The UEFA Champions League resumes this midweek with the knockouts, and boy have we all missed it.
Indeed, the group stage was nothing like we have had in recent seasons. It was filled with upsets and surprises.
Borussia Dortmund failed to qualify from a group that had Sporting and Ajax. Similarly, Barcelona, for the first time in almost two decades failed to advance. Worse still, they scored just two goals in six matches- both against Dynamo Kiev.
For whatever it is worth, too, Sevilla managed to sneak themselves into the Europa League when they seemed the favourites to top the group pre-tournament.
After a bizarre draw exercise, it’s now time for the qualified teams to face off. The eventual results still spell plenty of excitement and drama. The fixtures, however, will be played over two game weeks.
PSG vs Real Madrid
This is arguably the biggest fixture of this round. It pits the most successful team against a team desperately looking to be one.
Somehow, PSG, with the array of stars they parade have not been able to achieve fluidity in attack. While they top the Ligue 1 table, the Parisians have struggled in many games, managing to score late.
All eyes, including Mauricio Pochettino’s, will be on Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi to bring their respective qualities to bear in this tie.
No player has hurt Real Madrid more than Messi. And yet, the Argentine is yet to hit form- by his standards- at his new club.
Both teams will expectedly look to exploit whatever spaces are available, especially on the break. Although, the Spanish side will likely have more control in midfield owing to the qualities of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in midfield.
Vinicius has been stellar this season for Carlo Ancelotti’s side. The Brazilian will be keen to impress once again.
Los Blancos, however, are sweating on the fitness of in-form forward, Karim Benzema.
This fixture will be end-to-end and mostly decided by an individual act of genius.
Prediction: PSG 2-1 Real Madrid
Sporting vs Manchester City
The Premier League leaders look the favourites to advance. In fact, they are the bookmakers’ favourite to win the Champions League.
And yet, Sporting will look to cause an upset, wearing their underdog tag. The Portuguese side only advanced to this stage based on a better head-to-head result against Borussia Dortmund.
With nothing to lose, Ruben Amorim’s men will look to exploit Manchester City’s high defensive line. Pablo Sarabia will prove key with his creativity.
Pep Guardiola remains under pressure to win this competition with the English club and he knows it. His team was knocked out in last season’s final by Chelsea.
As usual, they will look to control the possession, while trying to find pockets of spaces to hurt the opposition.
Kevin de Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling are players Sporting will hope to tame.
This tie feels largely one-sided. It is difficult to see any other winner than City.
Prediction: Sporting 0-2 Manchester City
Salzburg vs Bayern Munich
Salzburg has overachieved just by qualifying for this stage. Hence, the objective for the be Austrian side will be to push its luck as far as possible.
Taking on one of the best teams in the group stages, Matthias Jaissle’s men will be wary of committing too many forwards too quickly.
However, if they get chances, at home, the 33-year old manager will count on Karim Adeyemi to put them away.
Julian Nagglesman will be desperate to arrest his side’s recent league form. The Bavarians lost 4-2 to VFL Bochum last weekend.
Robert Lewandowski will fancy his chances against this opposition, hoping to increase his UCL tally.
The Bundesliga leaders will be aggressive out of possession, hoping to win the ball in dangerous areas of the pitch.
Bayern Munich will expectedly ease through this tie.
Prediction: Salzburg 0-3 Bayern Munich
Inter vs Liverpool
Last season’s Seria a Champions have not been as dominant expected domestically and continentally.
And now, they will need to raise their game against a Liverpool team that won every group stage match in the UCL.
Simeone Inzaghi’s men did not win any of their last two matches against top oppositions- something they will be keen to avoid on Wednesday.
Marcelo Brozovic will be important for the Nerrazurri in midfield. While the efficiency of their attack will be determined by the partnership of Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez. Ivan Perisic will hope to find joy against full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.
For Jurgen Klopp, the objective will be to close down Inter’s midfielders as quickly as possible.
With Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah available for this one, the attention will be on them to get the goals.
The Reds are slight favourites to win. However, the Italian side will be desperate to avoid defeat at home.
Prediction: Inter 1-2 Liverpool