Champions League Round of 16 Preview

By Max, 16

With 4 Champions League Round of 16 games coming up this week, 4 potentially season-defining matches for 8 of Europe’s top teams await us. Let’s look ahead to the fixtures this week, some key players to watch and my predictions for the matches, to get fully prepared for the football to come.

Game 1 – Manchester United v Paris Saint-Germain (12/02, 20:00 GMT)

Despite PSG’s recent 2-1 loss to Lyon, the Ligue Un leaders are enjoying domestic dominance, as they have done for the last four or five years in France. The loss looked like nothing but a blip from the European powerhouse, but could still be a sign of worse to come. With injuries sustained by Neymar and Edinson Cavani (who is a doubt for the game), the French side are short on attacking options and may have to rely on their usually solid defence to get them through this tie, against Manchester United’s undoubtedly potent attacking force which they may find hard to keep quiet over the two legs. Marcus Rashford’s recent Premier League Player of the Month win goes to show the attacking freedom allowed by Ole Gunnar-Solksjaer, new United boss, which has carved teams to shreds since he took over, unbeaten and with 11 wins from his 12 so far. Paul Pogba also seems to have rediscovered his fabled form from Juventus having had a fairly quiet start in his first few seasons at Old Trafford, with 14 goal contributions in his first 10 games under the new manager. United looked unconvincing in the group stage, only managing 7 goals in their 6 group games, whereas PSG knocked in 17. They had a better defensive record than their opponents in the previous stage, reflective of old boss Mourinho’s defensive style, so it will be interesting to see how Solksjaer approaches this tie. The pitting of two of Europe’s giants against each other promises to deliver a fantastic tie, with what should hopefully see two attacking styles going head-to-head in two tightly contested games.

Player to watch – Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

The competition’s joint top assist maker so far, with 4 assists to this point, can cause havoc for any defence and create magic moments seemingly at will. Without PSG’s main attacking talismen available in at least the first leg, the Frenchman is going to have to provide even better service for Tuchel’s other attacking selections, or PSG are unlikely to stand a chance. He can also score goals himself, currently Ligue Un’s top scorer with 18 goals, adding 6 assists to his impressive goal contribution tally as well. PSG fans will be hoping to see more of that if they’re to stand any chance against the confident Red Devils, who come into this one in fantastic form.

Prediction: United to scrape through this one due to PSG’s injury crisis. United to take the first leg 2-1, with home advantage being a huge factor.


Game 2 – Roma v Porto (12/02, 20:00 GMT)

The 2004 winners and current Primeira Liga leaders Porto have had a fantastic season despite their mediocre form of late, winning just 2 of their last 5 games (2 drawn and a loss on penalties as well). They do, however, stand a fantastic chance in this tie if their Champions League form so far is anything to go by. They cruised to the top of their group, winning all but one of their games, a 1-1 draw with eventual runners-up Schalke. Roma, on the other hand, have endured a fairly poor season so far, off the pace in 6th in Serie A but just one point off 4th placed AC Milan. Their recent 7-1 Coppa Italia Quarter Final loss to Fiorentina is indicative of how poor their defence have been this season, keeping just 8 clean sheets in 31 games in all competitions. This is compounded by the fact that star centre back Kostas Manolas may not be available for the first leg, still reportedly recovering from an injury. They will need their shaky defence to be at their best in this one, as Porto’s attack has proven its worth in the competition so far, scoring 15 goals in the group stage. However, they will find some relief in the fact that Moussa Marega, Porto’s top scorer in the competition and third overall on 5 goals, is currently injured going into the tie. Last year’s semi-finalists Roma have been known to enjoy a run in Europe in the past, and there’s no reason why they can’t get through this one. Although neither of these sides are really in the conversation when it comes to potential winners this year, a quarter-final place for one of them would be considered a success and maybe even the start of a shock run to greater things, as Porto managed in 2004.

Players to watch – Edin Dzeko (Roma)

Although Dzeko’s domestic form hasn’t been too great, bagging just 5 Serie A goals this season, he has an impressive goals/minute ratio in the Champions League so far and is joint third scorer in the competition on 5 goals. If he can continue this impressive European form and forget about his domestic shortcomings, Roma will stand a much better chance in this tie.

Prediction:This one could go right to the wire, as both sides appear to be fairly evenly matched. Roma must still be sore from their 7-1 loss to Fiorentina and this tie will be a big test of their collective mentality. Porto, on the other hand, come into this one having won 76% of their Primeira Liga matches and not looking like slowing down any time soon. Despite Porto obviously playing in an easier league, the confidence edge could give them a massive boost in this first leg, so my prediction is a 2-1 away victory for the Portuguese outfit.


Game 3 – Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund (13/03, 19:45 GMT)

These two sides are no strangers to each other in European competition, having played 4 games since their Europa League clashes in March 2016, in which Borussia Dortmund progressed 4-2 on aggregate. The North Londoners got their revenge the next year, beating Dortmund in both of their group games. Dortmund are currently sitting pretty at the top of the Bundesliga but come into this one in rather unconvincing form, having drawn their last three games, featuring a huge choke against Hoffenheim which saw their opponents pull the game back from 3-0 down to salvage a 3-3 draw on Saturday. Their attack need not worry though, as they’ve tucked away 13 goals in their last 5 games in all competitions, but their defence will need to remain solid if they’re to keep Spurs, and particularly Heung Min-Son, quiet. They will find some relief from the fact that Harry Kane and Dele Alli are injured, despite Alli’s cryptic social media post which read ‘feeling good’ which was posted recently. Alli could feature at some point having returned to light training, but it’s very much in doubt and it’s unlikely that Pochettino would want to aggravate his hamstring injury further. Spurs are third in the Premier League and have won 4 of their last 5 Premier League games, so come into this one brimming with confidence. Their defence has been solid in recent weeks, conceding just 4 goals in their last 5, but as previously mentioned, Dortmund’s attack has the potential to problems for any defence. Their Champions League form has been less impressive, scraping through what could be considered a tough group but putting in some unconvincing performances nonetheless, such as a draw with PSV and loss to Inter. As such, it should be a fascinating affair at Wembley between two rather inconsistent sides on the whole, but if Dortmund can keep their defence tight, they stand a very good chance of victory here.

Player to watch – Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)

Sancho comes into this one after one of the best performances of his career against Hoffenheim, with his direct running and silky dribbling causing headaches for several defences this season and benching Christian Pulisic, a mainstay of the Dortmund side over the past few years. Sancho has chipped in with 16 goal contributions in 21 Bundesliga matches this season and could have had more. He is clearly a stunning young talent and whoever Pochettino’s defenders are on Wednesday night have a massive task to mark Sancho and Reus out of the game. It will be interesting to see how he approaches it with a wealth of defensive talent at his disposal.

Prediction:Spurs’ injury crisis will harm them in this one and they’ll probably look quite weak going forwards as they did against Newcastle, but if they use Son correctly I’d expect them to get a result out of the first leg. It’s such a tough one to predict that I’m going to sit on the fence and say that this one will be a 1-1 draw at Wembley, setting up a crucial second leg for both sides.


Game 4 – Ajax v Real Madrid (13/03, 20:00 GMT)

Ajax have already proven their quality against top European opposition this season, earning two very respectable draws against Bayern Munich, 1-1 and 3-3 in those ties. They currently sit 2nd in the Eredivisie, 6 points off first placed PSV, however, and go into this match off the back of a shock 1-0 loss on Saturday against Heracles, as well as a crushing 6-2 loss to Feyenoord at the end of last month, but were able to soften those blows with a 6-0 win over VVV Venlo to kick off this month. The loss of star midfielder Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona could prove a huge factor in this tie, as Real Madrid’s midfield is undoubtedly quality in every area and Ajax have a hole left by the young Dutchman’s departure in the centre of theirs. Current Champions League holders Real are second in La Liga, with Santiago Solari rectifying former manager Julen Lopetegui’s shortcomings which saw them start the season very disappointingly. A 3-1 away victory against fierce rivals Atlético on the weekend is massive for their confidence going into this game, with Gareth Bale netting his 100th goal for Los Blancos. They are unbeaten in their last 7 coming into this fixture, scoring goals for fun at the moment and gaining a creditable draw with Barcelona last week in the Copa del Rey Semi Final (first leg). Real have looked rather unconvincing in the Champions League so far though, losing two games of their six, in a group that they should really have been expecting to take home all 18 points available. Ajax are still unbeaten in this year’s competition, with impressive defensive performances bar their 3-3 draw with Bayern a key factor in their progression to the Round of 16 stage. Ajax definitely face an uphill battle against clearly much stronger opposition, but with the way they’ve performed so far in the Champions League, it’d be foolish to rule them out completely.

Player to watch: Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax)

19 year-old wonderkid de Ligt has had a top season so far for Ajax, slotting into a very strong defence which already has the likes of Nicolás Tagliafico at left back and André Onana in goal. His ball playing will be crucial as Ajax will be looking to keep the ball at every given opportunity, as he’s completed 90.5% of his passes in his team’s Champions League campaign so far, and Real are unlikely to have too much luck with crosses or long balls too, de Ligt winning 3.4 aerial battles on average per game in the competition this season. His influence will be key if Ajax are to have any chance in this one.

Prediction: This game could be closer than expected, as Ajax have been rather reliable at home this season and though inconsistent, when they turn up, they turn up, their 8-0 win over De Graafschap an example of this. However, I do think that the youth in their side could bring naïvety along with it and playing a side as esteemed as Real Madrid, winners of the last 3 Champions League, could be too big an ask for such a young team. I have to go with a Real win here, a comfortable 2-0 victory.






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