The UEFA Champions League is back and better than ever. Now that we are in the knockout portion of the tournament, 16 teams remain to battle it out. Which clubs will win and advance to the quarterfinals? Christian De Block, Shaun Chornobroff, and Tayyib Abu give their thoughts on the eight Round of 16 matchups and who they have going through!
A.C. Milan (ITA) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (ENG):
Christian: A.C. Milan are back in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since the 2013-14 season. Getting to this portion of the competition is a great achievement for the Italian giant, but they come into this tie in terrible form. Milan lost four consecutive matches prior to their 1-0 win over Torino on Friday. Tottenham Hotspur has had their fair share of inconsistency since the return from the World Cup break, too. Their last two results are a 1-0 victory over reigning Premier League champions Manchester City, followed by a 4-1 loss at the hands of Leicester City. Point being, it is difficult to gauge what we are going to see from either of these teams from game to game.
The area of the pitch that I want to key in on for this tie is the midfield. Tottenham is far weaker in that position, especially after Rodrigo Bentancur ruptured his ACL over the weekend, ending his campaign. Yves Bissouma is out indefinitely, and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is set to miss the first leg through suspension. If Milan can take advantage of those absences, it could be a deciding factor in them advancing. With that being said, Tottenham still has the incredible goal-scoring ability of Harry Kane available to them. The striker is in great form and I expect that to continue against Milan. Kane, Dejan Kulusevski, and Son Heung-min will do just enough to carry Spurs over the line.
Score Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 5-3 A.C. Milan
Shaun: After winning the Serie A last season, A.C. Milan are back in the Champions League and cruised into the second round, relying largely on success in front of their home crowd. They take on a Tottenham team managed by Antonio Conte, a familiar foe to Milan, going back to his days as a player at Juventus and a manager of several Italian clubs. Tottenham has struggled with consistency this term and if they start out slow against Milan, the likes of Rafael Leão and Milan’s attacking minded fullbacks can give the Italian champions a quick advantage. For Tottenham, the key is keeping consistent and getting goals when they matter most. If Conte wants his squad to advance to the final eight, he’s going to need big moments from Harry Kane and for Tottenham to play its best soccer yet.
Score Prediction: A.C. Milan 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Tayyib: Since Serie A returned in the new year, A.C. Milan has won one game. That 1-0 win over Torino on Friday night was not pretty, but it was a win. The Rossoneri are not playing well right now, but neither are their opponents. Tottenham Hotspur experienced a 4-1 thrashing away at Leicester City on Saturday. Various defensive injuries hurt Tottenham, and they collapsed on defense. Historically, Spurs do not travel well in Europe, and home advantage should give Milan a narrow first-leg win.
Score Prediction: A.C. Milan 4-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) vs. Bayern Munich (GER):
Christian: Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bayern Munich: a tie between two of the best teams in Europe. While that may be true, both clubs may be missing some key players, at least in the first leg. For Paris Saint-Germain, they do expect to have Lionel Messi and Marco Verratti back, but Kylian Mbappé may be on the bench after recently suffering a thigh injury. Bayern’s Manuel Neuer and Lucas Hernandez are both out with long-term injuries, and Sadio Mané is still out with a leg injury he suffered back in November.
For a club that invests so much money in their first-team, Paris Saint-Germain has consistently failed to meet expectations in the Champions League. Last season is a great example, as the French club went from 2-0 up on aggregate to 3-2 down in a 17-minute span in the Round of 16 against Real Madrid. Simply put, Paris Saint-Germain can ill afford to lack concentration in the defensive third, especially against a team as strong as Bayern Munich. Under manager Christophe Galtier, those lapses are far less likely to occur.
Bayern Munich may be having a solid season in all competitions, but they’re still lacking an out-and-out goalscorer. Replacing Robert Lewandowski was always going to be difficult, with their only significant addition being Mané. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting provided goals from the middle of October to early November, scoring in six consecutive matches. Still, the danger man is Jamal Musiala. The attacking midfielder is just 19-years-old, yet he has the qualities of a finished product. His finishing mixed in with his playmaking already puts him in the conversation for the best 10 in world football. Musiala and Bayern will do enough to survive the first leg in France, dominating the second leg to knock Paris Saint-Germain out of the Champions League once again.
Score Prediction: Bayern Munich 4-3 Paris Saint-Germain
Shaun: Until they prove capable of supremacy in this competition, there will be a certain cloud hanging over Paris Saint-Germain. Sure, they’ve dominated French footy at an almost unprecedented level, cycling in world-class talent, but have yet to claim themselves as Champions of Europe. For that to change, they face an extremely difficult tie with Bayern Munich. The Parisians boast the extremely threatening trio of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, and Neymar. Paris Saint-Germain has immense talent all over the pitch, but has an equal opponent in Bayern Munich. This is one of the first big challenges for Paris Saint-Germain manager Christophe Galtier. For his side to move on, he will need to have his full tactical prowess on display. Bayern is in the midst of their first campaign since Robert Lewandowski’s departure. They still have a number of goalscorers and a potential future Ballon D’Or winner in Jamal Musiala. Expect this tilt to be one of the best in this round.
Score Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain 4-3 Bayern Munich
Tayyib: In a rematch of the 2020 final, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain could provide fireworks across the two games. Paris Saint-Germain possesses the firepower to blow away any team. However, after so many painstaking defeats in the knockout stage, the pressure is on Le Parisiens. Kylian Mbappe is the best player in the world, while Lionel Messi is riding high after winning the World Cup. As for Bayern, they are not having it all their way in Germany this season. The German giants are top by only one point and have found goalscoring tough to come by. If this matchup comes down to which team is more potent, Paris Saint-Germain will defeat the six-time champions.
Score Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain 5-3 Bayern Munich
Club Brugge (BEL) vs. Benfica (POR):
Christian: Yes, Benfica has lost some excellent players in recent memory (ex. Darwin Núñez, Enzo Fernández), but they are still a very dangerous team when it comes to the Champions League. The Portuguese side showed that last year, pushing Liverpool to the brink in the quarterfinals after defeating Ajax in the Round of 16. Club Brugge manager Scott Parker will have his hands full as he tries to prepare his team for this encounter.
The Belgian side doesn’t have one out-and-out goalscorer, as four players have at least six league goals this season. Midfielder Hans Vanaken and forward Ferran Jutglà will be the two players to watch out for in this tie. Club Brugge are a good team, but I don’t see them stopping Gonçalo Ramos and the rest of the Benfica attack.
Score Prediction: Benfica 5-2 Club Brugge
Shaun: The key for Club Brugge if they want to exit this matchup victorious is simple: defense. Former Liverpool shot stopper Simon Mignolet kept five clean sheets for the Belgian club during the group stage, setting the tone for a team in its first knockout stage. If Brugge is to move on, they’ll need to grab a couple of goals and will need a special moment or two from Ferran Jutglà. Benfica have been of Europe’s most impressive sides, sporting a balance of youth and veteran presences in their path to domination. Having recently lost Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea is a big blow for Benfica, but they are still a dangerous dark horse, who could make a run all the way to the final.
Score Prediction: Benfica 4-1 Club Brugge
Tayyib: Club Brugge were one of the surprise packages of the group stage. Brugge qualified ahead of Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid. It was a stellar performance. Nonetheless, this tie feels a step too far. Brugge are currently fourth in the Belgian Pro League and are managed by Scott Parker. Parker is a novice at the Champions League level. At the same time, Benfica are stalwarts at this level. The Portuguese club is technically proficient, full of talented players, and will be too strong for the Belgians.
Score Prediction: Benfica 3-1 Club Brugge
Borussia Dortmund (GER) vs. Chelsea (ENG):
Christian: Borussia Dortmund has won six straight matches since the return from the World Cup, putting themselves in a position to go after the Bundesliga title. The German club may be known for allowing young players to leave for a profit, but this is arguably their most well-balanced team in quite a while. 19-year-old midfielder Jude Bellingham is certainly their biggest talent, but he is not alone. The return of Sébastien Haller gives them a quality alternative to Youssoufa Moukoko in the attack. Attacking midfielder Julian Brandt is having a very solid season (six goals and four assists in 17 league starts), allowing 33-year-old Marco Reus to play more sparingly. Dortmund has a defined style of play, one that can hurt any team in this competition.
The same cannot be said about Chelsea, who are under their second manager of the season and are really struggling at the moment (10th in the Premier League through 22 games). Owner Todd Bohely dipped into the market during the January transfer window, spending over £300 million to give the squad a boost. Manager Graham Potter is still looking to find his best 11, something that may take a lot longer than expected.
Chelsea will be reliant on their senior players to get the club through this rough patch. The likes of Thiago Silva, César Azpilicueta, and Raheem Sterling are in a position of leadership to get this group over the line. While the additions of Enzo Fernández, João Félix, and Mykhailo Mudryk make Chelsea far more dangerous, they don’t have enough continuity to defeat a team like Dortmund just yet.
Score Prediction: Borussia Dortmund 4-2 Chelsea
Shaun: Dortmund seem to have the same recipe with different faces. Young burgeoning talents, who somehow continually make this Dortmund team effective. To the loyal Londoners that support Chelsea, Dortmund’s star Jude Bellingham, the English international is a more than familiar name. Either way, this Dortmund team is stout and well coached, but because of its youthful flair, is one of the most dangerous counter attacking teams in the tournament. Chelsea is a team filled with talent, coming off of an influx of additions in the January transfer window. Hence, this is a team still finding its identity under Graham Potter, making it a squad that has the potential to do damage, but one that may stumble in the coming weeks.
Score Prediction: Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Chelsea
Tayyib: Chelsea are mired in mediocrity right now. New head coach Graham Potter is still learning about his squad and searching for his best 11. Chelsea’s lack of rhythm and chemistry is causing many problems. Conversely, Borussia Dortmund’s young, energetic side play with such ferocity they could overwhelm Chelsea.
Score Prediction: Borussia Dortmund 4-1 Chelsea
Liverpool (ENG) vs. Real Madrid (SPA):
Christian: Liverpool are in a terrible run of form, as they have won just two matches since the turn of the year. Injuries have played a key role in that, as the English club have been without forwards Diogo Jota and Luis Díaz for a number of months. Their midfield has struggled as well, lacking the same kind of control and defensive intensity they have shown in recent years. It has been an underwhelming season for Liverpool to this point, but the same can be said for Real Madrid. Los Blancos is now 11 points behind first-placed FC Barcelona in the league, although they do have a game in hand. Madrid is usually right in the thick of a title race, so this is unfamiliar territory for them.
Darwin Núñez has been dealt a ton of criticism during his first campaign at Liverpool, struggling to find the net on many occasions. The Uruguayan international is starting to find his feet, constantly using his pace and strength to get by defenders. If Núñez, Mohamed Salah, and former PSV man Cody Gakpo can work things out, Liverpool will advance. It does help that Virgil van Dijk is fit again, giving manager Jürgen Klopp another weapon at the back.
Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior are the danger man for Real Madrid, two players that have performed so well over the last few seasons. The development of Júnior has been special, as he took a major step forward in Madrid’s run to the Champions League title last season. The Spanish side is strong in the midfield, but their weak area is the defense. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and fullback Ferland Mendy are both injured, leaving them a bit short at the back. This tie can go either way, but I see Liverpool finally get their revenge on Real Madrid in a narrow victory.
Score Prediction: Liverpool 4-3 Real Madrid
Shaun: At its best, no side plays better soccer than Europe. At their peak, Mohamed Salah is one of the world’s best attackers, Thiago Alcantara is one of the best midfielders, Virgil van Djik is one of the best defenders, Alisson Becker is one of the best goalkeepers, and Jurgen Klopp is the sport’s best manager. If we get that Liverpool, they can get through Real Madrid, but if we get the team that has earned a single point in its last three matches, this can get ugly fast. Opposite Liverpool is Real Madrid, a squad that, per usual, is one of Europe’s finest. Under Carlo Ancelotti, the Spanish side have the obvious quality to take down any team. They play a pure brand of football, sporting quality in every facet and most importantly, remain composed in the face of danger every time.
Score Prediction: Liverpool 5-4 Real Madrid
Tayyib: Like Chelsea, Liverpool are struggling in the Premier League. Jurgen Klopp’s team seemed to have hit an emotional and physical wall. Their running stats and goals scored have dropped off dramatically. They resemble a tired team. And the last thing they needed was a matchup with the reigning champions. Real Madrid are masters at peaking for the big games in February. With all their nous, talent, and ruthlessness, Madrid will vanquish Liverpool.
Score Prediction: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool
Eintracht Frankfurt (GER) vs. Napoli (ITA):
Christian: Eintracht Frankfurt earned themselves a place in this season’s Champions League by winning the 2021-22 Europa League final. The German club finished second in a group that included Tottenham, Sporting CP, and Marseille. They’ve done really well to reach this stage of the competition, but this matchup will be their biggest test yet. Napoli are cruising in Serie A, sitting 15 points ahead of second-placed Inter Milan. The Italian side has a +39 goal difference through 22 league matches, which really shows how dominant they have been this season.
In terms of goals, Frankfurt needs Randal Kolo Muani and Jesper Lindstrøm to punish Napoli on the counter-attack. They [Frankfurt] typically set up in a 3-4-2-1 formation, putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the wingbacks to run up and down the flanks for 90 minutes. If they can do that effectively, their defense may have enough to contain the opponent’s potent frontline.
Napoli is led by Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who have accounted for 27 goals in all competitions this season. Kvaratskhelia, who is just 22-years-old, has quickly become a force to be reckoned with. André-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Piotr Zieliński run their midfield, one that is tough to play against. Eintracht Frankfurt have done well in the Champions League, but their run will come to an end against a dominant Napoli side.
Score Prediction: Napoli 5-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Shaun: If you told me when Mario Gotze scored the game-winning goal of the 2014 World Cup that in 2023, I’d be writing about his ability in the Round of 16 in the Champions League, there’d be little surprise. The fact that he’s the face of Eintracht Frankfurt’s fairy tale from a mediocre Bundesliga side to this moment is a shock in itself. Opposite Gotze and Frankfurt are Serie A front-runners Napoli. Napoli, led by striker Victor Osmihen, have been arguably Europe’s most dominant team, led by their attacking exploits. Frankfurt is a team comfortable playing on the counter, but to win, they will need to play their best soccer yet, however, I wouldn’t quite count them out either.
Score Prediction: Napoli 5-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Tayyib: Napoli are the best team in Europe. They are racing to a Serie A championship, and they can tear apart any defense. Star striker Victor Osimhen and Georgian winger Kvicha Kvaratshkelia are the danger men. Both are game-changers with extraordinary talent. Frankfurt is fifth in Germany, and are a well-organized, tough team. But they cannot match Napoli’s relentless energy and firepower.
Score Prediction: Napoli 4-1 Frankfurt
RB Leipzig (GER) vs. Manchester City (ENG):
Christian: RB Leipzig vs. Manchester City sets up as a very entertaining tie between two teams who love to push numbers into the box. Leipzig has a young star in Christopher Nkunku, who is set to leave for Chelsea at the end of the club season. The French forward has a team-high 12 league goals, getting them in a variety of ways. For Manchester City, the main man is Norwegian international Erling Haaland. The striker has 31 goals and 29 appearances (yes, that is not a typo) in all competitions this season, causing problems for every defense he has gone up against.
While Leipzig is an underdog, I would not count them out in this tie. Manchester City are not as invincible as they have been in years past, coming up with poor performances a bit more often. Constant changes in the backline for Pep Guardiola’s men could give Leipzig hope to advance to the last eight. The German side needs to defend well, especially when they are pinned back in their own defensive third. If they can do that, it should allow the likes of Timo Werner and André Silva to get out a run on the counter-attack.
Leipzig needs to play at their best to stand a chance in this one, something they are certainly capable of doing under manager Marco Rose. I expect this tie to be close, but Manchester City will do just enough to advance in the end. Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, and Phil Foden will help the Citizens get over the line.
Score Prediction: Manchester City 5-4 RB Leipzig
Shaun: After handing the team over to Marco Rose, Leipzig dominated their last four Champions League matches, screaming into the next round on great form. However, to take down Manchester City, striker Christopher Nkunku will need to tally a couple of goals and pester the City defense. While this isn’t Pep Guardiola’s best side, it’s still Manchester City. Erling Haaland may be the top pure goalscorer in the game and a top-five player in the world, and there’s quality throughout the pitch.
Score Prediction: Manchester City 3-1 RB Leipzig
Tayyib: Are RB Leipzig too reliant on Christopher Nkunku? The East German team is well coached and disciplined. But Nkunku is their only goal threat. Manchester City are not at their clinical best this season, but they will always create chances. Leipzig will frustrate and force City to fight for the win, and City will do that.
Score Prediction: Manchester City 4-2 Leipzig
Inter Milan (ITA) vs. FC Porto (POR):
Christian: Inter Milan has been getting positive results for a number of weeks, but their performances have been far from convincing. If they want to advance in the Champions League, they will need to perform better against a well-coached team in FC Porto. The Portuguese side have won nine straight matches in all competitions, showing dominance in their 4-4-2 formation. Porto won’t be favored in this tie, but watch out for them to upset Inter.
Lautaro Martínez and Edin Džeko continue to have a great partnership up front, although I did expect Romelu Lukaku to play alongside Martínez much more than he has. Manager Simone Inzaghi has changed his midfield three quite a bit, although I believe his best combination is Nicolò Barella, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, and Marcelo Brozović. Keep an eye on Denzel Dumfries, who is maybe the most underrated fullback in world football. While I do believe Porto is an underrated team, Mehdi Taremi and co. will not be able to hang on against a gritty Inter team.
Score Prediction: Inter Milan 3-1 FC Porto
Shaun: In my opinion, Inter Milan are the better team here. They have a deeper and more talented roster, giving them more tactical versatility. But, Porto comes into the Round of 16 having played some of its best soccer at the end of the group stage and as a result find themselves with a matchup against Inter. If Porto is to win, they are going to need to maintain their European form and may need to play even better than they did before.
Score Prediction: Inter Milan 4-1 FC Porto
Tayyib: This is perhaps the toughest tie to predict. Inter Milan have played excellently since Serie A resumed on January 6. Lautaro Martinez, Edin Dzeko, and Romelu Lukaku are a formidable trio. But Inter Milan can be inconsistent and are notorious for making big mistakes. Porto are second in the Portuguese league and won their Champions League group. They have only lost twice in domestic play, and are very tough to break down. It will be close, and it could go all the way.
Score Prediction: Inter Milan 2-2 FC Porto (Inter Milan win on penalties)