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. Last week, the first four matches took place and the remaining four will be played this week. Jurgen Klopp welcomes old foes – Bayern Munich to Anfield with a depleted defense as the Reds target another final in this competition. Barca still have fresh memories of last season shock exit in the hands of Roma as they travel to France to face Lyon. Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Madrid for the first time since he left the city for Turin in probably the biggest game of the round between Atletico Madrid and Juventus and it is home coming for Leroy Sane when Manchester City travel to Gelsenkirchen to play Schalke 04 on Wednesday evening.
Here is our preview of the Round of 16 Match Day B.
OLYMPIQUE LYON v BARCELONA – TUE. 19 FEB 2019, 21.00HRS
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The Champions League is Barca’s top priority this season having seen eternal rivals – Real Madrid dominate the European scene in the last three years and win the big ear trophy three times in a row. Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said his team is anxious is play, they are excited. His opposite number Bruno Genesio is of the belief they can compete even if they aren’t favorites. It must be said Lyon took four points of Manchester City in the group stage and ended PSG unbeaten start to the Ligue 1 season. This is another big test for Les Gones and they would be motivated to challenge another big European team. Barcelona are one of the favorites to this competition but have been quite underwhelming in recent season so they need to approach this tie with the maximum effort required in a knockout competition.
VERDICT – These two sides met in this same phase of the competition exactly a decade ago, Barcelona won the tie 6-3 on aggregate but could only manage a draw in France. Will history repeat itself in favor of Los Cules? Playing at home is crucial in this competition and Lyon will need an exceptional performance at home considering their poor home form with one win in ten games in the Champions League. Les Gones fans should worry less as their rival for this game have just three wins in their last ten away games in this competition. Lyon have struggled to keep clean sheets at home, which bodes well for the visitors. We anticipate a very close game with both sides likely to score but the away team have the slight edge in the absence of Nabil Fekir.
LIVERPOOL v BAYERN MUNICH – TUE. 19 FEB 2019, 21.00HRS
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Liverpool limped across the finish line to secure their place in the last 16 and now the real battle for the Champions League begins. The Reds fell short last season, losing to Real Madrid in Kyiv and have been a bit unlucky in European competitions in recent years. Jurgen Klopp requires no extra motivation when he looks up his fixture list and sees Bayern Munich as the next opponent. The former Borussia Dortmund coach will be transmitting his energy and enthusiasm to his team and fans to produce another magical Anfield night with the Bavarians in town. It is looking more like a transition year at Bayern with the old heads – Ribery and Robben gradually exiting the stage for younger talents to come through but the club directors and fans demand excellence from their team all the time. They would be expected to progress further in the competition and nothing would be give greater satisfaction than knocking out an old enemy in Klopp.
VERDICT – The last meeting between these two European heavyweights was in 2001; the European Super Cup which was won by Liverpool. The Reds are yet to record a home victory over Bayern Munich at Anfield and this would be their third attempt. Klopp has defensive worries; Virgil van Dijk is suspended, Joe Gomez ruled out and Dejan Lovren is a doubt but the German tactician has had over a week to prepare for this one. Considering Bayern’s defensive struggles too, conceding eight goals in four away matches, we should be in for a classic European game with both attacks pushing the vulnerable defense. We expect goals at both ends.
ATLETICO MADRID v JUVENTUS – WED. 20 FEB 2019, 21.00HRS
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Two teams that have suffered Champions League final heartaches in recent times face each other in the first hurdle of the knockout stages; Atletico Madrid lost twice to city rivals Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016 while Juventus lost to Barcelona in 2015 and Real Madrid in 2017. The fact that Wanda Metropolitano – Atletico home ground is the venue of this year’s final makes this an unfortunate pairing considering these two are amongst the favorites to win the competition but one of them will have to drop out at this stage. Cristiano Ronaldo is the competition’s all-time leading scorer, winning five titles and specifically bought by the Old Lady to help conquer in this competition will be aware that the reception from Los Colchoneros fans will be anything but welcoming for a former Real Madrid player.
VERDICT – Atletico Madrid and Juventus met twice in the group stage in the 2014-15 season. Both games were tightly contested with a goalless draw in Turin and a narrow victory in Madrid for Atleti. This is perhaps the toughest game to call in this round; both teams rarely give much to the opponent and they rely on their magical players to create the spark required for victory. This game is nicely poised, both managers will aim to cancel each other out in a chess game which is not likely to produce the goods fans want. This is a low scoring game where just a single goal or no goal could be the outcome.
SCHALKE 04 v MANCHESTER CITY – WED. 20 FEB 2019, 21.00HRS
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Leroy Sane returns to club where it all started for him while Matija Nastasić will be excited to see old teammates at City where he spent three years. Schalke securing qualification to the knockout stages is impressive considering how poor their season has been till date and they were one of the weaker teams in the pool during the draws for this round. The challenge doesn’t come any bigger than hosting English champions Manchester City whose coach has sufficient knowledge of German football having managed Bayern Munich for three years. The Royal Blues have managed just one victory in their last five and had to settle for a draw against Freiburg at home on Saturday. The quadruple dream is still on for the Citizens and a victory in Gelsenkirchen will take them closer to the last eight in this competition.
VERDICT – Schalke have only won four of their last 13 matches in all competitions and face a tough task against Manchester City over two legs. Pep Guardiola is unbeaten in six matches against Schalke and in an earlier trip to Hoffenheim this season, City won in Germany. There is no prize in guessing; City are overwhelming favorites in this tie and anything short of a victory in Germany would be an upset.
This wraps us our Round of 16 Match Day B 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.