Despite being an event specific to Europe, the Champions League remains the biggest annual football competition in the world, and when the Round of 16 gets underway in February, football fans from all nations will be paying attention. The field has been narrowed down to a very worth group of contenders for the most part, which means when matches resume on February 12, we’ll be in for a few months of truly world-class football.
Here’s a brief overview of the eight pairings ahead.
Roma v. Porto
This is almost a difficult pairing to discuss, because it has two of the weakest clubs remaining but could also be one of the most closely contested. Porto breezed through the group stage with the highest point total of any remaining team, and has a fairly reliable, veteran attacking unit that could propel it further. Roma will be relying on last year’s semifinal experience to make a run, though this team is severely depleted (having lost Radja Nainggolan and Alisson Becker from last year’s group). It’s almost a toss-up, but we might give the slight edge to Porto.
Manchester United v. PSG
PSG comes into the Round of 16 looking like a World Cup All-Star team, led by the three-headed monster of Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappé. There’s been some inconsistency with this group though, which can also be said of its less talented but plenty capable opponent, Manchester United. It does feel like the recent firing of José Mourinho at Man Utd. might just make for a little too much turmoil for the group to overcome so much talent from Paris though.
Tottenham Hotspur v. Borussia Dortmund
This is a terrific pairing from a pure entertainment standpoint. Both clubs play fluid, attacking football, and while both are a slight tier below the top teams in Europe, either can look like a true power on a good day or night. Tottenham will come in hot after a strong finish in the group stage, while Dortmund will be looking for an exciting run to build some momentum for the years to come given its young roster. This one’s a legitimate toss-up.
Ajax v. Real Madrid
Real Madrid is not what it was a season ago, and is far less reliable in big matches, though it’s still getting better in its post-Ronaldo era as evidenced by the recent acquisition of Brahim Diaz from Manchester City. Ajax, meanwhile, has absolutely nothing to lose. It’s into the Round of 16 for the first time in decades and has at least a chance to knock out the significantly weakened defending champion. Frenkie De Jong will need to have some of the best matches of his career to lead Ajax on, but it’s possible. We’d take Real Madrid, but not with much confidence.
Lyon v. Barcelona
Like Ajax, Lyon is probably in the “just happy to be here” camp at this point. Unlike Ajax however, the French club doesn’t appear to have much of a chance. Barcelona isn’t as good as it’s been the last few years but it’s still in with a chance at the Champions League title, and by the look of things Lionel Messi is going to be healthy and fit for this pairing. Barcelona should manage to advance fairly easily.
Liverpool v. Bayern Munich
This is a fascinating matchup between an up-and-coming power and one on its way out. Bayern Munich is frankly getting a little old, and still has the talent to contend without being a favorite anymore. Liverpool, meanwhile, is looking to improve upon last year’s title match run with a legitimate chance to do so. They’re one of the reasons talk of an English title is being taken seriously in betting markets and among football pundits around the world. This pairing could go any direction, but we’d take Liverpool by a slim margin.
Atlético Madrid v. Juventus
In a strange way, this pairing feels like it was destined to happen. That’s because it pits Cristiano Ronaldo, now with Juventus, against his stingiest of former adversaries in Atlético Madrid. This Atlético squad can actually attack a little bit better than some previous iterations and perhaps not quite defend as well, which could leave them vulnerable to Ronaldo and his Juventus teammates. But perhaps more than any other matchup in the Round of 16, this one feels like it will be won by whichever team shows up with a more inspired effort.
Schalke v. Manchester City
This is far and away the most lopsided pairing in the knockout stage. Schalke did well to advance in unlikely fashion from its group, but has little to no chance of beating Manchester City, which is still among the finest teams in Europe.