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Champions League Preview – Round of 16 First Leg

After a longer than usual hiatus due to the World Cup, the UEFA Champions League is back with a host of intriguing Round of 16 ties.

AC Milan vs Tottenham

Spurs snuck a 1-0 EPL win over Manchester City last weekend despite starting $4.60 underdogs, in a win that will do wonders for their confidence following some patchy domestic form. As an added bonus, they travel to face an AC Milan side whose confidence, conversely, is shot. Winless in their last five Serie A matches, Stefano Pioli’s side have struggled in a season that promised plenty. As such, Spurs have a huge chance to cause an upset. Their leader Harry Kane has just past Jimmy Greaves as Tottenham’s greatest ever goalscorer and, with six goals in his last seven EPL starts, looms as the player most likely to impact this intriguing clash.

Tip: Anytime goalscorer, Harry Kane (Tottenham)

PSG vs Bayern

Bayern were the only club with a perfect six-from-six record throughout the Champions League group stage. PSG on the other hand were edged on goal difference by Benfica to finish second in Group H, and thus have a far tougher Round of 16 clash than they’d have hoped for. Unsurprisingly, both clubs occupy top spot of their respective leagues on a domestic front, but neither are dominating to the extend they have in previous years. Kylian Mbappe appears set to miss this clash, and if Bayern can sneak a draw here PSG will find it very tough to progress.

Tip: Draw

Club Brugge vs Benfica

The lowest profile clash of the Champions League Round of 16. But you’d be silly to discount how deep Benfica could go this season, having been undefeated (and finishing top) of a group that included PSG and Juventus late last year. Club Brugge, too, were impressive in the group stages, conceding just four goals in their six group games — bettered only by Manchester City and Bayern. But domestic form — the best indicator at this stage given the extended Champions League break owing to the World Cup — is polar opposites for these clubs. Benfica are humming, losing just one of 20 games and boasting an eight-point lead atop Portugal’s Primeira Liga. Brugge, conversely, have won just one game in their last 11 (in all competitions) and are struggling under new manager Scott Parker.

Tip: H2H, Benfica

Dortmund vs Chelsea

Chelsea outdid every club in the world by some margin in the January transfer window, spending big. Whether the likes of Enzo Fernandez, Mykhailo Mudryk and Joao Felix can improve their patchy overall form, however, is another matter altogether. Much like PSG, if things begin to click then watch out this Champions League season. But the pragmatic analysis would say it’s going to take Graham Potter more than a few weeks to get a newly-assembled best XI clicking. Dortmund, compared to Chelsea, are quietly going about their business, winning their last six on the bounce in all competitions. Expect Jude Bellingham to run the show throughout the midfield in this one.

Tip: H2H, Borussia Dortmund

Frankfurt vs Napoli

With none of the big clubs looking particularly strong this season, could an ‘outsider’ crash the party? More specifically — could Napoli do the unthinkable and win a Champions League title? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility. And the market certainly agrees. The Serie A leaders (by a whopping 13 points, mind) started this Champions League campaign as $67 outsiders. Now, they’re into $10 fourth-favourites — shorter than the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid — after a stunning season on the home front that’s seen them bang in 51 goals in 21 games, 10 more than the next-best in Italy’s top flight. While this will be no walkover, they start deserved favourites.

Tip: H2H, Napoli

Liverpool vs Real Madrid

A five-time European Cup/UEFA Champions League winner hosts the 14-time champions. The pedigree of these two European heavyweights could hardly be bigger, and this is undoubtedly the clash of this round. However neither come into it in strong form, and in the case of Liverpool, they come into the clash in nothing short of torrid touch. They’ve leaked nine goals in their last four EPL games, and come away with just one points in that stretch. The fact is, this is Jurgen Klopp’s last chance to make a mark in season 2022-23. Knocked out of the FA Cup, League Cup and completely out of the running in 10th on the EPL table, the Champions League is Liverpool’s last hope of salvaging a horrid year. They’ve performed in this competition before while their domestic form was poor. This time around, though, it’s hard to see it happening. Nevertheless, Anfield on European nights is always a tough place to go.

Tip: Draw

Inter Milan vs FC Porto

The Jose Mourinho derby? Let’s go with it. Another tough one to pick in the Champions League Round of 16. And while Inter start as relatively solid favourites at home, Porto have been in strong touch on the domestic front (eight wins on the bounce) and topped their group earlier this UCL season. Inter’s Lautaro Martinez looms as a key in this clash. After a lacklustre World Cup with winners Argentina. Martinez has scored five goals in his last five Serie A matches.

Tip: Anytime goalscorer, Lautaro Martinez (Inter)

RB Leipzig vs Manchester City

How Manchester City respond to the recent financial allegations levelled at them is tough to predict. Pep Guardiola’s side have lost their last three away games consecutively, and don’t appear the juggernaut of previous seasons; Arsenal’s five-point lead atop the EPL table (with a game in hand) testament to that. Additionally, internal ructions are clearly bad enough for a star like Joao Cancelo to leave in January. Leipzig represent good value in this clash. The home side have not lost a match since October first (14 wins, four draws) and appear in as good a position as you can to upset City.

Tip: H2H, RB Leipzig

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