Well, that took quite a while. After an unprecedented redraw due to some silly mistakes, the round of 16 draw for this season’s UEFA Champions League is now complete. It’s not the most exciting draw out there, and some fans may be mourning the missed opportunity to watch Lionel Messi take on Cristiano Ronaldo per the previous draw, but there are still some good clashes ready. Let’s take a look at each one.
FC Salzburg - FC Bayern
We start things off with our very own Bayern Munich. Having been presented with a formidable opponent in Atletico Madrid a few hours ago, the Bavarians will be facing off against knockout round debutants FC Salzburg. Interestingly enough, just like they did Atletico, Bayern have also faced Salzburg in last year’s group stage. Bayern resoundingly defeated the home side in Salzburg 6-2, and won the return leg 3-1. However, this isn’t Hansi Flick’s Bayern we’re talking about. Will Julian Nagelsmann be able to better his predecessor? We’ll find out in February. One thing’s for sure, though: in terms of travel distance, Bayern got the best draw possible. Salzburg is just about an hour and half to two hours away from Munich, depending on if you travel by car or train. It’s basically another Bundesliga away game, and this one is even closer than some domestic opponents like Dortmund or Leipzig.
Sporting CP - Manchester City
Sporting came second in a group that admittedly wasn’t the most challenging one out there, beating an injury-ridden Borussia Dortmund to second place. Now, they face their greatest challenge this season: last year’s runners-up Manchester City. City is an entirely different game altogether, and although Pep Guardiola has become notorious for messing up Champions League games in recent years, it’s highly unlikely to see his City side, who are currently top of the Premier League as well, losing out to Sporting. But hey, this is football, you never know what to expect. Surprisingly enough, Sporting have actually knocked City out of Europe in 2011/12, in the Europa League round of 16.
SL Benfica - AFC Ajax
Benfica make their appearance in the knockout stages for the first time since 2016/17, when they lost to Borussia Dortmund. This time, it doesn’t get any easier. Standing in their way is Ajax, who are enjoying a stellar Champions League season, with six wins from six games. What’s more, Ajax have the upper hand against Benfica head-to-head(4 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss). Their most recent meeting came in the 2018/19 season’s group stage, when Ajax won 1-0 at home before drawing 1-1 in Lisbon. Guess who else was in that group? Bayern Munich.
Chelsea - LOSC Lille
This is the only unchanged matchup from the previous draw. Chelsea ended up getting the easiest possible opponent they could get from their runner-up position, and twice in a row at that. This means one of two things: either it’s Chelsea’s destiny to play Lille, or the draw was rigged. We’re not making any guesses. Anyway, Chelsea met Lille only once before, in the 2019/20 group stage, winning both home and away legs 2-1. Now, as the defending champions, they are expected to breeze past Lille, whose position as group winners wasn’t confirmed until the final matchday of the group stages. We really don’t see Thomas Tuchel mucking this one up, but again, this is football, you never know.
Atletico Madrid - Manchester United
It was all thanks to Atletico that we even got this redraw in the first place. After a faulty draw got them a death match against Bayern, they complained, and got a relatively more favorable draw in Manchester United. But is it really that favorable? Yes, Man United aren’t doing too well this season, but they have a new coach in Ralf Rangnick, and he’s bound to do better than his predecessor. United also have Cristiano Ronaldo, Atletico’s arch nemesis in the Champions League. Diego Simeone has never beaten a team with Ronaldo at the helm, and this might be his chance to finally do so, but judging from Atletico’s current form, that doesn’t look as easy as it sounds. It’s an interesting matchup, we’ll see if Atletico’s complaint was worth it.
Last year’s Europa League winners face a Juventus side that’s in desperate need of a revamp. The Bianconeri are languishing in seventh in Serie A, and have failed to win more than half of their seventeen league games so far. It was only a last second Zenit equalizer that somehow saw them top their group over Chelsea. Mark my words, they’re not the threat they used to be. But then again, Villarreal aren’t doing much better. They’re currently in 13th in La Liga, and they were quite prone to bottling close games, as they’ve shown in the group stages. It’s quite a hard one to predict, this one, and it’s likely that this will be the biggest slugfest in the round. But then, it could also be the most evenly poised matchup, just not at that high a level.
This is another interesting matchup. Inter are enjoying a successful year, being defending champions of Italy and also topping the league this season as well. Their Champions League form has also improved from last season, when they finished dead last in their group. But their round of 16 opponents definitely could be easier. Liverpool are one of the three teams this season to finish their groups with a perfect win record, and are also doing well in England, just a point off the summit. As good as Inter may be, Liverpool may just be too high a mountain to climb for the Nerazzurri. But they aren’t leading Serie A for nothing, so we’ll see if they can be more than a match for the Reds from Merseyside. It’s a game that a lot of fans can look forward to.
Paris Saint-Germain - Real Madrid
We come to the biggest matchup in this stage, saved for last. PSG’s money laden European dream has hit yet another roadblock in the shape of record champions Real Madrid. Now, Paris may have ample reason to be confident, as the last time they faced Madrid (2019/20), they didn’t lose a single game. But that Madrid was one that was in transition, and didn’t pick up the pace until the very end of the season. The current Real Madrid, led by Carlo Ancelotti(yeah, remember him?), are in pretty good shape. They’re topping La Liga, and apart from a slight mishap against Sheriff Tiraspol, won all their group games to top their Champions League group as well. What’s more, PSG aren’t led by Thomas Tuchel anymore. It remains to be seen whether the acquisition of Lionel Messi will be enough to power the Parisians through, or how well Sergio Ramos will fare against his former club. One thing’s for sure though; PSG’s Champions League hopes aren’t looking as rosy as they once did.