After the lightning pace of the Champions League group stage, the draw for the last 16 appeared to be on us in a flash too and there were fireworks. Holders Bayern Munich will be reasonably happy with their tie against a dangerous but limited Lazio, perennial hopefuls Manchester City must fancy their chances of rolling over an exciting young Borussia Mönchengladbach side and Juventus are clear favourites against Porto, who they play at this stage for the second time in five years. The draw highlights, however, are elsewhere.
Klopp v Nagelsmann, part two
It’s remarkable to think that it was only three years ago that Jürgen Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann faced each other for the first time, in an exciting but reasonably one-sided Champions League qualifier between Liverpool and Hoffenheim. So much has changed for both since then.
Nagelsmann will stand out as the example of metamorphosis having moved clubs and taken Leipzig to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time, disposing of Tottenham and Atlético Madrid on the way before beating both Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United in this term’s group stage. Yet Klopp was still getting to grips with Anfield then, and few would have backed them to reach the Kyiv final at the end of that 17/18.
Now he’s rightly recognised as one of the greatest coaches on the planet, with the trophies to prove it in an era of ultra-competition. Yet Leipzig and Nagelsmann will have their say in this. He’s a versatile, imaginative coach with the streak of arrogance to go toe-to-toe with the best. Leipzig will have Dayot Upamecano, their best defender who missed out against United, back for this and perhaps a new signing in Dominik Szoboszlai to add to their excellent midfield.
Back Leipzig to beat Liverpool at 9/4
Lampard’s latest test in Madrid
This looks tough on paper for Chelsea, particularly with Atlético Madrid top of La Liga at present. The Blues have impressed in Europe this season, though, with their defence coming together around Thiago Silva and a lot of different solutions available in the final third. In fact, there are an interesting bet for the trophy outright at 16/1.
Atlético made the group stage harder for themselves than they might have done, drawing both games against Lokomotiv Moscow, but beat a good RB Salzburg team twice to secure safe passage. Despite their excellent domestic defensive record they can switch off from set pieces in particular, and Chelsea will get opportunities over the two legs.
There are two questions over the Londoners’ potential progression – firstly, how much will their option-replete attack have improved by February, and has Lampard got the tactical nous to undo Diego Simeone in the same way that Nagelsmann did in the Lisbon Final 8? He fell short against Bayern at this stage last year – which is understandable – so Chelsea must hope the extra year makes the difference against one of the competition’s old hands.
Back Atlético Madrid and Chelsea to draw the first leg at 23/10
Paris out to right remontada wrongs
There aren’t many years in which players with an interest in winning the Champions League would cheer the prospect of drawing Barcelona in the competition’s last 16, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that there had been murmurs of anticipation, at least, in the Camp des Loges changing rooms when Paris Saint-Germain were paired with the Catalans.
This will be the first meeting between the pair since 2017 when, after Unai Emery’s side pummelled Barça in Paris – a masterclass that is often forgotten given the context – Neymar led la remontada at Camp Nou. It is a scar that has never healed for PSG, and that only direct revenge will satisfy.
This is their chance. There is always a degree of speculation in offering prognostics for games which are two months away, with transfers, fitness and form all factoring in. Not only do PSG have Neymar and Kylian Mbappé this time, though, but they face a Barcelona in disarray on and off the pitch – and with many fans in a mood where they would be grateful for a top four finish in La Liga, Ronald Koeman‘s side are there for the taking, with the sense it’ll get worse before it gets better. Even Ferencvaros and Dynamo Kiev had their opportunities at Camp Nou this season, so one wonders what Thomas Tuchel’s stars can do.
Back Paris Saint-Germain to win at Barcelona at 7/4