Ta’s Timeout: UEFA Champions League knockouts preview

Gareth Bale, the Man of the Match in the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final, will play again for Real Madrid as the the club seeks to win their 14th title. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Serg Stallone)

Next Tuesday, the UEFA Champions League round of 16 kicks off, and fans across the globe will gather to watch some of the best footballers showcase their abilities. Will Real Madrid retain its crown, or will heavyweights such as Barcelona and Juventus have something to say about the dynasty? For all Claremont students who will be tuning in, here’s a preview of what you can expect in each matchup.

Roma vs. Porto

In the group stages, Porto put on an impressive display, going unbeaten. Moussa Marega will be the key player to watch as Porto takes on last season’s semi-finalists. The French-born Malian forward scored five goals in the group stages. In the Portuguese league, Porto has also been in control, currently sitting at the top of the table.

Meanwhile, Roma is struggling with inconsistency in the domestic league. The Italian side is currently seventh in Serie A. However, Roma’s young attacking lineup with experienced striker Edin Dzeko leading the way will prove difficult for Porto. Dzeko scored five goals in the group stages and will surely have a big role in this fixture.

Manchester United vs. PSG

Paris Saint-Germain finished atop one of the tougher groups, ahead of last season’s finalist Liverpool and Italian giant Napoli. Stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappé have been on fire all season, but injured Neymar will sit out both legs against Manchester United. In his absence, look for Mbappé and fellow strikers Edinson Cavani and Ángel Di María to step up, as they have proven how clinical they can be in Ligue 1.

In contrast to the French heavyweights who comfortably lead their league, Man. United is fighting hard to make the top four in the Premier League under impressive new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford showed tremendous form in past weeks and United will hope they continue their brilliant displays.

Man. United did just enough to finish second in their group behind Juventus. With Neymar out of the picture, United might gain confidence, but there is no doubt that PSG’s attacking depth will threaten their fragile defense.

Tottenham vs. Dortmund

Tottenham started the group stages poorly, earning just one point in their first three matches. However, they managed to bounce back, and eventually finished ahead of Inter Milan and behind Barcelona for second place.

Tottenham’s key players Harry Kane and Dele Alli both suffered injuries last month, and their health status will be crucial against an impressive German side especially because Dortmund’s defense only conceded two goals in the group stages.

Dortmund edged out Atlético Madrid for first place in their group. In the domestic league, they sit proudly at the top, ahead of struggling Bayern Munich. Captain Marco Reus’ recent injury is unfortunate but young talent Jadon Sancho should provide enough quality along with Paco Alcacer, who has been brilliant all season.

Ajax vs. Real Madrid

Ajax has been away from the Champions League knockout round for quite a while, but these youngsters have proven that they can hang with the best. The Dutch side finished just two points behind Bayern Munich in the group stages.

Ajax’s top Champions League scorer Dusan Tadic will be a key player in this matchup. Real Madrid’s experienced striker Karim Benzema and talented youngster Vinicius Jr. will also have a large impact.

Ajax is currently second in the Dutch league while Real Madrid are third in La Liga. Real Madrid is a heavy favorite, but their defeats to the hands of CSKA Moscow in the group stages showed massive vulnerabilities that Ajax can exploit.

Lyon vs. Barcelona

Lyon was undefeated in their group, which is impressive — if we ignore their five draws. It was just enough to earn them second behind Manchester City. Barcelona was also unbeaten in their group, which consisted of Tottenham and Inter Milan.

It will be difficult for Lyon to keep Lionel Messi quiet. The Argentine has a decent track record for scoring against Lyon and is currently in amazing form. Lyon will also have to keep an eye on other world-class attackers such as Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.

Lyon sits third in the French League while Barcelona comfortably sits at the top of La Liga. Regardless, Lyon’s Nabil Fekir, Maxwel Cornet and Memphis Depay will be key players for this difficult task ahead.

Liverpool vs. Bayern

This year, Bayern Munich is an older side who has shown vulnerabilities in the group stages.

Last year’s finalist Liverpool scraped through a difficult group, consisting of PSG and Napoli, to earn second place. Their form in the Premier League was almost perfect, allowing them to sustain a top position for many weeks.

Bayern Munich, on the other hand, is struggling to catch Bundesliga leader Dortmund. But regardless of their domestic form, Bayern should still be confident thanks to Champions League top scorer Robert Lewandowski.

Bayern Munich will have to figure out how to keep Liverpool’s reliable front three quiet. Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have been putting in brilliant performances all season long.

Liverpool’s well-rounded squad will have regrets and motivation from last year’s 3-1 loss in the final in their heads as they march into this fixture fearlessly.

Atlético Madrid vs. Juventus

Juventus did just enough to edge out Man. United for first in their group, while Atlético Madrid put on a strong showing in theirs, only to finish second behind Dortmund on goal differential.

Juventus’ addition of Champions League specialist Cristiano Ronaldo should provide them with tons of confidence. The former Real Madrid star has plenty of experience scoring goals against Atlético, and was the biggest reason Real has won four of the last five Champions League titles.

Atlético is struggling to catch league-leading Barcelona, while Juventus is comfortably on top of Serie A. Along with Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala will be a key player for Juventus in this match, while Antoine Griezmann will be Atlético’s main man.

Schalke 04 vs. Man. City

Schalke 04 earned second in a relatively easy group, finishing behind dominant Porto, while Man. City finished comfortably in first ahead of Lyon.

Despite their Champions League form, Schalke 04 has struggled massively in the Bundesliga as they currently sit in 12th position. Man. City are neck and neck with Liverpool in the Premier League in their quest to retain their title.

City’s attacking talent will have plenty to say in this matchup. Leroy Sane in particular will be at the center of attention as he returns to his old club. This could be a heartbreaking Sane homecoming for many Schalke fans if City finds their ruthless form.

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