Europe’s greatest football club competition, the UEFA Champions League, returns this midweek as clubs get set to battle it out in their respective Round of 16 fixtures.
While the group stage was a bit of a damp squib with the usual suspects all making through (except Inter Milan), the matchups in this round represent the highest echelon of football in the continent.
The games pit true European royalty against moneyed-up upstarts and ambitious newcomers, in a schedule that promises to be an amazing spectacle for the fans.
This set of games has been divided into two matchdays to deliver the maximum impact. In this article, we attempt to do a preview of Matchday 1 of the Round of 16 stage of the competition.
Preview of Matchday 1
Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool (Estadio Wanda Metropolitano)
Atletico Madrid will host Liverpool in a match that promises to be one of the most intriguing of the round. Diego Simeone’s Los Colchoneros are going through a transition season after letting go of a lot of old stalwarts.
The team’s defence is solid (not as good as the old days of Diego Godin et al), but the attack has been abysmal with the strikers misfiring.
On the other hand, the reigning European champions have steamrolled everything in their sight, with one hand on the Premier League title already. This means that Jurgen Klopp and his Reds can now focus all their energy on retaining the UCL title they won in dramatic fashion last season.
Everything now points to a comfortable win for Liverpool. However, Atletico under the Argentine maestro have made a habit of bloodying the noses of Europe’s elite (minus Real Madrid of course), and could once again play out of their skins to cause an upset.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid (0) – (2) Liverpool
Borussia Dortmund VS PSG (Signal-Iduna Park)
This is a tie that promises goals; lots of them.
The German side made it through to this round partly as a result of their amazing attack and the ineptitude of Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan. It would be a shock if the Black & Yellow are able to keep a rampaging PSG attack at bay; despite the presence of Mats Hummels, the team has conceded 40 goals in 34 Bundesliga and UCL matches.
PSG are virtually guaranteed another Ligue 1 title and will be able to concentrate all their focus on the Holy Grail for their Qatari owners: lifting the UCL trophy.
Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Angel Di Maria, Mauro Icardi and Co will be eager to put up a good show, and will not be intimidated by the deafening roar of the Yellow Wall at the Signal-Iduna Park.
With Erling Haaland, Jadon Sanco, Marco Reus, Julian Brandt and others, Borussia Dortmund will feature an attack almost as good as that which PSG will put up.
Prediction: Borussia Dortmund (2) – (4) PSG
Atalanta VS Valencia (Stadio San Siro)
Another fixture that promises to deliver lots of goals, this is a tie between two teams who started badly and were not expected to make it through to this stage. But some stirring fightbacks in the latter rounds of the group stage saw both teams overcome these bad starts and make it to the round of 16.
Atalanta have continued to delight fans across Europe with their combination of front-foot attacking football and combination play. Ably led by manager Gian Piero Gasperini, La Dea (The Goddess) have continued to score with reckless abandon in Serie A, and look set for a return to the UCL next season.
Valencia are Spain’s favourite always-in-crisis side, and this season has been no different. Capable of the sublime and the ridiculous in equal measure, Los Ches (The Mates) are in a fight with at least four other clubs in LaLiga for a UCL spot next season.
Over two legs, Atalanta’s attacking prowess should give them a fighting chance of progressing, but Valencia’s street-savvy play (they won away at Chelsea and Ajax in the group stage) makes them dangerous opponents.
Prediction: Atalanta (2) – (2) Valencia
Tottenham Hotspur VS RB Leipzig (Tottenham Hotspur Stadium)
Excitement, football at full throttle, drama and goals - all of these things await us in this potential round of 16 cracker.
Jose Mourinho’s Spurs side have been very un-Mourinho like in the way they have scored and conceded goals since the Portuguese took over after the exit of Mauricio Pochettino. They had a relatively untroubled passage to the Round of 16, although the 12-3 aggregate losses to group winners Bayern Munich was one of the main factors in the eventual exit of Pochettino.
RB Leipzig are dreaming of a first ever Bundesliga title this season. For that reason, manager, Julian Nagelsmann may be willing to give up a first ever quarterfinal berth in European football.
However, the young upstarts from the former East Germany are not going to just lie down and die.
Son Heung-min and Timo Werner are expected to be the star turns for the two sides in this encounter against defences that have shown worrying signs of collapsing under sustained pressure.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur (3) – (2) RB Leipzig