It’s that time of the year. The moment every football enthusiast is waiting for – the return of the UEFA Champions League! The Round of 16 will kick off on Valentine’s day, February 14th, with a pair of absolutely mesmerizing matchups.
With such powerhouses as Liverpool and PSG finishing second in their respective groups, they will inevitably be facing top-notch opposition already in the 1st round of the playoffs. Of course, it’s like a sweet treat for us fans. So what are the matchups? Which teams are favored to win? Who are the players to keep an eye on? Scroll down and find out without further delay.
RB Leipzig vs Manchester City
Equipped with the goalscoring machine Erling Haaland, the reigning Premier League champions will hope to ease their way past the Bundesliga club. However, the task might prove to be more challenging than expected. Sure, RB Leipzig kicked off the Group Stage of the tournament with two losses but quickly returned to winning ways and secured four successive victories, which helped them finish second in the group and qualify for the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the star-studded City topped Group G unbeaten with four wins and two draws into their account. The German club undeniably faces a tough challenge. Still, it’s hopeful their star man and last season’s Bundesliga Player of the Season, attacking midfielder Christopher Nkunku, will continue inspiring the team with his clinical goalscoring and playmaking abilities.
Club Brugge vs Benfica
Club Brugge went through the ultimate underdog fairytale in Group B. Besides just one loss and two draws, the club won each of their opponents once, including surprising victories over Atlético Madrid (2-0) and Porto (4-0). What’s the story behind their success? The reigning Belgian champs (3rd time in a row) excel with a sound and organized defense, complemented by the seemingly unbeatable Simon Mignolet in the goal. The goalkeeper managed to keep amazing five clean sheets en route to the playoffs.
In the opposition – Primeira Liga leaders Benfica. The Portuguese club finished Group H as leaders, producing an identical record, and scored/conceded goals as the mighty Paris Saint-Germain. Even more interesting, their two group draws came against the Parisians, both matches concluding 1-1. After solid performances both domestically and in Europe this season, it’s no surprise that the club is the overwhelming favorite against Club Brugge. However, they no longer have Enzo Fernández in their lineup after the star player was sold to Chelsea in the January transfer window. Will this fact jeopardize Benfica’s so far impressive run?
Liverpool vs Real Madrid
In a repeat of last year’s (and the 2017-18 season) Champions League final, this year, Liverpool and Real Madrid will face one another in the first round of playoffs. The Spanish club is the reigning champion of both the Champions League and La Liga and is by no means a desirable opponent to face. Especially for a struggling Liverpool side, which is enduring its worst season for a long time and currently sits mid-table in the English Premier League.
However, since Liverpool has already fallen out of the EFL and FA Cup, and the chances of league glory are far from realistic, their season hinges entirely on European success. They can focus solely on the Champions League now, while Madrid still has duties in the league, where they are trying to catch Barcelona. However, it wasn’t all smiles at Madrid in the Group Stage, as both teams faced some bumps on the road. While Liverpool suffered a 1-4 loss to Napoli, Real was bested 2-3 by RB Leipzig. This proves that it’s still anyone’s game. Surprisingly enough, Liverpool goes into the matchup as bookmakers’ favorites.
AC Milan vs Tottenham Hotspur
AC Milan slowly started looking more like the powerhouse it once was. Last season the Italian side managed to win their first Serie A title in 11 years, and this season they are back in the Champions League knockout stage after a nine-year absence. However, the club’s recent form has been quite worrisome. The Rossoneri suffered a nightmare start to 2023, dropping 10 points in the league after a series of devastating losses. Could the club’s period in the sun already be over? Their star players, Fikayo Tomori, Rafael Leão, and Theo Hernández, will clearly have some criticism to overcome.
The second team of this Round of 16 pair is the 2018–19 Champions League season finalists, Tottenham Hotspur. The English side finished as Group D leaders, showcasing improvements in gameplay as matches went on. During the January transfer window, they bolstered the squad with two promising additions, Pedro Porro and Arnaut Danjuma. Now, the club will face AC Milan, a club against whom Tottenham’s manager, Antonio Conte, has recorded the most wins in his coaching career (10) – undoubtedly a great motivation for Spurs. However, the club has been dealt a huge injury blow ahead of the matchup as their goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is set to be out for up to two months with a knee injury. Will it prove decisive for the club?
Frankfurt vs Napoli
This will be a tough one. Eintracht Frankfurt and Napoli are both in red-hot form right now. The Serie A side secured their place in the Round of 16 by topping Group A after convincing wins over Liverpool (4-1), Ajax (6-1 and 4-2), and Rangers (3-0 twice), only to fall behind 0-2 against the English in their last group game. In Serie A, the club sits clear at the top with 13 points ahead of the 2nd place. Now backed by a strong defense and spectacular firepower up front, the club is looking to go beyond the Round of 16 for the first time.
Meanwhile, Frankfurt entered the next stage as Group D runners-up behind Tottenham. With last season’s UEFA Europa League title in their pocket, the club is now determined to continue their fairytale in the elite European competition. The German side excels in comebacks. A great example is their last group encounter against Sporting when they faced elimination but ultimately overcame their opposition with two goals in the last half hour to beat the Portuguese club and book their place in the last 16. Sure, they enter the matchup against Napoli as underdogs but be aware – this club knows how to surprise!
Borussia Dortmund vs Chelsea
Is there a life after Erling Haaland? Dortmund is diligently trying to prove so. The first proof is their ability to get out of the Group Stage compared to last season. Their run in the Bundesliga hasn’t worsened too much either, as the club currently sits 3rd in the league. Even though Dortmund hasn’t had an inspiring record against English clubs over the years, the hungry young, and ambitious squad with Jude Bellingham in front has a lot of potential. Besides, these two have never met before.
The January transfer window saw Chelsea shattering the record highest spending club, with the club bringing in eight new faces for a total of over €360m. Enzo Fernández, Mykhailo Mudryk, Benoît Badiashile, João Félix, and others were brought to the English club in an attempt to save their uninspiring season. It’s almost safe to say their Premier League title hopes are entirely ruined for the Group E leaders, so glory in Europe is their only hope this season. Despite all the new signings, they step into the matchup as slight underdogs. It’s now up to them to build reliable team chemistry and prove their spendings were worth it.
Inter Milan vs Porto
After eleven years since their last appearance in the knockout stages of the competition, Inter Milan is back! The current runners-up in the Serie A finished 2nd in Group C overcoming the likes of Barcelona, whom they defeated once and then held to a draw, leading to an early exit for the Catalonian club. After this escape from one of the most challenging groups in the current Champions League season, Inter has proven they can compete at the highest level. Fueled by the likes of Hakan Çalhanoğlu and World Cup winner Lautaro Martínez, the club is certainly a force to be reckoned with.
On the other end, we have Group B winners Porto, who suffered their latest loss across all competitions only back in October 2022. Sure, they are, without a doubt, the smaller team going into this contest, but the club has what it takes to overcome a stronger opposition. Porto’s Iranian frontrunner, Mehdi Taremi, has been in spectacular form this season, finding the back of the net 19 times in 27 appearances, including five goals in the Champions League Group Stage. The team’s goal is being guarded by Diogo Costa, who saved penalties in three successive matches during the Group Stage. Meanwhile, the versatile Otávio provides the primary conduit between defense and attack with his ability to create chances up front. It all adds up to a team that definitely can’t be written off too early.
Paris Saint-Germain vs Bayern Munich
Despite suffering one of their worst Bundesliga starts in decades, on the European stage, Bayern looks as clinical as ever. The German giants are the only team that finished the Group Stage with a flawless 6-win record this season. They only conceded two goals (both in a 4-2 win over Plzeň), securing clean sheets in the other five fixtures in arguably the toughest group. Sure, it’s not easy to fill the void that Robert Lewandowski left after joining Barcelona, but the club seems to be adjusting to the situation nicely. At least their run in the top European competition says so.
After two 1-1 draws against Benfica, Paris Saint-Germain finished 2nd in Group H, meaning that Lionel Messi & Co will now have to face the frightening German club. Let’s face it, even with the likes of Mbappé, Neymar, and Messi by your side, it’s not an easy task. Even the bookmakers are giving a slight edge to the Bundesliga champs. However, with a squad as bloated with world-class talents as the Parisian club, you might hope they’ll manage to find the magic formula. Will they celebrate success en route to the club’s dream of winning their first-ever Champions League title, or will it be yet another disaster? We’re bound to find out pretty soon as their matchup against Bayern takes place on the opening night, February 14th.