Finally, the Champions League returns to our screens this week, and we take this chance to assess what prospects the five English clubs have.
For the first time in Champions League history, there are 5 English clubs in the knock-out phase; an achievement made possible thanks to Manchester United being given the extra place in return for winning the Europa League last year. Things went well for English clubs during the opening leagues phase, with four teams winning their groups and Chelsea finishing level on points with winners Roma.
Of course, lots has changed since December. Bayern, Barcelona, PSG and Manchester City have already sewn up their domestic leagues, so they’ll be able to concentrate most if not all their efforts on landing the top prize. But at least two of these runaway leaders will fall by the wayside, no matter how invincible they may seem and how much money they have.
So let’s have a look at what this next round has on offer for the English representatives, and who will be heading into the quarterfinals.
Chelsea v Barcelona
First Leg: February 20 at Chelsea | Second Leg: March 14 at Barcelona
If you’re a gambler, this has to be one of four cast-iron bankers.
What started out as a wobble before Christmas has become a full-blown panic attack for Chelsea fans. With recent losses against Bournemouth and Watford in the league and Arsenal in the League Cup, Chelsea look anything but ready to face Barcelona. While Chelsea boast undoubted talent, they look like a team being slowly unravelled by fate, injuries and poor decision-making. They don’t look like a team capable of keeping out Messi and Suarez and at the same time scoring themselves. After a patchy start, Luis Suarez is finding top form and Lionel Messi still hasn’t forgotten how to score goals. Ominously, Messi has never scored in his career against Chelsea, to date.
Barcelona to win by 4+ goals on aggregate.
Basel v Manchester City
First Leg: February 13 at Basel | Second Leg: March 7 at Manchester City
On paper, this looks like being the easiest of the ties to predict, and while cup competitions are forever throwing up strange results, the chances of Basel beating Man City over two legs are slim. Manchester City are far from being the finished article and injuries aren’t helping at all, especially up front where they are missing Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane. That said, as long as De Bruyne, Sterling and Aguero are all fit they’ll probably walk it.
Manchester City to win by 4+ goals aggregate.
Real Madrid v PSG
First Leg: February 14 at Real Madrid | Second Leg: March 6 at PSG
On current form, this looks like another banker; Real Madrid, totally out of touch with Barcelona in the league and seemingly lacking in confidence, against the millionaire team performing its annual walkover in the French league. Although Real won their second consecutive Champions league title last year, this year’s team is struggling. With a defence that has only kept 2 clean sheets in 10 matches facing the impressive PSG attack, featuring Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and so on, Madrid need to score a few goals in the first leg to give themselves any chance of going through. With the second leg in Paris, if Real fail to win in Madrid, the second leg could be both a humiliation and the exit door for Zidane.
Prediction: PSG to won by 2+ goals on aggregate
Bayern Munich v Besiktas
First Leg: February 20 at Bayern Munich | Second Leg: March 14 at Besiktas
This is another game that is unlikely to chuck up a surprise result. Besiktas were surprise winners in the group stages, unexpectedly getting through a group including Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto. Their reward was to be drawn against Bayern Munich, who failed to win their own group. Since getting through, and perhaps not believing they would progress against Bayern, Besiktas sold their star striker Cenk Tosun to Everton. After their faltering start to the season and since Jupp Heynckes took charge of Bayern again, the perennial German champions have won 21 and drawn 1 game in the last 22. The only wrinkle is that Besiktas play the second leg at home, but we don’t think that will be enough.
Prediction: Bayern Munich to win by 2+ goals on aggregate
Juventus v Tottenham
First Leg: February 13 at Juventus | Second Leg: March 7 at Tottenham
Tottenham put in a mighty performance in their destruction of Real Madrid in the league stages, but that performance has been put into perspective by Madrid’s failure to perform in the Spanish league. Currently fighting for 4th place in the Premier league, Tottenham will need everybody on form if they’re to get past Juventus, even if they are blessed with playing at home on the second leg. Alderweireld won’t be playing in the first leg but may be fit for the return game at Wembley.
Juventus have kept clean sheets in 15 of their last 16 matches and scored quite a few goals to boot. In fact, they score more goals and concede fewer than Spurs. However, currently second in Serie A, Juve will be without Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado, Andrea Barzagli and Blaise Matuidi, which won’t help their cause. Kane is likely to be marked out of the game in Torino, which means the likes of Alli, Eriksen and Son will need to step up and take their chances.
We think it’s all down to the first tie; if Spurs lose by more than one goal, they’ll be lucky to progress – Juventus will be more than happy to park 11 buses at Wembley.
Prediction: Tottenham to win by a single goal on aggregate.
Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma
First Leg: February 21 at Shakhtar Donetsk | Second Leg: March 13 at Roma
Shakhtar did well to get through the group stages, pitted against Manchester City and Napoli, but they managed to push the Serie A leaders aside for the second place spot. Although Roma were group winners and play at home in the second leg, their performances had fallen away a little since their early-season form. Roma sold Emerson Palmieri to Chelsea in January and now haves to face a potentially explosive team, albeit one in the middle of a domestic break.
Prediction: Roma to go through, but only by the odd goal on aggregate
Porto v Liverpool
First Leg: February 14 at Porto | Second Leg: March 6 at Liverpool
Given Liverpool’s form this season, this is likely to be an entertaining game. The fact LIverpool sold Coutinho is probably less important than the fact they still have Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to score goals by the hatful, and a defence that has as many holes as a teabag. Having splashed out on Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool will be hoping their new defence can keep Porto’s Vincent Aboubakar, Moussa Marega and Yacine Brahimi at bay. Porto are more than capable of beating Liverpool in the first leg if they don’t. That said, Liverpool have proven they can score goals by the hatful, and we think that’ll be enough.
Prediction: Liverpool to win by at 3+ goals on aggregate
Sevilla vs. Manchester United
First Leg: February 21 at Sevilla | Second Leg: March 13 at Manchester United
Manchester United has been inconsistent this season and despite adding attacking strength with Alexis Sanchez, it’s clear the team is still a work in progress. Sevilla are not easy opponents when they play at home, so Mourinho will probably be aiming only to not lose. Without genuine steel in midfield, lacking a genuinely top class predatory striker and without a settled first-choice defence, a lot will depend on how Sanchez and Pogba perform.
Prediction: Manchester United to win by a single goal on aggregate