As European football comes back from winter break, the UEFA Champions League’s (UCL) Round of 16 will be kicking off in the next few weeks. In preparation for that, here are our predictions on how clubs will fare in this new stage of the competition.
City and Real get very lucky
Arguably the two strongest sides in the competition so far, Manchester City and Real Madrid, left the round of 16 draw with incredibly favorable matches: the former will be taking on FC Copenhagen and the latter, RB Leipzig. Although consensus generally seems to be that Real will advance to the next round, it’s important to remember that Los Blancos have suffered heavy losses to injury, as cruciate ligament issues have ruled out starters Thibaut Courtois, Eder Militão and David Alaba. Additionally, much has been said about “mental exhaustion” amongst the Manchester City squad after their incredibly successful last season, casting doubts on their ability to sustain another UCL campaign. These matches will inaugurate the knockout stage on Feb. 13, with the first legs being played in Copenhagen and Leipzig.
Barcelona vs Napoli: Derby de la Mara-drama?
The Maradona Derby is back! This match-up, touted as one of the most exciting of the season, will see FC Barcelona face off against SSC Napoli at an interesting time for both — much has been written about the Catalans’ woes this year, and not without reason. After winning the La Liga title last year, the Blaugrana are unrecognizable this season: Frontman Robert Lewandowski has been underwhelming across all competitions, while Gavi and Pedri, La Masia’s golden boys, have both suffered injury this season as a result of being overplayed and carrying both ends of the field. The defense is in shambles, the club is struggling financially and manager Xavi Hernández has just announced he will be leaving his “cruel and unpleasant job” at the end of this season. We are sad to see this Barcelona legend leave.
Behind-the-scenes drama aside, the match should be a rather interesting fixture; Napoli is also experiencing a shaky season after winning the Serie A title in 2023, currently sitting seventh in the Italian League, meaning we can see this match going either way — a true wildcard. Tune in on Feb. 21!
Arsenal vs Porto meet again
Mikel Arteta’s Gunners will take on Sérgio Conceição’s Dragons at a delicate time for their season: Battling for second in the Premier League after matchday 23, an energetic Arsenal F.C. is looking to build upon their impressive domestic performance in the last season and extend that success to the European top flight. With the likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus and Martin Odegaard in great form, we’re looking forward to what Arsenal may bring to the round of 16.
FC Porto, similarly enjoying a good season in their domestic competition, has had a stressful run of the January transfer window, as teams across Europe seek to poach their top talents, with manager Conceição reportedly stepping in to halt these changes. The Dragons have shown strength throughout the group stage, collecting resounding victories against Royal Antwerp FC and FC Shakhtar Donetsk — they will look to extend this record as they host Arsenal next month.
German giants face S.S. Lazio and PSV Eindhoven
FC Bayern Munich will also be travelling on Valentine’s day, in order to face off against S.S. Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico. Thomas Tuchel’s moment of relief as starters like Jamal Musiala and captain Manuel Neuer returned from recovery has been cut short by a new spell of injuries: most notably, Serge Gnabry has now been ruled out till early March with a muscular injury. We still expect the Bavarians to win against Lazio — though the latter have seen key improvements from the beginning of the season, Bayern’s deadly combination of Alphonso Davies and Alex Pavlovic, as well as a Harry Kane in stunning form may prove too difficult for Maurizio Sarri’s squad.
Borussia Dortmund, on the other hand, will be traveling west to face the team sitting clear atop the Eredivisie table: PSV Eindhoven. The rood-witten have not lost a single one of their dutch league matches this season and walked away from the UCL group stage with a three-draw, two-win and one-loss record. Dortmund also had a strong showing in the match days so far (2D, 3W, 1L), finishing in the top spot of Group F ahead of a star-studded Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). It's difficult to see how this lineup will turn out; both clubs seem to be in good form as they advance to the knockout round of the competition.
Inter Milan and Atlético go head-to-head
This is another match that has the potential to be highly dazzling — Inter Milan narrowly missed out on the title last year and is currently leading Serie A, while Atlético de Madrid is in the top four of La Liga and qualified 1st in Group E. The latter has a star-studded attack, with Antoine Griezmann and Álvaro Morata absolutely flying through opponents’ defensive lines. However, Los Colchoneros’ weakness lies in their own defensive formation and, more importantly, in their lack of options. As the winter transfer window closes out, Atlético has rushed to sign more players that could cover their three central defender positions in order to alleviate the pressure on players like Axel Witsel and Stefan Savic. Inter Milan, on the other hand, has roared back to Serie A front-runner status due to coach Simone Inzaghi’s tactics, which prioritize both mobility and ball possession. This, coupled with talents like Lautaro Martinez and Hakan Çalhanoğlu, has proved to be somewhat of a golden combination, allowing the Nerazzurri to be strong contenders both in Italy and Europe.
Real Sociedad vs Paris Saint-Germain: cloudy, with a chance of upset
Real Sociedad, this season’s strongest underdog, will face a hefty challenge from Kylian Mbappé & co. as they travel to Paris on Valentine’s Day. Pundits have already begun speculating about this fixture, which will pin a PSG team that scraped by to the knockout stage by the skin of their teeth against an “academy-powered” squad whose first Champions League appearance in a decade has surprised spectators around the world. Eyes remain on midfielder Martin Zubimendi, whose performance this season has been so spectacular it's attracted attention from clubs across Europe, and Kylian Mbappé, whose long-discussed move to Real Madrid is once again back in the headlines.