The draw for the UEFA Champions League round of 16 was held Monday in Nyon, Switzerland and, like always, we have a veritable buffet of fantastic matchups to kick off the knockout rounds of Europe’s grandest tournament come February.
For the first time in Champions League history, all 16 teams entering the knockout stage come from one of Europe’s top-five leagues. There will be no minnows taking part in march to the final in Istanbul.
Round of 16 draw 🔥
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) December 16, 2019
Every fixture in the round of 16 will offer up its own share of excitement, but some matchups stand above the rest and shouldn’t be missed by anyone who loves the game. With that in mind, in no order, here are the top five 2019-20 Champions League round of 16 matchups.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Paris Saint-Germain
With six consecutive Ligue 1 titles in its pockets and a seven-point lead in the table this season, PSG will be hyper-focused on securing the one piece of silverware that has long escaped it. And after emerging from the group stage undefeated, including a 3-0 beatdown of Real Madrid to open the tournament, this year may be its best shot yet. The Parisians will also be handed a boost by the fact that their manager, Thomas Tuchel, used to manage Dortmund and will be familiar with many of the players there. But Lucien Favre and Dortmund survived the Group of Death over Inter Milan and aren’t to be underestimated.
Feb. 18, at Westfalenstadion
March 11, at Parc de Princes
Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich
One of the bigger shocks in Champions League history came in 2012 when interim manager Roberto Di Matteo led Chelsea to a title over Bayern Munich in Munich. But this may not be a glorious return for manager Frank Lampard, who was an integral part of that Chelsea squad. Chelsea clawed its way into the knockout round over Ajax by just one point. Although the Blues are showing a ton of promise in the first season under Lampard, the defense is a mess and the squad is inexperienced. However, Bayern are still under the care of interim manager Hansi Flick after the sacking of Niko Kovač in November, and its unclear whether a permanent replacement will be named by February. Bayern is fifth in the Bundesliga table, but between superb attackers such as Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry, it should have enough firepower to get past the often porous Chelsea defense.
Feb. 25, at Stamford Bridge
March 18, at Allianz Arena
Napoli vs. Barcelona
Barcelona sits atop La Liga and once again claimed top spot in its Champions League group, but there’s still a sense that this side could be vulnerable. Lionel Messi is still Lionel Messi, but his supporting cast is not as strong as it once was. Speedy sides who can attack on the counter can cause Barcelona lots of problems, like Liverpool did in its incredible comeback at Anfield last season. But that loss could also have spurned Messi on to once again reach the peak of European soccer, having not won the Champions League since 2015. Napoli, meanwhile, is in the midst of crisis following Carlo Ancelotti’s departure from the club. Genarro Gattuso still has a few months to right the ship, but he has a lot of problems to solve if he wants to advance past Barcelona.
Feb. 25, at Stadio San Paulo
March 18, at Camp Nou
Real Madrid vs. Manchester City
The marquee matchup of the round of 16 is doubtlessly the showdown between powerhouses Real Madrid and Manchester City. Madrid is attempting to return to the mountaintop in a post-Cristiano Ronaldo world following four titles in five years between 2014 and 2018 while City is attempting to stake its claim at the top for the first time in club history. City already trail Liverpool by 14 points in the Premier League, just about out of reach, so Pep Guardiola may choose to focus his efforts on the Champions League in hopes of winning the ultimate prize. Like always under Zinedine Zidane, Madrid started the season slowly but finally appears to be getting its sea legs. Regardless of who wins this contest, expect them to be a threat late into the competition.