After yet another predictable Champions League group stage, we now get to the good stuff with the start of the knockout rounds. And this year’s Round of 16 looks like it will be great. Just look at these tantalizing matchups:
In Juventus-Tottenham, we have a seemingly lopsided matchup between the biggest club in Italy and the fifth or sixth biggest club in England. But in this era of Spurs ascendency—and a relative down year for Juve—this tie is actually much more open than it might appear. And hell, in Harry Kane Tottenham probably have the best player of the match. We’ll see if Spurs can finally extend their miraculous run of the past couple years into European play.
Then we have Real Madrid-PSG, arguably the best and definitely the most star-studded matchup of the round. This is a semifinal-worthy tie between the two-time reigning champions of this competition and PSG, the team that has dumped unfathomable amounts of shady oil money in an effort to become the new Real Madrid. Both of these teams have flaws, but they also have unspeakable levels of attacking talent, which should make for wild and unpredictable matches. Plus there will be heaps of schadenfreude at the expense of whichever one of these teams gets knocked out so early here, so it’s really a win-win.
Then we have Barcelona-Chelsea. Besides Real Madrid-Atlético, Barça-Chelsea has probably been the defining Champions League rivalry of the last decade or so. Amongst other knockout round draws between the two, the most famous ties remain the Spanish joy and English agony (and justified acrimony) of 2009, and the reverse three years later. And on top of the specific rivalry, we’ll all get to luxuriate in the same idiotic takes that always accompany the GOAT’s travels to England from the dumbest British pundits about whether Messi could get it done against Premier League competition. What a joy.
While those three ties are definitely the headliners from this round, other draws like Porto-Liverpool and Sevilla-Manchester United should make for interesting viewing as well. The borderline-boring group stage may be an unfortunate side effect of the growing disparity between Europe’s true elite and the rest of the clubs that make up the Champions League, but it does make for primo matchups as early as the Round of 16 as well. Not a bad tradeoff when you think about it.