Liverpool, Tottenham, and Manchester City will fancy their chances of making the Champions League last eight but Bayern Munich can end Lampard’s dream
Borussia Dortmund v Paris Saint-Germain
It will rankle within the corridors of power at the Parc des Princes that clubs like Borussia Dortmund have reached more Champions League finals than them in the last decade, but there is a growing sense that, finally, PSG may be about to fulfill their potential in this competition.
While Dortmund’s form has been patchy, PSG finished five points ahead of Real Madrid in Group A and only conceded twice in six games. Dortmund have plenty of firepower (and have been strongly linked to Erling Braut Haaland) but are defensively flimsy.
Fixtures: February 18: Dortmund v PSG, March 11: PSG v Dortmund.
Prediction: PSG to qualify with some ease.
Atletico Madrid v Liverpool
The perfect season to draw Atletico in the Champions League? Perhaps. Diego Simeone’s team are fifth in La Liga and lost two of their group games. The summer departure of Lucas Hernandez, Diego Godin, Rodri and Antoine Griezmann has caused a hangover that the new signings — including £113m man Joao Felix — have so far been unable to cure.
Liverpool could well be far enough clear in the Premier League by February that they can prioritise the defence of their European crown.
Given that the age-old Atleti grit and spirit has been diluted, Jurgen Klopp will be confident of comfortable progression.
Fixtures: February 18: Atletico Madrid v Liverpool; March 11: Liverpool vAtletico Madrid.
Prediction: Liverpool to march on; the firepower is just too much.
Tottenham v RB Leipzig
The hardest tie to predict, particularly ahead of the January transfer window. Tottenham may sit outside the Premier League’s top four but they could be in rude health by February.
Julian Nagelsmann has Leipzig top of the Bundesliga, but they are only eight points clear of seventh in a tight division. January will bring likely interest in their best players, and Nagelsmann will stress the importance of keeping the group together. Jose Mourinho’s presence probably tips the balance Spurs’ way, but it won’t be easy.
Fixtures: February 19: Tottenham v RB Leipzig; March 10: Leipzig v Tottenham.
Prediction: Tottenham edge through the tightest tie of the round
Atalanta v Valencia
Managers and club officials always refuse to be drawn into discussing which teams they would like to face, but we can reasonably conclude Atalanta and Valencia are delighted with their lot.
It provides both with a wonderful chance to continue their status as the Champions League overachievers of 2019/20.
Atalanta will enter the tie full of confidence after squeaking through into the knockout stages (they lost their first three matches, conceding 11 goals), but Valencia have a squad full of players with something to prove.
Might their experience be the deciding factor?
Fixtures: February 19: Atalanta vs Valencia; March 10: Valencia v Atalanta.
Prediction: Valencia to make the most of their plum draw.
Chelsea v Bayern Munich
Chelsea’s Champions League fate may well be decided by which Bayern Munich team turn up in February.
Will it be the Bayern who became only the third club in the Champions League era to win all six of their group games, or the Bayern who sit fifth in the Bundesliga having lost more than a quarter of their matches?
The suspicion is that this tie will come too early for Chelsea’s Frank Lampard project, and that their defensive vulnerability will be exposed by an extremely dangerous Bayern front four.
The German champions will also surely have a permanent head coach by then; Mauricio Pochettino, perhaps?
Fixtures: February 25: Chelsea vs Bayern Munich; March 18: Bayern v Chelsea.
Prediction: Bayern’s movement to prove too much for Chelsea’s defensive vulnerability.
Real Madrid v Man City
Twice Manchester City have met Real Madrid in the Champions League knockout stages, and both times they have succumbed to limp exit.
The semi-final defeat in 2016 remains one of City’s biggest regrets of the Sheikh Mansour era. But Real Madrid are not the machine they once were. They finished well adrift of PSG in their group and have dropped 13 points in La Liga already this season.
As long as Pep Guardiola and his players can shake off their mental gremlins in this competition, they should progress. Particularly if Aymeric Laporte and Sergio Aguero are back fighting fit.
February 26: Real v Man City, March 17: Man City v Madrid
Prediction: Manchester City to gain revenge and expose Real’s flaws.
Napoli v Barcelona
A tie that might cause a wave of Diego Maradona-inspired nostalgia, but neither Barcelona nor Napoli are in fine fettle. Lionel Messi is carrying his team more than ever before, while Napoli are struggling.
The appointment of Gennaro Gattuso can be firmly filed under ‘gamble’, and Napoli have dropped to eighth in Serie A despite Champions League progress. The atmosphere in the San Paolo will be electric for the first leg, but the crowd alone will not be enough to humble Barcelona.
Fixtures: February 25: Napoli v Barcelona; March 18: Barcelona v Napoli.
Prediction: Barcelona to saunter through.
Lyon v Juventus
Lyon squeezed through in a weak group, edging out Benfica and Zenit St Petersburg by a single point.
Their chances of knocking out one of this year’s favourites were hardly helped by the serious ligament injuries suffered by Memphis Depay and Jeff-Reine Adelaide against Rennes at the weekend — both are certain to miss the tie.
That puts Juventus firmly in the driving seat, even if their Serie A form has been far less imperious than we have grown accustomed to.
Fixtures: February 26: Lyon v Juventus, March 17: Juventus v Lyon.
Prediction: Cristiano Ronaldo always heats up in the knockouts; Juventus to sail through.