The UEFA Champions League tournament, considered by most football fans as the most important, prestigious, and competitive continental club football tournament in the world will be making its triumphant return in mid-February.
While many sports fans around are were focused on the NFL and Super Bowl betting odds, American football predictions can now be put to one side as the Champions League returns.
The initial knockout stages of the 2021-22 tournament are upon us and with 16 of Europe’s best teams still in the race to win the coveted UCL trophy, let’s break down how each matchup will fare out and which team looks best fit to continue in the run for the title.
PSG vs. Real Madrid
Paris Saint Germain have made a point for this to be the season in which they finally end up winning the UCL trophy, one that has eluded them ever since becoming the European powerhouse team that they are.
With an attacking core composed of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar — that’s without taking into account the rest of the myriad of stars that compose this team — it would be foolish not to think that they would be the outright favourites from the get-go to move on to the next round of competition.
But, then again, when you’re facing Real Madrid — the most successful team in the tournament’s history — then things can shape up differently.
Real Madrid did struggle initially in the tournament but managed to bounce back and make their way into the round-of-16 stage, and with Karim Benzema leading the way alongside head coach Carlo Ancelotti and company, PSG will have a seriously hard time trying to get rid of them.
Still, after all, is said and done, the advantage goes to PSG because of their star power and overall hunger for winning.
Sporting CP vs. Manchester City
There’s nothing more dangerous than a team looking for revenge, and that’s exactly what Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side are doing right now.
After losing last season’s title game against Chelsea, Pep and company will be looking to make this season the one in which the UCL title finally makes it to Manchester, but not to Old Trafford. While Sporting CP can put up a valiant fight, there’s no way Manchester City is not advancing here.
RB Salzburg vs. Bayern Munich
A clear favourite to win the title yet again, Bayern Munich appear to never skip a beat when it comes to showing just how dominant they can be.
Now with coach Julian Nagelsmann at the helm and with players like Robert Lewandowski and company all firing on all cylinders, it doesn’t matter who’s in front of them, without any offence to Red Bull Salzburg. The only thing that matters is that in this matchup, the advantage is 100% for Bayern Munich.
Inter Milan vs. Liverpool
Here’s a matchup that looks much more even, at least on paper. On the one hand, we have Inter Milan, who are sitting atop the Serie A table and who have shown promising signs of great football all around.
On the other hand, we have Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool squad which, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah leading the attacking core and Virgil Van Dijk commanding the defence, are always one of the toughest opponents to come across in Europe. While they might be behind City in the Premier League, the advantage here goes to Liverpool.
Chelsea vs. LOSC Lille
Retuning UCL Champions Chelsea looks like they are more than ready to make another title run this year, even if it means having to knock out French side Lille, who have put on some very respectable matches during the UCL season.
At the end of the day, trying to stop Thomas Tuchel’s blue football machine is something that not many teams can do, and it clearly looks like it’s something that Lille will not be able to do. Advantage Chelsea.
Villarreal vs. Juventus
Villarreal is one of those lovable underdog teams that everyone always hopes to see in every major sporting tournament.
They’re a small team, from a small city and have one of the most loyal fan bases in all of Spanish football. While they did plenty good in the group stage, especially when having to battle Manchester United, when push comes to shove, it appears as if beating Italian powerhouse Juventus is not going to be something that is in their foreseeable future, especially after Juventus were able to sign Fiorentina scoring master Dusan Vlahovic.
Benfica vs. Ajax
What team looks best fit to stop Sebastien Haller and his scoring rhythm in this year’s UCL tournament?
The Ajax striker managed to score in each of the group stage games at least once, totalling a whopping 10 goals just in that round.
If you add to that how Ajax coach Erik Ten Haag would love to have another chance at UCL glory like in recent years, then even though Benfica is a very good team and can play some very good football, the advantage here clearly goes for the Dutch.
Atletico Madrid vs. Manchester United
It’s Rangnick vs. Simeone, CR7 vs. one of his favourite rival teams to score against, it’s reigning La Liga champions Real Madrid against a Manchester United squad that is still trying to find the best way to propel themselves back into football stardom and dominance.
While Ronaldo and United can be a true threat, at the end of the day Simeone’s experiences coaching Atletico Madrid in stages like these will end up paying up in great dividends for the Spanish champions. Advantage Atletico Madrid.