The draw for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 is coming up tomorrow, and Bayern Munich fans will be ecstatic (or, perhaps a little disconcerted?). Despite having topped their group, the Bavarians face the prospect of drawing some real heavyweights early in the competition, thanks to Bundesliga teams actually doing well in Europe for a change.
Who are the best picks of the bunch? Who would Niko Kovac’s men rather avoid? Well, to answer that question, let’s look at our possible opponents in the UCL Ro16:
- Atlético Madrid (ESP)
- Liverpool (ENG)
- Olympique Lyonnais (FRA)
- Manchester United (ENG)
- AS Roma (ITA)
- Tottenham Hotspur (ENG)
The draw rules state that a team cannot draw a club from its own league this early, so facing Schalke is not an option. Borussia Dortmund topped group A, kicking down Atletico Madrid into the runners up position. Not all teams have the same number of opponents available to them, so every single draw isn’t equally likely. Here’s a link to a draw simulator, if you want to play around.
Based on their quality and performances these season, here’s how they stack up against each other, with a handy little difficulty rating to assess them. Without further ado, here are Bayern Munich’s possible opponents in the Ro16, ranked from easiest to hardest:
Easy, but annoying: Manchester United
This might come as a surprise to those who were expecting Roma to be here, but Manchester United really are one of the weakest teams left in the UCL right now. Jose Mourinho’s side boasts a large collection of highly rated and highly paid star players, but United as a team struggle to function on the football pitch.
The reason why Manchester United would be relatively easy for Bayern Munich to face is because of their staggering lack of pace and width on the flanks. Apart from Antonio Valencia, the Red Devils lack any true wide players — with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford being more akin to wide forwards than actual wingers.
This would make them relatively easy for Niko Kovac to deal with, since without pace on the flanks, Bayern can stamp their dominance on the game. However, note the word “relatively” in that statement. Manchester United can still hurt us, especially if Jose Mourinho manages to shut down our offense and grab a goal on a counter.
This is, after all, the Champions League. Truly easy fixtures don’t exist.
We’ll take it: AS Roma
After years and years of selling their best players, it seems that talent drain has finally caught up to AS Roma. The denizens of the Italian capital currently sit at 8th place on the Serie A table, with the potential to rise to 6th once the matchday ends. After several lackluster performances this season, coach Eusebio Di Francesco is under a lot of pressure from the Roman faithful despite the team’s incredible performances the year before.
While Roma may lack star names like Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba, they make up for it talent and speed on the wings. Stephan El Shaarawy and Cengiz Under form a lethal duo on the flanks, supported by a midfield of Steven Nzonzi and Daniele De Rossi. These players could be deceptively hard for Bayern to deal with, especially if the team are hampered by injuries.
Mostly manageable: Tottenham Hotspur
When talking about Tottenham Hotspur, one must really emphasize the “relatively” in “relatively easy”. Because of Arsenal’s prolonged absence from the UCL, Bayern Munich haven’t visited North London in a while, and the team would probably prefer if it stayed that way.
Spurs have one of the best starting XI’s in the world, filled with players like Heung-min Son and Harry Kane, and are coached by one of the highest-rated coaches in England. While they may not be as successful this season as in previous ones, they still sit at 3rd place on the Premier League table, just 5 points behind Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Bayern Munich will have to work hard to deal with Spurs, mainly because of all the talent they have. This is a well-rounded team with very few weaknesses, but one that the Bavarians can definitely beat.
Um, we’d rather not: Lyon
Lyon only won one game in the Champions League group stages, but that game was against Manchester City. In England, no less. While the French team have been known as consistent Europa League also-rans for the last several seasons, their win at the Etihad propels them ahead of Spurs in this ranking of possible opponents for Bayern.
Once again, Bayern’s biggest issue is dealing with pace on the wings, and in Memphis Depay, Lyon have an excess of just that. Nabil Fekir could also be a huge issue — the Frenchman has 3 goals and 2 assists in the Champions League this season, causing him to be linked with a transfer to Munich in the summer, especially if James Rodriguez decides to move on.
Out of all the teams in this list, Lyon are the ones most likely to cause an upset.
Oh no: Atletico Madrid
This team needs no introduction. Everyone knows who Atletico Madrid are and what they’re about. If we draw them, then Diego Simeone will stop at nothing to make Niko Kovac’s life a living hell. Los Colchoneros aren’t as dominant this season as they have been in recent years, only managing to keep pace with a very mediocre Barcelona team in La Liga. They were humiliated by Borussia Dortmund 4-0, but salvaged some pride by taking a 2-0 victory in the return fixture.
In the end, despite their troubles this season, Altetico Madrid’s ability to clamp down on opponents is rivaled only by Juventus, and they have all the tools to punish possession-based teams on the counter. Bayern Munich probably wouldn’t be considered favorites against these guys — it’s more like 50-50 at best.
Anyone but them: Liverpool
Out of all the group runners-up, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are by far the most dangerous. It might have been better if PSG or Napoli had come second in group C, because Liverpool are quite possibly the worst opponent Bayern could hope to face.
Already boasting excellent players such as Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Virgil van Djik, Jurgen Klopp spent the summer reinforcing key areas of his squad — namely the goalkeeper and attacking midfield positions. Alisson Becker adds much needed stability in goal for Liverpool, while former Bayern player Xherdan Shaqiri has been a revelation for the Reds this season. Combine this with the rise of youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold, and you have a team with the perfect mix of grit, pace, talent, and experience.
Bayern Munich have caused Jurgen Klopp much grief in the past. If we draw Liverpool, he will look to pay it all back tenfold.