Source: Imago Images
Source: Imago Images

Who dares to dream?

Champions League OlyBet 10.02.2024

The UEFA Champions League is back with knockout games starting from February 13th. It has been a while since we last saw the teams run out, so what has changed, and who are the leading lights in a tightly contested field?

It would be a lot easier to name the best teams of the season NOT here. Liverpool, surely. Bayer Leverkusen merits a mention. Dare we add Girona? But four clubs from Spain, three from Germany and Italy, two from England, and one representative each for France, Portugal, Holland, and Denmark remain. They have all earned their right to be here.

Just look at the journey for FC Copenhagen, the smallest of them all. They started in the second qualifying round. Overcame Icelandic side Breiðablik (I did copy it), went to penalties with Sparta Prague, and had a tight affair with Polish side Raków Częstochowa (again, yes) before finishing second in a group of Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Galatasaray. Who daresay they are not worthy?

But indeed, looking at the probabilities of each team winning the Champions League provided by Opta, Copenhagen are now given no chance. Zero! Down from 0.4% two months ago. But even their opponent Manchester City looks a little more vulnerable now, moving down 2.1 percent (albeit from 33.3 to 31.2).

Of the 16, just three teams have seen their chances climb: Real Madrid (up 0.3 to 15.7%), PSV (up 0.4 to 1.4%), and Inter Milan (up 6.8 to 12.1%). Meanwhile, Bayern Munich are down 8.6 (now valued at 11.4%) and Arsenal 7.5 percent (now at 6.8%). But of course, this all will change again once the Round of 16 is history and all eight teams left will get a certain pathway to Wembley.

But first, they have to make it that far.

All games listed below will be held at 22:00 Eastern European Standard Time (GMT+2).

FC Copenhagen – Manchester City

  • 13.02 @ Parken, Copenhagen
  • 06.03 @ Etihad Stadium, Manchester

For Copenhagen, this is almost unknown territory: the only previous time they made it to the Champions League knockout stages was in 2010-11, and they were then eliminated by Chelsea. But they have twice hosted City before and never lost, drawing 2-2 in the UEFA Cup 16 years ago and 0-0 in the CL last season.

Manchester City also have a poor away record – despite winning the trophy last season, they have not won any of their previous five knockout away games (four draws, one loss). They average 70.4% ball possession in the Champions League this season, but Pep Guardiola often plays it safe away from home.

Player to watch: City striker Julian Alvarez was superb when called upon, with five goals and one assist in his last five Champions League appearances despite starting just one of these games. He averages a goal or assist every 31 minutes in the competition this season With Erling Haaland still not fully fit, Alvarez might get the nod.

RB Leipzig – Real Madrid

  • 13.02 @ Red Bull Arena, Leipzig
  • 06.03 @ Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

Leipzig have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 13 Champions League home games, but they have also scored in their last 16 at the Red Bull Arena. Last season, they met Real in the group stage, winning 3-2 at home. This is also the first time they will not meet an English opposition in the Round of 16.

The games might be quite open, as the teams are tied for the most goals (four each) and most shots (11) from fast breaks in the group stages this season. Real were perfect in the group stage, but did not have it easy against another German team in Union Berlin: both games were won by a late goal, coming at 90+4 and 89th minute.

Player to watch: Jude Bellingham scored the overtime winner vs Union and either scored or assisted in all of his other games. With four goals and three assists to his name, no player has been involved in more goals this season. The Real midfielder also tops the charts at creating chances from open play (15).

Source: Imago Images

Paris Saint-Germain – Real Sociedad

  • 14.02 @ Parc des Princes, Paris
  • 05.03 @ Anoeta, San Sebastian

PSG is one of the two runner-ups (the other being Inter) who has an advantage according to Opta. Admittedly, they might have been a bit lucky with the draw. But PSG barely got through the group stage and have a poor record against Spanish opposition (they have been eliminated on five of the last six occasions when meeting the Spanish). This will not be as straightforward as many expect.

Sociedad went unbeaten in the group, keeping more clean sheets (4), conceding fewer goals (2), and facing fewer shots on target (12) than any other side in the group stages. Being rather comfortable in a group with Inter Milan, Benfica, and RB Salzburg is no easy feat. They only scored seven goals themselves, though.

Player to watch: This PSG is not as star-studded as some previous ones, but Kylian Mbappe remains their main man. The 25-year-old striker has scored 43 goals in 67 Champions League appearances, and has scored in each of his last games against the Spanish.

Lazio – Bayern Munich

  • 14.02 @ Stadio Olimpico, Rome
  • 05.03 @ Allianz Arena, Munich

Lazio might need to tweak their game plan to succeed: in the group stage, they averaged 165 pressures per game in the final third – the most of any team – but only recovered possession 23 times (ranking 26th of the 32 teams). If they continue pressing ill-fatedly, Bayern might rip them to shreds.

Bayern are usually quite dominant in the Round of 16, going through in eleven of the last twelve seasons. They tend to be dominant against Italian opposition as well, having won their last five and going unbeaten in their last twelve – including Lazio in the same stage in 2020-21 (4-1 away, 2-1 at home).

Player to watch: Should Lazio continue pressing as they did in the group stages, a repeat of 2021 – when they were 0-4 down at home by the 47th minute – might be in order. Joshua Kimmich has made 22 line-breaking passes to Kingsley Coman, the best pairing in the Champions League. The midfielder would thrive against mediocre pressing.

Source: Imago Images

Inter Milan – Atletico Madrid

  • 20.02 @ San Siro, Milan
  • 13.03 @ Metropolitano, Madrid

While Atletico are renowned for their defending, Inter has been one of the best at it in Europe for the last two seasons: they have only lost one of their last 13 matches in the Champions League (last year’s final against City) and kept a clean sheet in eight of those matches (62%). They have conceded just nine times in those games.

Despite scoring 17 goals and winning their group rather comfortably, Atletico are the outsiders here according to Opta. Under Diego Simeone, they have a good record against Italian opposition, winning five of their six games in the knockout stages; however, the most recent game was a memorable 0-3 loss to Juventus, which eliminated Atletico in 2018-19.

Player to watch: Some say he disappears in big games, but Alvaro Morata has scored five goals in six games for Atletico this Champions League season. For Atletico to succeed, they will have to be efficient and not waste their chances. The 31-year-old striker should have plenty of experience to keep composed.

PSV Eindhoven – Borussia Dortmund

  • 20.02 @ Philips Stadion, Eindhoven
  • 13.03 @ Westfalenstadion, Dortmund

While this may seem straightforward at first, PSV should not be underestimated. They are close to invincible in the Eredivisie (18-2-0) and navigated the group stages rather well to send Lens and Sevilla out. This is their first knockout game in eight years, and the first ever against German opposition. Their head coach Peter Bosz was the manager of Dortmund in 2017, but only lasted for six months – it might be a bit personal.

Dortmund are a bit shaky away from home, having lost eight of their last nine Champions League away games in the knockout stages. They had success in the group stage though, coming away with a 1-0 win from Newcastle and a 3-1 from Milan. And they have been in great form to start 2024: in five Bundesliga games, they have earned 13 points out of 15 possible with a 13-1 goal difference.

Player to watch: 20-year-old PSV winger Johan Bakayoko was the only player in the group stages to create at least 15 open play chances and complete more than 15 dribbles. The Belgium international might test the Dortmund backline.

Source: Imago Images

FC Porto – Arsenal

  • 21.02 @ Estadio Dragao, Porto
  • 12.03 @ Emirates Stadium, London

Porto have not had success against English opposition, losing seven of their eight knockout ties in history – the only exception coming 20 years ago against Manchester United when they then proceeded to win it all. They have never lost at home to Arsenal, though, with two wins and a draw from three games.

The away game might be tricky for Arsenal then, but they have been the best team out of the blocks this season: 12 of their 16 Champions League goals this season have been scored in the first half. In each of their last 13 Champions League games, Arsenal has scored in the first half – it will be interesting to see whether Mikel Arteta sticks to the plan.

Player to watch: Arteta should have plenty of tools to hurt Porto. Bukayo Saka had three goals and four assists in the group stages, averaging an involvement every 48 minutes. He is in great form in the Premier League too.

Napoli – Barcelona

  • 21.02 @ Stadio Diego Maradona, Naples
  • 12.03 @ Estadi Olimpic, Barcelona

Napoli has seen plenty of involvement this season, with eight of their players getting on the scoresheet in the Champions League (they have scored just ten goals). After Rudi Garcia was replaced by Walter Mazzarri, their performances have actually dropped: under Garcia, they won 50 percent of all games, while the rate for Mazzarri is currently at 40 percent. Who knows whether the 62-year-old will still be in charge by March (or even February 21st).

Barcelona meanwhile know that Xavi will be leaving in the summer. After the announcement, they are a perfect two out of two, although it was expected against Osasuna and Alaves. In Europe, they have a bit of an issue with Robert Lewandowski not scoring in any of his last four appearances; they need someone to put the ball in the net.

Player to watch: German midfielder Ilkay Gündogan, who left Man City for Barcelona after lifting the Champions League trophy as captain last season, has continued his great form. In the group stages, 14 of his passes broke the opposition’s defensive line – more than any other player.


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