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UEFA Champions League Preview – The Irresistible Knockout Rounds Return

The greatest club competition returns on February 17th with a multitude of fascinating UEFA Champions League ties. A lot of teams showcased incredible tactics, and excitement to generate hype, but in this competition, anything can happen. Below we discuss upcoming matches, break down each team and try to figure out which teams have a chance at being crowned Europe’s best.

Current Champions Bayern Munich is on a roll in the Bundesliga as per usual, and are also this season’s favorites to retain the title. Liverpool as always are close contenders, but with their defensive frailties in the back, their place isn’t guaranteed.

Atletico Madrid has been sublime this year with Luis Suarez at the center of the attack. He definitely is doing well under Simeone’s recent tactical changes to be more attacking, and their 10 point lead in La Liga is proof of that.

BARCELONA, SPAIN – SEPTEMBER 12: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between FC Barcelona and Juventus at Camp Nou on September 12, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Manchester City under Pep Guardiola are always a threat but have always fallen short despite the array of talent at their disposal. Chelsea welcome in new manager Thomas Tuchel, last season’s losing finalist, and definitely would want to perform well in the Champions League.

Atalanta was last season’s dark horse, and their incredible pacing attack is a joy to watch, they could hurt some of the big teams and make their way deeper into the tournament. Real Madrid and Barcelona have been underwhelming this season, with Barcelona in turmoil from top to bottom. Dortmund needs a level of consistency if they’re to make the finals of this year’s tournament.

Champions League Royalty vs Hopefuls

Liverpool will be hoping to win the champions league again
MADRID, SPAIN – JUNE 01: Jordan Henderson of Liverpool lifts the Champions League Trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on June 01, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Liverpool FC are European royalty and under Jurgen Klopp have become a powerhouse in Europe. Aside from Atletico, no club eagerly awaits a tie against Liverpool. They agonizingly dropped out of the tournament last year due to goalkeeping errors, and would seek to amend that problem this year. They had stumbling season so far, losing their 3 main center halves, star signing Diogo Jota and midfield maestro Naby Keita to injuries.

Their form also took a dip after doing surprisingly well at the start of the season, they’ve only won 2 of their previous 5. However, they’d be rejuvenated after the arrivals of Turkish defender Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies to fill in those center half roles, allowing the likes of Fabinho and Henderson to slot back into midfield.

In Europe though, Liverpool have been phenomenal during the group stages. They played attacking football at its best, and Diogo Jota was the star performer. Can they continue their European form against Leipzig who boast a formidable attack, and have a solid defense. Leipzig are currently second in Bundesliga, and finished second in their champions league group that consisted of PSG and Man Utd.

They lost twice in the group but claimed four victories to secure a knockout round spot. They have a well-balanced team with lots of youthful exuberance to provide flair and creativity and play a very solid Tactical game plan. The first tie is February 17th and should be a mouthwatering tie. My predictions are Liverpool 3:1 RB Leipzig.

Champions League Finalists PSG vs Barcelona FC

PARIS, FRANCE – MARCH 11: (FREE FOR EDITORIAL USE) In this handout image provided by UEFA, Neymar of Paris Saint-Germain celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund at Parc des Princes on March 11, 2020 in Paris, France. The match is played behind closed doors as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). (Photo by UEFA – Handout/UEFA via Getty Images)

The likes of Neymar and Mbappe would be licking their lips at the prospects of beating a wounded Barcelona. Neymar returns to a club that has fallen off par since his departure, and a manager that hasn’t really convinced the powers that be. From the debacle of Messi requesting a transfer to ridiculous transfers that made no sense, Barca isn’t firing on all cylinders on the pitch, and in the executive’s offices.

Koeman recently requested the need for a striker at the Nou Camp which is laughable considering Luis Suarez sits top of the goal scoring pile at Atletico. Barcelona have continued to rely on Messi for a long time, but recent times have shaken the hierarchy and forced a consideration for life without the Argentine genius.

The likes of Riqui Puig, Ansu Fati, and Pedri have broken into the first team and are building in confidence. Frenkie De Jong continues to perform in midfield, a meticulous passer, and holder of the ball, but it is in defense that their greatest problem lies. Against the pace of Neymar, Mbappe, and the striking qualities of Icardi, PSG should be confident under new manager Mauricio Pocchetino.

Having already won his first title at the club, PSG have suffered some shock defeats this year, but they still run Lique 1 and their aspirations in Europe are to do one better than last year, actually win it. With all the turmoil that Covid is bringing to clubs, this year could might be a year in which PSG shine, but to do so, they’d need the likes of Neymar and Mbappe to step up in the big games.

My prediction puts PSG 2:1 against Barcelona.

Dortmund vs Sevilla to provide a thriller

DORTMUND, GERMANY – OCTOBER 28: Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund celebrates after scoring his sides second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group F stage match between Borussia Dortmund and Zenit St. Petersburg at Signal Iduna Park on October 28, 2020 in Dortmund, Germany. Sporting stadiums around Dortmund remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Lukas Schulze/Getty Images)

Dortmund have been somewhat underwhelming in the league considering the players that they have. They did perform fairly well in the group stages losing just once, topping the group along the way. Dortmund are currently 6th in Bundesliga, way off the pace of Bayern Munich and are currently in a fight to make next years champions league spot.

This is extremely worrying considering the talent that they possess, particularly the likes of Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland. Should they not make it past the knockout rounds, their futures will definitely be questioned as European giants look to add the young stars to their squads. Sevilla currently sits 4th in La Liga, losing just once in their last 5 and finished their champions league group in 2nd place behind Chelsea.

They possess flair from the likes of Munir El Hadadi, Suso and Immobile, combined with the experience of midfielder Ivan Rakitic, Sevilla plays great defensive pressing football, they conserve energy but press aggressively in zones. They play great tactical, as well as controlled football and would be an intense challenge for the speed and flair of Dortmund. My prediction is Dortmund 1:1 Sevilla.

CR7’s Juventus vs FC Porto

TURIN, ITALY – MARCH 12: Christiano Ronaldo of Juventus celebrates during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between Juventus and Club de Atletico Madrid at Allianz Stadium on March 12, 2019 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

Cristiano Ronaldo is champions league royalty on his own. At 35 he still plays at the highest level and his numbers just keep impressing. Ronaldo would definitely want to add to his 5 champions league medals, and aid new manager Andreas Pirlo in wining the champions league. Juventus have a great balanced squad, with attacking stars like Dybala, Morata and Chiesa along with defensive stability of De Ligt, they definitely have a squad well capable of beating the best teams. Could Pirlo’s inexperience as manager stifle their champions league dreams?

In their way is Portuguese giant FC Porto. Porto finished second behind Man City in their group having lost just once and currently sit second in the Portuguese league. Porto enjoy condensing the pitch through the middle and pressing, and using their midfielders to create space and attack. They pose a threat to any team on their day, but I just don’t think that they’re good enough to pull an upset on Juventus. My prediction are Juventus 2:0 FC Porto.

Rejuvenated Atletico Madrid vs Stumbling Chelsea

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – MARCH 11: Diego Simeone, Manager of Atletico Madrid celebrates his sides second goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Liverpool FC and Atletico Madrid at Anfield on March 11, 2020 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Familiar foes face each other again in a classic champions league tie. Historically Chelsea and Atletico ties have always been cagey. Out of 7 matches, both teams fair with 2 wins each and 3 draws. Atletico though has played defensive football for many years and has been the team no one wanted to face.

The recent tactical change from Simeone however has improved the squad for the better. They currently sit top of the league with a 10 point gap, although their European form hasn’t been the best, they managed to finish their group in 2nd. Boosted by the arrival of striking maestro Luis Suarez, Atletico has been phenomenal in attack. They have been solid defensively, and their midfield provides the perfect balance to their incredible attacking prowess.

Chelsea have a new coach in Thomas Tuchel, the former PSG manager who guided them to the final last year comes in after a number of disappointing performances in the league, this after having spent over 200 million pounds in recruitment. In retrospect though, Chelsea has spent a lot on a 21-year-old. To expect Havertz to be Chelsea’s saviour would be insane, but their bigger problem is the lack of goals from Timo Werner.

They have recruited Thiago Silva to bring leadership and solidity to their defense, having previously worked under Tuchel, Werner would be looking to improve his form to impress his new manager. It’s too soon to judge Chelsea’s tactics under their new head coach, but he would have to significantly improve their play if they are to compete in the champions league.

My predictions are Atletico 3:1 Chelsea.

Italian Lazio vs Lewandowski’s Bayern Munich

LISBON, PORTUGAL – AUGUST 23: Manuel Neuer, captain of FC Bayern Munich lifts the UEFA Champions League Trophy following his team’s victory in the UEFA Champions League Final match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich at Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica on August 23, 2020 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Julian Finney – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Defending champions Bayern come in as hot favorites to win the champions league again. A well-balanced squad, a formidable attack, and stable defense, Bayern are certainly a match for most. Current player of the year Lewandowski comes after an amazing year of goals and just carried his form to the current season.

Lazio is unbeaten in the champions league but still ended up second in their group. Lazio currently sits 6th in the Italian league and has been underwhelming, to say the least. Not only will they need to be at their very best to beat Bayern, but they’d also need luck. Bayern have flexed their European dominance last year, and they don’t look like they’re ready to give up their champions league crown just yet.

My prediction puts Bayern 3-0 Lazio.

Front Footed Atalanta vs Zizou’s uninspired Galacticos

MILAN, ITALY – MAY 28: Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane shows the trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Atalanta aren’t a team you’d pick to easily win the champions league, but they are absolutely exciting to watch. Much like Leeds United in the premier league, Atalanta aspire to upset the current hierarchy. They possess phenomenal talent going forward, and never stop attacking. They score lots of goals, and press their opponents when they’re off the ball. This is intense attacking football, and even though they always find opportunities to score, it does leave them vulnerable in defense.

Real Madrid have the same team, and same manager (minus a certain CR7) that won 3 champions leagues in a row, but this current team look far away from winning the champions league again. They’re seriously underperforming in the league, their star player Eden Hazard has been stifled with injury after injury, and the likes of Modric, Kroos and Ramos are nearing the twilight stages of their careers. Many expect Zizou to either quit, or unluckily get the sack at the end of the season.

That being said however, Madrid still possess the personel and aura to perform in the knockout rounds, and on their day, they perform admirably. It will be a fascinating tie, seeing how they cope defensively with Atalanta’s overwhelming attack, and how they perform tactically in midfield. Overall, we’re due an explosive match up.

My prediction is an exciting 2-2 draw.

Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Pep’s Man City

LYON, FRANCE – NOVEMBER 27: Coach of Manchester City Pep Guardiola celebrates the second and tying goal at 2-2 of Man City during the UEFA Champions League match between Olympique Lyonnais (OL) and Manchester City at Groupama Stadium on November 27, 2018 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Pep Guardiola was primarily brought into Man City for one reason only, to finally win the Champions League. Much like PSG, Man City have spent graciously season upon season to continuously have an edge in Europe, but have regularly failed to perform beyond the semi-finals. Guardiola has not won the champions league since leaving Barcelona, and although he’s won remarkably at domestic level, his record in Europe isn’t the best.

This year though as they sit on top of the premier league, Man City has an opportunity to push through to the later rounds of the champions league where they have a good chance of making the last four. Defensive stability in Stones and Dias, along with the attack that is renowned domestically and in Europe, City are a threat all over the pitch. A tactical team that loves possession, exploiting the defense of the opposition with clever runs and passes, Man City are a handful for most teams.

Borussia Mönchengladbach isn’t doing well domestically, their best performance in Europe has been at Madrid, but they also fell short and finished the group in second. When they click, Borussia Mönchengladbach is a team well capable of going toe to toe with anyone and their attack and style of play makes an exciting watch. City might have too much in the locker room for Borussia Mönchengladbach but don’t expect them to not put up a fight.

My predictions are City 3-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach.

The knockout rounds are fast approaching and unfortunately for the ladies, Valentine’s day has to take a back step once again. There are some scintillating matchups, drama, and definite goals in store as we look to conclude the first round of knockout fixtures.

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Main Image Credits- Embed from Getty Images

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