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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Borussia Dortmund v Paris Saint-Germain
Two emotional nights ahead for Thomas Tuchel, the manager of Paris Saint-Germain. Tuchel spent two seasons at Dortmund, made a good enough impression there to be entrusted with the vaulting ambitions of Paris Saint-Germain’s owners and is entitled to think that the French champions are in as good a shape as at any time to push through PSG's stubborn ceiling of a Champions League semi-final.
Endure the noise and fervour of their first leg in Dortmund, and PSG ought to have sufficient firepower. They are a more balanced team, thanks in part to the addition of Idrissa Gana Gueye to their midfield, than the version narrowly beaten, with some bad luck, by Manchester United at the first knockout stage last season. And Dortmund, though capable of rattling the best - they troubled Barcelona and came back from two goals against Inter Milan in the group phase - can be brittle, as their third place in a wide-open Bundesliga shows.
Prediction: PSG to progress
Real Madrid v Manchester City
No visit to the Bernabeu can ever be "just another match" for Pep Guardiola, a man raised on the rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona, the club he supported, captained and then coached with extraordinary success - a success which, since he guided Barcelona to the second of his two European Cups as a manager, is envied by the clubs he has coached since. His Manchester City, brilliant Premier League champions for two years running, are impatient for the bigger prize.
Madrid-City looks the tie of the round, a meeting of two managers whose career paths mirror one another. Zinedine Zidane, like Guardiola, won a European Cup in his first season as a senior coach. He then added two more. Madrid have an uncanny, Midas touch in this tournament. But City are mature and strong enough to defy that.
Prediction: City to find out Madrid’s flaws.
Chelsea v Bayern Munich
How’s this for a perfect script? A hero of Chelsea’s finest hour, the night they became European champions for the first and only time, guides them back to the scene of that triumph, against the team they defeated, on his first attempt at managing in European knockout football? Frank Lampard will want to play down the nostalgia, the omens, but he’ll have to hear plenty about them between now and February.
Lampard captained Chelsea when they beat Bayern, in Munich, on penalties in the 2012 Champions League final. He now manages a young, sometimes dashing, but inconsistent side. They may just feel emboldened by Bayern’s skittish form. The German champions are only fifth in the Bundesliga. But they do have Robert Lewandowski, and he has 10 goals already in Europe this season.
Prediction: Bayern to impose their experience, and go through.
Atalanta v Valencia
In one corner, a 61-year-old veteran of Serie A, a coach for 25 years; in the other, a man thrust into a senior managerial role only in September, a novice to sort out a crisis at Valencia. And between them, Atalanta’s boss Gian Piero Gasperini and Valencia’s Albert Celades, 44, have only ever managed a single knockout match in the Champions League, when Gasperini was briefly in charge of Internazionale eight years ago.
Their players have shown gumption to get this far. Atalanta, debutants in the competition, lost their first fixture and came back to seal a place in the last 16 with a stirring win in Ukraine against Shakhtar. Valencia came through thanks to admirably organised victory on Matchday 6 at Ajax, last season’s semi-finalists.
Prediction: Valencia to edge it.
Atletico Madrid v Liverpool
Welcome back, then, title-holders, to the place where dreams came true. In June, Liverpool won their sixth European Cup at the Wanda Metropolitano, home of Atletico Madrid. They will be back there in February and, on current form, they will feel even stronger than they did on the last visit, when they comfortably defeated Tottenham Hotspur in the final.
What Atletico excel at, especially in Europe, is making their home a fortress and although the Wanda has not quite been that in the way their old Vicente Calderon arena was, the defensive savvy of Atletico must be the key for the Spanish club against free-scoring Liverpool. With Atletico currently short of gunpowder up front, however, this is not a tie Diego Simeone, Atletico’s head coach, will welcome.
Prediction: Liverpool’s defence of the title to continue into the quarters
Napoli v Barcelona
Napoli and Barcelona have never played each other in the most prestigious of club competitions, although they did sit on opposite sides of the negotiating table for one of the most celebrated transfers in history, that of one Diego Maradona. He will watch with interest, and, being a great devotee of Napoli, hope that his compatriot, Lionel Messi, has two subdued nights.
Form, and squad strength, gives a significant advantage to Barcelona, champions of Spain and top of La Liga in spite of an up-and-down level of performance this season. Napoli have just taken on a new head coach, Rino Gattuso replacing the sacked Carlo Ancelotti with the club well outside Serie A’s top four. So Barcelona will come up against a manager who has never coached in the Champions League rather than one, Ancelotti, who has won it three times. They will not mind that at all.
Prediction: Barcelona to reach the last eight.
Lyon v Juventus
A pretty brutal 24 hours for Olympique Lyonnais. First, they lose their most important player, then they learn they must overcome the most potent striker in the history of the Champions League in its next round. It had already been a difficult season for the French club, and the congratulations they earned for coming through the group phase of the Champions League last week, are now doused with a double dose of bad news.
Memphis Depay, the electric Dutch striker, suffered a cruciate ligament rupture on Sunday as Lyon lost 1-0 to Rennes, an injury likely to rule him out of the remainder of OL’s season and perhaps Euro 2020. And Lyon, eighth in Ligue 1, need all their resources against Cristiano Ronaldo and the Italian champions.
Prediction: Juventus to brush Lyon aside
Tottenham Hotspur v RB Leipzig
The Special One against the Precocious One. Fifteen years ago, Jose Mourinho was the startlingly young manager who had won the Champions League with an outsider club, Porto. Now, at 56, Mourinho can only look back and, like many people of his generation, wonder at how people mastering his profession seem to get younger and younger. Julian Nagelsmann, in charge of RB Leipzig, is just 32.
Nagelsmann has the East German upstarts at the top of the Bundesliga, and steered them to top of their group ahead of this, the club’s first adventure in the knockouts. But Spurs were finalists only six months ago, and if Mourinho may be a little rusty in the Champions League - his last successful last-16 tie was six seasons ago - one of his fortes is planning, preparing and executing a knockout blow over two legs.
Prediction: Spurs to edge through.
Updated: December 16, 2019 05:21 PM
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