CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 2017/18 – LET THE KNOCKOUT BEGIN

This week sees the return of the Champions League, with the Round of 16 knockout phase. Here is my preview and predictions for all eight ties.

Juventus v Tottenham Hotspur 13 Feb / 7 Mar

Juventus are doing what they do best in Italy and are challenging for yet another Serie A title, which would be their 7th in a row. Totteham are in a battle for a top four place in the Premier League and whilst on occasion have struggled for consistency domestically, though they are currently in great form at just the right time and seem to have come of age in the Champions League, where they are unbeaten this season. Juve have been average to say the least in Europe, but they come alive in the latter stages, two finals in the last three years says everything. It will be tight but in my opinion the Italian’s nous will just about get them over the line, might even be via the away goals rule.

Basel v Manchester City 13 Feb / 7 Mar

For me this is the easiest game to predict. Basel are chasing Young Boys in their domestic league, whilst Manchster City are strolling the Premier League. This is a massive mismatch and whilst in football anything can happen, I cannot see anything than a City stroll. They will win both legs comfortably and consolidate themselves as one of the favourites (if not the favourties) for the tournament.

Porto v Liverpool 14 Feb / 6 Mar

On their day Liverpool can beat anybody (4-3 win over Man City), they can also lose to anybody too (1-0 defeat to Swansea). Their 3-3 away draw to Sevilla after being 3 up is no surprise to seasoned Liverpool watchers, Jekyll and Hyde is an understatement. Porto on the other hand are a bit more solid, they are performing well in their domestic set up and did well to get through their group with impressive home and away wins over last years surprise team Monaco, the cornerstone of their group campaign, especially after losing two of their first three matches. Porto may well get a first leg lead, but Liverpool are more than capable of turning that around back at Anfield. The game will be in the balance for long periods but Liverpool will prevail in my opinion, their superior firepower being key.

Real Madrid v Paris Saint-Germain 14 Feb / 6 Mar

TIE OF THE ROUND!!!!!!! Gasps galore were heard in the auditorium when this matchup was drawn. The 12 times champions and current holders are having a torrid season, miles behind the top of the table domestically and very average so far in this years Champions League. PSG on the other hand have been scintillating form. 25 goals in the group phase, and despite defeat in their last match (basically a dead rubber) they put teams to the sword and looked irresistible. Their reward the hardest possible draw. For me this match will signal a changing of the guard, PSG to show their class and take advantage of Madrid’s woes in a high scoring tie.

Chelsea v Barcelona 20 Feb / 14 Mar

Another cracking tie featuring two heavyweights of European football. Chelsea the soon to be deposed Premier League champions have looked a shadow of the team from last season. They actually did superbly to qualify from a difficult group, but being second always meant they could end up with a ‘bighead’ in this round. Barcelona are running away with La Liga, unbeaten and playing some great football under new manager Ernesto Valverde. Lionel Messi has been a player reborn this season, leading the team and where necessary bailing them out of the mire. He will be the difference in this tie, which will be ultra competitive and his extra firepower will send the Catalans into the quarter finals.

Bayern Munich v Besiktas 20 Feb / 14 Mar

After a slow start to the season, which saw the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti and previous treble winning manager Jupp Heynckes brought in as a replacement, Bayern Munich are now doing what they normally do, ie beating everybody domestically (they lead the Bundesliga by 18 points) at time of this blog posting – so they can really concentrate on the Champions League. Besiktas have been magnificent in the competition this year, unbeaten in the group phase they will be strong opposition to the German giants. However I feel in the form Munchen are in at the moment they will have a strong first leg and open up an insurmountable lead come the tricky second leg in Istanbul.

Sevilla v Manchester United 21 Feb / 13 Mar

A straight forward group for Manchester United was negotiated with five wins. The reds of Manchester have been somewhat put in the shade by their city rivals and whilst winning the Premier League is pretty much dead in the water with Jose Mourinho as manager they are well capable of putting in a sustained challenge for the Champions League. Sevilla have changed their manager since the group phase ex AC Milan manager, Vincenzo Montella, is now at the helm and is slowly helping to build confidence after a lacklustre season, they have already secured their place in the Copa del Rey Final. The Spanish team are very strong at home, but are as flaky and weak away from Seville. United will stifle them at the Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium and then finish the job off at Old Trafford and reach the quarter final for the first time since 2014.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma 21 Feb / 13 Mar

A great opportunity for either side to make the quarter finals. They will both fancy their chances. Shakhtar had the honour of being the first team to beat Manchester City this season and whilst it was a weakened team they beat, their performance was outstanding and was key in their qualification from the group. Roma were superb in a tough group that contained Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, they deservedly topped their section. However since, what they would have seen as a favourable draw, they have been in poor form and at the time of this blog posting had only won two of their last ten matches. They did win their last game though so maybe that will kick start a good run of results. This one is hard to call, Shakhtar have not played a competitive match since December because of their winter break, however they do play the weekend before the first leg. I am going for the Ukrainian side just, they have performed well in this years competition and despite a lack of matches, their freshness may be a telling factor come the second leg.

So my predicted last eight – Juventus, Manchester City, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Shakhtar Donetsk. We shall see.

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