By Brenden Witherington
When you think of the Champions League, you think of elite teams, drama, rivalries, and history. This fiercely competitive competition is a collection of Europe’s elite clubs fighting for the ultimate prize. Historic venues like the San Siro, Old Trafford, and Anfield are known for their European Nights, but the question many football fans pose is whether all that is behind us. Clubs with historical significance have all fallen into the Europa League, another international club competition one tier below the Champions League. Teams like Manchester United, FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Arsenal have all failed to qualify. These teams were replaced with teams like Tottenham, RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen, and Sevilla. Some will argue that the league is simply a collection of the best teams in Europe. I, however, say otherwise.
How Does the League Work?
The Champions League is made up of 32 elite teams across Europe, and the qualification system is as follows. The top teams of each league (the number of teams varies), play for a spot in the group stages in the next season of competition. In the English Premier League, the top four teams qualify, as is the case in the German Bundesliga, La Liga, and the Serie A. Other leagues such as Ligue 1 only have two qualification spots, while some, like the Croatian League, only have one. The next season, these teams are sorted into groups, more specifically, eight groups of four teams. All teams play each other twice, leading to six group games for each squad. The top two teams from each group qualify for the knockout stages, while the 3rd team gets relegated to the Europa League knockouts, one tier below the Champions League, which has its own qualification system. Based on their position in the group stages, the teams are matched up. For example, the best team in group A would play the second-placed team in group B, and the second-placed team in group A would play the best team in group B. These knockout stages are two-legged competitions not decided on wins, but on aggregate. This means that the teams play each other twice, and the team that scores the most goals progresses. Only when the two teams are tied on goals scored in the last match do extra time and penalties come into play. This format is followed until the final, where one game with extra time and penalties is played to decide the winner. Now that the format is familiar to you, let’s get onto the good stuff.
What you see above is the current round of 16 in the Champions League. As you can see, there are really only two elite matchups. These would be Real Madrid versus Liverpool, and PSG versus Bayern Munich. The remaining matchups may look elite as well, but the involved teams have fallen out of the elite tier since their primes. These games simply cannot be compared to games like Der Klassiker in 2013, and El Clasico in 2010. Don’t get me wrong though, these games are still going to be thrillers. However, I will leave whether that is true for you to decide, as I will provide a short analysis of every round of 16 matchup below.
Bayern Munich vs. PSG
This game is the most anticipated in the round. Two football games with two football powerhouses going head to head on the world’s biggest stage. Lethal attackers like Mbappe, Müller, Sané, and Messi are paired with rock-solid defenders like De Ligt, Ramos, and Upamecano. While Bayern has been struggling as of late, I feel they may be ready to take on PSG when the time comes. For PSG, it is a matter of not getting too conceited before the game, as Bayern is still a good team, just in bad form.
Prediction: PSG wins 4-2 on aggregate
AC Milan vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Italy versus England. A throwback to the summer of 2020. Will it end like it did then? Who knows, but we are sure to be in for a great matchup. At the helm of the teams, Antonio Conte will be managing Tottenham, while Milan will be led by a less powerful force, Stefano Pioli. On the pitch, players like Harry Kane pair up with Heung-Min Son to try and take control of Mike Maignan’s back line. While Milan’s squad is not in form after a 5-2 loss to Sassuolo, Tottenham isn’t exactly in form either after losing 4-2 to Man. City in the league. Two equally good but struggling teams facing off. Oh, this is going to be good.
Prediction: Tottenham wins 3-2 on aggregate.
Liverpool vs. Real Madrid
These two teams have participated in some thrillers over the years, with Gareth Bale, Mohamed Salah, Cristiano Ronaldo, and of course, Loris Karius all playing a part in historic games over the years. These two clubs both have elite history, but as Liverpool has been struggling of late, I think Real Madrid has a better chance of victory this round. With Big Benz and Samba Vini at the front, a blowout is imminent in my opinion.
Prediction: Real Madrid wins 5-2
Inter Milan vs. Porto
The days of José Mourinho at Porto have long passed, but the Portuguese team is still living off the effects of the 2004-2005 UCL season. They are succeeding in their domestic league, but in my opinion, they are no match for European powerhouses like Inter. Simone Inzaghi coaching a team of Skriniar, Dumfries, Lautaro, and Handanovic is a recipe for success. Will Porto pull off a victory? No one knows. But one thing is for sure – if they are to pull off the impossible, it will take work.
Prediction: Inter Milan wins 3-1
Borussia Dortmund vs. Chelsea
Chelsea are in a crisis. Despite the fact that their owner, Todd Boehy, has spent more than the top 5 leagues in Europe combined, they are still 10th in the league, and 10 points from relegation. Dortmund aren’t doing great either, as they are not currently even in the top 5 in the Bundesliga. An even matchup? Yes. An exciting one? A different story. I’m going for a bold prediction here, but I think it will pay off.
Prediction: Borussia Dortmund win 3-2
Benfica vs. Club Brugge
Two of the smallest clubs in the knockout stage are going at it, and both teams have some rising stars. Enzo Fernandez, a target of Chelsea for 120 million euros, is playing in this match up along with Noa Lang, a young prospect, and Tajon Buchanan, who assisted Canada’s first ever goal in the FIFA World Cup. These teams have been in the Champions League as far back as I can remember, but have never really gotten anything out of it. Maybe this is their year.
Prediction: Benfica wins 3-1
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. SSC Napoli
This year, both teams are on a hot streak. After winning the Europa League last season, Frankfurt are looking to topple Napoli’s unbeaten run and advance against the Italian leader. Napoli will be looking to break down Frankfurt’s elite tactics, as well as tire them with their skilled wingers and midfielders like Oshimen, Kvaratskhelia, and Ndombele. This matchup is often glossed over when talking about the Champions League, but I think this could be a hidden gem.
Prediction: Napoli win 4-3
RB Leipzig vs. Manchester City
This one is going to be a bit sad for one team, and not really a feel of achievement for the other. Man. City is definitely winning this one, but I’ll give you a bit of context. RB Leipzig are one of the mid range – top teams in the Bundesliga, while Manchester City are one of the best teams in the world, known for their dominance in the Premier League for over 6 seasons. Conclusion? Manchester City are the winners in this tie.
Prediction: Manchester City wins 6-1
So there you have it. The Champions League knockouts summed up in a few pages. Has the competition moved on past its glory days? Does the Europa League exceed the Champions League? That’s for you to decide. Thanks for reading my article, and I hope you learned something about the world of football today. Until next time, it’s bye for now.