The Champions League is back, and the favourites are a familiar bunch. The coronavirus pandemic has put a block on crowds cheering their clubs on in the last-16, with some first-leg matches taking place in completely unrelated countries. Here is what's to come:
It’s been a couple of months since the draw was made, so here’s a reminder of the fixtures we have coming up:
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Tuesday 16 February
- Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain
- Leipzig v Liverpool
Wednesday 17 February
- Porto v Juventus
- Sevilla v Borussia Dortmund
Tuesday 23 February
- Atletico Atletico v Chelsea
- Lazio v Bayern Munich
Wednesday 24 February
- Atalanta v Real Madrid
- Borussia Monchengladbach v Manchester City
State of play
The two favourites for the tournament seem obvious, at the time of writing. Bayern Munich are dominating the Bundesliga and face a tie with Lazio, while Manchester City are on a long unbeaten run which has propelled them to the top of the Premier League ahead of their meeting with Borussia Monchengladbach. Below those two, Liverpool have gone off the boil, while Atletico Madrid are setting the standard in La Liga, with Barcelona doing their best to catch up.
Tie of the round?
It has to be Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain, but it’ll have to go some to match their last meeting in the competition. Four years ago, at this stage, PSG took a shock 4-0 to the Nou Camp - with the Catalan side needing to make history to go through by overturning such a deficit.
That they did, as the Parisians crumbled to a 6-1 defeat, conceding three goals in the 88th, 91st and 95th minute to go through 6-5 on aggregate. We’ll take similar drama.
Champions to cruise through?
Bayern Munich had an odd start to 2021, with a shock German Cup defeat to Holstein Kiel following a slip-up at Borussia Monchengladbach. But since then, Hansi Flick’s side have found their feet again, winning the Club World Cup.
The 2020 winners go to Lazio, who have Ciro Immobile in exceptional form. Bayern should go through, but can not be complacent.
The dark horses
There’s an argument that Atletico Madrid continue to be underestimated outside of Spain. Diego Simeone’s side have ignored noise around the troubles of Barcelona and Real Madrid to take control of La Liga, with Luis Suarez enjoying a renaissance.
Chelsea are their opponents, now managed by the head coach who guided PSG to the final last year - Thomas Tuchel. It is an intriguing tie - the Londoners are a side in yet another transition, led by a man with significant experience in the competition. You would not bet against either club going deep.
Juventus haven’t been at their dominant best in Serie A this season, but with Cristiano Ronaldo, anything’s possible. I Bianconeri head to Portugal to face Porto, a team who certainly haven’t struggled to score this season.
Sevilla against Borussia Dortmund is a tricky one to call, but the Spanish side continue to go well domestically and have fashioned themselves as European specialists. That nous makes Julen Lopetegui’s men a squad to be wary of.
Pressure on Zidane?
Focus at Real Madrid is once again switching to Zinedine Zidane’s future in charge, during an underwhelming season with a fair share of shock results. As record European Cup winners, it’s often a competition Real raise their game for, and in theory they should cruise through against an Atalanta side which haven’t reached the same heights as the previous campaign.
But the Italians have already beaten Liverpool in the Champions League, just three months ago, and Real will have to be on their guard. Should they lose, it could prove a death knell for Zidane's second tenure at the Bernabeu.
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