UEFA Champions League 2018-19: 5 key battles that will light up the Round of 16 games
The Round-of-16 matches of the Champions League are just one week away. From the 32 that started, only 16 teams remain, one of whom will be crowned the King of Europe. The knockout stages will see some of the heavyweights take each other on. Liverpool will face current Bundesliga holders Bayern Munich, which according to many, is too good a clash this early for the competition's liking. Serie A leaders Juventus will face Atletico Madrid in the first round of knockout stages.
Barcelona and Real Madrid find themselves at the end of relatively easier, but still very tricky opponents in Lyon and Ajax respectively. Lyon's momentum would be sky-high after beating PSG in the league in their last game. Ajax are one of the revelations this season. They held Bayern to a draw, not once but twice in their group. Ziyech, De Jong, De Ligt, Onana -- all the potential talents are doing wonders for them.
Two of the English clubs are also staring at big fixtures ahead of them. Tottenham will face Dortmund, and Manchester United will face PSG in their Round-of-16 clash.
But no matter how tough the fixtures are, there are always players who step up for their team. Look at Lionel Messi. He is second among the top-scorers in Champions League, despite missing two games. He has the lowest number of minutes per goal among all the top scorers. Or look at Matthijs De Ligt elsewhere. Still only 19, he is leading his team and he is keeping their defense strong. And when there are two players of great quality playing for opposite sides, then we get a battle within the war.
Let us look at 5 key battles from all the games combined that will light up the Round-of-16 matches.
Note: Stats from Whoscored.com/PlayerComparison. Except for goals and assists, all stats are per game average.
#5 David De Gea vs Kylian Mbappe (Manchester United vs PSG)
Yes, it is a bit weird that we include a goalkeeper for a key battle. But when it comes to Manchester United, their goalkeeper is as good as any outfield player. David De Gea has been the most important player for Manchester United for a long time now. Against Tottenham recently, he made 11 saves, each one of them as tough as they come.
Manchester's defense is in much better shape than it was under Jose Mourinho but that still doesn't stop strong oppositions from teeing off. Even Burnley managed to squeeze two goals past the United defense. But still, everyone is going to be in a battle with a keeper.
For PSG, it is their front three who score most of their goals, like most of the teams. Since Neymar is out, the next one in the line is the 20-year-old Kylian Mbappe. The young Frenchman has the pace to oust the United defenders and particularly full-backs.
There are reasons to believe that Mbappe will be getting more opportunities at goal in the Champions League clash than the complete poacher Edinson Cavani. He tries to create chances on his own, he has more pace, he has more shots per game than Cavani. De Gea will have to be at his absolute best to deny PSG chances, especially Mbappe.
This will be a battle that will take place between the sticks and the 18-yard-box.