After its winter hiatus, the Champions League is back and while some clubs will be eying Tuesday and Wednesday’s knockout phase ties with green eyes (Manchester United and Ajax, we’re looking at you), others will be licking their lips at the prospect of taking on the best of the best.
Winning the Champions League is the realistic pinnacle for any elite footballer who plays for a country who are never going to win the World Cup, so for English teams in particular, the dream of winning the former European Cup is that bit closer to coming true as the knockout stages of the competition resume.
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Who’ll come out on top in the first four fixtures across Tuesday and Wednesday? Let’s take a look.
Barcelona to win and both teams to score (23/10)
The Round of 16 kicks off with a fixture that will conjure memories of one of the best games in Champions League history as Barcelona host Paris St. Germain at 8pm on Tuesday.
Back in March 2017, Luis Enrique was at the helm to oversee a miraculous Nou Camp comeback as Sergei Roberto netted a 95th-minute winner to complete a 6-1 victory after the La Liga side had lost the first game in Paris 4-0. Before that legendary last-gasp goal, two Neymar strikes either side of clock ticking round to 90 minutes gave Barcelona a way back into the game and by a quirk of fate, the gifted Brazilian now plies his trade in Paris.
Due to an injury just a few days ago, however, Neymar will not make the Camp Nou leg of the tie and that, coupled with fellow South American winger Angel Di Maria missing through injury too, leads us to believe that Barcelona will draw first blood.
With Mauricio Pochettino adept at leading his teams to improbable victories in the Champions League, the former Spurs and Southampton manager – who rumour has it turned down the Barcelona job on more than one occasion – will know that any away goal keeps the tie alive and we’d expect his team to get it.
Over 3.5 goals in RB Leipzig vs. Liverpool (7/4)
Is an away fixture in the Champions League knockout phase the worst thing Liverpool could face, or the perfect opportunity to start a fightback against their poor run of form? That question will be answered one way or the other when Jurgen Klopp’s side take on last season’s semi-finalists in the competition, RB Leipzig, at 8pm on Tuesday evening.
After consecutive defeats in the Premier League to Burnley, Brighton and Leicester City, Liverpool’s defence looks there to be shot at and Leipzig are no pushovers, having run Bayern Munich closer than anyone in the German Bundesliga so far this season. While they are unfancied by most at 45/1 to win this year’s competition, Leipzig will be hoping to perform like Bundesliga outsiders Bayer Leverkusen in the 2001/02 season and reach the final. If they do so , they’ll have travelled one step further than they did last year after going out in unfortunate fashion against the eventual runners-up PSG in the semi-finals.
Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, who joins Bayern in the summer, will be hoping to sign off with a huge victory under his belt and therefor will be desperate to keep out Mane, Salah and Firmino, but we can see goals going in at both ends, with Leipzig conceding against both Augsburg and Mainz in recent Bundesliga games. Liverpool, of course, have let in 10 goals in their most recent five games, so have real problems at the back and the over 3.5 goals market could be the best bet, especially if there is an early goal.
Our tip: Over 3.5 goals(7/4)
Ronaldo to score and Juventus to beat Porto (7/4)
It’s hard not to see Juventus drawing Porto as being one for the romantics as – just 48 hours after Valentine’s Day – Cristiano Ronaldo will hope to get another step closer to his heart’s desire – a sixth Champions League winner’s medal.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid talisman already has one more than his old foe Lionel Messi, of course, but Ronaldo will have prepared his body for the Champions League above all this season and would love it if he can stretch his incredible record in this competition a little further as the game kicks off at 8pm on Wednesday evening.
While a packed-out Estádio do Dragão would be a formidable task for any team to overcome, Portugal’s favourite son should have no problem helping his team to a victory on his home country soil with no fans present.
Sevilla to beat Borussia Dortmund by one goal (3/1)
Borussia Dortmund haven’t won in Spain since they beat Atletico Madrid on their way to winning the Champions League in 1996.
This time, Sevilla face their German counterparts in by far the better form, with the seemingly-perennial Europa League superpowers enjoying a run to the knockout stages of the Champions League whilst simultaneously playing themselves into top four contention in Spain over the New Year period.
The only time Sevilla made it past the Champions League Round of 16 was back in the 2017/18 season when they were eventually beaten by – you’ve guessed it – German opposition in the quarter-finals in the shape of Bayern Munich.
This could be a close game, but we’d go with the hosts by a single goal. Odds of 3/1 are just too large for the most probable victory on current form.
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Champions League Round of 16 Fixtures
Tuesday 16th February:
Barcelona vs. Paris Saint Germain (8pm GMT kick-off)
RB Leipzig vs. Liverpool (8pm GMT kick-off)
Wednesday 17th February:
FC Porto vs. Juventus (8pm GMT kick-off)
Sevilla vs. Borussia Dortmund (8pm GMT kick-off)
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