Champions League 16: analysis and verdicts match by match after the draw | Champions League


RB Salzburg v Bayern Munich

Bayern, as always, dominated the Bundesliga and made it through the group stage winning six of six, scoring 22 and conceding just three. Under Julian Nagelsmann, they play with as high a line as under Hansi Flick, and Robert Lewandowski remains as prolific as ever. If there are any doubts, they only relate to two things: the Bayern squad are not as strong as that of many of their rivals, which makes them vulnerable to injury, and the top teams may be able to tap this high line. Salzburg have in the past caused problems against other teams in a hurry, most notably against Liverpool two seasons ago when they lost 4-3 at Anfield and drew 2-2 in Austria, but they have been a bit less open and fluid under Matthias Jaissle than they were under Jesse Marsch and only took a single point outside the group.

Predicted winner Bayern

Robert Lewandowski remains more prolific than ever for Bayern Munich. Photograph: Sebastian Widmann / Getty Images

Sporting vs. Manchester City

Manchester City’s biggest opponents in Europe often appear to be themselves, or at least Pep Guardiola’s tendency to overcomplicate matters against sides alarmed by the threat of counterattack. It is probably still too early in the competition for this to apply and, after a delicate group in which they finished ahead of Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, Sporting represent a relatively sympathetic opponent. Two group losses don’t say the whole story: but in the absence of a constant goal threat, City could easily have won against PSG, and the loss to Leipzig came after first place was secured. Sporting have succeeded despite losing half of their six group games and their openness should suit City’s patience. Kyle Walker’s suspension for at least the first leg could be exploited by Sporting’s left side where full-back Matheus Reis bonds with one of the inside forwards.

Predicted winner Manchester city

Sébastien Haller (bottom) has already scored 10 Champions League goals this season.
Sébastien Haller (bottom) has already scored 10 Champions League goals this season. Photograph: Socrate Images / Getty Images

Benfica v Ajax

Ajax have been superb in Europe this season (even though they are behind PSV by one point in the Eredivisie), scoring six out of six wins. Sébastien Haller is in remarkable scoring form, the duo Edson Álvarez and Ryan Gravenberch impresses at the back of the midfield and Dusan Tadic always brings it all together. Only Bayern have scored more than their 20 group goals, but this is a test tie, and one that suggests that, despite the rigid layering of modern play, there is still life beyond the Big Five. championships. Under Jorge Jesus, Benfica has once again become a serious European force, even though it has a four-point lead at the national level. They kept four clean goals in the group stage, beat Barcelona at home and were good enough at the break to score twice away against Bayern. Predicted winner Ajax

Chelsea vs. Lille

Chelsea’s punishment for the botched Zenit draw that cost them first place in the group could have been much harsher (and fortune smiled on them twice considering they got the same draw in the draw. invalid and the last). Although Lille have improved recently, unbeaten in nine as Jocelyn Gourvennec begins to impose his style after replacing Christophe Galtier this summer, they remain 11th in Ligue 1 and the workforce is not as strong as the one who beat the PSG at the last French title. summer. They can, as they showed in winning the last vital group game against Wolfsburg, sit deep and counter effectively, but as long as Chelsea recoup some midfielders and can rediscover the defensive solidity that has characterized them since Thomas Tuchel took power. champions should prevail to reach the bottom eight.

Predicted winner Chelsea

Atlético Madrid v Manchester United

Both sides must be a little puzzled as to how they got to this point. Atlético did not perform well in the squad at all, having failed to score in three games and overtaking Porto in the end, only because of muscle memory on how they managed to achieve victory. To an extent that may have always been Diego Simeone, but even by his standards, progress was difficult. United, meanwhile, have twice robbed their wins against Villarreal and taken four points in two games against Atalanta despite being outplayed for long stretches. At some point in Europe, the late winners of Cristiano Ronaldo will dry up, but maybe under Ralf Rangnick they will need them less. United have the best team; the question is whether Rangnick can organize them and if they can play smart enough to make it count.

Predicted winner Manchester United

Villarreal – Juventus

For Juventus, it may be the reward for attracting defending champions Chelsea in the first round. Having dominated a squad that also includes Zenit and Malmö, they now face the 13th La Liga side which is as nice as the draws at this point. With four Europa League titles, Unai Emery is a master of knockout competitions (as he showed by setting up the 3-2 victory over Atalanta in the last group game in what was in effect a shootout for qualification) and Juve, in their current form, can be vulnerable. Three years of very bizarre transfer operations will take time to recover, even after Max Allegri returns. A string of offensive injuries for Juve should have gone away by February and they are expected to be above sixth in the table.

Predicted winner Juventus

After beating Atalanta to reach the round of 16, Villarreal faces another Italian side at Juventus.
After beating Atalanta to reach the round of 16, Villarreal faces another Italian side at Juventus. Photograph: Paolo Magni / EPA

Internazionale v Liverpool

For fans of a certain generation, a meeting between Inter and Liverpool inevitably brings back memories of the controversial European Cup semi-final in 1965. After winning 3-1 at Anfield, Liverpool lost 3- 0 at San Siro, and always insisted that one goal was scored directly from an indirect free kick and another after the ball was nicked by goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence as he attempted to knock it down. Liverpool have won both matches in their only other meeting, the last 16 in 2007-08. Inter, after a shaky start as they reacted to losing Antonio Conte and Romelu Lukaku last summer, have improved with a streak of five straight league wins taking them to the top of Serie A Edin Dzeko is 35 but looked just as effective in tandem with Lautaro Martínez as Lukaku did. But Liverpool, despite some concerns about their defense, have achieved six out of six group stage wins.

Predicted winner Liverpool

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PSG v Real Madrid

The first draw offered PSG against Manchester United, Lionel Messi against Cristiano Ronaldo, and while that possibility may have wiped out, PSG against Real Madrid are a decent replacement (although Madrid, having drawn against Benfica before the draw which forced its cancellation, were not surprisingly angry). After losing at home to Sheriff in the second match of the group stage, they have improved considerably and are on a 10-game winning streak in all competitions, although there remains a feeling that despite the quality of Karim Benzema and the fulfillment of Vinícius Júnior, they are too dependent on an aging midfielder. PSG, meanwhile, have found that the addition of Messi has put the squad even more off balance, effectively forcing them to play a 7-0-3 against Manchester City. Both sides are miles from the country; neither, probably as a result, looks convincing in Europe.

Predicted winner PSG


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