Champions League Preview – Round of 16

The Champions League makes its long-awaited return this week with the first four last-16 ties taking place across Europe.

As ever, we eagerly await the usual serving of spectacular goals, thrilling attacking football and moments of controversy as Europe’s elite continue their march to the Cardiff final on June 3.

We take a look ahead to the four games this week, posing some of the key questions.

Benfica v Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund were in sublime goalscoring form in the group stage, finding the net 21 times to finish ahead of Real Madrid though admittedly 14 of those came against Legia Warsaw.

The reward for Thomas Tuchel’s men is a fairly favourable draw against Benfica, who finished runners-up to Napoli in Group B.

Indeed, the Portuguese side scraped through, having lost to Napoli on the final matchday, only to be rescued by Dynamo Kiev’s unexpected 6-0 thrashing of Besiktas.

Dortmund’s form has been patchy of late and they are 15 points behind their rivals Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. They were beaten by lowly Darmstadt at the weekend and have won just two of their last nine.

Nonetheless, with the league title gone, they can focus on a run in the Champions League similar to that of four years ago, when they reached the final, and they’ll be favourites here.

Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona

When Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain were drawn together in the quarter-finals in 2015, it was about as one-sided as you get at this level.

For Barcelona, who would go on to win the competition, they were two quite beautiful performances – a 3-1 first leg win in Paris and a 2-0 home victory in the return – with Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez in full flight.

Those three remain central to their Champions League aspirations as Barcelona return to the French capital on Valentine’s Day.

And it already looks ominous for PSG, whose failure to beat Ludogorets Razgrad in their final group game saw them finish below Arsenal and landed them with this nightmare draw.

Despite the stellar form of Edinson Cavani, whose 30 goals this season have compensated for the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they are unusually off the pace in the French league.

Barcelona, meanwhile, stormed home in Group C, well ahead of Manchester City and racked up 20 goals in the process.

Given that they trail Real Madrid in La Liga, Barcelona will be desperate to win the Champions League again to well and truly overshadow their rivals’ achievements.

Bayern Munich v Arsenal

In the film, Groundhog Day is on February 2 but Arsenal fans have become accustomed to it falling a little later in the month.

For six successive seasons, they have crashed out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage, losing to, in order, Barcelona, Milan, Bayern Munich, Bayern Munich, Monaco and Barcelona.

So when the Gunners finally managed to top their group this season, they might have hoped for a more straightforward draw and a smooth passage to the quarter-finals.

Alas, this happened to coincide with the one time Bayern didn’t win their group and so inevitably they have been paired together once again.

Bayern, seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, are the strong favourites but at least Arsenal have the second leg at home this time.

If Arsenal are to upset the odds and beat their nemesis, they need everyone to be firing on all cylinders.

There should be no trouble with Alexis Sanchez, who has scored 19 goals this season, but Arsene Wenger is concerned for another one of their talismen, Mesut Ozil, who looks worryingly off-colour.

But there are signs of encouragement in that Bayern do look more fallible this year and recent performances have been far from convincing.

Real Madrid v Napoli

The defending champions Real Madrid were a little slipshod in the group stage, with draws against Borussia Dortmund (twice) and Legia Warsaw ultimately costing them top spot to the Germans.

However, Zinedine Zidane’s side have more than enough firepower to start as overwhelming favourites against Napoli, who emerged top of the pile in Group B.

With a firm grip on the La Liga title, Real could really make it a historic season if they were to claim a 12th European Cup win. And imagine Gareth Bale scoring the winner in Cardiff!

He remains on the sidelines with injury but with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Real’s other usual suspects, they won’t be short of threat. In the group stage, they averaged 18.33 attempts on goal per game, second to only Bayern Munich.

Napoli are nine points behind Serie A’s inevitable leaders Juventus but with the likes of Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik in their side, Real should be aware of a potential sting.


Subscribe now to our newsletter