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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Barcelona and Manchester City march on: Uefa Champions League last-16 preview and predictions

Ian Hawkey analyses the outcome of the draw and predicts which teams will progress to the quarter-finals

The completed draw for the last-16 of the 2018/19 Uefa Champions League. Reuters
The completed draw for the last-16 of the 2018/19 Uefa Champions League. Reuters

Atletico Madrid v Juventus

Few favours have come to the would-be hosts of the final so far in the 2018/19 Uefa Champions League. Atletico, whose new arena will stage the final in May, had the bad luck to bump into a resurgent Borussia Dortmund in the group phase, and thanks to a chastening 4-0 loss in Germany, finished shy of the top of their mini-league. That made them vulnerable to a last-16 tie against a heavyweight.

Cristiano Ronaldo, right, will aim to win his fourth successive Uefa Champions League title and first since moving to Juventus. AFP
Cristiano Ronaldo, right, will aim to win his fourth successive Uefa Champions League title and first since moving to Juventus. AFP

Juventus are certainly that, and will match Atletico for pent-up motivation to at last go on and win a Champions League final. Juve finished with silver medals in 2015 and 2017; Atletico were beaten finalists in 2014 and 2016, when Cristiano Ronaldo, then of Real Madrid, was among those who thwarted them. Ronaldo, now of Juve, versus Antoine Griezmann is a duel repeated again and again on major stages, and it is never less than compelling.

Forecast: Juventus to break Atletico hearts

Manchester United v Paris Saint-Germain

A date with Europe’s most dominant league-leaders was probably not what Manchester United most wanted the morning after they were brutally confronted, thanks to a defeat at Liverpool, with how far they have fallen in the English hierarchy. Paris Saint-Germain, 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 with two matches in hand, can only look clear favourites against a United 19 points behind the Premier League leaders.

Kylian Mbappe, left, and Neymar, right, will lead Paris Saint-Germain's attack against Manchester United. AFP
Kylian Mbappe, left, and Neymar, right, will lead Paris Saint-Germain's attack against Manchester United. AFP

Expect much attention - even more than usual - on the pair of neo-Parisians whose fortunes have dipped with United’s for long phases of this insipid campaign. What role for Paul Pogba, born some 10-kilometres from the French capital, a world champion with France in July and lately an unused substitute with United?

Or for Anthony Martial, another from the outskirts of Paris, who was once a feted French prodigy, just like PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, and who now drifts in and out of the United side?

Forecast: PSG to go through

Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund

Not a tie to turn up late for, if it is anything like the Wembley meeting between these two clubs in the group phase of last season’s competition. There were three goals in the first quarter of hour of that one, Tottenham opening up Dortmund with speed and swagger. They went on to a 3-1 win, which effectively eliminated the German club once Spurs had followed up with a 2-1 victory at the Westfalen stadium.

Borussia Dortmund are flying high at the top of the Bundesliga. EPA
Borussia Dortmund are flying high at the top of the Bundesliga. EPA

Harry Kane scored three times in those two fixtures, Son Heung-min twice, and the Korean’s recent form is among the Spurs’ grounds for optimism they can build a decent run in Europe.

But they will know this Dortmund, top of the Bundesliga and having changed manager twice in the last 14 months, are an upgraded version of last winter’s brittle side, with verve, youth and a good smattering of Champions League knowhow.

Forecast: Dortmund to edge an entertaining tie

Ajax v Real Madrid

Seventeen European Cups between them, but these clubs are worlds apart in terms of the resources they can command. Ajax’s first appearance in the group phase for four years has been excellent, featuring two draws with Bayern Munich and a victory over Benfica.

The downside? As ever, the brilliance of their younger stars means the recruitment directors from wealthier clubs are gathering, looking to buy. The hope is that nobody with a core role in the current team is lured away in January.

Bollon d'Or winner Luka Modric, centre, and his Real Madrid team have dominate the Uefa Champions League in recent years. AFP
Bollon d'Or winner Luka Modric, centre, and his Real Madrid team have dominate the Uefa Champions League in recent years. AFP

The likes of Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie De Jong, the coveted youngsters, should relish the opportunity to take on Europe's reigning champions, as will veteran Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who 10 years ago was preparing to leave Ajax as a 25-year-old for Real Madrid, one of the many detours of a winding career that now has him back in Amsterdam.

Madrid, seeking a fourth successive Champions League title, will be wary. They have an inconsistent, troubled campaign so far.

Forecast: Real Madrid to progress

Schalke v Manchester City

On the face of it, this looks the most lob-sided tie of them all. Schalke took six matches to gain their first points of the Bundesliga season, and remain stuck well down in the bottom half of their division. Manchester City went 16 matches before suffering their first and only loss so far in defence of their Premier League title.

Manchester City's Leroy Sane, left, faces former club Schalke in the Uefa Champions League last-16. Reuters
Manchester City's Leroy Sane, left, faces former club Schalke in the Uefa Champions League last-16. Reuters

And yet … Schalke, where City’s Leroy Sane began his senior career, will detect encouragement from continuing signs of City’s tendency to show vulnerabilities in Europe that they keep concealed for most of the time in their domestic displays.

City may have assumed the status of many pundits’ favourites for the Champions League, but so far they have had difficult moments against Lyon, who took four group-phase points off them, and against Hoffenheim, whom City beat only narrowly in both group games.

Forecast: City to go through

Olympique Lyonnais v Barcelona

Barcelona’s grip on a trophy they have won three times in the last decade has loosened alarmingly since 2015. Not so much as a semi-final since then, which is way beneath expectation for a club of Barca’s pedigree and budget.

Most keenly aware of that is director of football Eric Abidal, who won a pair of Champions League titles as a player with Barca, after he joined them from Olympique Lyonnais.

Lionel Messi, left, and Barcelona face Lyon in the Uefa Champions League last-16. AFP
Lionel Messi, left, and Barcelona face Lyon in the Uefa Champions League last-16. AFP

There are current Lyon players Abidal has been keeping an eye on, notably midfielder Tanguy Ndombele, and while there was some relief at Camp Nou that a last 16 tie against Liverpool was avoided in the draw, Abidal and the management staff know there are hazards in the French team.

Like the attacking zip of Memphis Depay, and the craft of Nabil Fekir and Ndombele. The hope is that Barcelona, unbeaten in the group games, have their former Lyon defender, Samuel Umtiti back from knee surgery by the time they take on the French club.

Forecast: Barcelona to make the quarter-finals

Roma v Porto

Given that Roma might have been confronted with the champions of Germany (Bayern Munich), France (PSG), Spain (Barcelona), or England (Manchester City) in the last 16, you could understand why their former captain and now senior executive Francesco Totti seemed to smile very broadly when the name Porto was paired with his club’s.

Edin Dzeko will play a key role in Roma's hopes of reaching the Uefa Champions League quarter-finals. EPA
Edin Dzeko will play a key role in Roma's hopes of reaching the Uefa Champions League quarter-finals. EPA

But Porto are on a bit of a roll. They dropped only two points in reaching the knockout phase of the Champions League - and that was way back on Matchday 1, against Schalke - and they are top of the Portuguese league.

Roma? The form of last season's semi-finalists has been scratchy - Sunday’s 3-2 win over Genoa was their first in Serie A for over a month. This tie may well be settled by the most tuned-in of the centre-forwards: Edin Dzeko, of Roma, and Porto’s Moussa Marega are tied on five goals each so far in the competition.

Forecast: Roma to roll on into the last eight

Liverpool v Bayern Munich

A resonant tie for any number of reasons, not least for the nostalgics, who recall how Bayern dominated the European Cup in the middle 1970s - three titles from ‘74 to ‘76 - and how Liverpool - champions in 1977, 78 and 81 - took on that baton.

More up-to-date rivalries will certainly play on the mind of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who as coach of Borussia Dortmund contested several Bundesliga titles against Bayern, and lost a Champions League final and, to his frustration, some of his finest players to them, too.

Mohamed Salah, right, and his Liverpool teammates face a tough challenge against Bayern Munich. Getty Images
Mohamed Salah, right, and his Liverpool teammates face a tough challenge against Bayern Munich. Getty Images

It should be a fine time to play the fallen German champions, who have struggled at times under new coach Niko Kovac. But Klopp will beware, especially with Virgil van Dijk out of the first leg with a suspension, of the enduring threat of Robert Lewandowski, who has eight goals already in the competition.

Forecast: Liverpool to win a see-saw tie

Updated: December 17, 2018 05:55 PM

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