With the Champions League Round of 16 matchups less than two weeks away, I will be taking a deep dive into the first four matchups as well as the deciding factors.
Borussia Dortmund (GER) vs Paris Saint-Germain (FRA):
This will 100% be one of the most entertaining matchups of this round with two attacking-minded teams facing off. Stars such as Erling Håland and Jadon Sancho of Dortmund and Kylian Mbappé and Neymar of PSG will look to be the deciding factors of this two-legged tie. With both teams being very attacking, I expect this to be a high scoring tie.
As of February 9th, Dortmund sit in third-place in the Bundesliga trailing only Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig by three and four points respectively. Dortmund’s attack was bolstered by the signing of 19 year old forward Erling Håland. Håland, who previously played for RB Salzburg in Austria, started his goal scoring account for his new club by netting seven goals in his first four league appearances for the German club.
If Dortmund are going to advance to the quarter final, Erling Håland will need to continue his goal scoring as it looks as if Marco Reus and possibly Julian Brandt will miss the first leg with injuries. With Dortmund having one league game against Eintracht Frankfurt before the first leg against the French powerhouse, it will be interesting to see if they rest for the Champions League.
For PSG, the spectrum of their domestic season looks a lot different as they currently hold a twelve point lead over second place Marseille in Ligue 1. This team is led by some of the best forwards in the world in Neymar and Mbappé. Their big lead in the league can not be a point of reference for the Champions League round of 16 though, since the French league has not been competitive in recent seasons.
On the other hand, PSG were able to win a group that had Real Madrid in it, which gives some signs that this year could be different for them in the European Competition. At the moment, Neymar has a rib injury, but with the likes of Mbappé and strikers Mauro Icardi and Edinson Cavani, the team has plenty of attacking depth.
This tie can really go either way as both teams are predicated on scoring goals and leaving their defenses exposed on the counter. With that said, I think whoever scores more goals will end up getting to the final eight.
Both teams have injury concerns going into the first leg on February 18th, so it will be interesting to see who deals with that better. Even though I expect Håland and the rest of Borussia Dortmund to score in both legs, I predict that PSG will be too much for the shaky Dortmund defense.
Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain over Borussia Dortmund: (6-4)
Atlético Madrid (ESP) vs Liverpool (ENG):
This round of 16 tie should be very different from the Dortmund and PSG matchup as Madrid and Liverpool have some of the best defenses in the world at the moment. Atlético Madrid has had a lot of recent success in the competition after losing in the final in both 2014 and 2016.
Liverpool have also advanced to UCL final in recent years, but were able to pull through with a 2-0 victory over Spurs last season. This will not be a high scoring tie, but it will come down to which defense will be able to contain the attack of the opposition.
Currently, Atlético Madrid sit in fourth in the La Liga behind Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Getafe CF. Their biggest issue has been a lack of goals scoring only 23 goals in 23 games in their league. With the departure of French forward Antonie Griezmann to Barcelona in the summer, Madrid have failed to replace his goal contributions.
João Félix, their biggest signing in the summer, has not lived up to expectations with injuries and a lack of production limiting him so far. At the moment, Madrid are without Diego Costa, Álvaro Morata, and Felix, who are all dealing with various injuries. With the lack of scoring ability and likely less options to start the first leg on the 18th of February, it is going to be a struggle for Atlético Madrid to hang with the current champions.
Liverpool, who currently hold a 22 point lead over second place Manchester City in the Premier League, are looking to become the repeat champions of the Champions League. They have been one of the most dominant teams in the world so far this season, and are showing no signs of slowing down in any of their competitions.
Liverpool are known for having one of the most lethal attacks in the world behind the services of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane, but the defense is really what has skyrocketed the team to an even higher level. Virgil van Dijk along with Joe Gomez, Trent-Alexander Arnold, and Andrew Robertson, have been shutting teams down, especially in the Premier League. If Liverpool can continue their ridiculous form in the UCL, Atlético Madrid are going to have a ton of trouble.
Going into this Round of 16 tie, Liverpool should be favored to advance to the quarterfinal. With key injuries to Atlético Madrid and Liverpool FC high flying in the Premier League, the English side should have all the confidence to win this tie.
Madrid will need a collective effort, especially attacking wise, if they want to put any pressure on Liverpool to make things interesting. Overall, I expect that Liverpool will have too much for Madrid to stop with the likes of Salah, Mane, and Firmino to ultimately advance.
Prediction: Liverpool over Atlético Madrid: (3-1)
Atalanta (ITA) vs Valencia (SPA):
This tie will be the battle of two teams left in the competition that were not expected to advance going into their last group game. Valencia, who had to get a result at Ajax on the last matchday to advance, were somehow able to pull out a 1-0 victory behind a Rodrigo goal to send Ajax out of the Champions League.
Similarly, the life of Atalanta in the competition came down to the last day as they were able to come back from three straight defeats in the group to advance. With both teams finding ways to advance to the last 16, it will be fun to watch which underdog finds themselves in the next round.
This was an important year for Atalanta as this was their first appearance in the Champions League in club history. With a flashy attacking side, the Italian club were able to finish third in the league and get an automatic berth into the Champions League.
Atalanta had a ton of success last year as a result of being the highest scoring team in Serie A with 77 goals over the entire season. So far this season, the team has been able to continue their scoring rate by bagging 61 goals in 23 games behind the services of Duván Zapata, Josip Iličić, and Papu Gómez. If Atalanta are able to punish Valencia early at home in the first leg, I see the Italian side getting to the quarters.
Valencia is in a much different state compared to Atalanta going into this Champions League match. The Spanish side sits in seventh in the La Liga coming off a poor 3-0 loss at Getafe CF this past weekend. Valencia are the epitome of an average team this season.
In the league, they scored 33 goals and conceded 32. I was surprised to see that they found a way to outlast Ajax in their group and ultimately get to this round. Valencia are a team in rebuilding mode, but they find themselves with a chance to get to the final, and they will need to lean on their experience over anything.
23 year old Uruguayan forward Maxi Gómez has led the line scoring 9 goals in the league so far. Other players such as midfielder Dani Parejo, wingback Gayà, and forward Rodrigo have plenty of experience and will need to use it to ultimately advance. The Spanish side does not look like a team that can get to the quarterfinals at the moment, but anything can happen in a two-legged tie.
This matchup is a difficult one to predict with the lack of consistency so far this season from both teams. Being the more attacking side, Atalatna will look to create a galore of chances that will push Valencia back, especially in the first leg in Italy.
Even with all the experience in the Valencia squad, I really have a hard time finding ways for them to create goals. With the first leg at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, I see Atalanta scoring a few goals leaving Valencia with too much work in the second leg.
Prediction: Atalanta over Valencia: (5-2)
Tottenham Hotspur F.C. (ENG) vs RB Leipzig (GER):
Since the UCL final defeat in June against Liverpool, things have drastically changed for Spurs. Not only was there a manager change, but more money than ever was spent to bolster the team even though Christian Erikesen and Danny Rose left in January for Inter Milan and Newcastle United.
Spurs will be facing one of the most entertaining teams to watch in Europe. RB Leipzig is managed by one of the best young managers in Julian Nagelsmann, who has the German club challenging Bayern Munich for the league title. I believe that the tactics of Nagelsmann and José Mourinho will be key in which team advances to the quarter final
The runner up of the competition last year will have their work cut out for them as they’re hindered both by injuries and facing a very difficult opponent this round. Their biggest injury concern revolves around club-captain Harry Kane, who continues his reputation of being injury-prone. He will miss most of the season if not all, so Spurs will have to move on without his services for the time being.
This season, Tottenham got off to a very slow start resulting in the sacking of former manager Mauricio Pochettino. Even though Spurs sit in sixth in the Premier League, the team has had no consistency, which is a cause of concern in this competition. The team will need to put in a good performance at the Red Bull Arena in the first leg as having a comeback against an experienced Leipzig team will be a very tall task.
Their success in last years’ competition will give them confidence to make a deep run once again as most of the squad from the end of last season is still playing major minutes.
Without Kane, the Spurs attack will rely on Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura, Dele Alli, and newly signed Steve Bergwijn to contribute goals. Spurs will 100% have a chance to get to the next round, but their attackers will need to be clinical in front of goal to ultimately progress.
My dark horse team that I believe can raise a lot of eyebrows and knock off some of the best teams has to be RB Leipzig. Led by German forward Timo Werner, the German club has put a ton of pressure on the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund for the Bundesliga title.
Leipzig have the likes of American midfielder Tyler Adams and French defender Dayot Upamecano, who have the talent to become some of the best players at their postition over time.. This mixture of veterans and young talent has allowed the German club to have a good defensive shape, but even more deadly on the counter attack when opponents leave themselves exposed.
They have the ability to go to tough arenas and get results, which was perfectly shown at the Allianz Arena, where Lezpig were able to secure an excellent point at the German giants. RB Leipzig is one of the scariest teams to face in a two-legged competition, and if they are able to get past Spurs, I see them getting even deeper into this conversation.
If Tottenham were going to win the Champions League, last year was by far their best chance with various European powerhouses like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in a transition period. Although they have retained most of their squad from the team that made it to the final, I still believe Mourinho needs at least another transfer window to get the right players for his system.
Harry Kane and midfielder Moussa Sissoko’s injuries will play a role in this tie as well, which favors RB Leipzig. The first leg is in Germany giving the upper hand to Leipzig if they can use their pace upfront to cause problems for the Spurs defense with the likes of Werner and their most recent signing Dani Olmo.
I believe that the inconsistent form of Spurs will be their downfall as Leipzig will take advantage of the Spurs mistakes over the two-legged tie.
Prediction: RB Leipzig over Spurs: (5-3)