Predicting the likely qualifiers in the 2024 UEFA Champions League Round of 16

Europe’s premier football club competition, the UEFA Champions League, will be back in action today with some delectable fixtures as the road to Wembley is in its knockout phase. Unlike the 2022-2023 campaign, where we had a lot of European heavyweights clashing at this stage of the competition, this season’s UEFA Champions League will not really feature massive showdowns as some European heavyweights missed out.

The 2022-2023 campaign saw Manchester City hoist their first-ever UEFA Champions League trophy as they defeated Inter Milan 1-0 in Istanbul, thanks to a Rodri strike. Could Pep Guardiola’s men go all the way to becoming the first team to win successive Champions League titles after Real Madrid, or can a Harry Kane-led Bayern claim the famous Big Ears?

The knockout stages of the Champions League are always known for their unpredictability and excitement. Hence, we’ll take a critical look at each of the fixtures and make a prognostication of who is likely to make it to the quarterfinals.

Copenhagen vs Manchester City

As group leaders, Pepe Guardiola’s men will play the first leg of their UCL last-16 fixture away from home. Manchester City’s opponents in recent campaigns in the UCL round of 16 ties have been quite easy, as they were handed Borussia Monchengladbach, Sporting CP, and RB Leipzig in the 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23, campaigns, respectively. And being paired with the Danish Champions in this season’s last 16 is a kind draw for the Champions League holders.

However, Copenhagen’s ability to scale through in a group that featured Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Galatasaray should not be taken too lightly. But coming up against the current holders could be an insurmountable task. This is the second time in history that Copenhagen will make it to this stage of Europe’s premier football club competition.

The last time both sides met in the Champions League was in the 2022–2023 campaign in the group stages. While the Danish side couldn’t make it to the knockout stages or secure the Europa League berth, they managed to hold Premier League Champions to a goalless stalemate on their home ground.

Despite their underdog status, repeating that result may not be beyond them thanks to their strong home form.

Byens Hold have lost just three of their 19 Champions League matches at Parken (W8, D8), though facing English opposition at this stage doesn’t bode well, as their only other last 16 appearance saw them eliminated by Chelsea in 2011 with a 2-0 home loss.

Manchester City, on the other hand, were imperious in the group stages as they clinched maximum points while scoring exactly 3 goals in each. They’ve also won their last ten games across all competitions. While City have never won away to any Danish side in major European competitions, they have also never been beaten by any Danish side.

That being said, Manchester City are the strongest side in the pack as per UEFA rankings. Despite this, City haven’t recorded a single victory away in the knockout stages of the Champions League since thumping Sporting CP 5-0 in the 2021-2022 campaign. However, the arrival of Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne back into the squad could be the difference for the Cityzens.

The Norwegian struck twice to give his side the victory against Everton. While Copenhagen will be keen to make it to the quarterfinals for the first time in their history, the lethal combination of Erling Haaland and De Bruyne will be too mighty for the Danish side to deal with. Hence, Manchester City are tipped to get through without any hiccups.

RB Leipzig vs Real Madrid

RB Leipzig are back in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages with the hope of getting past one of Europe’s most successful clubs. Last season it was Manchester City (L 8-1 on aggregate), and this time it is Real Madrid, but after beating the Spanish outfit 3-2 here in the group stage last season, Marco Rose’s team shouldn’t be intimidated by the scale of the task that awaits.

After walloping La Liga sensation, Girona 4-0 to go five points clear at the top of the La Liga table, and having proved themselves as one of the favorites of this season’s campaign by topping their group with a perfect record, the 14-time champions will definitely go into this encounter as top dogs.

However, the absence of Jude Bellingham could prove costly for them after the 20-year-old suffered a sprained ankle in their win over Girona. Currently, the Englishman has recorded 4 goals and 3 assists to his name in five Champions League group-stage games.

RB Leipzig were also impressive in the group stages, as their only defeat came at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s City. Having endured a humiliating defeat at the stage of the competition last season, the Red Bulls will try to put up a decent fight against Carlo Ancelotti’s men.

Amazingly, the Spanish juggernauts have not been eliminated by German sides since the 2012–2013 semifinals, where they were beaten by Dortmund.

While the free-scoring Jude Bellingham and other key players like David Alaba and Antonio Rudiger will be missing, Los Blancos have always proved that they can never be written off despite their injury-infested team.

The duo of Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo have always turned the games on their heads, coming through for their side when it mattered the most. With the Brazilians doing what they do best, Real Madrid will see off Leipzig over both legs.

Lazio vs Bayern Munich

In the opening leg of this last-16 tie, Lazio will try to inflict even more pain on a battered Bayern Munich. Biancocelesti will enter this match after ending a three-game domestic losing streak by defeating Cagliari 3-1 over the weekend, and will now try to advance to the competition’s quarterfinals for the first time.

However, losses in both legs in their only prior tie at this stage against none other than Bayern in 2021 will provide them with a psychological challenge to overcome.

While Bayern Munich may be floundering in the Bundesliga, they should not be taken for a weaker side, as they are renowned for destroying lower-ranked teams in the Champions League. The Bavarians have progressed from 11 of their last 12 round of 16 ties, with their only defeat coming against Liverpool in the 2018-19 campaign, who became eventual winners.

The last time an Italian defeated Bayern Munich in the Champions League knockout phase was in the 2010 UCL final against Inter Milan, where they lost 2-0. Harry Kane has proved to be unstoppable in Bayern Munich this season, and he could be the wildcard if he goes berserk once again.

Despite coming into the clash on the back of a weekend to forget, Bayern are still heavily fancied to come out on top in this tie and reach a 12th quarterfinal from their last 13 Champions League campaigns.

PSG vs Real Sociedad

PSG advances to the UEFA Champions League round of 16 for the 12th consecutive season, yet their history reflects consistent disappointment as they’ve never clinched the Champions League title despite their substantial resources.

Their recent track record is marked by a recurring pattern of being eliminated at this stage, having fallen short in five out of their last seven Champions League campaigns. Notably, they were ousted by Spanish opponents on three of those five occasions, adding to their frustrations.

The French giants managed to get to this stage after being placed in a group of death that featured AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, and Newcastle.

While many football fans could fancy PSG to come out on top in this tie due to their experience and pedigree, Real Sociedad’s impressive record in the group stages of being the team with the best defensive record, conceding only two goals, shows that they are a force to be reckoned with. In fact, they kept a clean sheet in all three of their away group stage games.

So ahead of their first-ever UEFA meeting with PSG, they ought to be confident they’ll still be in the tie ahead of the second leg in March. While PSG may boast of a plethora of ranks in their squad, including the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Randal Kolo Muani, Marco Asensio, Gonçalo Ramos, and the like, they are no longer the exciting team of star players built by the club’s Qatari owners.

Since getting to the final in 2020 and the semifinals in 2021, the French giants have been eliminated at this stage in the last two seasons. We expect a lot of high-pressing in this tie from both sides. It’s a tough one to predict, but if Imanol Alguacil’s men can replicate their defensive resilience and keep Kylian Mbappe at bay, they could progress with a hard-fought victory.

PSV vs Borussia Dortmund

This is one of the evenly-matched games in this round. Only a few fans expected Borussia Dortmund to make it out of the group of death, let alone progress comfortably. It is also worth noting that they only conceded four goals across their six games in the group stages.

While PSV may not have had a quite impressive performance in the Champions League so far, their current form in their domestic league is something to worry about. Presently, they are the only team in Europe’s major leagues with an unbeaten record, having scored 68 goals in 21 Eredivisie games this season.

PSV’s gaffer, Peter Bosz, has obviously done an incredible job on his side this season. Luuk de Jong is currently in fine form for the Dutch side, as he has been firing from all angles. He has notched up an impressive 18 goals in 21 Eredivisie games.

Apart from that, he has transformed a blend of exciting youngsters in Isaac Babadi, Ricardo Pepi, and Johan Bakayoko. If Peter Bosz’s men can maintain their domestic form, they will be able to put up a fight against the German giants.

However, Dortmund will see PSV as a kind draw, having avoided teams like Inter Milan and Napoli at the stage of the competition. It’s also a tough one to predict, but we expect Edin Terzic’s men to pip the Dutch side over both legs.

Inter Milan vs Atletico Madrid

Having made it to the UEFA Champions League final last season, Inter Milan will be brimming with confidence as they lock horns with Diego Simeone’s men in the last 16. Without a doubt, this is one of the ties that football fans anticipate watching.

Inter Milan’s tie with Atletico Madrid will be their first Champions League knockout match against a Spanish side since the 2009-10 semi-final when Jose Mourinho’s Inter eliminated Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate.

Atletico Madrid are renowned for their resilience at the back, especially when they are playing against any European heavyweight. Amazingly, Los Colchoneros were a different breed in the UCL group stages, as they defied all odds to become the team to score the most goals [17] as well as progressing comfortably.

Both sides made it through to this stage without a single defeat, hence, we should expect a very heated match. Inter Milan are the more in-form team at the moment, as they are currently at the top of their league table with a seven-point lead. Inter Milan’s forwards Lautaro Martinez and Marcus Thuram are currently a threat to any team’s defense, as the Argentine holds the top spot for the highest goal scorers in the Serie A [19].

However, Diego Simeone’s side possesses two of the joint-leading scorers in the Champions League, alongside Erling Haaland and Manchester United’s Rasmus Hojlund, with five goals. While Inter Milan looks better, Atletico Madrid shouldn’t be written off, as they have a penchant for causing upsets against European heavyweights.

From my perspective, the winner of this tie will depend on the outcome of the first leg. If Simone Inzaghi’s men could get a win in the first leg, they would be in pole position to make it through, given that their attacking units are more accomplished than those of Atletico Madrid.

But if Atletico Madrid manages to get a result in the first leg, it will be disastrous for the Serie A leaders as they will face an uphill task of breaking a well-drilled defensive outfit of Diego Simeone at Civitas Metropolitano.

Porto vs Arsenal

After narrowly missing out in the Premier League title race last season. Mikel Arteta’s men wasted no time in putting their mark on the Champions League following a six-year absence. Their clash against Porto in the round of 16 promises to be an exciting one.

The North London side have been knocked out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage in each of their last seven appearances in the competition. Amazingly, the team they defeated in their last eight appearances at this stage to go to the quarterfinals was Porto [2009/2010].

While Arsenal will go into this tie as favorites, they should be wary of Porto’s experience and abundance of quality. The Portuguese side is a force to be reckoned with in this competition with the presence of their high-flying Brazilians, Evanilson and Galeno, who have scored four goals each in the Champions League.

This tie will be a déjà vu for Mikel Arteta’s men, as they have recent knowledge of the ability of Portuguese opponents to cause an upset after being eliminated in the Europa League by Sporting CP last season at this stage. Arsenal’s current form has really been impressive.

After what they did to Liverpool and West Ham in their recent outings, the Portuguese side will know that they will sweat to get a result against the North London side. Football fans should expect some fireworks in this tie, but Arsenal’s current form is too hot for Porto to handle; hence, they are prognosticated winners of this tie.

Napoli vs Barcelona

Another blockbuster match in this round is the pairing of the Italian champions against the Spanish champions. Barcelona made it to the Champions League round of 16 for the first time since 2021 when they were eliminated by PSG.

While they made it to the group stages in the last two campaigns, they could progress further as they secured a third-place berth. This is the first time they will make it to the Round of 16 since the departure of Lionel Messi.

While both Napoli and Barcelona were the champions of their respective domestic leagues last season, they have both struggled to replicate the heroics of their title-winning campaigns.

Even though the Blaugrana topped their group, they weren’t really impressive. Their away defeats to Antwerp and Shakhtar Donetsk expose their vulnerabilities. The Scudetto champions also displayed defensive frailties during the group stage.

Both sides look stronger in attack than in defense. Football fans should expect a high-scoring tie. Barcelona will be without their star boy Gavi, and Lewandowski has not been in good form lately. Napoli, on the other hand, still possesses the threat of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen. It’s a hard one to predict. The tie could go either way.

Edited by Nicolaas Ackermann

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