Friday, May 24, 2024

The draw for the last 16 of the Champions League was made in UEFA’s Nyon headquarters this morning and Europe’s big guns will have largely liked the outcome. England’s two remaining representatives, Arsenal and Manchester City, were handed kind draws in Porto and Copenhagen, while Real Madrid were paired with RB Leipzig. Of the more established big guns, Barcelona face arguably the toughest task, having been paired with last season’s Italian champions Napoli. Here, our experts cast their eye over the draw and what could happen next. Which game are you most excited about? Oliver Kay: Napoli vs Barcelona. Both clubs are experiencing hangovers from last season’s title success, but what better than a tie like that to get them going? In terms of individual talent, tactical intrigue, and the atmosphere expected in Naples in particular, this tie sticks out. Second choice: Paris Saint-Germain vs Real Sociedad. James Horncastle: Maurizio Sarri will be disappointed. The Lazio manager wanted the chance to coach at the Camp Nou. Nevertheless, Lazio vs Bayern Munich sees him face Thomas Tuchel, pitting a couple of cantankerous ex-Chelsea coaches against each other in the ‘Miroslav Klose-ico’. Inter Milan vs Atletico Madrid is also Simone Inzaghi vs ex-Interista Diego Simeone and looks delicately poised, particularly because last year’s finalists face one of the better vintages of Simeone’s Atleti. Laia Cervello Herrero: Barcelona vs Napoli. It could be an interesting match, especially given how Xavi’s team is faring. They are unpredictable and that makes the match more attractive. It will also be the first time in three years that we will see Barca in the knockout stage of the Champions League. Victor Osimhen and Giacomo Raspadori pose a threat to Barcelona (Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images) Liam Tharme: PSG vs Real Sociedad. Two teams that will go toe-to-toe, playing out and pressing. Don’t expect this to be a typically cagey knockout game. PSG just about squeezed through their group — even if Group F was the hardest of the lot — and will need a statement performance. They have looked vulnerable when pressed high and La Real will certainly do that. Sebastian Stafford-Bloor: Peter Bosz against Borussia Dortmund. Now flying at PSV Eindhoven, Bosz lasted half a season at the Westfalenstadion in 2017 and the way his Dortmund side fell apart still impacts how he’s viewed. Bosz is a punchline to some and he will be thrilled to take his brilliant PSV side (16 wins from 16 in the Eredivisie) to Germany. Fascinating — and that’s without even considering the questions surrounding Edin Terzic’s future.Key datesRound of 16: February 13/14/20/21 and March 5/6/12/13Quarter-finals: April 9/10 and 16/17Semi-finals: April 30/May 1 and May 7/8Final (Wembley): June 1 Who will be happiest with the draw?Oliver Kay: Manchester City. No disrespect to Copenhagen, but that is the opponent all the group winners wanted. The Danish team was a real surprise package in the group stage, but they will find City a rather tougher proposition than their neighbors. James Horncastle: City, as usual. I look forward to Stefan Ortega, Micah Hamilton, Oscar Bobb, and Mahamadou Susoho helping the treble winners reach the quarter-finals. Serie A leads this season’s UEFA co-efficient sweepstakes and, alongside Ligue 1, still has a full contingent of teams across UEFA’s three competitions. The draws look tough for Italy’s representatives but in the Champions League, Barcelona is not what they used to be and Inter got the ‘right’ team from Madrid, too. Laia Cervello Herrero: City, without a doubt. They’ve been drawn with the lowest-ranked opponents and they still have the tag of reigning Champions League winners. They can already see themselves in the quarter-finals. Liam Tharme: Presumably City, even if they did draw in Copenhagen in the group stages last season. They have missed the big hitters and get the bonus of a chance to eliminate the team that went through in place of their city rivals — not that they needed to justify which of the Manchester teams is faring better. Manchester City was held in Copenhagen last year (Dan Mullan/Getty Images) Sebastian Stafford-Bloor: Bayern Munich. Tuchel will probably have two or three new players to weave into his first team at the end of the transfer window and this tie, against Sarri’s underwhelming Lazio, should offer a chance to grow into the latter stages of the tournament. Bayern’s worst-case scenario would have been a fast-paced, vertical opponent, and Lazio certainly isn’t that. Which ‘giant’ could be in the most trouble?Oliver Kay: Barcelona, although I would still put them as slight favorites to overcome Napoli. It’s a funny season. None of the heavyweights is performing particularly well, so it’s possible to imagine any one of Barcelona, Bayern, or Real Madrid coming unstuck — plus PSG, whom I’m not going to categorize as giants. James Horncastle: The underwhelming Barcelona. Will Xavi still be in charge come February? Robert Lewandowski seems a shadow of himself. Of course, a lot can change in two months. But a Spalletti-less Napoli still has enough skill to win the ‘Maradona derby’. Laia Cervello Herrero: Real Sociedad has shown a great level in La Liga and the Champions League and they have a chance against PSG, who are not having the best season. Liam Tharme: PSG, for all the reasons I mentioned above. Luis Enrique was brought in as a project coach — which is reflected in their summer signings, more youth and less galactico-y — but PSG has gone out in the last 16 in the past two seasons (though to bigger European clubs, in Bayern Munich and Manchester City). If they lose to Real Sociedad, it will probably be down to tactics. Luis Enrique is under pressure at PSG (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images) Sebastian Stafford-Bloor: The draw didn’t create too much jeopardy, but it’s probably Barcelona. Napoli is not what they were under Spalletti, but Xavi’s Barca has so little life in them — and so few goals. You can imagine them losing in Naples. Your predicted quarter-finalistsOliver Kay: Arsenal, Barcelona, PSG, Atletico, Dortmund, Bayern, City, and Real Madrid. James Horncastle: Arsenal, Napoli, Real Sociedad, Inter, Dortmund, Bayern, City, and Real Madrid. Laia Cervello Herrero: Arsenal, Barcelona, PSG, Atletico, Dortmund, Bayern, Manchester City, and Real Madrid. Liam Tharme: Arsenal, Napoli, Real Sociedad, Inter, Dortmund, Bayern, City, and Real Madrid. Sebastian Stafford-Bloor: Arsenal, Napoli, PSG, Inter, PSV, Bayern, City, and Real Madrid. What would be your dream final from these teams?Oliver Kay: I’m not going to say an all-English final (too parochial) and I’m not going to say one English club and not the other. From a neutral perspective, in terms of what the clubs stand for, I like the idea of Real Sociedad vs Borussia Dortmund, but that’s not going to happen, is it? James Horncastle: Copenhagen against Real Sociedad. You asked for a dream final and this is the wildest fever dream. Jokes aside, I would like to see an outsider make it to Wembley on the 20th anniversary of Porto’s victory in Gelsenkirchen. Laia Cervello Herrero: Barcelona vs Manchester City. Although it is unlikely, and it would be painful for the Catalans, I would like to see a final between Pep Guardiola and Barca. Liam Tharme: I would love to see Inter get to the final again, so wouldn’t be against a repeat of last season’s final, or perhaps against Arsenal, for another clash of styles. Sebastian Stafford-Bloor: City against Real Madrid. They bring out the best in each other; something always happens to make those games a spectacle. Adding Jude Bellingham seems unlikely to make it any less so, but the broader sub-plots are just so compelling. The contrasting historical and evolutionary dynamics have really made this into an absorbing rivalry between a symbol of the game’s past and a vision of its future. Jude Bellingham will be targeting Champions League glory (Angel Martinez/Getty Images) How will Arsenal view the draw?Arsenal will feel slightly at ease by drawing Porto for the round of 16, but should not be lulled into a false sense of security. They have missed most of the big names in the draw, including PSG, Inter, and Napoli, but Porto is doing well in Liga Portugal. They have an identical record to Sporting Lisbon, with both clubs two points off league leaders Benfica and a game in hand against each other tonight (Monday). Last season, Arsenal drew Sporting in the Europa League round of 16, which was seen as a favorable draw, but the Portuguese side advanced via a penalty shootout. Even so, Arsenal have looked exceptional in this year’s Champions League…

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