The much anticipated UEFA Champions League is back with a bang! Hostilities (normality if you’re a neutral) resume across Europe as top teams battle it out in the race for Europe’s top prize.
Football fans all over the world will be treated to some mouth-watering fixtures pitching champions, table-toppers and high-performers against one another. While some fixtures appear pretty straight forward on paper, others require a bit more scrutiny.
I’ll be analyzing the prospects and chances in each fixture. I’ll also be predicting the possible winners of each tie.
JUVENTUS FC VS TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR:
Juventus, last season’s finalists’ face Spurs in what promises to be a thrilling encounter. The Old Lady of Turin with their battle-hardened defense will be no easy task for Pochettino’s high-flying men.
After the 3-1 victory over Madrid at Wembley in which Pochettino branded Spurs as one of Europe’s elite team, things did not go quite rosy for Spurs domestically after then. A 4-1 bashing by City, draws against Watford, West Brom, West Ham and Southampton has seen them lose ground in the title race. Decent results against Man Utd., Liverpool and Arsenal have given them a much needed boost and they’ll fancy their chances against the Italian Champions.
Juventus trail Napoli by a single point in Serie A after 24 matches. The league is within reach but the UCL is the title they’ll be gunning for after last year’s disappointment. They are in top form having won their last five matches in all competitions conceding none and scoring 11 goals.
It will be interesting to see how Juventus’ defense nullifies the threat of Kane who they’re rumoured to be interested in signing in the summer. Juventus have not been particularly exciting but their steadiness has not gone unnoticed. I sense the game will be won in the midfield and it will be interesting to see how Dembele and Eriksen fare against Khedira and Pjanic. Pochettino as we know never encourages his team to sit back and it will be interesting to see how they cope against the counter-attacking threats of Higuain, Dybala, Douglas Costa and Cuadrado.
My prediction: A dicey one but I’ll give this to Juventus.
FC BASEL VS MANCHESTER CITY:
Man.City are overwhelming favourites for this one apparently. How can they not be? A 16-point lead in the “ever-competitive” premier league coupled with ruthlessness in front of goal. Heck, they’re favourites to win the UCL (on paper at least). After last season’s disappointment against Monaco at this round, Pep Guardiola must be tempering the excesses of his high-flying soon-to-be crowned English Champions. Basel after all have a good record against English teams, winning four and losing one of their last five home games in the UCL, including the group stage win against City’s archrivals, United.
The game in St. Jakob Park will be key for Man.City as it will be for Basel seeing that it is a fortress. With Aguero firing on all cylinders, the inspiration of De Bruyne and the impending return of Leroy Sane, the Cityzens should be no match for the Swiss side.
My prediction: A no-brainer really, City to progress.
FC PORTO VS LIVERPOOL FC:
Mohamed Salah is in the form of his life and L’pool will be looking to him to deliver the goods no doubt. Porto however are no easy opponents, considering their strength at set pieces which is clearly an Achilles heel of sorts for Liverpool. The acquisition of Van Dijk should nullify that threat but Porto danger man, Vincent Aboubakar will fancy his chances against Liverpool’s defense.
Liverpool at times seem like a bomb waiting to explode as can be seen from their 3-3 draw at Sevilla after initially leading by 3-goals. The good news however is that Klopp’s men are a free scoring side and outscoring their opponents is likely how they’ll win this tricky tie. Whatever advantage Porto might gather at Portugal, the Reds should do well to turn it around at Anfield.
My Prediction: A tricky one but L’pool should progress.
REAL MADRID VS PSG:
This could easily have been the final and what a final it would have been! In what is the star-match of the round, all eyes will be on the double header between two talented teams with contrasting forms albeit.
Real Madrid have won the past two editions of the UCL but have been a shadow of themselves this season. La Liga is all but lost leaving the UCL as their only chance of silverware left. PSG on the other hand are cruising in Ligue1 (as they should) and were the highest scoring side in the group stages scoring 25 goals in 6 games.
Last year, PSG faltered at this stage in a historic Neymar-inspired comeback at the Nou camp. Neymar now plays for the Paris outfit now and they’ll be looking up to him to inspire them to UCL glory. PSG are hungry for UCL glory as can be seen in their expensive acquisition of Neymar, Mbappe and Dani Alves. They lacked character last time out but seem to have plenty of it now.
Madrid are one loss away from Zidane being probably laid off as Florentino Perez (Madrid’s President) has never shied away from dismissing underperforming managers. This tie is a must win for Zidane and he knows it. Summer sales of squad players like Alvaro Morata, James Rodrigues, Pepe and Danilo without proper replacements have come to hurt them this season. C.Ronaldo is a big game player however and expect him to have a say in this tie. The current world’s best player was born for high-pressure games like this. Football however is a team game and it will be interesting to see if Ronaldo can actually bail Madrid out of this one.
It’s BBC against MCN ladies and gents.
My Prediction: A tough one but I’ll give it to PSG nevertheless based on current form.
BAYERN VS BESIKTAS:
Besiktas impressed in the group stages acquiring 14 points out of a possible 18 with players such as Talisca, Quaresma, Pepe and Cenk Tosun impressing. They’re underdogs going into this tie but they’ll fancy their chances against the German Champions.
Bayern lost the top spot in the group stages to PSG on Head-to-Head. They have been handed an easier draw than they would have anticipated. This will be no walk over but expect the firepower of Lewandowski, James Rodriguez, Robben, Ribery and Muller to prove too much for their Turkish opponents. Bayern have conceded cheap goals of late however and will need to be at the top of their game as Besiktas are no Bremen or Hoffenheim.
My prediction: Bayern to go through.
CHELSEA VS FC BARCELONA:
History they say repeats itself and it will be interesting to see if the Blues can pull off a shocker on this one. Barca are high flying at the moment with a particular steel about them. They conceded just one goal in the group stages and have conceded minimal goals in La Liga indicating how rock solid they are at the back; another dimension Valverdre has brought to the table.
Messi has never scored against Chelsea with his famous penalty miss at the Camp Nou seeing him fire blank against them on all occasions. He will be eager to break the jinx- he’s a record breaker after all. Barcelona are clear favourites to win this tie and probably the UCL this season. They’ll miss the services of Coutinho but have Iniesta to pull the strings from Midfield.
Chelsea are all over the place at the moment after consecutive losses to Bournemouth and Watford further heaped uncertainty on Conte’s future, leaving them unsure of a top-four finish. The Blues will hope the win against West Brom is a sign of stability and progress with Eden Hazard in top form. The English Champions have lost their title leaving the FA cup and the UCL as their only hope of silverware.
Beating Barcleona will be no easy task but the Blues will hope to draw inspiration from their 2012 historic win against Barca en-route winning the UCL that year. The first leg at Stamford bridge will be key for Chelsea as they’ll look to get a favourable result at home and possibly hold out for a draw at the Nou camp. They have a good result against Barca having not lost in 11 games against them, winning two and drawing nine.
Chelsea are a decent side but Barcelona should prove too much for them this time around. Should they progress, this will be even more grand than their win in 2012!
My Prediction: I’m staying safe on this one, Barcelona to go through.
SEVILLA VS MANCHESTER UNITED:
With the Premier league title out of reach, Jose Mourinho’s side will look to the UCL as seemingly achievable. They’re also “Champions of Europe” in their own right having won the Europa League last season. The UCL is a different kind of beast however and Mourinho will know too well that inconsistent performances like the one on display against Newcastle might come to hurt them.
The Portuguese manager will attempt to be the first manager to win the UCL with three different clubs having won it with Porto in 2004 and Inter Milan in 2010.
Sevilla are no walk overs apparently as their showed in their comeback against L’pool but their form in La Liga doesn’t indicate they’ll give many problems to the Red Devils. Ben Yedder is their danger man with the former Toulouse man in top form.
The arrival of Alexis Sanchez should give United a big boost going into this tie and there’s no reason why the Men from Manchester shouldn’t see this through.
My Prediction; Despite United’s inconsistencies at times, Mourinho is a winner and his experience in the competition should see them through here.
SHAKHTAR VS ROMA:
In what is perhaps the least fancied match of the round, the Italians who toppled English Champions Chelsea to top spot based on Head-to Head, have been handed a tricky tie against their Ukranian opponents. Shakhtar have a record of upsetting big opposition but Roma should have an edge over them, albeit a slight one. Shakhtar fared well against Napoli and knocked them out of the competition (practically).
AS Roma will draw inspiration from the 3-0 victory at home to Chelsea showing that they have what it takes to beat high profile opponents on their own day.
The home ties will be key to each side and will determine who will go through.
My prediction: A tricky encounter but Roma to go through all the same.