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 two of a two-part analysis of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 fixtures. The knockout stage begins Feb. 11.
Barcelona vs. Napoli
Simply put, this is Barcelona’s tie to lose.
Napoli is searching for a new identity after firing its former manager Carlo Ancelotti the same day the Italian side beat Belgian club Genk 4-0 to qualify for the round of 16. Ancelotti’s side had fallen to eighth place in Serie A, and now his replacement, former A.C. Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso, is on cleanup duty.
And the last thing a directionless, inconsistent squad needs is a two-leg tie against Spanish football royalty. Barcelona has had its own uncharacteristic stumbles so far this season, but the team is still at the top of La Liga and should be the favorites to go deep in the tournament.
It would be nice to delve into the intricacies of each team and which club is better equipped to move on to the next round, but it’s not necessary. As long as Lionel Messi is on the field, Barcelona is capable of beating anyone in the world.
Tottenham vs. RB Leipzig
Yeah, the Manchester City vs. Real Madrid tie will get all of the headlines, but don’t sleep on this matchup.
RB Leipzig is arguably the best team in Germany at the moment, sitting atop the Bundesliga after a crucial comeback draw against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday. Striker Timo Werner is one of the most underrated goal scorers in world football, but the defense still has questions that need to be answered.
As a unit, Leipzig has no problem with absorbing pressure and forfeiting possession for long stretches because of its deadly counterattacking. The same can’t be said for Tottenham so far this season, which, without the individual brilliance of Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane, would be in a much worse position.
The consensus for which team will advance after two legs is dependent on what newly appointed manager José Mourinho can accomplish in London until February. Whether that means bringing in a few players in the January transfer window or fixing a broken and unreliable defense, something needs to happen for Spurs to beat Leipzig.
The Bundesliga leaders go through to the next round.
Juventus vs. Lyon
One word is all that’s needed to sum up this matchup: lopsided.
Let’s be honest — it would be insulting to even think about Juventus losing this matchup given the circumstances. Not one player on Lyon would start for Juventus if given the chance, and Italy’s “Vecchia Signora” should run circles around the French lions.
Lyon occupies eighth place in Ligue 1 after a dreadful, seven-match winless streak set the team back mightily. Lyon’s form has improved recently, and it does have goal-scoring ability with Moussa Dembélé and Memphis Depay leading the charge.
But what can you do when Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuaín and Douglas Costa are sprinting toward you at the same time? A whole lot of nothing.
Atalanta vs. Valencia
With all due respect to both of these clubs, this is one of the most forgettable round-of-16 matchups in a while.
Valencia won a highly contested Group H to get to this point, but the team, like Napoli and Lyon, is in eighth place in its domestic league and often seem devoid of continuity and consistency. Atalanta squeezed through a group that was owned and operated by Manchester City after losing its first three matches.
There is a sense that whichever team wins this tie can make a Cinderella-esque run, but both teams severely lack formidable goal-scoring talent and stability in defense.
Hit the snooze button. The more experienced Valencia advances.