Monday’s Champions League Last 16 draw threw up some intriguing match ups as five of the English clubs through to the knockout learned their fates. Chelsea who were the only English club to finish runners up in their respective groups were paired with La Liga leaders Barcelona, fellow Londoners Tottenham were paired with last years losing finalists Juventus while Manchester United will travel to Sevilla for the first leg of their last 16 tie.
City will travel to Basel while Liverpool were drawn with Portuguese outfit FC Porto. Probably the tie of the round saw last years winners Real Madrid paired with Paris Saint Germain. Bayern Munich who finished behind the French leaders were paired with Turkish outfit Besiktas who have impressed in the competition topping a group which included French champions Monaco, Besiktas and German’s surprise package of last season RB Leipzig. Italian side Roma complete the draw as they are paired with Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk.
Here is my reaction and previews to these mouth watering ties being played in February 2018 involving the English clubs, including probably the biggest of the lot, Real Madrid vs Paris Saint Germain:
Chelsea vs Barcelona
After finishing runners up in their group, second to Roma, Chelsea were faced with the repercussions as they were paired with Barcelona once again. This match up has thrown up some frantic spectacles in recent years, probably the most memorable being Andres Iniesta’s dramatic winner on aggregate at Stamford Bridge in 2009, a game which had Didier Drogba sent off for his altercation with the official. Chelsea were on course for a successive Champions League semi-final with Manchester United until Iniesta broke their hearts with a spectacular strike in stoppage time. Barcelona then went to lift the trophy easily dispatching of Manchester United 2-0 in the final held in Rome.
Chelsea’s record against Barcelona
Chelsea got their own back a few years later as they beat the 2011 champions on aggregate after an impressive showing at the Camp Nou. A freak game which involved Messi uncharacteristically missing a penalty against the Bar and an off form Fernando Torres sealing the tie with Chelsea’s second goal. The blues then went on claim the trophy of their opponents in the final against Bayern Munich on their own turf.
Chelsea have arguably the most unfavourable tie matched up with Ernesto Valverde’s men in a week where Antonio Conte conceded his sides Premier League title ambitions have been brought to an end following their defeat to West Ham over the weekend.
However, Barcelona have not been at their best this season despite being top of La Liga. Valverde has changed the style over at the Camp Nou which has only ignited some of the doubters over his appointment at the start of the season. Though Chelsea may feel, they can cause an upset in this tie; Valverde has vastly improved Barcelona’s defence, the time of shipping goals at a canter last season under Luis Enrique has been brought to an end by Valverde’s rigid style. Suarez’ form has suffered as a result, as well as Barca being heavily reliant on the brilliance of Lionel Messi than they’ve ever been.
The return of Ousmane Dembele from a long term injury could further boost Barcelona’s chances but Chelsea cannot be ruled out of this one if the 2012 result between these two is anything to go by.
This game is too close to call.
Barcelona: Lionel Messi
Chelsea: Eden Hazard
Real Madrid vs Paris Saint Germain
Probably the tie of the round.
Maybe, just maybe we will finally see just how good Paris Saint Germain really are as they are paired with last years winners and 12 time champions Real Madrid. Can Unai Emery’s French giants stop Real Madrid’s run to another Champions League glory. Who maybe causing the upset here? I doubt it would be PSG as they are looking a real force to be reckoned with scoring an incredible 25 times in the group stage. A Champions League record.
Over recent seasons, Paris Saint Germain have always fallen short of reaching the next level but this year they are tipped for greatness especially on the European stage, and that brings massive expectations on Unai Emery and his side to deliver. With the impeccable front three of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and probably the most exciting youngster right now in Europe, Kylian Mbappe. Few people would bet their mortgage that PSG would run out winners come the final in Kiev next year.
Despite Real Madrid’s shaky form this season, when you have five time Ballon D’or winner Cristiano Ronaldo on your side, you’re always bound to come up trumps. Zidane has proven a brilliant coach during his time at the helm, but how motivated are Real Madrid to try and match the lofty ambitions of last year, famously lifting the domestic and European double? The loss of Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez have hit Zidane and his men hard this season, as there is a lack of quality to call up on when needed this season. January might see Real Madrid strengthen their squad though it may be difficult to add quality. This is the Champions League, a competition Real Madrid simply cannot be ruled out of.
Though what’s for certain, one of these giant clubs WILL have to relinquish their position in the competition in February. Just who could it be?
A fascinating spectacle to look forward to.
Real Madrid: Cristiano Ronaldo
Paris Saint Germain: Neymar
Juventus vs Tottenham
Another potential exciting tie on the cards.
Tottenham would have looked at the draw wanting to avoid the likes of Juventus and Bayern Munich but there’s the old saying; “If you wanna be the best, you gotta beat the best” and certainly, Juventus are in that category. Mauricio Pochettino would be licking his lips – albeit nervously – at the prospect of testing his side against the Italian giants and last years beaten finalists.
Juventus may not be the side of the past, and their period of dominance in the Serie A slowly and progressively looks to be coming to an end with the likes of Inter Milan and Napoli causing a stern challenge so far in the Italian league. Tottenham will feel they have got a chance in this one. With Harry Kane leading the line, Tottenham have every chance to prove themselves, though Juventus’ defence will be a brutal challenge for Pochettino and his side, plus the added quality of Gonzalo Higuain and fellow Argentinian hotshot Paulo Dybala, one of the most exciting young footballers in the game.
This is a fascinating tie, if Tottenham can play the same way against Real Madrid a few weeks back, they would have every chance. However, this is the knockout stages where it is ‘do or die’ and Pochettino will be psyched up by the challenge; a challenge to prove that his Tottenham side are indeed worthy competitors amongst Europe’s best.
Juventus: Paulo Dybala
Tottenham: Harry Kane
Basel vs Manchester City
Basel toppled Manchester United in the penultimate group game in November but now they find themselves facing off against their noisy neighbours Manchester City. Guardiola would be licking his lips at the prospect of going through to the next round with ease, but as United found out in their matches against Basel, they are no pushovers.
Manchester City are on fire right now, and you wouldn’t bet against them running away with this tie. However, this is the Champions League and there is no room for complacency. Basel have blown hot and cold when it comes to facing off against English opponents in recent years which leads us to question which Basel side will turn up once this tie kicks off in February.
Depending on where City are at domestically come February, you would back them to comfortably overcome this obstacle despite that.
Basel: Michael Lang
Manchester City: Kevin De Bruyne
Sevilla vs Manchester United
Manchester United could have so easily drawn Bayern Munich, Juventus or Real Madrid in the last 16 had they not got their own way – but instead they will vie their chances against Sevilla.
While many fans will breathe a huge sigh of relief at what seems a relatively favourable draw, United will have to be wary of a side well versed in European football. Though, Sevilla have not enjoyed a comfortable season as of yet in the league despite sitting pretty in fifth. After their trouncing at the hands of Real Madrid recently, it gave fans of another indication of how hot and cold the side are blowing so far this season. Also, coach Eduardo Berizzo is battling cancer – a probable reason as to why Sevilla aren’t doing as well as they would like.
Sevilla do hold dangerous weapons in the arsenal which United would need to be wary of with players such as Joaquin Correa, Wissam Ben Yedder, Luis Muriel, Steven Nzonzi, Argentinian playmaker Ever Banega, former Manchester City wingers Jesus Navas and Nolito. These players could hold the key to their chances of overcoming Mourinho’s Manchester United.
Certainly, Mourinho and his men will fancy their chances although you would back the Portuguese coach to do thorough scouting and research on his Spanish opponents before the tie comes about in February and what’s for certain is United MUST keep Paul Pogba fit if will have any chance of progressing not only against Sevilla, but even further if they hold any ambitions reaching their first final since 2011.
Sevilla: Steven Nzonzi
Manchester United: Paul Pogba
FC Porto vs Liverpool
Liverpool scored a staggering 23 goals in the group stage, only French leaders Paris Saint Germain scored more (25). Klopp has got Liverpool enjoying the Champions League nights at Anfield once again, and who’s to say they can’t get past an impressive FC Porto and match it amongst the best in the quarter finals.
Like Manchester United, Liverpool would have been biting their nails at the prospect of being paired with giant outfits such as Bayern Munich, Juventus and Real Madrid who all finished second in their groups – instead they are paired with Portuguese giants FC Porto, who impressively topped the likes of RB Leipzig and Monaco to make it out into the knockout stages.
This might be the last on this list, but that doesn’t take away the fact that this tie could be a classic with both teams capable of attacking master classes. Though, I feel Liverpool will have too much for Porto.
FC Porto: Vincent Aboubakar
Liverpool: Mo Salah