The UEFA Champions League last 16 draw features some David vs. Goliath ties and some fixtures which are almost too close to call on paper. Last season, knockout ties from the quarter-final stage onwards were played in single-leg format due to COVID-19 causing scheduling constraints. It is difficult to predict what twists and turns the pandemic will take, but the plan as of now is for two-legged ties to return for the entirety of the knockout rounds bar the final, as per usual in Europe’s premier club competition.
Below, we run you through every tie and stick our necks out to make early predictions for each one. Bear in mind that these are for the winners over the course of two legs — one home and away for each side.
Borussia Mönchengladbach v Manchester City
Mönchengladbach progressed from the most tightly contested group in this season’s Champions League ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan, but behind Real Madrid.
Gladbach are not to be taken lightly, but the way they were brushed aside by Real Madrid in their final group game suggests they might struggle against City. At the time of writing, Marco Rose’s men sit eighth in the Bundesliga and there is speculation that the highly-rated Rose is soon to join Borussia Dortmund.
City themselves have been inconsistent in the Premier League this season, but their talent and their hunger for European glory should see them through. Pep Guardiola has plenty of experience on the big European stage and his players do too by now, so a comfortable City victory is likely on the cards.
Lazio v Bayern Munich
Bayern are the defending European champions, and while they have had their ups and downs domestically this season, they have picked up where they left off in the Champions League.
From a group featuring Atlético Madrid, RB Salzburg, and Lokomotiv Moscow, the Bavarian giants picked up a near-perfect 16 points in six matches.
Lazio surprised most by mounting a serious Serie A title challenge last season. However, this season, they have struggled for consistency. It is unlikely that they will be able to raise their game over two legs against the best team in Europe. A comfortable Bayern victory is the most likely outcome here.
Atlético Madrid v Chelsea
This tie is nowhere near as easy to call a favourite for as the two aforementioned match-ups. Diego Simeone’s men are among the La Liga frontrunners and have been pitted against Frank Lampard’s Chelsea — a competitive force in the Premier League once more.
It seems counterintuitive to those who watched Chelsea’s tremendous European form in the early years under Roman Abramovich, but the current Blues squad is relatively green as a unit on this stage in comparison with Los Rojiblancos.
However, Chelsea are growing into this season and have a team with talent second to none. New signings Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Thiago Silva, and even Ben Chilwell came readymade with Champions League experience.
What Atlético have over the Blues is the benefit of a system which they have had years to perfect under Simeone. They were superbly organised in last season’s round of 16 win over Liverpool and now have the benefit of a world-class striker leading the line in Luis Suárez.
The tie will likely be won and lost by the finest of margins. However, Chelsea are still the better team pound for pound and are predicted to edge this one.
RB Leipzig v Liverpool
This is another tie that could go either way. Of course, Liverpool are the better team on paper, but RB Leipzig made it as far as the semi-finals last season and have already eliminated Manchester United in this campaign.
Leipzig will arrive prepared, with Julian Nagelsmann ready to go toe-to-toe with the last young German coach before him to take Europe by storm. By now, Klopp is a seasoned campaigner at this level, and for all his complaining about Liverpool’s fixture schedule, he has proved so far this season that he knows how to cope.
Injuries and illness have threatened to derail the Reds’ season, but Liverpool have remained in the Premier League title fight and beat Atalanta, Ajax, and Midtjylland to top spot in their group. The likes of Neco Williams, Caoimhín Kelleher, and Curtis Jones have stepped up to the plate when called upon.
Liverpool should have enough depth and quality to edge this one, but victory is unlikely to come easy.
FC Porto v Juventus
This may appear to be an easy tie to call at first glance, but caution should be exercised.
Porto are a side who have repeatedly proven themselves to be capable of posing problems for Europe’s elite. Indeed, their last Champions League title (2003-04) came after Juventus’ (1995-96).
However, Juve, like City, are hungry for glory in Europe and will surely view this game as a priority. Having replaced Maurizio Sarri with Andrea Pirlo despite the former’s success in Serie A, they made it clear that they will only rest when their efforts in the Champions League are rewarded.
Few teams if any can match Juve for depth and they have to be viewed as favourites over two legs against Porto. A narrow win for the Bianconeri is our prediction.
Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain
This is the tie that PSG have surely been waiting for since they squandered a 4-0 aggregate lead against Barca in 2017 at this same stage, losing the second leg 6-1.
Neymar scored twice for Barcelona on that night, but later that year, he made a shock move to PSG for a world-record fee of €222m. It proved a major turning point for the Catalan giants, then arguably still the dominant force in Europe. They have never fully replaced him and have often found themselves on the end of similarly embarrassing defeats to the one they inflicted on PSG.
PSG were losing finalists in last season’s Champions League, coming as close as they ever have to the title. However, their Ligue 1 dominance has been threatened this season by Lille, Lyon, Marseille, and Montpellier.
Nevertheless, Neymar has saved his best form for Europe and is likely to torment his old teammates — or those who are left in a side hanging on the ropes in La Liga. PSG are tipped for a comfortable victory over the course of two legs.
Sevilla v Borussia Dortmund
An exciting tie pits last season’s Europa League winners against one of Europe’s most exciting teams to watch. Both are hanging on the fringes of their domestic league title races, so it is difficult to pick a winner.
Dortmund are likely to be the more enterprising of the two sides. Julen Lopetegui has built a solid defence as its foundation. Sevilla’s two group stage fixtures against Chelsea offered viewers some insight into what their strengths and weaknesses are.
The first time they played the Blues, in a 0-0 draw, Sevilla demonstrated how organised they are. However, when the two teams met again, they looked bereft of ideas – especially after Chelsea scored. Frank Lampard’s men won that game 4-0.
It is difficult to know what to expect from Dortmund following the sacking of Lucien Favre in the wake of a 5-1 defeat to Stuttgart.
With world-class players such as Erling Braut Haaland and Jadon Sancho on their books, Dortmund have the quality to tip what should be a tight tie in their favour.
Atalanta v Real Madrid
Real Madrid were a team in shambles mere weeks ago, but they have seemingly begun another revival under Zinedine Zidane. At the time of writing, their last two games were 2-0 wins over Borussia Mönchengladbach and Atlético Madrid, and before that, they beat Sevilla 1-0.
Atalanta demonstrated what a threat they can be when they beat Liverpool 2-0 in Group D, but they were also beaten 5-0 by the same opponents.
In a one-off tie, Atalanta would have stood a much better chance against Real Madrid than they do over two legs. Los Blancos have won the UEFA Champions League in three attempts out of four under Zidane and have to go down as clear favourites despite Real Madrid’s unreliable home form.