Champions League Knockout Stage Preview

By Diego De Souza and Lucien Betancourt

The matchups for the Round of 16 of the Champions League were released on December 14th, and they’re listed here. 

(Teams in bold will play their home leg first, then the teams underlined will play their home leg second)

Borussia Monchengladbach vs Manchester City
Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea
Lazio vs Bayern
RB Leipzig vs Liverpool
Porto vs Juventus
Barcelona vs Paris Saint-Germain
Sevilla vs Dortmund
Atalanta vs Real Madrid

Now, let’s break the matchups down before they begin on February 18th:

Borussia Monchengladbach vs Manchester City

This is an interesting matchup strategically, as it’s a showdown between counter-attacking (Borussia Monchengladbach) and possession play (Manchester City) football. Borussia’s style of play is rather defensive, relying on absorbing pressure from the attacking team and counter attacking quickly down the flanks, hence their 4-2-3-1 formation. Manchester City is the opposite, with a possession-heavy game that relies on short and quick passes, as well as heavy pressing. Manchester City could use this heavy pressure to overload Borussia’s defense and create chances through the middle. Borussia, on the other hand, could continue using their game plan that has been working really well for them: absorbing the opponent’s heavy pressure and counterattack swiftly. Both teams are struggling in their respective domestic leagues, both in 8th place on their tables, good for around the middle of the pack. Borussia has also faced more difficult opposition, beating Bayern Munich in the Germany’s top pro league, the Bundesliga, 3-2 on January 10th. This will be an interesting matchup, but we predict Borussia will take their home win 2-0, after which Manchester City will come back home and win 3-1. The conceded away goals will hurt Manchester City and they’ll lose out to Borussia on that tiebreaker. Borussia will prevail utilizing their play style that got them this far, and with their Coach Marco Rose’s heavy defensive game, they have a good shot at upsetting Manchester City. 

Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea

This is a great matchup that won’t disappoint, with two great managers in Diego Simeone of Atletico Madrid vs Frank Lampard of Chelsea, playing defensive and offensive football respectively. Atletico Madrid’s play style is defensive, with a 4-4-2 formation. Luis Suarez and Diego Costa make up the bulk of their offense, with midfielders like Saúl and Koke supporting them. They are a possession-heavy, defensive team similar to Borussia. They also play wide to open the field up for the wingers on attack to create a temporary 4-2-4 formation. Chelsea, on the other hand, are a more offensive team who rely on their speed and offensive capabilities on the wings, specifically with Ben Chilwell and Reece James. They line up in a 3-4-3, with Kante dropping back into a center back role. Werner, Ziyech, and Pulisic go up front and have Havertz and Kovacic in support. Atletico is playing at home first, and because of Simeone’s genius, we predict they will take a 3-0 win. They will then travel to Stamford Bridge, where defense will prevail and Chelsea will win 2-1, but lose on aggregate to the advancing Atletico Madrid. 

Leipzig vs Liverpool

Another interesting matchup where two attack-centric teams go head to head. Leipzig are off of two fabulous wins where they scored 7 goals, while Liverpool are coming off a loss and draw. While Liverpool finished strongly with a record of 4-1-1, they are weakened by injuries to their defense, losing Van Dijk, Matip, Joe Gomez, all three of their best center backs. Leipzig, on the other hand, have revamped their offense, with Angelino, Haidara, Sabitzer, Szoboszlai, Olmo, Kluivert, and Poulsen, all of which will surely threaten Liverpool’s already weak defense. Leipzig plays at home first, so they’ll take an easy 2-0 win but at their home, Liverpool will prevail and win 3-0. The series would end in a 3-2 aggregate, with Liverpool advancing on. 

Lazio vs Bayern Munich

This matchup is less interesting than the other for 6 main reasons: 1. Bayern Munich is off of an incredible run to the Champions League title. 2. Bayern’s attack, led by Lewandowski and Muller, is unstoppable, scoring 18 goals in 6 games. 3. Bayern’s defense is outstanding, conceding only 5 goals in 6 matches. 4. They have the experience: Lazio joined the Champions League for the first time in 13 years this season. 5. Lazio has done absolutely terribly for being one of the clubs in the top 5 European leagues. 6. Lazio’s defense is terrible and often loses leads quickly or fails to impress like most of the big teams. Let’s get this prediction out of the way. Lazio will play at home first and will draw 2-2. Then to the Allianz Arena in Munich, Bayern will win 4-1 to end the series with a 6-3 aggregate lead to advance on.

FC Barcelona vs Paris St. Germain

This, on paper, is the best matchup of the lot. We have Barcelona, who have struggled domestically this year but were on track to win their Champions League group until they got absolutely smoked by Ronaldo and Juventus in their home stadium. Now, they have to face Paris-Saint Germain in a far harder draw than what would’ve been Porto. PSG, in contrast, looked at one point like they were going out after losing to Manchester United and Leipzig before turning around and winning their final 3 games to win their group. But it is probably the hardest team they could’ve faced. Still, we would give PSG the slight edge, based on the current state Barcelona are in. The big storyline in this one is PSG star Neymar against his former club. He’s currently dealing with an ankle injury but hopefully looks to be back for this one. PSG have also just sacked former manager Thomas Tuchel and hired ex-Tottenham boss Mauricio Pocchetino. He did a good job at Tottenham and it will be interesting to see how he does in this matchup, given that the Champions League is all that matters for PSG. PSG won the Ligue 1 and made the Champions League final last year but failed at the final hurdle, losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich. They will be hungry to get back to the final and win it this time. Barcelona’s boss Ronald Koeman is under a lot of pressure, and we think that if he loses this tie he will get fired. It could go either way, but we think PSG will edge it out, 3-2 on aggregate. But never count out Barcelona– at least while they still have Lionel Messi. 

Atalanta vs Real Madrid

In this clash, we have the dark horse from Bergamo, Italy, in Atalanta, and the European heavyweights in Real Madrid. This matchup should be interesting to see. On one hand, we have an Atalanta team who are capable of beating anybody with their attacking style under manager Gian Piero Gasperini. They proved this by beating Roma 4-1, crushing Sassuolo 5-1 this past weekend, and beating Liverpool 2-0 at their home stadium of Anfield. Their risky style of play can go wrong though, like their other matchup against Liverpool, a 5-0 loss at home. Real Madrid has had a weird season but has been in better form as of late. Real will be the heavy favorites in this matchup, but it would not shock me to see Atalanta go through. Real only barely got out of their group, leaving it to the last matchday where they got a clutch 2-0 win vs Borussia. Atalanta also advanced at the last matchday, winning 1-0 away at Ajax. Overall, look out for tons of goals as both defenses have been shipping a lot of goals. We expect Real to beat Atalanta 5-4 on aggregate. 

Sevilla vs Borussia Dortmund

This tie is probably the hardest one to predict given how each team has been playing. Sevilla won the Europa League and finished 4th in La Liga last year, making it a successful first season for manager Julien Lopetegui. This year, however, they have been quite average domestically and got smashed 4-0 at home against Chelsea in this year’s group stage. Still, they are usually a force in Europe and the signing of ex-Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic will be huge for the experience and morale of the team. Dortmund, on the other hand, has been infuriating to watch. At times they play beautiful football, beating teams by 4 or 5 goals. Other times they lose games they should win. This season alone they have lost 2-0 to Augsburg, 2-1 to Koln, 5-1 to Stuttgart and 2-1 to Union Berlin, all teams that should be fighting to avoid relegation. They also lost in this very round of the Champions League for the past two seasons. These poor results have made Dortmund sack manager Lucien Favre, hiring Edin Terzic in the interim. It is so hard to say how they will be playing by the time this fixture arrives. But Dortmund has a lot of potential, and they have better players than Sevilla. For this reason, we will say they will scrape by, specifically by an aggregate score of 4-3. 

Porto vs Juventus

Finally, we have Porto and Juventus. Juventus was in an easy group and they managed to top it, in large part because of a 3-0 win at the Camp Nou, Barcelona’s Stadium. Porto went through as runners-up to Manchester City in their group, playing pretty well. In this clash Juventus should be the huge favorites, not just because they have Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best player in the world, but because they have more quality and depth than Porto in almost every position. Porto will have to rely on a solid defense, led by ex-Real Madrid center back Pepe, and will need to score goals with their attack of Mehdi Tahremi, Mousa Marega and Felipe Anderson. They will have to play nearly perfect to win. Juventus have won the last 9 Serie A titles, and even though they have been inconsistent this season and even though they got upset in the Round of 16 last season against Lyon, we think they have the experience to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

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