The group stage of this season’s UEFA Champions League has concluded and there have not been a lot of surprises. Ajax and Inter Milan are the biggest casualties who have dropped to the Europa League,
but pretty much the rest of Europe’s elite remain on the grandest stage. The ‘big five’ leagues have dominated the competition this time around.
With 16 teams remaining, the draw for the first knockout stage will take place on Monday and the matches will be played throughout February and March.
There are some really exciting sides on both sides of the draw, with some big clubs finishing second in their groups. We will surely witness some fascinating match-ups, after the draw in Switzerland.
Here are three of them that we would love to see in the Round of 16 of the Champions League.
1. Real Madrid vs Liverpool
Looking at all the runner-ups of their groups, Real Madrid are by far the strongest team in there. They have an unmatched European pedigree and despite missing Cristiano Ronaldo, are still a strong enough outfit to compete for the continental crown, like in the very recent history.
Zinedine Zidane became the manager of Los Blancos at the start of 2016 and won the Champions League three times in a row, before leaving the club in 2018 and re-joining the Bernabeu in 2019. That means he is unbeaten in European knockout ties as Real Madrid manager.
Another manager who is unbeaten in European knockout ties in his current role, albeit only two-legged ones, is Jürgen Klopp. He took Liverpool to one Europa League final and two Champions League finals, winning the second one. The first one was a painful defeat to Zidane’s Real Madrid in 2018.
Two horrific errors from Loris Karius handed the trophy to the La Liga side. The following year, the Reds won the biggest prize in club football and are currently the best team in the world, based on the year they have had.
There is some unfinished business for Mohamed Salah and co, especially after Zidane joked that Real Madrid ‘will eliminate’ Liverpool. The Reds will be determined to avenge that painful defeat in Kyiv, en route to what would be a third consecutive Champions League final. The two European giants did play each other in the 2008-09 Champions League Round of 16, with Liverpool thumping Real Madrid 5-0 on aggregate.
This is easily the most exciting match-up that could come out of Monday’s Champions League last 16 draw. Either side could potentially lose their first two-legged European knockout tie, either Klopp or Zidane.
2. Borussia Dortmund vs PSG
In recent years, PSG have had a pretty frustrating pattern in the Champions League. Every time, the French champions would boss the group stage and qualify for the next round in style. However, they have faltered in their past three knockout ties.
Whether it was through being outmatched by Real Madrid or simply shell-shocked, at the hands of Barcelona or Manchester United, Thomas Tuchel’s side have failed to get over the line and into the quarter-finals.
A game against his former club, Borussia Dortmund, would likely excite Tuchel and motivate him to ensure a victory for PSG. The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Angel Di Maria among many others are too talented to crash out of the Round of 16 every time.
They would lick their lips at the prospect of this tie, which is sure to entertain the football world. Lucien Favre would also go into a game like this with confidence.
Both sides play some great attacking football and while this match-up would have been much more exciting five years ago, with the players on show and Jürgen Klopp in charge of the Bundesliga outfit, PSG vs Dortmund today could still be one of this season’s most entertaining ties.
3. Chelsea vs Juventus
Chelsea qualified from a relatively tricky group involving Valencia and Ajax, after a difficult summer in which new manager, Frank Lampard, was not able to spend money due to a transfer ban.
Recent form has shown that the Blues have fallen off slightly, following an impressive start to the Premier League season. With the ban being lifted, Chelsea can reinforce their squad in January as they prepare for some high-octane combat in continental competition.
One of the more daunting teams that they can face in the Round of 16 is Juventus, managed by an all too familiar face. Maurizio Sarri spent a year as Chelsea’s head coach, implementing a possession-based style of play that helped the Blues get over the line in the top four race.
Now, he is in charge of Juventus. He is slowly implementing Sarri-ball at the Italian champions, with the results coming together nicely, particularly in Europe.
If this does happen, it wouldn’t be the first time that Chelsea have been drawn against a former manager in the Champions League round of 16. Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan knocked the Blues out of the competition at the same stage, in 2010, two and a half years after his first exit from Stamford Bridge.