With 2018 being upon us and the culmination of the January transfer window, Europe’s elite now turn their attention back towards their upcoming Champions League round of 16 matches – some of which will almost certainly be modern classics.
When the draw was made in December there were many games that caught the eye, but none more so than the 12-time winners and current holders, Real Madrid who were drawn against high flying PSG, led by former Barcelona star, Neymar. In May of last year Real Madrid, led by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, overcame Italian champions Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff thus becoming the first side in the Champions League era to win back-to-back titles. Their opponents currently top Ligue 1 by a margin of 11 points, having scored 75 goals in the process, conceding just 17. Much has been made over the years of the trio of Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema but there appears to be an emergence of a new super-trio in Paris, with Neymar, Cavani and Mbappe, who have scored 48 goals between them in the league this season, and 66 combined in all competitions. In addition to the Spanish Super Cup, the Champions league appears to be the only viable option for silverware for Zidane’s side as they sit 4th in La Liga, 19 points behind Barcelona and are still shocked due to being eliminated from the Copa del Rey by minnows CD Leganés. PSG will believe they can defeat Los Blancos over two legs, especially after topping their group ahead of German champions Bayern Munich. The first leg at the Bernabéu will take place on Valentine’s day, and a reasonable percentage of the population will see watching this clash of two superheavyweights of European football as the perfect way to spend that evening.
A very interesting tie that the draw presented was group C runners-up and 2012 winners, Chelsea and 5-time winners Barcelona, led by a Lionel Messi who has failed to score in any of his 8 games against Chelsea. The two have met 12 times in the Champions League, with Chelsea boasting 4 wins to Barcelona’s 3. The previous meetings between the sides have produced several unforgettable moments, such as Andres Iniesta’s stoppage-time strike in the 2009 semi-final following Chelsea seemingly being denied several clear penalties as well as Ronaldinho’s brilliantly taken goal in 2005. However, most memorably Fernando Torres rounding Victor Valdes at the Camp Nou to confirm Chelsea’s place in the final, and ultimately their first Champions League crown. These games don’t appear to have come at a very good time for Antonio Conte’s side, who sit in 4th in the Premier League and are still reeling from their 3-0 home defeat to Bournemouth, closely followed by a 4-1 hammering by Watford at Vicarage Road. The opposite can be said for Ernesto Valverde’s team, who sit 9 points clear at the top of La Liga and are yet to taste defeat in the League or Europe this season, only conceding 1 goal in their 6 group matches. It is a tall order for Conte’s team, but history is on their side.
Group H winners Tottenham were rewarded for their heroics against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund with a tie against Italian Champions Juventus. Much was made of Harry Kane’s record-breaking 2017 and he will need to add to his tally of 6 goals already in this season’s competition if they have a chance of reaching the quarter finals, which would match their best run in 2010/11. Manchester United, along with new star-signing Alexis Sanchez, who is eligible to play in this season’s competition will take on Seville in what will prove to be a stern test for Mourinho’s men but one they hope they can come out of unscathed. Elsewhere, Premier League leaders Manchester City will travel to Swiss Champions FC Basel and Liverpool will look to continue their recent resurgence in their first round of 16 tie since 2009 as they play Portuguese side and 2004 winners, FC Porto. German champions Bayern Munich play current Turkish champions, Beşiktaş JK and finally, Shakhtar Donetsk, who were the first team to beat Manchester City in any competition this season, play Group C winners, AS Roma.
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