The Champions League draw took place at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, just before Christmas and I’ll tell you what, there were some juicy ties that came out of it! Here is the draw in full.
Atlético Madrid v Juventus
Two European giants collide in this mouthwatering last 16 tie. Atlético will be hoping they can break their Champions League curse after losing two finals in the last five years. This season they will have the added incentive that the final is being held at their very own Wanda Metropolitano stadium. Their home advantage, according to many football betting sites, makes them a firm favourite to lift the trophy this year.
Juventus, despite winning this tournament twice, also have an unwanted record as they have lost seven UCL finals. One of those was as recent as the 2016/17 season where Real Madrid impressively brushed aside the Turin club. Cristiano Ronaldo was the man of the match that night as he led Madrid to their twelfth triumph in this competition. Now he leads the line for Juve as he attempts to become only the second player in history to win three Champions League finals with three different clubs.
Domestically these teams have been nearly untouchable, with one defeat between the two of them after thirty-two games. Juventus find themselves eight points clear at the top of Serie A already, whilst Madrid are only third in La Liga. I expect this tie to be a tight affair as both teams boast strong defences led by experienced captains, Diego Godin (Atlético Madrid) and Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus). At the other end of the pitch World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann will face-off with wonderkid Paulo Dybala to see who can guide their side into the quarter-finals.
Manchester United v Paris Saint-Germain
The billion pound game. PSG’s starting XI is worth an incredible £661m whilst Man United’s is worth nearly £500m. Ridiculous numbers really, however with all of that money comes some serious talent. Neymar and Mbappe. Pogba and De Gea. Some of the best players in the world will feature in this matchup, and that’s just the start. Paris also have Edison Cavani and Ángel Di Maria in attack, who have been in wonderful form in Ligue 1. The Red Devils’ front three isn’t too shabby either. Martial, Lukaku and Rashford would strike fear into any defence. I believe with all of these superstars on the pitch this will be one of the high scoring ties in the last 16.
PSG boast an unbeaten record in the league, in fact they have only failed to win two of their sixteen matches whilst Kylian Mbappe and Neymar have already scored twenty-three goals between them. While over in Manchester It’s no secret United’s league form has been well below par this season, and now they have sacked boss Jose Mourinho many believe they will be there for the taking. I disagree. By the time the first leg comes around on 12th February they will have a new boss and perhaps found a resurgence. The three-times champions have been pretty consistent in Europe this season too and I believe they will give Paris a run for their money. God knows they’ve got enough of it.
Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund
After their impressive draw at the Camp Nou resulted in qualification for the knockout stages, Tottenham now face Borussia Dortmund in the last 16. This will be the third time in four seasons these two have faced each other in Europe (Dortmund won 5-1 on aggregate in the Europa League in the 2015/16 season. Spurs won both Champions League group games last season). I guarantee though this will be the toughest Dortmund team Tottenham have faced. The German side lead the Bundesliga by six points, but above that are playing wonderful, free flowing football whilst scoring an abundance of goals. Marco Reus is finally injury free and playing the best football of his life, scoring or assisting fifteen times already this season. Paco Alcacer has found a new lease of life since his move from Barcelona and finds himself top scorer in the Bundesliga.
The biggest story to come out of Dortmund this season however is the rapid rise of teenager Jadon Sancho. Bought from Man City for just £8million in the summer, Sancho has taken to life in Germany fantastically. He has already scored five and assisted seven in the league, won player of the month and earned his first England cap, all before his nineteenth birthday too. Spurs will have real trouble nullifying Borussia’s attack, however they do boast a strong defensive line with Belgium pair Vertonghan and Alderweireld protecting World Cup winner Hugo Lloris in goal. The North London club are also enjoying their best ever start to a league campaign, thirteen wins from seventeen, and possess a deadly attacking line-up. World Cup golden boot winner Harry Kane leads the line whilst behind him lie real game changers in Eriksen, Alli and Son. Whenever these two meet it’s usually entertaining, so expect this one to be no different.
Ajax v Real Madrid
With sixteen European titles between them, Ajax and Real Madrid face each other in what will be a battle between two legendary teams. The Dutch side however have become sleeping giants in recent years, having not made it out of the group stages since the 2005/06 season, where they got knocked out in the last 16. Furthermore, they haven’t won the Eredivisie for five seasons now, not acceptable considering they have previously won it thirty-three times. I do believe things are turning around for the Amsterdam based club though. They sit second in their league, two points adrift from top spot, and have just come off of a very successful group stage in the Champions League.
Ajax went undefeated as they finished second, impressively drawing twice with Bayern Munich in the process. Dutch football as a whole seems to be on the up again, after years out of the limelight. Even the national team is beginning to rise once more, I for one would love to see the Netherlands back on the top stage where they belong. As for Real Madrid, they are no strangers to this competition. Champions twelve times overall and astonishingly four times in the last five years they really have asserted their dominance over Europe. Real don’t seem to be the same team this season though as they are struggling in the league, five points off the top and very much off the pace, whilst oddly coming unstuck against CSKA Moscow in the group stages, losing 1-0 away and then 3-0 at home. Perhaps they are going through a bit of a transition period, some of their players are on the wrong side of 30, whilst they can’t seem to fill a certain Ronaldo shaped hole in their attack. Nevertheless they will be strong favourites to lift the trophy for the fourth year running, however I have a sneaky feeling Ajax may cause a huge upset.
Liverpool v Bayern Munch
This is the tie of the round for me. I personally can not wait to see these two legs played between a Munich team that has been dominant for so many years, and a Liverpool side desperate to avenge last season’s final defeat [2016/17 season where Real Madrid]. Bayern, like Real Madrid, haven’t been as controlling in their respectively league this season and find themselves two places and nine points off 1st place, an unusual position for the twenty-seven times league champions.
Liverpool on the other hand are in the form of their lives, currently sitting top of the Premier League they are enjoying an exciting spell under Jürgen Klopp. The Reds are in a genuine title race and are also one of the favourites to win this season’s European trophy. When you’ve got a strike force like Mane, Salah and Firmino it’s hard to argue against them. The trio have bagged 78 goals in the Premier League since the start of last season. If anyone has the ability to stop them, it’s Munich’s backline. Alaba, Boateng, Hummels and Kimmich are a fierce defensive four that have kept ten clean sheets in all competitions already. Add to that Manuel Neuer in between the sticks and you’re set. Bayern also have Robert Lewandowski upfront who just seems to be getting better with age. He has already scored eight goals in this season’s Champions League. Both teams have won this title five times, but I believe it will be Liverpool who will progress to try and make their tally six.