Champions League knockout preview: Holiday edition

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The Champions League group stage has concluded!

The competition will take its traditional hiatus over the winter and return in February. Before you settle in for the holidays, get your full preview of the elimination stages. Here are the last 16 clubs in the UEFA Champions League — in a holiday-themed preview!

 

The favorites: They are the family members you see year-round — you know them well, and you expect them to be around for a while. These are the clubs that have legitimate shots at winning it all.

 

Barcelona: Perennial favorite Barcelona added three world-class playmakers this year in Arthur, Arturo Vidal and Philippe Coutinho, replenishing the club’s midfield and reviving its dominance of passing football. With Lionel Messi leading the club’s attack, Barcelona may be invincible.

Juventus: The Italian giant has fallen behind Europe’s elite in seasons past, but the addition of Cristiano Ronaldo, who is something of a specialist after winning his fifth Champions League last term, has made the club a complete threat with loads of talent off the bench.

Manchester City: Manager Pep Guardiola led the Citizens to a record-breaking domestic campaign last season. Can Manchester City’s English success finally translate to a European trophy? With the emergence of youngster Leroy Sané, this might be the team’s year.

Paris Saint-Germain: One season after an underwhelming, early exit at the hands of Real Madrid, PSG returns with its core of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Edinson Cavani. After a coaching change and a year playing together, will this PSG squad realize its potential?

 

Haven’t seen you in a while: These are the relatives who are visiting from somewhere else — all you know is it’s far away. You haven’t seen them in forever, but now that they’re back, they’re awesome. These are the dark horses who can shake things up.

 

Atlético Madrid: Atlético was eliminated in the group stage of last year’s competition but has returned with a vengeance. The club’s new stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano, will host the tournament’s final. Los Rojiblancos will seek to capture a Champions League trophy on home turf in June.

Borussia Dortmund: Dortmund was the team to beat at the dawn of this decade. The last few years have been comparatively barren, but Dortmund has a young, talented squad. If the club can keep this team together, Dortmund could be a force now and for years to come.

Ajax: It’s been 12 years since Ajax made the elimination stages of the Champions League and almost a half century since the golden era of Johan Cruyff and Total Football, but this young Ajax side has proved that it can hang with the best. Now can Ajax beat them?

 

Whoa, tough year: It’s been a couple of months since you’ve last seen these family members and, boy, it was a hard couple of months! Things have certainly changed for the worse — these are the clubs that were dominant last season but have struggled since then.

 

Real Madrid: After losing the club’s manager and best player over the summer, this squad finally seems to be showing weakness. Vinícius Júnior has begun to grow into his role as Ronaldo’s replacement, but Real Madrid has been inconsistent at best.

Bayern Munich: New manager Niko Kovač is experiencing growing pains with a rapidly aging lineup, and Munich struggled mightily against a young Ajax side in the group stage. The club has young talent and older veterans, but little in between. This may be a rebuilding year for Bayern.

Liverpool: It took a 1-0 home win on the last day of group play for Liverpool to scrape into the round of 16. Liverpool has been unbeatable (literally — the team is undefeated) in the Premier League, but the same has not been true in the Champions League. Hope is not yet lost — expect manager Jurgen Klopp to turn things around.

Tottenham Hotspur: After losing its first two matches, Tottenham went undefeated in its last four to make it to the knockout rounds. Spurs made Liverpool’s margin for error look absolutely massive, but the team is more than battle-tested for this next stage.

 

That one drunk uncle: Yeah, you know exactly who I’m talking about. Maybe it’s not your uncle, but someone is definitely a hot mess at New Year’s. They need to make some big resolutions and seriously get their life together.

 

Manchester United: The Red Devils are a Netflix special waiting to happen. Jose Mourinho’s press conferences belong on a soap opera, and Manchester United’s play is hot and cold like the showers on the top floor of a UC Berkeley residence hall. Maybe the club needs a new manager, maybe it just needs some holiday love, but something must change.

 

It’ll be a miracle if you remember them: You’re trying to recall their name, you really are… but you’re drawing a blank. It’ll be a miracle if you remember anything about those relatives — the same kind of miracle these clubs will need.

 

FC Porto: Porto dominated in the group stage, with the highest point total of any group winner, but the club has had a relatively weak schedule. That being said, it may have an easy first-round opponent, and with its dangerous attack, Porto may cause trouble.

Olympique Lyonnais: Lyon was undefeated in the group stage, but that involved five draws. To succeed, Lyon will have to win games. With star man Nabil Fekir, who has been unstoppable, the club can win, but it just hasn’t.

AS Roma: Roma finished as semifinalists last season, but the team has since lost starters Radja Nainggolan and Alisson Becker. This squad feels like a shell of its former self and may not have the depth to compete in the Champions League.

FC Schalke 04: The German side emerged from a relatively easy Group B. The club lost budding talent Leon Goretzka during the offseason and has only managed six goals. Its defense has kept the team alive, only letting in four scores. Unfortunately, all four of those were netted by FC Porto, and Schalke will face better offenses than the Portuguese side’s in the round of 16.

Jasper Sundeen writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].