UEFA Champions League Last 16: Spotkick Predicts
As much as the UEFA Champions League continues to carve itself as the capitalist footballing version of a cool kids’ table, perhaps an upside to that is the tantalising nature of the knockout ties that come our way; the fact no side outside Europe’s top five (richest) leagues made it to the last 16 this season is both reflective of what the competition has become, and also gives us an actual sense of jeopardy that the group stages always seem to lack.
And, as customary, the middle of February marks the return of Europe’s top club competition, the Champions League becomes the European Cup again, and the margin for error becomes so tight. With the knockout ties set to kick off this mid-week, our four musketeers embark on another mission of absolutely getting the predictions wrong as regards to who’ll make their way to the quarter-finals:
Tottenham v RB Leipzig
Shehu Idris: Tottenham have since changed managers and approach since last season’s improbable run of brilliance and a bit of luck. And they’ve even grown under the inimitable Jose Mourinho, who sure knows how to soak and aggressively redirect the high-octane pressure of teams like Leipzig to hurt them. Spurs to advance.
Kunle Ajao: Mourinho has previous for spoiling games and finding a perfect way through knockout ties, but his Spurs tenure so far has seen less defensive solidity, and more chaotic wins. There’s still something missing from the Mourinho recipe in this team, and Leipzig should exploit that. Leipzig to go through.
Trust Shawn Inonse: Although the hiring of Mourinho hasn’t turned around the fortunes of Spurs, I still expect the special one to scale through this huddle with his experience.
Ola Fadahunsi: Spurs had a strong campaign in the latter stages of the competition last term, and they’ll probably bask on this going into the match against Leipzig. Spurs to qualify.
Borussia Dortmund v Paris St. Germain
Shehu: The most exciting game of the round. Nail-biting end-to-end action garnished with interesting subplots – Kylian Mbappe v Erling Haaland, Thomas Tuchel against his former side. It’ll be an absolute bunker. PSG to progress in a fixture that’ll produce nothing less than seven goals (that’s quite specific).
Kunle: The tie of the round? PSG have fallen here once too often for a psychological block to not build. But Dortmund can seem to defend for their lives, and a potentially swashbuckling tie should see PSG finally make their way to the last eight.
Trust: I feel Mbappe and company should do enough to ensure fans in Paris celebrate a quarter-final place for the first time since 2016.
Ola: This looks like that year for PSG in the Champions League to finally go further than the Last 16, and one-up that with a quarter-final exit.
Real Madrid v Manchester City
Shehu: There have been reports of ‘show them we’re talent and not just money’ at the Etihad following UEFA’s decision to axe them from any of its competition for the next two years. This might be Pep Guardiola’s last chance to bring the big one to that side of Manchester, he’ll definitely want to throw everything into it henceforth. But they are up a team of serial winners of the competition and a coach that hasn’t failed to win the competition when he’s there. It will be tough. I believe City will want this one more, and they’ll get it.
Kunle: Manchester City have taken their foot off the gas on the domestic front, and their aim is the Champions League. But this competition can be random and chaotic, and Guardiola hardly deals well with that. The potential European ban might make them motivated to go hell-for-leather, but won’t that also worsen Pep’s propensity to over-think these games? Real Madrid have looked organised of recent, and the Champions League ‘brings special powers.’ Los Blancos to go through.
Trust: It has been a struggle for the Citizens in the Premier League, no thanks to key injuries. Real Madrid, on the other hand, find themselves top of La Liga after a shaky start. On the strength of the players, it looks like it might be City, but on the experience of both managers when it comes to winning in this competition, and on current form, Real Madrid should edge this.
Ola: Many factors will be counting against City going into the tie: they’re facing a side who’ve mastered the act of winning European games under Zinedine Zidane. Plus, luck and consistency have never been on their side in this tournament, not to mention the inconsistency that has plagued the team all season. They’ll probably not take pride in being knocked out by the most successful side in the history of the competition, but this might be the end of the road for them.
Chelsea v Bayern Munich
Shehu: The Bavarian goal machine may well rip Chelsea’s troubled backline to smithereens. Ask Tottenham
Kunle: Bayern Munich are starting to find their feet again in the league, and Chelsea play like they always want you to find and exploit their flaws. Only one winner in my book.
Trust: This tie has Bayern Munich written all over it. Die Roten to go through.
Ola: Two unconvincing, if not struggling, sides, but the quality the Bavarians have at their disposal should pull them to the last eight.
Atalanta v Valencia
Shehu: Valencia probably have older heads than Atalanta in this competition, and that may work in their favour against the free-scoring Italians. Valencia to go through, just.
Kunle: Atalanta probably shouldn’t be here, and frankly, neither should Valencia in truth. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have the tendency to out-score teams, and Valencia don’t as reliable a back-line to keep them out or an attack to reply. The Atalanta fairy-tale may well continue.
Trust: This, on paper, would be a lowly-rated fixture, particularly given the standard of the other ties. Valencia to come out on top.
Ola: Valencia haven’t convinced anyone this season, particularly in Europe. Atalanta to go through.
Lyon v Juventus
Shehu: Perhaps the most clear-cut tie of the round. Juventus could – and probably would – win this very easily.
Kunle: Lyon have their two best players out injured, fans hate the manager, and they apparently try to score your goals for you. This feels like a no-contest.
Trust: Although the Old Lady are not enjoying their regular outright dominance in Italy, you have the feeling their priority may lie with the Champions League which has eluded them for so long. I feel Juventus will have this quite easily.
Ola: In simplified betting terms: straight qualification for the Old Lady.
Atletico Madrid v Liverpool
Shehu: Atletico haven’t been their reputable selves this season, with more unusual failings than ever and Diego Simeone looks like he has stretched the team to its limit. On other hand, Liverpool are unarguably the best team in the world right now. It’ll be easier than expected for Liverpool. A total embarrassment of Atletico.
Kunle: While there’s something about Liverpool that just wreaks of inevitability in games, betting against Atletico Madrid – whatever form they’re in – has never been wise in my book. Simeone’s team have struggled as the big boys of late, but this is the chance to play unfancied underdog once more.
Trust: I have a feeling Liverpool doesn’t have the strength to maintain the level of awesomeness they’ve achieved in the Premier League – a competition they’re so hell-bent on – in the Champions League. Atletico Madrid may well nick this.
Ola: Liverpool have almost wrapped up the Premier League title, yet at the same time they’ve shown they won’t be giving the slightest of chances to anything that might bloat their main target. I see Atletico Madrid going through and it won’t come as a shocker for me
Napoli v Barcelona
Shehu: It’ll be settled by away goals, for both teams have fortresses for stadiums. Barcelona will score more definitely.
Kunle: Barcelona have jostled with so much strife and internal dispute this term, it feels like a shocking exit here would crown it off nicely. Napoli to go through.
Trust: I think Barcelona will take this, despite their dodgy form and internal strife, but they’ll almost certainly make it tricky for themselves, if Napoli don’t.
Ola: It’ll surprise absolutely no one when Lionel Messi finds a way to pull Barcelona through to the next round (before the inevitable collapse).