The next round of the 2019 Champions League is set, with all eight matchups decided via their traditional draw. There is an added level of excitement when we get to the 16th Round and beyond because of the dreamier matchups. And with it being the knockout stages, there are heightened levels of urgency and drama.
These are 16 of the best teams in the world. Some, like Schalke 04, Roma, and Porto are there by sheer luck because they avoided a tough draw in the group stages. But we still have our traditional powerhouses like Juventus, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, both Manchester clubs, both Madrid clubs, and Liverpool.
So, while some of the matchups are less-than-enticing, there are three that stand out from the start. Three pairings that would make for a worthy semi-final, or even final, but they just happened to come earlier.
Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich
This is a meeting between England’s most successful club after Manchester United and Germany’s most successful team. Both clubs also happen to have five Champions League titles each. Liverpool was the runner-up in last year’s competition while Bayern was eliminated by the eventual champs, Real Madrid, in the semi-finals.
The added element to this matchup is Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp’s history with Bayern. Klopp was the manager of Borussia Dortmund, Bayern’s Bundesliga rivals, for years before taking a sabbatical and ending up on Merseyside.
He faced them 29 times in his career, winning eight, losing 16, and drawing five times. The 51-year-old has faced off against the German giant in three different finals, coming away with one victory. One of the two losses included a defeat in the Champions League final at the hands of Bayern Munich.
However, this Liverpool team is a different animal, and they’ve come far under Klopp- so far that they are the current betting favorites, and some believe that Bayern will have tough luck advancing.
Even with Bayern’s struggles this season (by their standards), they still have one of the best squads in the world and can beat anyone on any given day. So while Liverpool will be a significant test of the German outfit, the same can be said the other way around as well.
The Reds are playing a team with elite-level moxie, something they haven’t done much outside of England. It will be a barometer test to see just how far they have come.
Juventus vs. Atlético Madrid
Outside of Liverpool, Juventus and Atlético Madrid are two of the best defenses in the world (at least statistically) when considering the level of competition. And with those defenses come world-class attacking players, setting up for what could be the best tie of the bunch.
They are two of the world’s elite and not just by name. Juventus sits atop Series A while Madrid is only three points off leaders Barcelona in La Liga.
Both teams are well-coached and organized with stars all over. We will see the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Antoine Greizmann, Pablo Dybala, Koke, Mario Mandzukic, and Diego Costa on the attack, going up against some of the best defenders in the world.
One thing to pay attention to, however, is the attack of Atlético. They have the talent but it has only translated into 24 goals in 16 La Liga games and nine in six group stages matches.
They have been leaning too heavily on Greizmann, whereas Juventus has not had to do the same with Ronaldo. He is supported by Mandzukic and Dybala and is creating a great partnership with both.
And an added element to this is the Portuguese star’s familiarity with the Spanish side. He played for city rivals Real Madrid for eight seasons, leading to countless meetings with Atleti. In his 31 meetings with them, the 33-year-old has 22 goals and eight assists to his name.
This meeting may ultimately come down to which defense is the more disciplined and organized. Madrid will no-doubt slow the game down, leading to a low amount of goals if they play their style. But Juventus has an elite attack, meaning they will want to push the tempo and keep attacking.
Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain
On paper, this has the makings of an excellent matchup, but considering how disappointing and boring United has been this season, it could also be a significant letdown. However, the talent levels of both teams, including the club names, are too much to look past.
Manchester made big news this week by finally firing manager José Mourinho and hiring Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the interim one. Mourinho made the locker room a toxic environment, ruining relationships with players and with the fans by holding players back and destroying the quality of football we have all become accustomed to by Manchester United.
This level of play between the two depends on the English side because PSG will bring their A-game. If the Manchester players can unite and play a motivated brand of open and flowing football under their new manager, it can make for a fantastic meeting. And with the praise Sollkjaer received from former teammates, it’s not impossible to envision the team picking up their play.
And they will need to because PSG is one of the best teams in the world with a lethal attack that cannot be suppressed for long. Their attacking talent, headlined by their front three, Neymar, Edison Cavani, and Kylian Mbappe, is nearly unmatched.
As a team, they found the back of the net 49 times in 16 league games, along with 17 times in six contests during the group stages. They can be as dangerous as it gets so United will have their hands full.
But PSG will also be vulnerable because they play in a weak domestic league and face no resistance. It’s not easy to go from 0-60 when you are playing close to zero miles-per-hour so often and we have seen this happen in the past. The key is staying mentally sharp.
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