Champions League knockout stage preview
With the knockout stages of the Champions League set to begin next week, we're here to break down the first half of the Round of 16 matchups. The first legs of these pairings will take place Feb. 16 and 17, with the return legs taking place Mar. 9 and 10.
Be sure to check back with us next week as we preview the second half of the round.
Barcelona vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Barcelona have regained their form over the past few weeks, winning six straight in all competitions before a 2-0 defeat to Sevilla on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey. Eight points off the La Liga summit, the Champions League now represents their only realistic hope of obtaining a trophy this season. In what will certainly be his final months at the club, Lionel Messi will be motivated to leave on a high note, but Barcelona’s defense continues to leak goals, allowing seven in their last three matches.
As for PSG, this tie comes at a tricky time. Not only will Angel Di Maria be out for the first leg, Neymar suffered a hip injury on Wednesday in their Coupe de France match. Reports came out Thursday morning that he will miss four weeks, ruling him out for the first leg. This news took PSG from a strong betting favorite to being one of two teams having equal odds of advancing.
If Neymar were fit, this would be a no-brainer pick for PSG as they have eight wins and two draws in their last eleven matches. However, his absence changes things in the first leg. If he returns at four weeks, it would bring him back just in time for the second leg, but it might be too much to ask of him. Barcelona will capitalize and move on.
RB Leipzig vs. Liverpool
Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions in Germany, the first leg of this tie will be played in Budapest, Hungary as Liverpool are not allowed to enter the country. It may not matter where the match is played, however, as the two teams are going in wildly different directions at the moment.
Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes are all but gone after a 4-1 defeat to Manchester City. Injuries and the inability to score goals have seen them lose five of their matches across all competitions since the start of the year, and they have scored just once in four Premier League matches at home during that spell.
Leipzig sit second in the Bundesliga, albeit eight points off the top, and have won four of their last five. They have had no problems scoring, finding the net 10 times in their last four matches. Look for Leipzig to be a threat to make another deep run in the competition, starting with an upset win over Liverpool.
Porto vs. Juventus
Porto currently sit second in Liga NOS, eight points back of unbeaten Sporting. With title hopes fading fast, they will be keen to get past the Round of 16 in the Champions League for just the second time since 2015. Their last appearance in the tournament was 2018-19, when they made the quarterfinals by knocking out Roma in an extra time thriller.
To advance, they will need to beat another Italian team—one they have yet to topple. In four matchups, Juventus has beaten Porto three times, drawing the other, with an aggregate score of 6-1. The Old Lady is in a rich vein of form, as Andrea Pirlo seems to have found his footing in Turin. Juventus have closed the gap atop the Serie A table to just seven points, winning six of their last seven.
Porto have won just three times in their last eight matches in all competitions, while Juventus has conceded a mere one goal in their last seven matches. There is little to make you believe Porto will be able to change history this year, as Juventus should advance easily with Cristiano Ronaldo adding to his record 132 goals in the competition.
Sevilla vs. Borussia Dortmund
Sevilla showed in that aforementioned 2-0 win over Barcelona just how strong their defense is. The Spanish side have not conceded a goal in more than six matches, and have kept a clean sheet in seven of their last eight. Currently fourth in La Liga, their sights will likely be set on trying to make a run in the Champions League and maintaining their position domestically.
They will face a Dortmund side that is 16 points adrift of Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, and fired their manager in December. They have won twice and lost three in their last six across all competitions, and have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last seven. Their struggles have been in part due to the return to Earth of Erling Haaland, who has scored just five goals in his last nine matches after finding the net a whopping eighteen times in the previous fourteen outings. With Dortmund possibly missing out on a Champions League spot next season, this could be his final time representing the club in the competition.
As reported, Borussia Dortmund may sell a few players if they don't reach the Champions League. While the departure of Jadon Sancho is set in stone, Gio Reyna and/or Raphaël Guerreiro could also be sold. Dortmund will try to keep Erling Haaland for another season, though. #BVB— Constantin Eckner (@cc_eckner) February 11, 2021
Given Sevilla’s terrific run of form, and the frailties of the Dortmund defense, it is hard to think the Spanish side will fail to advance. Look for Sevilla to lock down defensively and do enough to move to the quarterfinals in an upset.