Champions League last 16: previews and predictions for the remaining ties

Champions League last 16: previews and predictions for the remaining ties


he Champions League makes its long awaited return after almost five months this weekend, with eight teams hoping to reach the quarter-finals. Atalanta, Atlético Madrid, PSG and RB Leipzig have already secured their places in the mini tournament in Lisbon later this month but there are still four last-16 ties to complete, starting with games in Manchester and Turin on Friday night.

Manchester City v Real Madrid, Friday 8pm BST

Manchester City hold a 2-1 advantage against La Liga champions Real Madrid, who must score twice at the Etihad to have any chance of progressing. Madrid are not the attacking force they once were – Barcelona scored 16 goals more than them in the league this season – and Zinedine Zidane will no doubt set up his side to exploit City’s weakness on the counter rather than going at the hosts from the outset.

City had to come from behind to win at the Bernabéu with two goals in the last 12 minutes, but they were good value for the result, with Raheem Sterling’s introduction in the second half proving the catalyst. Sergio Agüero has been included in City’s 25-man squad for the Champions League but he has been ruled out of this game, leaving Pep Guardiola with a big decision about who should lead the line. Bernardo Silva operated as a false nine in Madrid, with Gabriel Jesus out on the left. Guardiola will probably try to spring another surprise on Friday.

City’s forwards will not have to worry about facing Sergio Ramos, who was sent off late in the first leg and is banned. Real Madrid have won 15 of the last 16 matches the centre-back has missed through suspension, but he is important in big games – in both boxes. Ramos has scored 13 goals this season, including five since the restart. His role as the club’s penalty taker helps top up that tally, but this Real Madrid team are not exactly free-scoring. Ramos and Karim Benzema were the only two players to score more than four league goals for the club this season. Zidane will need another big performance from his star striker, who has enjoyed perhaps his best season in a Real Madrid shirt. Prediction: Manchester City to win on the night and qualify.

Juventus v Lyon, Friday 8pm BST

Lyon pulled off the biggest surprise of the first legs when they beat Juventus 1-0 back in February. However, they come into this game having played just one competitive fixture in the last five months: the Coupe de la Ligue final, which they lost to PSG on penalties. While Lyon have been missing out on Ligue 1 action in France, Maurizio Sarri’s side have won the league in Italy.

Leading Juventus to their ninth straight Serie A title was a triumph for Sarri, but the Old Lady were beaten by Napoli in the Coppa Italia final and only stuttered over the line in the league, finishing just a point above Inter after losing three of their last four games. They rested players towards the end of the campaign but this Juve team is not the dominant force of old in Italy.

Sarri’s side did not come out on top in any key metric – bar points, of course – in the league. They did not score the most goals, take the most shots, have the most possession, concede the fewest goals, concede the fewest shots or have the highest pass accuracy. The four teams that finished directly below them in the table all scored more goals. So much of Juve’s attacking play goes through the 35-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo. Paulo Dybala has been in fine form since the restart, but their midfield in particular looks suspect.

By contrast, Lyon have real emerging talent in that area, with Houssem Aouar and Bruno Guimarães the pick of the bunch. If Lyon can match Juventus for fitness, there may be an upset on the cards. Memphis Depay has returned after a long-term injury to give his team a boost, so expect another even battle. Prediction: Lyon to go through on away goals.

Barcelona v Napoli, 8pm Saturday

The first leg of this tie finished 1-1 in Naples. It was no classic, with just 15 shots, but Napoli will feel they had the better of the chances and should now be going to Camp Nou with a lead to protect. As it is this match is finely balanced between two sides that have fallen well short of their best in recent years.

While Barcelona were surrendering their league title to Real Madrid with relatively little fight after the restart, Napoli were having an even worse time. Having been Juve’s closest challenger in recent campaigns, they fell to a seventh-place finish this season. At least Barcelona can rely on Lionel Messi. Napoli, by comparison, really need a goalscorer. Their last nine goals have been scored by nine different players.

Both of these teams have unfamiliar problems in attack. Barcelona are not as creative or incisive as they were at their peak. They are taking fewer and fewer shots every season. They only took 13 shots per game this season – the fourth year in a row that this figure has decreased. Lecce, who were relegated from Serie A, and Southampton both finished the season with more shots.

By contrast, Napoli took loads of shots but did not score many goals. They had 18.1 shots per game this season; only Manchester City (19.6) and Atalanta (18.7) had more in Europe’s top five leagues). Yet, Napoli were far from prolific. Arkadiusz Milik was their top scorer in Serie A this season with just 11 goals. They have certainly improved since the appointment of Gennaro Gattuso late last year, adding a Coppa Italia title to their trophy room, but their inability to convert chances is a problem. They lost 12 league matches this season, having lost just 14 in the previous three seasons combined.

Barça will be missing both Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal through suspension and Napoli could be without Lorenzo Insigne as the winger is struggling with a thigh injury. Prediction: Barcelona to win the game and go through.

Bayern Munich v Chelsea, 8pm Saturday

Having just lost the FA Cup final to Arsenal, Frank Lampard could probably do without a trip to Munich. Bayern were superb in the first leg at Stamford Bridge, winning 3-0 and surely guaranteeing their place in the quarter-finals. They have carried that form over the break to saunter to another Bundesliga title, winning every single match since the restart. They have not lost a game in 2020.

Hansi Flick has rejuvenated a side that seemed to be in a state of regression. In Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski they have two forwards who are showing no signs of letting up in their thirties. Lewandowski scored 34 goals in the Bundesliga this season and Müller finished the campaign with 21 assists. Serge Gnabry and converted full-back Alphonso Davies provide width going forwards, enabling Bayern to mix up their attack.

If Chelsea are to achieve the near impossible and win by three goals in Munich, they need to open up and attack. But that is not a good idea with their defence. A generally positive season could end in an ugly fashion. Chelsea have not kept a clean sheet in an away match in the Premier League since before Christmas and they conceded more goals (14) post-lockdown than any other team in the division. Having bolstered their attack in the transfer window already, improving their leaky defence is perhaps a bigger priority than trying to turn around this tie. Prediction: Bayern will win on the night and go through.

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