Previewing the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matchups

Bradley Piros, Sports Editor

 

The UEFA Champions League returns in a little over two weeks now and the anticipation for some of these Round of 16 matchups is through the roof. Let’s take a look at those matchups and predict who will make it through to the quarterfinals.

Of the eight matchups, three of them are pretty easy to predict in my opinion, so let’s start with those.

The first, and easiest to predict, is F.C. Barcelona (Spain) vs. S.S.C Napoli (Italy). While Barcelona has had their fair share of embarrassing Champions League exits, this won’t be one of those. Napoli doesn’t have much of an attack. Their leading goal scorer, Arkadiusz Milik, has seven goals this season. Following him are two players with four goals, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens. Running straight at them will be Barcelona’s new three-headed monster, MSG. The greatest player on earth Lionel Messi has 14 goals, Luis Suarez has 11 and new signee Antoine Griezmann has seven. Napoli will be lucky if they score at all here. Barcelona has the easiest trip to the quarters.

The next easiest matchup belongs to Juventus F.C. (Italy). They’ll be taking on Olympique Lyonnais (France). Juventus made it to the final in 2017 and lost 4-1 to Real Madrid C.F. (Spain). Since then, they’ve shown some promising signs of improvement, then they signed Christiano Ronaldo. Mr. Champions League leads his team with 17 goals, but two of them only came in the tournament. It doesn’t matter, though, because he has plenty of help scoring with the likes of Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado, Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain. Oh, and they have one of, if not the best, defenses in the world right now. A bold prediction here maybe, but these guys are going straight to the final, I don’t care who you put them up against next.

Next is Valencia CF (Spain) against Atlanta, B.C. (Italy). I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one. On goes Valencia I guess. They’ll be knocked out next round anyway. That brings us to the matchups that actually get difficult to predict. Five of the eight Round of 16 pairings are final worthy matchups, so let’s take a look.

Tottenham Hotspur F.C. (England) takes on RB Leipzig (Germany) next, and I have to go with Leipzig here. Tottenham just released Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose recently, and I think that will be enough to throw them off. Their play has been pretty average in the Premier League and they have never really done well on the big stage. Even though they got to the final last year, I think that will be a far cry this time around. Leipzig will get through in one of the closest matchups and probably get eliminated by their next opponent.

Alright, now we’re into the really good ones. Let’s kick it off with Chelsea F.C. taking on FC Bayern Munich. Chelsea is led by Tammy Abraham with his 13 goals in the Premier League and they have an all around good squad, but I think Bayern is just slightly better through and through. They’re led by one of the most prolific goal scoring machines in the world right now, Robert Lewandowksi. His 21-goal campaign thus far is impressive, and I’m just not so sure Chelsea’s defense will be able to shut him down. I think Bayern will struggle a little in their own back field, but they should see it through.

Some people might think this one is pretty one-sided, but I don’t. Athletico Madrid (Spain) takes on Liverpool F.C. (England). Liverpool are the reigning champs and are pretty much expected to do it again, but Athletico could give them a shock upset. Their problem is goalscoring, but they make up for that with their stellar defense and arguably the best goalkeeper in the world right now in Jan Oblak. In the end, Liverpool’s attacking three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have combined for 28 goals in all competitions and I just don’t see Athletico being able to weather the storm long enough to pick up a shocking upset. On goes Liverpool all the way to the final for the third year in a row, most likely.

Next up is the matchup that I am most anticipating, Borussia Dortmund (Germany) up against Paris Saint-Germain F.C. (France). It’s just something about the youth of these teams and the overall quick pace of play they both share that will make this one exciting to watch. PSG is co-led by Kylian Mbappe and Neymar with 13 goals each. They’re followed up by Mauro Icardi with nine and Angel Di Maria with six. Scoring isn’t a problem for this club, and neither is their defense in particular. They just have a tendency of choking on the biggest stage. Dortmund is led by Jadon Sancho with 11 goals and Marco Reus with 10. They are one of the youngest clubs in the tournament still and I think that is their biggest downfall. Most of PSG has at least some experience on the big stage, and that’s why I think they’ll head on to the next round.

The last matchup is between two of the world’s richest clubs, Real Madrid C.F. (Spain) and Manchester City F.C. (England). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Real Madrid has not been the same since Ronaldo left. The main problem without him is scoring. They are led by Karim Benzema with 12 goals in the Spanish Primera Division and are followed by Casemiro with an underwhelming three. While their defense remains rock solid with Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Raphael Varane, they just can’t seem to score, even with the insertion of Eden Hazard. City, on the other hand, has had no problem scoring. They’re led by the legendary Sergio Aguero with 16 goals, followed by Raheem Sterling with 11 and Gabriel Jesus with nine. Not to mention the two best midfielders in the world (Kevin De Bruyne for City and Luka Modoric for Madrid) will be on the same pitch at the same time and this one is really tough to call. My mind says City, but Madrid always seem to figure it out somehow.

The Round of 16 starts on Feb. 18 with Atletico Madrid vs. Liverpool and Dortmund vs. PSG. These should all be some pretty exciting games. Only time will tell if my predictions are anywhere near right.