While we typically keep our focus primarily on Malawi football players and teams, it’s always fun to check in on the European game around this time of year also.
In February, the knock-out stage of the UEFA Champions League will begin, with the 16 remaining clubs vying for arguably the greatest prize in club football worldwide. For those interested, this is our overview of the draw pairings, the betting outlook for the matches ahead, and some of the storylines to keep an eye on.
Borussia Dortmund v Paris Saint-Germain
Dortmund finished in second to Barcelona in its qualifying group, but should be considered one of the stronger group runners-up in the field. It faces a difficult test, though, against a PSG club that boasts as much talent as any team in the tournament (including the likes of Kylian Mbappé, Edinson Cavani, and Neymar).
Real Madrid v Manchester City
This is a true clash of titans. More than with any other matchup, we can say that whichever club emerges has a very strong chance to win the Champions League.
Atalanta v Valencia
In contrast to the last pairing, the Atalanta v Valencia matchup features two of the clubs least likely to triumph overall. Both are quality sides, but both are also likely pleased just to have made it this far. Still, it figures to be closely contested and could make for good viewing.
Atlético Madrid v Liverpool
This pairing features a contrast of styles. True to its typical form, Atlético Madrid has reached this stage with strong defense, whereas Liverpool possesses one of the most high-powered attacks in world football. The pairing will be decided by whether or not Atlético can contain the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and company.
Chelsea v Bayern Munich
This should be a very interesting matchup to watch. Chelsea is looking to regain its place among the very best teams in Europe, while Bayern Munich is coming off of a record-breaking group stage performance in which it won all six of its matches and notched an incredible 24 goals. If Chelsea wins, it will make quite a statement; if Bayern does, it will be taken all the more seriously as a favorite.
Lyon v Juventus
This is perhaps the most lopsided pairing in the field. Lyon is a quality side, but is likely to be in over its head against a Juventus team led by Cristiano Ronaldo that might just have the best defense left in the Champions League.
Tottenham v Leipzig
Here we have two clubs seeking to recapture some magic that will enable them to play above their general quality. Tottenham will look to tap back into the energy that led it all the way to the Champions League final just last spring; Leipzig will be hoping to maintain momentum from a shocking group stage comeback that propelled it to the knock-outs to begin with. This should be more fun than the usual fan might expect.
Napoli v Barcelona
If Lyon v Juventus isn’t the most lopsided pairing in the Round of 16, Napoli v Barcelona is. While Barcelona has stumbled at times in recent Champions League competitions, it should have no trouble advancing – though we should note that Napoli did perform quite well in the group stage, notching a plus-seven goal differential.
The Betting Outloook
Football oddsmakers at reputable betting platforms – typically in Europe and primarily in the UK – tend to offer the most accurate picture of what’s to come in a competition like this. They look past the recency bias of group play and the various points football prognosticators will tend to harp on, and present the favorites based purely on numbers and statistical indications. For these reasons, they’re always worth checking in on before the Round of 16 gets underway.
We should also note that specific betting odds do vary from one platform to another, meaning there is not “exact” or “correct” outlook on the Round of 16. However, looking at different online bookmakers across the UK, all of which present their own odds for football events, you can begin to gain a fairly clear general picture of what’s expected in the Champions League. So rather than pointing to one specific bookmaker or another, we’ll provide a summary.
For the most part, the UK’s bookmakers seem to expect the following:
As for the tournament on the whole, Manchester City is the most popular betting favorite among bookmakers, with Liverpool, Barcelona, Bayern, and PSG also looking to be strong contenders. Juventus is typically given the next best odds, though is consistently below those top five.
Finally, just for fun, here are a few interesting storylines worth following if you do tune in for the Round of 16 action.
Does Thomas Tuchel Give PSG An Edge?
PSG has often underperformed in the Champions League despite being packed with talent, which may have some eyeing an upset against Borussia Dortmund. However, in this case PSG may have an advantage: Its manager, Thomas Tuchel, was in charge at Dortmund through 2017.
How Many Goals Can Bayern Score?
As mentioned, Bayern scored 24 goals in the group stage – and happens to be going up against a Chelsea squad that’s been awfully messy defensively. Chelsea still has the quality to make a good matchup of this, but it’s possible the Bayern attack will run wild.
Is There A Promising Dark Horse?
In early predictions for Champions League action, a number of European analysts tabbed Inter Milan as the dark horse worth watching. However, Inter fell behind Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund in the “Group of Death” and failed to advance. So, is there a promising dark horse left in the field? Or will we see a quarter-final full of heavyweights?
Who Will Be The Leading Scorer?
Finally, as always, the race for top scorer will be interesting to follow. Right now, Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski has a commanding lead, with 10 goals scored throughout the competition. Depending on team performance, the likes of Harry Kane (Tottenham), Kylian Mbappé (PSG), and Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) could conceivably catch up (though Kane looks to be injured potentially for the entire next round).
So there you have it! Hopefully this overview has you prepared to tune in for what should be, as always, a thrilling tournament.