Tough Battles Expected In Champions League Round Of 16

A preview of what to expect in the UCL round of 16

So, how is your Valentine’s Day going? Of course, like many people, it is time to publicly display love and affection. At which point come the UEFA Champions League knockouts where love does not exactly feature.

This stage presents some top-heavy fixtures, partly because this is what the Champions League is about but mainly because some of the traditional teams failed to pull their weight.

Barcelona will play in the Europa League Round of 32 for a second consecutive season because they could not defeat Bayern Munich or Inter Milan. Atlético Madrid are still trying to solve their own problems using the same tools that brought them here. Juventus are trying to adapt to their new status. Indeed, that always takes time. 

At the other end are Napoli, Frankfurt, Club Brugge, and Benfica, who are bravely looking to make the step up.

Now, these fixtures will be played over two gameweeks for maximum entertainment.

PSG vs Bayern Munich

For all it is worth, PSG will be slightly disappointed after finishing second in the group stages. This is for the simple reason of avoiding opponents like this at such an early stage. Yet, this is fairly where they should be after two 1-1 draws against Benfica, the leaders of the group.

Christophe Galtier has struggled with injuries to his senior players, leading to some bizarre losses in the league and an exit from the Cup competition.

But with Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi having resumed training this week, the Marseille-born manager will hope that they are fit enough to deliver.

This is a repeat of the 2020 final

Even more, their inclusion changes everything, especially how they might yet set up. First, the aim will be to gain control of the midfield against a player like Joshua Kimmich. Marco Verratti will be highly influential in this regard.

The former Nice manager will also be keen on a quick build-up that finds the front three as quickly as possible. The fluidity of the trio will determine what happens in terms of scoring.

Similarly, the Parisians must be more resolute in defence than they have been in 2023. Marquinhos and Sergio Ramos will be consistently tested by Bayern Munich’s quick attack.

On the other hand, Julian Nagglesmann will be confident in his team. His side has been free-scoring, free-flowing since the start of the year.

Jamal Musiala has been exciting. The 19-year-old will hope to affect the game, especially with his brilliant dribbling ability and vision. Leroy Sane will also look to test the pace and resolve of Nuno Mendes.

Everything points to a fiercely contested affair that should produce goals.

Prediction: over 2.5 goals

Odds: 1.53

AC Milan vs Tottenham

After nine seasons, AC Milan are back at this stage of the Champions League. And somehow, it has been a tough year early on, with the team managing just one win in their last eight matches and being 18 points behind the Serie A leaders, Napoli.

Stefano Pioli will be eager for a game with few mistakes from his side. Missing Ismael Bennacer, the Italian manager will count on Sandro Tonali for control in midfield.

Simon Kjaer and Fikayo Tomori will get the job of limiting Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son. Rafael Leao’s pace and trickery on the flanks will be key to finding openings in the Spurs defence. Olivier Giroud will be expected to hold up the play, and find teammates who will be willing to run in behind.

Tottenham will be relying on Kane

Antonio Conte will first need to psyche the boys after an awful Premier League game against Leicester City.

The Italian boss, who must be familiar with this opponent, will set up his team to contain. Kane will naturally drop deep to find Son. 

Indeed, Tottenham’s wing-backs, Ivan Perisic and Emerson, will look to stretch the pitch as much as possible. 

The fixture looks sure to be end-to-end.

Prediction: goal/goal

Odds: 1.85

Club Brugge vs Benfica

After three early wins in the Champions League group stage, Club Brugge failed to win any of their final three. But that was enough. Now they face a tricky test against Benfica for a quarterfinal spot.

Things have been bleak for the Belgian side even before the appointment of Scott Parker. And in truth, not much has changed after he drew five of his first seven matches.

Against a Benfica side that were exciting in the group stages, Parker must know what he is up against. Even at home, they are unlikely to get much of the ball. Hence, Jack Hendry and Brandon Mechele will need to concentrate fully.

Benfica will fancy their chances

In offense, Ferran Jutglar and Noa Lang are his most dangerous players. The duo will hope to find each other and take their chances against Benfica’s 3-man defence.

For Roger Schmidt, the team’s fluidity, quick passing, and dynamic movements will be key to what they achieve in Belgium.

With the loss of Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea, Chiquinho will partner with Florentino Luis in midfield. Goncalo Ramos will hope to get the nod ahead of his Portuguese counterpart, Goncalo Guedes, in attack.

Benfica are the favourites to win this encounter, yet the hosts will make for an interesting affair.

Predictions: Benfica double chance

Odds: 1.23

Borussia Dortmund vs Chelsea

Borussia Dortmund will be confident against a lacklustre Chelsea side that has laboured for wins this season despite the influx of new signings. 

Of course, it must be said that Graham Potter’s men have been brilliant on the continent.

The Bundesliga side have enjoyed an excellent start to the year, winning six consecutive matches in all competitions.

Edin Terzic will once again count on his energetic and skillful Jude Bellingham to cut the opponent’s supply chain in midfield, progress with the ball, and find the forwards.

Karim Adeyemi has improved since the turn of the year and will hopefully start. The winger possesses a combination of trickery and vision useful in creating chances for Sebastian Haller, who should lead the line.

The Blues will get a hosile welcome in Dortmund

Potter is under pressure, having won just three of his last 14 matches. And with Todd Boehly’s recent investment in the squad, the results will be highly anticipated. Most importantly, the English manager must begin to get his side scoring goals.

Joao Felix, Mykhaylo Modryk, and Kai Havertz must find a way to combine and find spaces in the Dortmund defence. 

Enzo Fernandez has impressed since his big-money arrival from Portugal. His calming influence as well as his ability to create chances from deep will be crucial in what Chelsea do going forward.

There is plenty to expect from this fixture, which has the makings of a goal fest.

Predictions: over 1.5 goals

Odds: 1.28