February can’t come any sooner. Why is that? Because the best of the best in the world of football will finally come together to compete in the knockout phases of the world’s most prestigious footballing competition. No, not the FIFA World Cup but, the UEFA Champions League.
This early into the tournament, it’s always difficult to predict and put money on favorites. After all, not many people expected Real Madrid to retain the crown last year, did they? Even fewer people expected Leicester City to go furthest than any other English team too. Point is, it’s anyone’s game. With that in mind, what do the knockout fixtures hold for football fans across the world?
Juventus v Tottenham Hotspur
Who would’ve thought that out of possibly the toughest group in the League this season, Spurs would emerge as the group winner? Having beaten both Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund to it? They face Juve in the round of 16, a team that wasn’t wholly convincing out of their group and sit third on the Serie A table. Spurs have shown a very recent ability to compete in big games and this should come in handy against the likes of Dybala, Higuaín and Buffon. Spurs go in as favorites but, who knows? Maybe, the old warhorses still have some life in them.
Basel v Manchester City
Trust the rich Arabs to get probably the easiest fixture in the knockout phase, right? City have been brilliant this season. They have systematically dismantled and destroyed teams both in the EPL and the Champions League this season. No way Basel will humiliate City like they did Mourinho in the group stages. City will trounce the Swiss.
Porto v Liverpool
It’s never easy predicting a Liverpool match. Armed with one of the best attacking line-ups in Europe, they also have a defense that folds like paper on their bad days. Anything can happen really. Liverpool can demolish Porto like they did Spartak or Maribor or they can be frustrated just like Sevilla did. Either way, Porto are not to be underestimated. After all, this is a team that is yet undefeated in Portugal. Please, Liverpool. Bring back the glory days.
Sevilla v Manchester United
Mourinho’s teams, even his present United team, isn’t the most exciting team on the planet. And yet, they have something that most other teams such as Liverpool can surely learn from; Defensive discipline and organization. United have shipped just 11 goals yet in the League. And, just two in the CL yet. That’s bloody impressive. Which is why, Sevilla, the former three-time Europa League champions are unlikely to frustrate the current Europa Champions like they did Liverpool. With Pogba and Zlatan back, expect United and Mourinho to romp to victory and go into the knockouts as one of the favorites.
Real Madrid v Paris Saint-Germain
THE MATCH OF THIS KNOCKOUT PHASE. Champions and arguably the best football club in the world, Real Madrid against the drunk on Arab money, upstart Paris Saint-Germain. Will Ronaldo’s Madrid make it three in a row or will the world’s most expensive player, Neymar finally prove PSG can beat the best? PSG might have one held of a forward line but, it’s still a side that lost a 4-0 lead last year and lost to Bayern Munich 3-1 this year. Plus, finishing first in the French Ligue doesn’t really count, does it? Despite heavyweights like Neymar, Mbappe, Cavani, Veratti and Silva, my money is on Real. No way they’re going past a team with Ronaldo, Modric and Kroos.
Chelsea v Barcelona
Arguably the toughest fixture for any English team, the Blues face Barcelona in the round of 16 of the Champions League. These teams have had a lot of history between them in the CL. Whether it was Torres’ goal off an opposition corner or the 2009 tie when the referee was so generous towards the Spaniards, this could be yet another match that has the hallmarks of the greatest footballing drama. Chelsea has seen its ups and downs this season and Barcelona are far from fluent with a misfiring Suarez at the helm but, I’d still give the edge to Barcelona. After all, what better time for the world’s best player to finally score against a team he never has before?
- Bayern are favorites against Besiktas but, I would be wary of taking a trip to a raucous Istanbul lightly.
- Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma: Don’t know, don’t care. Except, thank you Roma for Salah – Every Liverpool fan
The Champions League knockout phases seems like a carnival to come. A great season of football to look forward to. Bring it on.
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