Soccer experts Andrew Noland and Chris Lierly give their takes on which teams will prevail in the next round of the knockout stage.
A.S. Roma vs. FC Porto
Chris’s Pick: Porto 4-1
Andrew’s Pick: Porto 5-2
Andrew’s Take: FC Porto under Sérgio Conceição have dominated the Primeira Liga by continuing the magic Portuguese formula for continental success: playing compact, defensive 4-4-2 football while harnessing the speed of youthful talent. On the other side, Roma has practically no talent. The loss of Alisson, and Edin Dzeko’s lack of a supporting cast, has relegated Roma to mediocrity. Only barely clawing out of their weak group, Roma should not pose any threat to Porto, and when Roma can develop an attack, Porto are more likely to pounce and counter. Italians should avert their eyes.
Manchester United F.C. vs. Paris Saint-Germain F.C.
Chris’s Pick: United 6-4
Chris’s Take: If this is not the best matchup of the entire round, then it is only second to Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich. This match boasts two teams in distinctly different positions domestically. PSG have all but won Ligue 1 by a record-breaking margin, and United currently sits at sixth in the Premier League. However, PSG just lost Neymar for the season, and United have won six straight matches. United will win not just because they are possibly the hottest team in Europe, but because interim manager Ole Gunnar Solksjær has proved he can change tactics mid game, which will benefit him in what will likely prove to be a heated contest against the Parisians.
Andrew’s Pick: Paris San Germain 5-4
Andrew’s Take: This will be the closest of all the ties and might even come down to the injury time in the last leg. When the draw first came out, it appeared to be a cake walk for the Parisians when comparing Tuchel’s invincible run against Mourinho’s flopping side. But December changed everything. Suddenly, Manchester United has gone on an eight-match unbeaten streak, Pogba and Rashford are among the best players in England, PSG’s midfield decided to leave and Neymar’s sister’s birthday curse struck again (seriously, look it up).
However, despite these drastic shifts, the decisive factor is still the French superstar Kylian Mbappe. The World Cup Young Player of 2018 still looks like the successor to Ronaldo and only continues to improve. Tuchel will instruct Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and new defensive midfielder acquisition Leandro Paredes to swing the ball to the flanks and circumvent Pogba and the Manchester frontline entirely. Mbappe will be allowed to style on the Red Devils’ weak backline and pound De Gea in the first leg before matching up with Cavani for a dominant performance in front of the Paris crowd.
Tottenham Hotspur F.C. vs. Borussia Dortmund
Chris’s Pick: BVB 4-2
Andrew’s Pick: BVB 6-1
Andrew’s Take: Dortmund, under Lucien Favre, have developed into a cohesive and impenetrable unit. Dominating their group, Marco Reus, Paco Alcacer and Jadon Sancho can now boast that they are one of the best front threes in Europe this year, and their countering style faces well against Mauricio Pochettino’s high press attack. To compound their abysmal form against top teams, Harry Kane and Dele Alli are injured and unavailable for both legs of the Round of 16. Pochettino will need to pray that Heung-Min Son, quietly becoming the Tottenham’s best player this season, can continue his magic and that a bumbling Fernando Llorente can finally put the ball in the net. But the Bundesliga favorites should pull away at Signa Iduna Park to move onto the next round.
AFC Ajax vs. Real Madrid C.F.
Andrew’s Pick: Real Madrid 2-1
Chris’s Pick: Real 4-1
Chris’s Take: This one should be straightforward. Real Madrid entered the knockout stage of the Champions League without Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time in almost a decade, but that’s not likely to stop the experience and talent of Los Blancos from shining through. This has been a lackluster season for Real in La Liga, where they are 10 points behind Barcelona, but Karim Benzema is currently in spectacular form, and it will not take much to end the Dutch side. However, this Ajax side has some future superstars on it and got unlucky in the draw, just like the long list of under-experienced teams that annually draw Madrid in this round.
Olympique Lyonnais vs. FC Barcelona
Chris’s Pick: Barca 6-1
Andrew’s Pick: Barca 5-1
Andrew’s Take: Barcelona have simply looked unstoppable in every single competition they play. Messi is still Messi, Suarez is still Suarez and possession soccer continues to produce results for Valverde’s side. Olympique Lyonnais’ youthful attack could pose serious issues for Barcelona’s aging backline, an advantage also exploited by Lyon’s win against Manchester City and Pep Guardiola in the Group Stage of the Champions League. If Lyon can press on Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets with Maxwel Cornet, Memphis Depay and superstar Nabil Fekir, Lyon might be able to squeak by the Catalan giants.
Liverpool F.C. vs. FC Bayern Munich
Chris’s Pick: Liverpool 5-4
Chris’s Take: This is the hardest pick, the biggest matchup and will likely prove to be the most entertaining draw of the entire round. Liverpool led the Premier League and showed the world they were cut out for Champions League last year by making it as far as the final. Bayern Munich, though currently second in the Bundesliga, have begun to improve their form and have the kind of experience necessary to weather the pressure.
However, Liverpool not only boast the racing speed attack of last season, but now have cultivated a defensive culture around Virgil van Dijk. That tactically sound defense will prevent the Bavarians from running up the score, and Niklas Süle has not been the focus of the Bayern Munich backline long enough to stop the central duo of Mo Salah and Bobby Firmino.
Andrew’s Pick: Bayern 4-3
Andrew’s Take: I’m not confident in this pick, but hear me out. While Bayern under manager Niko Kovac have struggled to find consistency and been unable to catch perennial rivals Dortmund in the Bundesliga, the Bayern side need to take the next step in continental play. With time to study against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool during the winter break (a luxury that the Liverpool side does not get to enjoy in the mania that is the Premier League during Christmas), Kovac will have hopefully developed a coherent tactical system to take the gegenpress out.
I admit this is unlikely, so the primary argument is that Liverpool might crumble under the weight of too many commitments on too many fronts. Klopp has been unable to rotate his side with Manchester City only five points behind domestically and this will start to take its toll in continental play, especially with a trip to Munich in the middle of a hectic and dangerous February. Klopp will need to make a choice: win the Premier League or risk it all on the Champions League. Klopp desperately needs a trophy, and I think he will prioritize domestic victory over the Champions League this season. Bayern edges past the Reds.
Atlético Madrid vs. Juventus F.C.
Chris’s Pick: Juventus 4-3
Andrew’s Pick: Juventus 2-1
This might be the most fascinating tie of the entire Round of 16. The one-sided rivalry that Antoine Griezmann sees between himself and Ronaldo finally returns with the latter this time, with the Italian giants rather than across the street in Madrid. Diego Simeone’s Atletico and Juventus’s Massimiliano Allegri face off in the duel of defensive masterminds and will move up on the list of Manchester United’s favorites to take the permanent job at Old Trafford. The X factor, as it has always been, will be Ronaldo’s form: will the legend continue his goalscoring run and continental domination, or will Griezmann finally overcome his ego and put up a fight? Simeone’s side will need to contend with both fatigue and a resurgent Rugani and Dybala to pull ahead, and I just don’t see it happening.
FC Schalke 04 vs. Manchester City F.C.
Chris’s Pick: City 5-1
Andrew’s Pick: City 7-0
Schalke are lucky to have made it this far into the competition, and Manchester City is a juggernaut. The current Premier League champions, if healthy, will likely attempt to overwhelm the goal margin in the first leg with their downright scary attack of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero/Gabriel Jesus. By doing this, they would likely use the second leg as a chance to rest their starters for a domestic title race where they cannot afford to lose a game. If Pep Guardiola takes this route, he risks giving Schalke the slimmest of chances, but anything other than a City advancement seems laughable here.