This is a preview of the first four matches in the Champions League first knockout round, including my opinion on who’s going to progress to the next stage.
Basel vs. Manchester City
– Basel was the surprise runner-up in Group A that included Benfica and CSKA Moscow. The wins against Manchester United and Benfica in the last two matches were the key to that achievement. Unfortunately, this is likely as far as the Swiss go, since the luck of the draw pitted them against one of the favorites to win the entire competition, Pep’s Manchester City. Hey, at least they’ve made the trip to Manchester not too long time ago, so they know what to expect from that perspective, not that it’s much of a consolation. City has been affected by the losses of Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane (lost to Liverpool, drew to Burnley), but if their last Premier League is any indication (5-1 win vs. Leicester), it could be a long tie for the Swiss champ. On the other hand, they have nothing to lose, so we should see a high-scoring matchup over the two legs.
Juventus vs. Tottenham
– This is a tough one. Two similar squads, whose compactness and tactical awareness makes them undesirable opponents. Unluckily for them, they face each other. We should see two very careful, intricate, low-scoring games, in which tactical details or moments of inspiration could decide the eventual winner. Extra time and/or penalties is a very possible scenario. Juventus is a different team from those Barcelona encounters at the beginning of the season. It seems to be back to its old form, winning 11 games in a row and conceding only once in its last 16. Tottenham has been in good form too, especially Harry Kane. Europe’s most lethal №.9 leads the Premier League in goals for the third straight season, and has either scored or assisted in 5 consecutive contests. The Spurs seemed unfazed by the pressure when facing Real Madrid in the group stage, which makes me believe they’ll come to Italy to win. Dybala’s questionable designation makes me worried, and his potential absence could cost Juve dearly. I give a slight edge to Tottenham.
Porto vs. Liverpool
– Porto’s Champions League reputation is well known. The Portuguese are always dangerous and they drew an opponent they can compete with. Liverpool will be happy to have avoided Bayern, Real Madrid or Juventus, but its inconsistent performances throughout the season should be a reason for concern. Porto is a tough coconut to crack. However, I do think the English side has too many playmakers for it to fail. The team is so used to playing crazy games, coming back from three goals down and wasting three goal leads, that regardless of what happens in the first leg, they’ll be in contention in the second one. Given the second leg is going to be played at Anfield, I don’t see how Liverpool could be bounced out. With Salah a candidate for Europe’s player of the year, and Firmino and Mane in excellent form, I most definitely give the advantage to Klopp’s men.
Real Madrid vs. PSG
– I don’t think there’s a single football fan out there who’s not looking forward to this one. Real Madrid’s poor showings have made this an even more intriguing encounter, since its entire season (including Zidane’s job) hang in the balance and depend on the outcome of this matchup. On the other side, this is exactly why Neymar was paid 222 million euros (plus bonuses). All eyes will be on the Brazilian, and everyone will expect him to demonstrate his worth and push PSG over the hump. As in the previous two campaigns, Paris SG is facing a team who’s incentive to win could prove too much to handle. The Galacticos will do anything to defend their crown, while Cristiano Ronaldo is as hungry for goals as he has ever been. The positive for the French is that unlike the last two years, this time around they have the home field advantage. With the rematch being played at Parc des Princes, I believe Neymar and his teammates will step up and make the nation proud.