The draw for the last sixteen of the UEFA Champions League has been made, and sometimes you look at a cup draw and think – ‘that could be spectacular’. This is one of those draws.
Only the World Cup competes with the knockout stages of the Champions League, and with Ronaldo moving on from Real Madrid and Messi pushing on, the guard is changing somewhat in Europe. This looks like a group of games that could catapult that notion into the mainstream.
It’s a mixed bag for English sides, though.
Manchester City can be happy with their tie, but after that, Liverpool probably look the surest things and they’re facing a club like Bayern Munich.
Let’s take a closer look….
Schalke v Manchester City
There were very few easier draws for City in truth. And the fact Schalke attack sides will benefit Guardiola’s men. Their best hope must be to try and keep a clean sheet at home in the first leg, but they’re not set up to do that.
Expect them to be picked off at pace, despite having some excellent technical players.
Atletico Madrid v Juventus
You could argue this is the tie of the round if you want. Ronaldo goes back to face an old foe from La Liga. This time, his side set up ever so differently. Despite the Italian stereotype, Juventus dominate the ball, but they’re already eight points clear from Napoli and could take this game for granted come mid-February.
Manchester United v Paris Saint-Germain
Kylian Mbappe is going to make Phil Jones look like Phil Jones doing an impression of Phil Jones and it will be bloody marvellous to watch. But it’s nearly one of those nights where Mourinho can out-Mourinho himself and sneak through on away goals.
Actually, no. That won’t happen.
PSG could conceivably win both ties by three clear goals.
Spurs v Borussia Dortmund
Maybe the one stale tie in the bunch – this Spurs team are gearing up for a title run in England, despite nobody talking about it, inside or outside the building. Their squad depth isn’t huge and with the first leg being at home, they’ll be forced to be extra cautious, because an away Dortmund goal in hand going back to Germany would be a mountain to climb.
Lyon v Barcelona
You may laugh, but this could be the upset of the round. Lyon’s playmaker, Houssem Aouar is the closest thing to Andres Iniesta you’ll see in football these days and this could be just the platform for him and Nabil Fekir to spring a shock.
Barcelona are Barcelona, but sometimes that over-reliance on history can hinder performance and lend itself to a fast-tracked turning of the tide.
Roma v Porto
Roma will do well to replicate last year’s performance, but they’ve been given a favourable tie against Sergio Conceicao’s Porto. It does look like there’s a title race in Portugal, too – which won’t help with the Saturday to Tuesday hangover.
However, the Italians have lost the spine of their team with Alisson, Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman moving on. Javier Pastore is a shrewd addition, and the young superstar Justin Kluivert Is up front for them – but this one looks even from the outset.
Ajax v Real Madrid
I expect Ajax to win this game – and send the internet into a frenzy.
Much like Barcelona, Ajax are set up on the ideals of Johann Cruyff and he would be exceptionally proud of this crop of young players.
Matthis de Ligt is going to be the best centre half in the world one day, Frenkie de Jong is an exciting prospect linked with moves to all top clubs in Europe and they’ve got grizzled veterans like Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Dusan Tadic and Lasse Schone to complement them.
Madrid are in a slump and their president’s ideal scenario is getting Jose Mourinho back in charge. Need we say more?
Liverpool v Bayern Munich
This is the worst Bayern Munich team in a generation and the best Liverpool team since the 80s. With that in mind, they still have to grasp their moment of deliverance and this could be it.
Reaching the final of last year’s Champions League still felt like a large slice of luck due to their romantic tie-ins with European football, but this year, they’re more of a force to be reckoned with.
It’s about time a marquee victory over one of Europe’s big clubs in the earlier stages was added to their legacy.
Klopp knows this Bayern team inside-out, too. Liverpool will run out comfortable winners.