Welcome to the big leagues.
You’ve had a few days to let reality sink in — the reality that there are still two months of anguish before your team can take the field in soccer’s most prestigious international club competition. But fear not, there’s a lot to discuss until then.
Here is part one of a two-part analysis of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 fixtures. The knockout stage begins Feb. 11.
Real Madrid vs. Manchester City
Two historic managers, two incredibly dynamic attacks and two disgustingly subpar defenses.
Coverage for this matchup will rightfully be shoved down our throats, as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to spot the difference between these two sides in their current form. Real Madrid under Zinedine Zidane looks and plays a lot better than Real Madrid under anyone else. We are only one year removed from when Zidane and co. won this competition three times in a row, and it’d be foolish to count them out even with their shortcomings at the back.
But the ultimate question is: Can Man City finally win the Champions League? The truckloads of money spent so far have resulted in immense domestic success — 13 domestic trophies in the last seven years — but have notoriously ended up in Champions League heartbreak and exit.
Pep Guardiola, Man City’s manager, will be the first to tell you that this competition is the priority given its position in the Premier League — third, 14 points behind first place. We know about their attack, but like Madrid, can their defense hold on against the potent prestige of Los Blancos?
Doubtful. Madrid advance.
Borussia Dortmund vs. PSG
On paper, this tie is men against boys. PSG has, and has always had, a squad fit for a deep run in this tournament. Much like Man City, though, PSG has never won this competition and, with billions spent in recent seasons, have yet to reach the semifinals.
They have all the talent and experience to win the competition with Neymar and Mbappé in attack and Thiago Silva and Thiago Silva in defense, but don’t sleep on Dortmund.
With Marco Reus back and firing on all cylinders, Dortmund is within touching distance of a domestic title at the moment. Add Jadon Sancho and Thorgan Hazard to the mix, and you have one of the deadliest attacking units in Germany. The team also has the experience and fortitude in this competition to give PSG a run for its money.
Given all of the above, though, PSG go through.
Chelsea vs Bayern Munich
A rematch of the 2012 Champions League final between two decorated clubs should be an attractive prospect, right? Wrong.
Bayern has regressed substantially since its reign over Europe over the early part of the decade, and Chelsea can’t beat Bornemouth at home in the Premier League. Both clubs are still searching for an identity this season, one that will catapult them back into the fold domestically and abroad.
Bayern is the much more talented and experienced squad, but Chelsea’s navigation through a tough group stage and its substantial bright spots so far this season could give the team a fighter’s chance. It won’t be able to slow down Robert Lewandowski from a scoring ridiculous amount of goals or stop Serge Gnabry from having his way on the dribble, though.
Bayern go through.
Atlético Madrid vs. Liverpool
Liverpool is absolutely the team to beat in this competition. It currently sits atop the Premier League with a 10-point cushion and is yet to lose a game.
The defending champions just squeaked through after a 2-0 win in the final round of the group stage over RB Salzburg, but it’s no secret that the Reds have the most balanced and fluid squad in the tournament. The only thing keeping Liverpool from moving on to the next round is itself. Its defense has only kept two clean sheets in its last 10 domestic fixtures, which is good news for a stagnant Atlético Madrid.
Atlético has solely focused on how to solidify its defense so much so that it has devoid the team of the ability to score goals. João Félix has not lived up to the hype, and manager Diego Simeone can’t find a solution at the moment. Atlético did what it needed to do to get through the group stage, but struggled mightily for long stretches against formidable clubs like Juventus and Bayer Leverkusen.
Atletico really has no chance, and Liverpool will advance with ease.