17 February 2020, by: Leonard Solms
Champions League Round of 16: Key Battles
The UEFA Champions League knockout rounds are around the corner, and with several exciting last 16 ties ahead, we take a look at the key battles to watch out for.
There are plenty of subplots to keep your eyes peeled for in each of the eight ties, whether clashes between coaches or key battle areas on the field of play.
Liverpool’s exuberant German manager and the pragmatic Argentine behind Atléti’s rise are set to go head-to-head in a mouthwatering battle of wits.
The pair have more in common than meets the eye. Klopp oversaw Borussia Dortmund’s rise in a similar fashion to what El Cholo has achieved at Los Rojiblancos.
Both lost key players to rivals but kept going. At Liverpool, Klopp lost Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can to Barcelona and Juventus respectively, but once again persisted to build Europe’s best team.
Simeone has revealed his admiration for Klopp’s dedication to his principles. The German will have to bring his best game to beat a fearless adversary.
Thomas Tuchel did an impressive job managing the talented but enigmatic Ousmane Dembélé at Borussia Dortmund. No doubt this prepared him well for what was to come at PSG.
Although there have seemingly been issues with Neymar and Kylian Mbappé off the field of play, PSG have done well on it this season. They lead Ligue 1 by 12 points at the time of writing.
The true acid test for Tuchel will be in the Champions League and he faces familiar opponents in the first knockout round. His opposite number, Lucien Favre, is struggling at present despite Dortmund’s supremely talented youngsters.
This tie could be a turning point for either Tuchel or Favre. For the loser, life will not get any easier to say the least.
Atalanta have banged in 61 Serie A goals this season at the time of writing — eight more than any other team in the league. They will be licking their lips ahead of a clash with a Valencia side which at times has appeared vulnerable this season.
This does not mean that Atalanta will necessarily have it easy. Valencia have often turned up for the big games, beating Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge and Barcelona 2-0 at home. They have, however, dropped many points which they were expected to pick up.
In the end, this tie will largely come down to which version of Valencia pitches up on the day.
RB Leipzig’s success under 32-year-old Julian Nagelsmann evokes memories of Mourinho during his Porto and early Chelsea days. Enterprising and tactically adaptable, it is little wonder the former Hoffenheim boss has earned the nickname ‘Baby Mourinho’.
The original Mourinho is fighting to prove that his own best days are not behind him. His counter-attacking machine sucker-punched Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, and if he can repeat that against Leipzig, Spurs’ rollercoaster season likely won’t seem so bad all of a sudden.
Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Frank Lampard captained Chelsea in their shock 2012 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich. He will preside over their first UCL meeting since as head coach of the Blues.
An area of concern for Lampard ahead of this tie is his struggling defence. Chelsea have conceded more Premier League goals than any of their fellow top six sides.
Robert Lewandowski has been in lethal form for Bayern this season. The 2019-20 Champions League top scorer will be looking to add to his 10 goals in the competition and will fancy his chances of giving Chelsea the blues.
Napoli and Barcelona each had reason to be optimistic ahead of this campaign, but life hasn’t gone according to plan for either side in 2019-20.
The Partenopei were heading into their second season under the experienced Carlo Ancelotti. A 2-0 win over Liverpool in the group stage suggested they were a force to be reckoned with.
However, off-field disputes led to Ancelotti’s exit and the arrival of Gennaro Gattuso followed. Results have yet to take a consistent turn for the better.
Barcelona have also undergone a coaching change during this season with Ernesto Valverde making way for Quique Setién. Their problems have not dissolved, however, and Lionel Messi’s public criticism of Sporting Director Eric Abidal has sparked rumours of a looming exit, although they are just rumours.
Barca are struggling to reel in Real Madrid in the La Liga title race, while Napoli are a long way off the pace in Serie A. The Champions League thus carries added importance for both sides.
Two midfield stalwarts-turned Champions League-winning managers go head to head as Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid pay Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Los Blancos are in a better position than their opponents right now, as they top La Liga while City trail Liverpool by a country mile in the Premier League.
However, City’s team is very much a match on paper for Real Madrid’s and they have unfinished business in the Champions League.
This will be a first competitive meeting as managers between Zidane and Guardiola and it is bound to be a fascinating tactical battle between the legends of Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.