It is crunch time in the UEFA Champions League; the knockout stage of the competition begins in the Round of 16 with eight exciting fixtures across Europe. Our focus is on Match Day A which has four matches over two days with the remainder for next week. With the huge call for technology in football, UEFA has decided to aid match day officials in making accurate decisions during games – the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will be used from the phase of the competition to the final. Resurgent Manchester United under new coach Ole Gunnar Solksjaer welcome French champions PSG to Old Trafford on Tuesday night with the other game taking place in Rome between AS Roma and Portuguese champions FC Porto. On Wednesday night at Wembley, Tottenham Hotspur battle 1997 winners Borussia Dortmund while Dutch giants Ajax host defending champions and 13th European winners Real Madrid at the Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam.
Here is our preview of the Round of 16 Match Day A.
AS ROMA v FC PORTO – TUE. 12 FEB 2019, 21.00HRS
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Last season semi-finalists Roma will require an extraordinary feat to replicate last season’s final four place. The Giallorossi form has been mixed this campaign with good displays followed immediately with shambolic ones. Francesco Di Eusebio team come into this game on a back of their best domestic run in the league; unbeaten in the last six, winning four but suffered a thrashing in Coppa Italia to Fiorentina. Portuguese league leaders – Porto are not performing at their optimal best currently; the Dragões have managed just two league victories and three draws in five. Sérgio Conceição will be quick to remind his troops of the importance to be fully concentrated if they aim to secure a last eight spot for the first time since 2014/15 season.
VERDICT – It is fifteen years since Porto won the Champions League last and they haven’t looked like a side that may replicate that feat soon. For Roma, the long wait for their first European title is likely to extend further as we do not believe last season’s Cinderella run will be repeated. Both teams met in the 2016-17 season playoffs with the Porto knocking the Italians out. History favors the Portuguese but football has always shown that history can be rewritten. Roma have a strong home record winning seven of their last eight at home. We anticipate a very close game with both sides likely to score but the home team have a slight edge.
MANCHESTER UNITED v PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN – TUE. 12 FEB 2019, 21.00HRS
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It is one of the standout ties of this round; Manchester United welcome Paris Saint-Germain to Old Trafford, Manchester in high spirit following the turnaround in performances since Ole Gunnar Solksjaer took over reins. Manchester United are unbeaten in 11 games under the Norwegian as he prepares for his competition bow in the dugout on Tuesday evening. The Champions League has become an obsession for the owners at PSG. It doesn’t matter how domestic trophies their managers win, the Holy Grail is the big ear trophy and the Qatari owned club will stop at nothing in the hunt for glory. With this in mind, you’ve got to spare a thought for Thomas Tuchel whose job has been made harder with the absence of Brazilian superstar Neymar, Meunier and Edinson Cavani. The German tactician will have to prosecute the first leg with lean attacking resources.
VERDICT – This is the first meeting between these two sides in European competition. Manchester United made it to the quarter finals in 2014 but haven’t done so since then while PSG last made it to the final eight in 2016. For two European heavyweights, there is a lot at stake in this two legged affair. This game is nicely poised; Old Trafford is the place to be on Tuesday night for a classic Champions League night and we believe both teams will not disappoint. The home team should have the edge considering the away team are missing important personnel.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR v BORUSSIA DORTMUND – WED. 13 FEB 2019, 21.00HRS
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Tottenham Hotspur made it to the last 16 by the skin of the teeth and will relish a challenge against Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund who should have last season meetings fresh in memory. It is a remarkable job Mauricio Pochettino is doing at the North London club with the resources available and the injuries to key players they have had to deal with this season. Harry Kane and Dele Alli are out of this first leg which leaves them short of attacking fire power but Spurs have managed to stay in the Premier League title race so you cannot rule them out of this tie. Borussia Dortmund under Lucien Favre are a different team compared to last season; the Swiss tactician guided them win their group ahead of Atletico Madrid and are the team to beat in the German Bundesliga.
VERDICT – This fixture is beginning to become a mainstay in European competition; they met in 2015-16 Europa League and 2017-18 Champions League. The Germans knocked the Premier League club out of the Europa League while Spurs were more superior in the Champions League matches. This is another one of the big ties in this season’s Round of 16 matches where two evenly matched teams have been drawn together. Both teams love to play on the attack and are not shy to score goals. Regardless of whatever pragmatic approach either manager wants to adopt, we are guaranteed good football and goals at Wembley on Wednesday. Both teams should get on the scoresheet.
AJAX AFC v REAL MADRID – WED. 13 FEB 2019, 21.00HRS
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Dutch giants have the unenviable task of facing in-form Real Madrid in the knock-out stage as they aim to make it to the quarter finals for this first time in 16 years. de Godenzonen finished the group stages undefeated, forcing Bayern Munich to two draws and securing a place in the last 16. Erik ten Hag’s team should be up for the challenge considering their performances against Bayern Munich in the group stage. After a miserable start to the season under former coach Julen Lopetegui, Real Madrid are gradually returning to their imperious best under Santiago Solari. Los Blancos are unbeaten in their last seven games in all competition, winning six of them including the Madrid derbi on Saturday which should give the Whites extra confidence in a competition they have called theirs in recent seasons.
VERDICT – Real Madrid have won the last six meetings between these two teams; Ajax last victory over Real Madrid dates back to 1972/73 season. Ajax have lost momentum since the winter break; the Dutch club have lost three matches all season and two of them have come in their last three outings. That is not the sort of form you need when preparing to face a strong Real Madrid team on a good run. A creditable draw against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey was followed with a victory over city rivals Atletico Madrid. We don’t think Ajax have what it takes to upset Real Madrid on current form.
This wraps us our Round of 16 Match Day A preview. You can win big by predicting in the money spinning competition by visiting our Sports shop Babaijebu.ng for mouthwatering offers for all these UCL matches.