European football’s most prestigious tournament, the Champions League, is in its most exciting stage, the Knockout Round of 16. There are 16 teams in this round, each playing another team in a two-legged matchup, one game at home and one game away. Matchups were randomly selected from a pool of eight winners from the group stage and eight runners-up from the group stage. The winner of the two-legged matchup is first determined by whoever wins the most games, then by aggregate score if record isn’t enough. If aggregate score is the same, away goals scored are weighed more heavily than home goals scored. If that is still not enough to determine a winner, then the second match will continue into extra time and penalty kicks. Winners move on in the tournament, losers go home.
The Round of 16 is considered, at least in my eyes, the best round of the tournament because it consists of 16 games over the course of February and March, and there is a strong likelihood of intriguing matchups across the board. Last season, the miraculous Barcelona comeback against PSG occurred in the Round of 16, along with Leicester City’s impressive victory over Sevilla to advance into the quarter finals. This year, the randomly-selected matchups are enticing: Juventus versus Tottenham, Real Madrid versus PSG, Manchester City versus FC Basel, Liverpool versus FC Porto, Bayern Munich versus Besiktas, Chelsea versus Barcelona, Manchester United versus Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk versus Roma. This Round of 16 features five English teams out of the five that qualified for the group stage portion; this had never occurred before. In recent years, English teams have had rather poor showings in the group stage and knockout stages, but this season, there is hope that the Premier League can prove its status as “the best league” in Europe. There are three Spanish teams in the Round of 16, two Italian teams, two Portuguese teams, one Swiss team, one Ukrainian team, one French team, and one German team. It is impressive to see teams from the Swiss League (FC Basel) and Ukrainian League (Shakhtar Donetsk) advance to this stage, considering how the knockout round has historically been dominated by the English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
The tournament is about halfway through the Round of 16 and has already featured some fantastic fixtures for the neutral fan. Juventus and Tottenham played out a thrilling match, with Tottenham coming back from an early 2-0 deficit away in Italy. Perhaps the most anticipated match of the round was Real Madrid versus PSG. Both PSG and Real Madrid were expected to handily win their respective groups, but Real Madrid stumbled and ended up as a runner-up. This is a matchup that many expected to see later in the tournament. Although many people, myself included, believed Real Madrid’s faltering league form and PSG’s high powered attack would result in PSG’s victory, Real Madrid won comfortably at home 3-1. Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo once again displayed his ability to step his game up in the Champions League with two goals, bringing his grand, record-breaking total in the Champions League up to 116 goals. PSG clearly suffered from the absence of youth sensation Kylian Mbappe and captain Thiago Silva. The other two matchups during the first week of the Round of 16 were blowouts, both in favor of English clubs. Liverpool’s attacking trio of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah demolished FC Porto 5-0, while seemingly unstoppable Manchester City won 4-0 versus FC Basel.
Week 2 of the Round of 16 hosted the other four matchups. Bayern Munich unsurprisingly dismantled the Portuguese club Besiktas behind two goals from Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski, respectively. The always-entertaining Chelsea versus Barcelona match up ended up 1-1. Chelsea had defended valiantly all game, gaining the lead with about 30 minutes to go behind Willian’s strike. However, with 15 minutes to go, Lionel Messi tied up the game off of a defensive blunder from Chelsea. Chelsea will have a tall mountain to climb in Barcelona if they want to advance to the quarter finals. Manchester United drew 0-0 with Sevilla, failing to secure a valuable away goal. Roma versus Shakhtar Donetsk finished 2-1 in favor of Shakhtar, but Roma was able to score an away goal, putting them in good position for the second leg of the matchup.
While some of these two-legged match ups seem to be decided after the first game, Barcelona taught the footballing world never to count a team out, even after losing 4-0 on the road. That being said, I can confidently say Manchester City, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich will advance into the quarter finals. I believe that my team, Tottenham, will prevail over Juventus. I think PSG will stage a comeback versus defending champions Real Madrid. I predict Barcelona to advance over Chelsea, Manchester United over Sevilla, and Roma over Shakhtar Donetsk. For the record, my original predictions in November had Juventus exiting early, Bayern Munich and Barcelona going far into the tournament, and Real Madrid picking up their form, but PSG winning the entire tournament, Hopefully, for the sake of my credibility, my predictions come true.