Champions League Round of 16 Preview
Man City and Real Madrid headline a huge first round of the knockout stages.
Over recent seasons, Manchester City and Real Madrid have experienced opposite fortunes in the Champions League.
A competition underachiever, City has been only as far as the semi-finals once, in 2015-16 under Manuel Pellegrini, losing to Madrid. After beating City 1-0 on aggregate via an own goal, Madrid went on to win the first of its Champions League hat-trick under Zinedine Zidane.
Now, City and Madrid are to meet again, drawn against each other as one of the premier ties of the Champions League Round of 16 spread across February and March.
Another Spanish-English tie opens the knockout stage with Atletico against Liverpool, while Dortmund hosts PSG in the first leg - a tie which has BVB Director Michael Zorc holding his breath:
Maybe it could have been easier, maybe it could have been more difficult, I don't know. But, of course, it's a real bomb for us, but I don't see us without a chance.
Just 24 hours later, Atalanta and Valencia open their bids to reach the quarterfinals, along with Tottenham against RB Leipzig.
An intriguing aspect of the Tottenham-Leipzig tie is two-time winner Jose Mourinho matching tactical wits with Julian Nagelsmann, a 32-year-old manager in only his second Champions League campaign:
A very nice lot for us, an exciting lot, with a top team in Europe, in a beautiful city, with a wonderful stadium. A world-class coach, also a world-class team with many stars. Two exciting games are guaranteed and we have a good chance.
Any mention of Chelsea to Bayern Munich fans is to revive painful memories of the 2012 final, the Blues parading the trophy after winning on penalties at Allianz Arena. So there may be some element of revenge attached as Bayern travels to Stamford Bridge for the first leg, while Napoli lies in wait for Barcelona.
There is growing pressure on manager Ernesto Valverde to deliver Barcelona’s first Champions League title since 2015, but Napoli might concoct a surprise out of its recent chaos - a cautious Valverde remains wary of his wounded opponent:
The problems with these draws is that you make a valuation of the team now. But you don't know how the situation will be like in two months’ time when we have to face them. It is true that they've just changed coach and that they haven't had a good start of the season in the Italian league. But they are doing great in the Champions League.
As long as Barcelona fans have been waiting for another Champions League title, Juventus fans have been waiting even longer to add to the triumph of 1996. So being drawn with Lyon should be positive for Juventus, leaving Real Madrid and Manchester City to close the first-leg schedule.
If the best is left until last, that may be true of City facing Madrid. It is a contest of old money against new, a 13-time winner against a team that has never been past the semi-finals, and Pep Guardiola against Zinedine Zidane.
All things considered, it is a tie fully befitting the Champions League.