By David Thirkeld, third year History student
The Champions League round of 16 features a variety of tasty clashes for us to look forward to as we enter February.
The first leg of the round of 16 commences tomorrow and, perhaps more so than the last few years, there are some enticing fixtures awaiting. The cream of the crop are Manchester United vs Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool vs Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid vs Juventus.
The Red Devils' renaissance under new caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solkjaer continues, but this is their toughest test since his replacement of Mourinho and will surely prove to be a stern one.
United will hope they don’t catch PSG at their rampant best; they despatched Guingamp 9-0 in an underwhelming performance by the Ligue 1 minnows. What is for certain is both attacking line-ups will have room to roam and test ailing defences.
Edinson Cavani limped off with a thigh injury today for PSG. Verratti only just coming back. Neymar ruled out. Tuesday could be very interesting 👀— Liam Canning (@LiamPaulCanning) February 9, 2019
Thiago Silva and Dani Alves are past their best days, and little needs to be said about the fragility of the central pairing of Jones and Lindelof. However, Neymar is injuried for the tie and Cavani is unlikely to be fit to play, leaving Mbappe as the talisman to lead his side past the early knock-out stages.
Paris are yet to make it to the semi-finals since the 1994-95 season and Neymar’s patience will likely run out in the French capital if they continue to underwhelm on the European stage.
Bayern vs Liverpool holds the potential for a fiery battle too. Liverpool have been struggling recently with a string of choppy performances.
Few can criticise their loss against City at the Etihad, yet underwhelming draws against Leicester City and West Ham United leave much to be desired by a team that made the final of this competition last year.
Having been bolstered by the signings of Virgil Van Dijk, Allison Becker and Fabinho, it looked as if Liverpool’s leakiness had been sealed. Yet, conceding three goals at home against Palace says otherwise.
Neuer: “It's the first game for me at Anfield. I'm looking forward to playing there.” 👆— Anfield HQ (@AnfieldHQ) February 11, 2019
Luckily for Liverpool, Bayern are a shadow of their former selves. Recent results in the Bundesliga leave them only behind high-flying Dortmund, but their shortcomings in the Champion’s League group reveal a further problem – an aging squad in need of major rejuvenation.
Two draws against Ajax suggest they are no longer the stalwarts of Europe they have been.
Atletico Madrid’s contest against Juventus is arguably the pick of the bunch though. The Old Lady have been consistent, although not yet brilliant domestically.
Equally, Simeone’s side haven’t reproduced the results that took them to two finals in the 2013/14 and 2016/17 seasons. Despite this, both camps have reached the latter stages regularly enough recently that you would be advised against discounting either.
The Ronaldo-factor remains an impending threat, even though he has yet to make his mark this season after an ignominious sending off against Valencia. His 60 goals in the knockout stages prove we shouldn’t be too hasty to write him off though - 20 of these came in the upcoming round.
The other round of 16 first legs and their dates are: Roma vs Porto (12/02), Tottenham vs Dortmund (13/02), Ajax vs Real Madrid (13/02), Lyon vs Barcelona (19/02) and Schalke vs Man City (20/02).
What seems a certainty is the knockout rounds this year should not be missed. Man City, Juventus and Barcelona have shown rare glimpses of excellence in Europe, but none have blown the competition away. Such slight inconsistencies mean the eventual winner remains difficult to call.
Featured image by Flickr / El Ronso
Which of these round of 16 fixtures is the most enticing tie? Let us know your thoughts!