The Return of The Champions League: What To Expect

The draw for the Round of 16.

Following the customary break after the group stages, Europe’s elite competition returns on Tuesday, the 14th of February. This year’s knockout stages are a bit peculiar because they follow a World Cup break. We’ll get to hear that beautiful anthem again under the floodlights as The Rossoneri host Tottenham Hotspur in Milan, while The Parisiens face FC Hollywood in this round of knockouts’ most anticipated match.

Two teams that win their domestic leagues almost every year face off in this round’s biggest tie. The competition’s top scorer, Paris Saint Germain’s Kylian Mbappe, is in a race against time to be cleared fit for the big clash against The Bavarians after sustaining a muscle injury against Montpellier in a domestic game. Bayern Munich, themselves, will be without their star summer signing Sadio Mané, however, they were able to bring in much-needed cover at right back in the form of João Cancelo. Both sides haven’t been at their brilliant best in the last couple of weeks, but we should still expect a cracker.

AC Milan vs. Tottenham will certainly prove to be an entertaining fixture. Tottenham has had a very inconsistent season so far, and the defending champions of Italy also haven’t been as excellent as they currently sit at 5th on the log. It would be an interesting tactical battle between Stefano Pioli and Antonio Conte.

Napoli are in no doubt, this season’s dark horses. The devastating duo of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (9 goals and 9 assists) and Victor Osimhen (17 goals and 3 assists), in the domestic league, have set Napoli on fire this season, putting many an opponent to the sword. They are, however, sure to be tested by last season’s Europa League winners, Eintracht Frankfurt. The outcome of both legs will tell how serious the Gli Azzurri are about being regarded as dark horses.

Elsewhere, we have a rematch of last season’s Champions League final, as Liverpool would be hoping to get some revenge against Real Madrid. The Los Blancos are not as magnificent as they were last season, currently suffering a dip in form, especially since the World Cup break, but as their total of 14 UCL titles shows, they know how to grind out results when they play under the Tuesday and Wednesday night lights. It also doesn’t help that the Reds have been piss-poor domestically this season, where they are currently tenth.

FC Porto drew Inter Milan, and personally, I think this is the trickiest of all the draws. Both sides have been decent in their respective domestic leagues. The Nerazzuri finished as runners-up in a group that had Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Porto’s star man, Medhi Taremi, can’t seem to stop finding the back of the net, and is just two goals behind the top scorer in the UCL this season.

Club Brugge proved they were not to be underestimated, finishing second in Group B behind Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid. They face a very strong Benfica side, who are currently atop the Primeira Liga but just recently lost star midfielder Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea. Despite that, if Club Brugge progress to the next round, it’s certain to be regarded as an upset.

Another very interesting matchup will be between the London Blues and Borussia Dortmund. Interestingly, these two teams have, so far, never faced off in a competitive match. Graham Potter’s big money spenders sure are feeling the heat, as things are not sailing smoothly yet. Fans should be hopeful, though, because the seasons in which they’ve won the competition have been seasons where they’ve been poor domestically. Although notorious for fumbling in the knockout stages of the UCL, Dortmund are on a red-hot streak, having won their last six games. They are also further energised by the return of Sebastian Haller, who was brought in to replace Erling Haaland, after a battle with testicular cancer. It will definitely be interesting to see who comes out on top.

Lastly, as Pep Guardiola and the Cityzens continue on in their quest for European glory, a reborn Timo Werner and RB Leipzig will be out to test their resolve. At first glance, it looks like Manchester City are going to cruise past the German side, but if they show some of the sloppiness they have displayed in the Premier League in recent weeks, they could end up being punished by the dogged Red Bulls.

Olokungbemi Gerald

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