Champions League: From tricky Liverpool-Atletico Madrid clash to repeat of 2012 final, the best of last 16 draw and predictions
At UEFA's headquarter in Switzerland, when the balls were stacked on the table, out of the 8 draws, 4 of them could have easily been the UEFA Champions League 2019-20 final pair-up, had it not been for the capriciousness of fate.
PSG may have the riches, but these are exactly the kind of heat that Borussia Dortmund have historically moulded heroes from
For Real Madrid, it will be a game to redeem their lost luster. But Manchester City with a January transfer window behind them should be strong to hold off
Bayern will visit London with revenge in mind, and the knowledge that Chelsea are less than comfortable playing at home this season
“When you go through all of the draws, there are pretty much four or five potential finals already in the last 16,” said Jurgen Klopp sat in Doha, the manager of defending European Champions Liverpool, preparing for their Club World Cup campaign with half-an-eye on Nyon, the venue of the draw.
What Herr Klopp said was no exaggeration. Last day at UEFA's headquarter in Switzerland, when the balls were stacked on the table, out of the 8 draws, 4 of them could have easily been the UEFA Champions League 2019-20 final pair-up, had it not been for the capriciousness of fate. We at Firstpost take a look at those four blockbusters lined up for our pleasure, featuring Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, PSG, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and Manchester City.
Borussia Dortmund vs Paris Saint Germain
In the grander scheme of things, the French Ligue 1 was only a step-ladder for the real ambitions of the oligarch at Paris Saint Germain. They, by the sheer weight of talent at their disposal, have been leaning heavily on the domestic league season in season out; but this time around, they have looked largely bored of their predictable success in the home front. Without even switching into 3rd gear Tomas Tuchel’s team lead by 7 points, with a 4-0 win over erstwhile giants of the French game, Saint Etienne.
They do seem to find the extra incentive when they are primed to play against Europe’s elite. Their reverse engineering of Real Madrid (3-0) at the Parc Des Princes showed what the team is capable of when complacency takes the backseat. Tomas Tuchel is fully aware of the measure of the task against his former team, Borussia Dortmund, who thrive on the Robin Hood narrative, hoodwinking teams with exponentially large piggy banks than themselves. And few piggy banks come larger than PSG’s.
The manager also has to contend with the deteriorating chemistry between him and the egoists in his team, two namely Neymar and Mbappe. The latter recently ignored the manager altogether after being subbed off vs Montpellier in early December for Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. It remains to be seen if player politics goads the manager out of his post even before February looms.
Dortmund look reinvigorated and Lucien Favre has no plans of vacating his post despite repeated appeals from Dortmund during their slow start of the season. However, they maybe facing the French side without England international Jadon Sancho, who looks primed for a big-billed exit in January to the Premier League. Boosted by the monies in the coffers, the German side can look to bolster their attacking line up of Throgan Hazard, Paco Alcacer, Marco Reus, and Julian Brandt — giving them an aspect of unpredictability.
Prediction: PSG may have the riches, but these are exactly the kind of heat that Dortmund have historically moulded heroes from. Dortmund to go through.
Real Madrid vs Manchester City
Ah, what a sight this shall be. Zinedine Zidane vs Pep Guardiola as managers, for the first time ever. On the pitch as players Zizou had his right heel kissed by goddess Nike, and his left foot kissed by Artemis, galavanting as a Real Madrid Galactico, while Pep Guardiola was Barcelona’s janitor in midfield, mopping up loose balls. As managers, the tables have turned — Zidane practices a more pragmatic approach at Real, while Pep’s Manchester City parades their panache on the football pitch. It’s the bald manager derby.
Guardiola considering the way the season has panned out for him with injuries, terrible communication faux pas involving Bernardo Silva, VAR decisions going against him, would feel like the angels have left his corner and the devils are hedging their bets on him to fail. Despite his European credentials, Manchester City are still seen as pretenders in Europe, trying to push their weight among the regal giants of the game.
Despite their luck or lack of it, Manchester City couldn’t have asked for a better team to face in their trails to validate themselves: Real Madrid, 13 times winner of Europe’s most celebrated club competition, if not revered a respected establishment that won the title three years in a row.
Real, however, have all the signs of a dynasty in decline. Since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Zizou’s men have lost their aura of champions. Finishing second in their group and going into the draw unseeded set them up for tough tie. This Madrid side still looks like an experiment that is far from done drawing inferences from, especially in the midfield where the Spanish side have looked unsure of their roles — a part of the field where Guardiola’s side can inflict heavy damage on with their incisiveness bolstered by a transfer window that could push Fernandinho back into his original role of midfield general.
City will be turning their full attention to this competition by February if the gap between Premier League table-toppers Liverpool continues to widen.
Prediction: For Real Madrid, it will be a game to redeem their lost luster. But a Guardiola side with a January transfer window behind them should be strong to hold off. Real Madrid to go through.
Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool FC
This will be a tricky one for the Tricky Reds. No doubt they will be returning to the Wanda Metropolitano as the venue where their dreams of winning a Champions League came true under Klopp — but Atletico’s home stadium is a different monster when it’s not neutral ground. The camaraderieship built over the collective reverence of Fernando Torres will evaporate when the whistle blows.
Diego Simeone in many ways embodies the same kind of blood and thunder intensity as his German counterpart but specialises in the defensive organisation part of the game as opposed to Liverpool’s strength which lies in an all-out attack.
Not only will the defending champions mettle be put under the test, but also their guile. As an Argentine manager, Simeone’s sides are known to call upon the dark arts of a trailing elbow and loose studs to frustrate teams that are more technically talented, thereby bringing the match down to a contest of who keeps his cool for longer. Atletico players will be instructed to get under the skin of the men representing Merseyside.
However, it should be noted that this Atletico side isn’t the same force that it was a five seasons ago when it reached the all-Madrid Champions League final. Antoine Griezmann, Rodri, Lucas Fernandez, Juanfran and Diego Godin have all departed to pastures new and Simeone has on his hands a rebuilding process. They have only won seven of their seventeen La Liga matches to date in the 2019-20 campaign, and have been searching for goals with no obvious answer. Their bear-trap defence needs an oil job. The official line is that the team is reinventing itself. Most of it is down to the aforementioned exits that have left the team searching for a new sense of leadership and identity. Renan Lodi, Kieran Trippier, Joao Felix form the crux of that.
Despite this, Klopp will know that these are the exact occasions that a Diego Simeone team tends to do their best. But so does Klopp’s team, if not more so. A war of attrition is expected from Atletico; and Liverpool, a team now with the maturity to change things up, will relish it.
Prediction: Liverpool to go through. Liverpool will face-off against Atletico with due respect but no fear. They will be aware enough to play to their own strengths and to expect a proper scrap and a psychological battle.
Chelsea vs Bayern Munich
The first thing Bayern Munich USA Twitter admin did when the draw came out is to mute the word ‘Didier Drogba’ from their timelines. Bayern still harbours the ghost of the 2012 Champions League final where they lost the incentive to the London based club in the dying minutes of the game despite having total control. Drogba cancelled out an equally late Thomas Muller strike to the take the game into penalties and then win it. It was the game that gave Chelsea their first Champions League title and their then-manager Roberto Di Matteo a completely unexpected footnote in history.
Bayern will visit London with revenge in mind, and the knowledge that Chelsea are less than comfortable playing at home this season. Frank Lampard’s Chelsea should be wary despite Bayern’s tottering domestic league challenge as the defending champions. “The lads from Britain know that we’re on it right now,” said decorated Bayern and Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer when the draws came out last day. He, of course, alludes to Bayern’s 100 percent win record in the group stages that includes a 7-1 plunder of Tottenham.
Bayern forward, Robert Lewandowski has recovered from whatever little blip of form he went through and has reasserted himself as one of the world’s most prolific strikers. Alongside him, Serge Ganbry has filled the role of a departed Arjen Robben with his decisiveness on the ball.
Chelsea’s young side with an all-or-nothing attitude has contributed to their porous defence. Whether they will be able to change their gameplay to a more pragmatic one remains to be seen. So far, as their high-scoring fixtures in Europe have proved (4-4 vs Ajax, 2-2 vs Valencia), they have been unsuccessful in their attempts in doing so.
Prediction: It may be all too much for Chelsea to cope. Bayern Munich to go through.
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