UEFA Champions League last 16 previews: What’s at stake for the remaining teams?
From Manchester City to Juventus, eight teams from this year’s round of 16 will play for the last four quarter-final slots this weekend
The domestic seasons may have ended for Europe’s big five football leagues but there are plenty of games left in this season’s UEFA Champions League. Before the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns in March, four teams, from Italy (Atalanta), France (Paris Saint-Germain), Germany (RB Leipzig) and Spain (Atlético Madrid), had made it to the quarter-finals. But eight others have had to wait for their second-leg round of 16 matches, now scheduled for this weekend. Here’s a look at some of these key fixtures.
Manchester City have it all to play for
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City surrendered their Premier League crown to Liverpool this year. The only silverware City have picked up this season is the Carabao Cup, which makes their second-leg encounter with Real Madrid all the more crucial. Playing at home, City go into the match with a 2-1 aggregate scoreline. But as this tournament has shown before, no first-leg lead is ever big enough. Madrid’s impeccable form since the restart has seen them snatch a 34th La Liga title and they will hope that striker Karim Benzema can continue his goal-scoring streak—the Frenchman has 27 goals this season. City, meanwhile, could be missing striker Sergio Agüero, who has been out since June with a knee injury. In his absence, midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will be the man to watch for the home side. His return of 13 goals and 20 assists in the league this season is remarkable, and he could have a big say in whether or not City can overtake Madrid and finally triumph in Europe.
Juventus need Ronaldo’s midas touch
After their league season resumed, Juventus crawled to their ninth consecutive Serie A title, finishing just one point ahead of Inter Milan. On the final match day, manager Maurizio Sarri’s side lost 1-3 to AS Roma, a disappointing end before they lifted the trophy. They trail Lyon to an aggregate 0-1 scoreline but Juventus possess a player in their ranks who can turn the tie on its head: Cristiano Ronaldo. Even at 35, the Portuguese continues to perform at the highest level. Ronaldo has 31 goals in all competitions this season and is an experienced Champions League campaigner. Juventus faced a similar task last season—trailing 2-0 to Atlético Madrid in the round of 16. In stepped Ronaldo, who scored a dominating hat-trick in the second leg at home. Juventus will need a similar performance from him this time.
Can Barcelona do better in Europe?
Barcelona’s season can be summed up in two parts. In La Liga, they stumbled in the title race and could not match Real Madrid’s form. It’s difficult to imagine Barcelona losing six league games in a season—they lost a total of four over the last two seasons. In Europe, however, they went unbeaten in the group stages and will go to Camp Nou confident of overcoming Napoli, who managed a decent seventh-place finish in Serie A. Barcelona manager Quique Setién is managing a disjointed squad and even though club president Josep Bartomeu has publicly backed Setién recently, his job is on the line. The Catalans will hope that Lionel Messi, who has been visibly unsettled of late, can get his act together and sprinkle some of the Champions League stardust he is renowned for. CHELSEA FACE A TOUGH TASK
Bayern Munich remain firm favourites in this tie. Frank Lampard and his Chelsea side will have to pull off a miracle if they are to overturn a 3-0 deficit away at the Allianz Arena. Bayern have been on a roll in the Bundesliga, winning a record eighth consecutive title and delivering a perfect performance in the group stages. Striker Robert Lewandowski is leading the goal-scoring charts in the tournament with 11 goals and he may well find the net again in this tie. Chelsea’s problems, however, were compounded by the recent FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal, where they lost Christian Pulisic, Cesar Azpilicueta and Pedro to serious injuries. Lampard has exceeded all expectations, finishing fourth in the league with a young Chelsea squad, but overturning a 3-0 deficit away at Bayern Munich could prove to be a bridge too far.