The Champions League Reveals the Field for the Round of 16

A select few songs give me the chills like Tony Britten’s “Champions League,” anthem can. The song is a masterclass and I had to mention it before I got into Monday’s draw. Anyways, early on the morning of Dec. 14, UEFA made the annual announcement of the fixtures for the Champions League’s Round of 16. The event started with a recap video of every team left in the competition, and then was followed by the draw. The draw consists of two men spinning mini soccer balls with each remaining team’s name on them around a bowl and then pulling one out at random.

There are two bowls, one for the group winners of the group stages of the competition, and another bowl for the runners-up from each group. Group winners are paired with runners-up, and cannot be paired with teams who were in their group for the group stages or teams who are in the same domestic league. For example, two Spanish teams cannot be paired for the Round of 16. Surely, there may be a better way to draw the squads, but the tradition remains. Regardless, the best sixteen teams in European football now know their opponent for the competition’s next stage, and the matches should be scintillating.

Let’s take a look at the matchups and make some predictions.

Mönchengladbach (Germany) vs Manchester City (England):

This matchup is an interesting one. Interesting in the idea that not many people expected Mönchengladbach to still be alive in the competition. However, they were solid in group play, drawing both Inter Milan and Real Madrid once each and dominating Ukranian club Shakhtar Donetsk by a combined score of 10-0 in the two matches between the sides. Their forward Alassane Pléa scored five goals in the group stage and paced the front line. On the other side, Manchester City is expected year in and year out to be in this position, and to be a contender to win the whole thing. A matchup with Mönchengladbach sets them up quite well to make a run in this year’s competition. City just has too much talent to lose this tie. I expect Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne to pick the German side apart and advance to the next round. 

Prediction: Manchester City 3 Mönchengladbach 1 

S.S. Lazio (Italy) vs FC Bayern München (Germany):

You have to feel for Lazio. They were unbeaten in a tough Group F with Dortmund, and their reward is to face the title-holders and favorites to win the whole competition in Bayern. Prolific Lazio forward Ciro Immobile has been absolutely brilliant for the Italian outfit and will try to deliver some magic in the knockout stages, but Bayern is just too formidable of a foe. Expect Bayern’s frontline of Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry, and Robert Lewandowski to dominate the Lazio defense and move on to the next round. It also does not hurt that Bayern can bring pacy wingers Leroy Sané and Kingsley Coman on late in the match to relieve their star-studded forwards. Bayern is just too deep and too good to fall to a Lazio side that is probably just happy to be in the Round of 16. 

Prediction: Bayern 5 Lazio 1

Club Atlético de Madrid (Spain) vs Chelsea FC (England):

Okay now this is a match I am really looking forward to. Atléti are a side that have shown they can be dangerous in the knockout stages, and knocked off Liverpool in last year’s tournament in one of the biggest shocks of the knockout ties. Manager Diego Simone has proven time and again that he can take the club from Madrid deep in the competition and play with any of Europe’s elite. Meanwhile, Chelsea is a really dangerous squad this year. With forwards Timo Werner, Olivier Giroud, Christian Pulisic, Hakim ZIyech, and Kai Havertz all looking clinical in front of goal, they are a tough side to defend. But if anyone is going to put out a team that will defend for 90 minutes in each leg of the fixture, it is Diego Simeone. He is known for his defensive tactics, and time-wasting masterclasses. Expect a hard-fought Atléti victory in the fixture, and for the men from Madrid to progress to the next round.

Prediction: Atlético 2 Chelsea 2 (Atlético wins on away goals)

RB Leipzig (Germany) vs Liverpool FC (England):

Another great matchup in the knockout stages. Leipzig needed a victory on the last day of the competition’s Group Stage to get through to the knockout stage, and here they are. They made their way through a brutal group that included Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United. The German side are already battle-tested in this year’s competition, and will be a tough squad to beat. Meanwhile, Liverpool dominated Group D and lost just one game in their first six. They are the winners of the 2019 Champions League crown, and will look to make a run again this year without their star center back Virgil van Dijk. Despite missing the big man at the center of the defense, Liverpool still has a talented frontline that can score on anyone almost at will. Mo Salah, Diogo Jota, Sadio Mané, and Roberto Firmino all can punish backlines at any moment, and are one of the best striking units in the Round of 16. I expect Liverpool to advance to the Round of 16, but not without a fight from a young and talented Leipzig side. 

Prediction: Liverpool 3 Leipzig 2

FC Porto (Portugal) vs Juventus (Italy):

To be completely honest, I think Juventus fans will be happy to see this draw. Porto is probably one of the weaker sides left in the competition and Juventus is in great form. In the last game of the group stage, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juve side smashed Barcelona 3-0 and topped their group. Porto was impressive in the group stage, taking care of everyone not named Manchester City in their group. The issue is that they struggled mightily in their two matches with the side from Manchester, who are closer to the level of Juventus than any other team they have faced thus far. I expect Juve to beat Porto fairly easily in this fixture.

Prediction: Juventus 4 Porto 1

FC Barcelona (Spain) vs Paris Saint-Germain (France):

This is the best match in the Round of 16, without a doubt. It is a rematch of the famous “La Remontada” comeback that Barcelona had against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in 2017. In that tie, PSG won the first leg 4-0 and looked to be in the driver’s seat, only to be dismantled by Barcelona 6-1 in the return leg. That Barcelona comeback was aided by then-Barcelona winger Neymar Jr., who is now the star of PSG. He had two goals, and the winning assist to Sergi Roberto. This year, PSG and their star-studded frontline of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe will go against an aging-GOAT in Lionel Messi and his Barcelona squad. In recent years, both sides have struggled to win the Champions League despite being contenders and favorites every year. PSG was closest of the two last year when they lost a heartbreaker to Bayern by a score of 1-0 in the Final. Tears streamed down Neymar’s face at the final whistle as he lay defeated on the Lisbon grass. Is this the year PSG gets over the hump? Can Mbappe and Neymar breakthrough and ascend themselves to the best-attacking duo in the world? I think they will make another run, and take out a struggling Barcelona side that was embarrassed by Juventus on the last day of the group stage matches. No Remontada for Barça this year.

Prediction: PSG 3 Barcelona 1

Sevilla FC (Spain) vs Borussia Dortmund (Germany):

A battle of perennial domestic second-fiddles. Sevilla, normally a step below Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain, and Dortmund, living in the shadow of Bayern in Germany. To be fair, Sevilla has been dominant in Europe as of late… just not in the Champions League. They have won the Europa League a record six times, and many have joked on social media that Sevilla hoped to land thereafter the group stages to gather more hardware. But to their surprise and many football supporters, here Sevilla are in the Round of 16. Dortmund, on the other hand, is a bit of a different story. They showed a lot of promise in the Champions League last season, before being dispatched by PSG in the Round of 16 due to a second leg collapse. Dortmund forward Erling Haaland had six goals in just four matches in the group stage, and will look to pad his stats even more in the knockout stages. Expect Dortmund to win and progress to the Round of 16. 

Prediction: Dortmund 4 Sevilla 2

Atalanta BC (Italy) vs Real Madrid CF (Spain):

This match is another one that is very exciting. Since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Madrid, Real have not been the same. Though they have enjoyed some success domestically, winning La Liga last season, they have struggled mightily in the Champions League. In the group stages, they had to wait until the last day to secure their place in the Round of 16 with a 2-0 win over Mönchengladbach. We just have not seen the same dominance that we are used to seeing from Los Blancos, and I do not expect that to change in this year’s competition. Atalanta is a hungry side that has surprised a lot of people in recent years. In the 2018 and 2019 Serie A seasons, they finished in third place and showed that they were a force in the Italian domestic league. Then, last season they progressed all the way to the Champions League Quarter-Finals before being knocked out by eventual runners-up in PSG. I am going to predict an upset in this knockout tie and think Atalanta will knock out Real Madrid.

Prediction: Atalanta 2 Real Madrid 1