matt’s corner

Champions League is back and it’s a knockout

Europe’s heavyweights line up for a tilt at the Champions League title

Matthew Smith, Deputy Editor Sports
22:29 February 13, 2018

Basel v Manchester City


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This is a daunting task for the Swiss side as they are up against formidable opponents in the shape of Pep Guardiola’s runaway Premier League leaders. City sauntered into the last-16 without breaking sweat while Basel did just enough to hold off CSKA Moscow and take second spot in Group A.

You could pick any one of a number of players from the English side and they would be worth more than the entire first XI if the Swiss.

The majority of the responsibility of halting the City juggernaut will fall on Basel captain Marek Suchy, the Czech international centre-back who has helped them win the Swiss league title for eight years in a row.

Basel have also been weakened during the transfer window. Swiss centre-back Manuel Akanji made the move to Borussia Dortmund last month.

Matt's Prediction: City to progress


Juventus v Tottenham Hotspur


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Probably one of the closest matchups in the last 16. Juve remain on course for their seventh Serie A title, but are being pushed all the way this time around by Napoli, whereas they have won their previous recent crowns with relative ease. This suggests their dominance in Italy at least is not what it used to be. They also had an up-and-down group stage, which including a 3-0 thrashing by Barcelona and a 1-1 draw with Sporting Lisbon.

Spurs, on the other hand, powered through Group H, beating the mighty Real Madrid 3-1 in the process. They also have one of the most talented and in-form strikers in the world in the shape of Harry Kane.

Matt's Prediction: Tottenham to progress


Porto v Liverpool


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Jurgen Klopp has watched his Liverpool side struggle in recent times in domestic football. Premier League title hopes evaporated long ago and now a top-four spot could be in doubt and the Anfield side were also dumped out of the FA Cup by West Brom.

However, when they are on fire, they area a joy to watch. They do not seem to be missing Philippe Coutinho up front to much as Mohammad Salah and Roberto Firmino are filling in the void and could be too much of a handful for their Portuguese rivals. Porto were beaten to the top of Group G by Turkish side Beskitas and edged out RB Leipzig to scrape into the knockout stages.

Matt's Prediction: Liverpool to progress


Real Madrid v Paris Saint-Germain


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The old guard against the young pretenders. The established elite against the nouveau riche. Cristiano Ronaldo against old foe Neymar. The 12-time champions against the upstarts. Whatever way you look at this one, it will be a cracker, with so much at stake for both sides.

The French club are looking to make a statement that they have now arrived as a footballing superpower by slaying the mighty Real. It is a different story at the Bernabeu, where coach Zinedine Zidane is barely clinging onto his job after seeing his side crash out of the Copa del Rey and fall 19xx points behind Barcelona in La Liga.

PSG topped Group B with five wins and they should have the mental advantage over their opponents, who qualified behind Tottenham in Group H.

Matt's Prediction: PSG to progress


Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma


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Roma helped make this year’s Serie A race interesting as five teams were pushing for top spot in December. But they have suffered a dip in form domestically to drop off the pace and they only topped the Champions League Group C ahead of Chelsea on head-to-head record.

Shakhtar are probably the most unknown quantity out of the last 16 but do have decorated veterans Darijo Srna of Croatia and Brazilian Fred among their ranks and are enjoying a three-point lead over Dynamo Kiev at the top of the Ukranian Premier League table. Edin Dzeko, Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan and Co should still brush them aside.

Matt's Prediction: Roma to progress


Sevilla v Manchester United


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Sitting sixth in the Spanish league, Sevilla’s run in Europe should be brought to an end by Jose Mourinho’s men. United have rediscovered their winning ways and beginning to play with a swagger and dominating style once again. The recent addition of Alexis Sanchez up front from Arsenal has coach Mourinho content with the players at his disposal, saying he has no plans to add to his firepower this summer.

With Romelu Lukaku also finding the form he showed at the start of the season, this should be a one-way tie. Sevilla’s hopes rest with striker Nolito and midfield man Jesus Navas, who will know plenty about United from his time with rivals City.

Matt's Prediction: United to progress


Chelsea v Barcelona


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The invincibles against the very beatables. This was regarded as a too-close-to-call clash not so long ago. the defending Premier League champs were drawn against last season’s La Liga runners up. If anything, perhaps the Londoners had the edge. However, Chelsea’s fall from grace in 2018 under beleaguered coach Antonio Conte has seen them exit the League Cup and crash to costly and embarrassing defeats in the league to Bournemouth and Watford in the league. It remains to be seen if Conte will even be in charge of the side when they face the Spanish champions elect.

Valverde’s side have gone 22 games undefeated since he took over at the start of the season and, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez showing to signs of struggling up front since Neymar’s summer departure, this could be worryingly one-sided.

Matt's Prediction: Barcelona to progress


Bayern Munich v Besiktas


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Having just booked their place in the DVB Pokal — the German FA Cup — with a 6-0 win at Paderborn, it is safe to say Bayern are over their early-season wobble. Jupp Heynckes’ 19th victory from 20 games since returning as coach keeps his side on track to repeat the 2013 treble of his previous stint in charge.

The Germans dismissed coach Carlo Ancelotti after a humiliating 3-0 defeat at the hands of PSG in the Champions League and a poor start to their Bundesliga campaign. In came Jupp Heynckes to take over the reins and Bayern are back at the top of the league by some distance and, it is fair to say, overwhelming favourites to make the last eight against Besiktas.

The Turks topped a fairly weak Group G to book their spot but are only fourth in the Super Lig standings. It will be asking a lot for Ricardo Quaresma and his teammates to advance.

Matt's Prediction: Bayern to progress