who has netted 22 goals in 21 league matches.  Their midfield, led by Thiago, young Canadian phenom Alphonso Davies and Barcelona loanee Philippe Coutinho, might be the best in Germany. And with their central defense anchored by Jerome Boateng and Joshua Kimmich, this is a team that can shut down even the best goal-scorers.  For Chelsea, after they were able to get their transfer ban reduced from two windows down to one, they failed to sign any players during the winter.  With the team beginning to falter, the lack of players obtained through the winter transfer window will accelerate the team’s fall in the second half of their season.  Their sole striker, Tammy Abraham, has played with some minor injuries this season, with his replacement, Michy Batshuayi, largely ineffective in the position.  With the veterans on the squad reduced to the bench (if named to the squad at all), manager Frank Lampard has relied heavily on his youthful academy players with mixed results.  What is clear is that the Blues do not possess the talent and quality to get past The Bavarians.  Look for Bayern Munich to beat Chelsea both at home and at Stamford Bridge by an aggregate score of 6-2.

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