The draw for the last 16 of the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League was made last night. There are some incredibly exciting matchups to look forward to.
Two of the best underdogs of the season, Benfica and Ajax, will go head-to-head. However, the prospect of a Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo reunion will have to wait for now. PSG had drawn Manchester United in the first draw, but the draw was done afresh due to glitches in the system.
Instead, we'll now have the Portuguese going up against a familiar rival in Atletico Madrid. Meanwhile, Messi will be up against another familiar rival - Real Madrid. The latter matchup will see a fairy-tale return to the Santiago Bernabeu for one of the club's biggest legends, Sergio Ramos. So that's another exciting prospect worth looking forward to.
Elsewhere, Inter Milan and Liverpool are set to face each other for the first time since their first meeting at the same stage of the competition in 2008. Meanwhile, Chelsea drew Lille in the first draw, and drew the Ligue 1 winners again.
Bayern Munich, who initially drew Atletico Madrid, will now face RB Salzburg. Villarreal will take on Juventus, while Manchester City will lock horns with Sporting CP.
The first legs are set to take place on 15,16, 23 and 24 February 2022 followed by the return legs on 9, 10, 16 and 17 March 2022. We're still some way off before these games come around. Nevertheless, let's make predictions about how these ties could pan out:
#8 Benfica vs Ajax
It's arguably the least interesting matchup on paper. However, the sheer amount of quality in both camps means you should keep an eye out for this tie.
Benfica pipped Barcelona to second place in Group E, keeping four clean sheets in six games. They also managed to trouble Bayern Munich away. Ajax, meanwhile, looked rejuvenated, producing the kind of performance reminiscent of their fairy-tale 2018-19 campaign, when they made the semis.
Powering their European charge is Sebastian Haller, who has struck ten times in the group stage. He's completely unrecognisable from the player who flopped at West Ham.
De Godenzonen, who won all six of their group games, are the obvious favourites in this tie. They are expected to progress into the last eight of the 2021-22 Champions League following an intense two-legged contest.
Prediction: Ajax to beat Benfica 4-2 on aggregate.
#7 RB Salzburg vs Bayern Munich
This is arguably the most lopsided tie of the round. Salzburg may be a dominant force in the Austrian league, but this is their first appearance in the last16 of the Champions League.
Moreover, Bayern Munich have been really impressive so far. They just became the only team after Real Madrid to win all six group games in a Champions League campaign twice. The last time they did so (2019-20), Bayern went all the way.
Spearheaded by the irrepressible Robert Lewandowski, the Bavarians are among the top favourites to win their second Champions League title in three years. They should navigate through this Champions League Round of 16 tie without much hassle.
Prediction: Bayern Munich to beat RB Salzburg 5-1 on aggregate.
#6 Sporting CP vs Manchester City
Sporting CP advanced to the last 16 of this season's Champions League. They did so ahead of Borussia Dortmund, despite opening their campaign with a resounding 5-1 loss at home to Ajax.
They have had a remarkable turnaround in fortunes. However, it also highlights the problems in the side, who lost thrice in the group stage and conceded 12 goals. Manchester City will fancy their chances in this tie. The English champions topped Group A, and boast an excellent squad.
They have a tendency to slip up in Europe. However, their defeat to PSG was a one-off, while their loss at RB Leipzig on the final day was in a dead rubber.
Nevertheless, with the likes of Paulinho, Pablo Sarabia and Pedro Goncalves in their ranks, Sporting could be a menace to play against. However, the Sky Blues should have enough to see off the Portuguese team and reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
Prediction: Manchester City to beat Sporting CP 5-1 on aggregate
#5 Chelsea vs Lille
This was the only Champions League Round of 16 fixture that remained unchanged after the redraw as Chelsea fans enjoyed double celebration.
The reigning champions weren't perfect in their Champions League campaign this season. They ceded top spot in Group H on the last day after conceding an injury-time equaliser in a manic 3-3 draw at Zenit St. Petersburg. However, their 4-0 thumping of Juventus at Stamford Bridge is a testament to Chelsea' unquestionable quality.
Lille, meanwhile, have flattered to deceive in the league this season. They are languishing in 11th in the standings in what has been a poor defence of their Ligue 1 title.
In the Champions League too, the Mastiffs weren't dominant, only managing to scrape through to the knockouts. They won their group, but scored only seven times in six games, winning thrice. This is their first appearance in the Round of 16 of the Champions League in more than a decade.
The likes of Jonathan David and Burak Yilmaz could provide a test of Chelsea's defensive mettle. However, Thomas Tuchel's side have enormous attacking potential to swing this tie in their favour.
Prediction: Chelsea to beat Lille 5-2 on aggregate.
#4 Villarreal vs Juventus
Okay, things have started to heat up a little. Juventus are improving on the league front following a disastrous start to their campaign. They managed to top Group H despite a 4-0 hammering at Chelsea in their penultimate game.
Villarreal may be in poor league form and languishing in 13th place in La Liga. However, they beat a talented team like Atalanta (3-2) away from home on the final day to seal their berth in the last 16.
That once again highlighted Unai Emery's European pedigree. The Yellow Submarine nearly got a point at Old Trafford against Manchester United. They are not to be underestimated, and have all the means to ruffle Juventus' feathers.
Having lost out to Lyon and Porto in the last 16 in their last two campaigns, Juventus should get third-time lucky, and edge out Villarreal.
Prediction: Juventus to beat Villarreal 3-2 on aggregate
#3 Inter Milan vs Liverpool
This is an exciting Champions League Round of 16 clash between two immensely talented teams. Liverpool and Inter Milan are set to renew acquaintances in the competition after 14 years.
Liverpool are the obvious favourites, having become the first English team to win all six Champions League group games in a season. However, by the time the first leg comes around, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane might not be available because of their participation in the African Cup of Nations.
The prolific duo could make it to the matchday squad. However, manager Jurgen Klopp might be hesitant to throw them into the deep end because of injury or fatigue concerns.
Meanwhile, the Nerazzurri have overcome the loss of key player from their Serie A title-winning team. Simone Inzaghi's team, with Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez forging a formidable partnership up front, are atop the Serie A standings.
Liverpool won at the San Siro against AC Milan this season. However, Inter could cause them all sorts of problems. Should they win the first leg, then an upset will be on the cards.
Prediction: Inter Milan to beat Liverpool 4-3 on aggregate.
#2 Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United
This is another fixture that's going to happen after a long time. The two teams' topsy-turvy campaigns in the Champions League this season only adds to the thrill.
Manchester United have only Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for their progress in the Champions League this season. The talismanic No.7 has scored a few late goals to help secure key points.
Meanwhile, Atletico were bottom of Group B entering their final group game. However, a victory at Porto coupled with Milan's defeat at home to Liverpool helped them sneak through to the Round of 16.
The Spanish champions have been plagued by inconsistency this season, while the Red Devils are improving under interim manager Ralf Rangnick.
Moreover, Ronaldo is Atletico's kryptonite, having struck 25 times from 35 games against them. He has dealt the Rojiblancos many an European heartbreak, including a hat-trick in the Champions League Round of 16 two years ago. He might as well haunt them once again.
Prediction: Manchester United to beat Atletico Madrid 4-3 on aggregate.
#1 PSG vs Real Madrid
This tie is, hands down, the toughest and most unpredictable fixture in the Champions League Round of 16 this season.
On current form, Real Madrid are the favourites, having won their last ten games across competitions and unbeaten in their last 13. However, PSG have Messi, who has tormented Madrid in the past while at Barcelona, while Kylian Mbappe is also breathing fire at the moment.
Moreover, Sergio Ramos will also hope to prove a point or two against his former employers after leaving them this summer.
The first leg of this Champions League tie is still nearly two months away. So anything can happen between now and then in terms of form, fitness and, of course, Mbappe's potential Madrid move.
However, PSG are known to bottle big European games. Despite having a star-studded squad this time, they may find life difficult against the 13-time Champions League winners.
Prediction: Real Madrid to beat PSG 4-3 on aggregate.