Football Features

Champions League last-16 draw: Chelsea’s best and worst possible opponents

By Chris Smith

Published: 10:00, 16 December 2019

Frank Lampard’s first-ever European campaign as a manager has seen Chelsea through to the last-16 and his quest for continental glory continues.

The Blues finished second to Valencia in Group H on their head-to-head record but deserve great credit for navigating past Ajax and Lille having sat out Champions League football last season.

As always in the Champions League last-16, teams are unable to draw other sides from their domestic league or their group. Manchester City and Liverpool’s placings as group winners means Chelsea have just five potential opponents to draw, also excluding fellow Group H side Valencia. They are Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Barcelona and RB Leipzig.

That certainly isn’t the easiest list of potential opponents but, then again, who ever said the Champions League would be easy? So, who will Chelsea want to avoid in the last-16 and which side would give them the best chance of advancing?

We’ve taken a look below…

What’s the best draw Chelsea could get for the Champions League last-16?

RB Leipzig

Best Champions League finish: Last-16 (this season)

Current domestic league position: 1st in Bundesliga

Head-to-head: N/A

Given the absolute giants Chelsea could potentially draw in the last-16, RB Leipzig are comfortably Lampard’s most favourable draw. To say that makes them an easy opponent, though, is wildly inaccurate.

Die Roten Bullen have lost just two of their 14 Bundesliga games so far this season, sit top of the table and have both the best attacking record (42 goals scored) and joint-best defensive record (16 goals conceded) in the division.

Young manager Julian Nagelsmann is one of the most exciting, progressive coaches in European football right now and has his side playing a high-octane brand of counter-pressing football which, if you’re not at the top of your game, can sweep you off your feet in seconds. Timo Werner, meanwhile, is one of Europe’s most lethal attackers this season with 21 goals in just 23 appearances across all competitions already this season.

One major weakness in Leipzig’s armour is their youth. The German side’s entire existence is built upon developing young talent and flipping them for a higher price, but with that lack of experience comes great naivety and a ton of individual errors. In fact, for all their brilliance this season, Leipzig have made the second-highest number of errors leading to shots (7) in the Bundesliga.

With the likes of Willian, N’Golo Kante and Jorginho in their ranks, Chelsea are flush with experience. If Lampard’s men can get ahead, he will fancy their chances at being able to see out the game and exploit any rash decisions coming from an inexperienced Leipzig side.

Furthermore, Leipzig have been known to suffer greatly once their press breaks down. Chelsea’s aforementioned midfielders are experts at breaking the press and one of Nagelsmann’s greatest flaws is his tendency to stick to a certain tactic or pressing shape for too long when an obvious change is needed.

Leipzig’s weaknesses are few and far between, but Chelsea are short of favourable draws in the last-16. A match-up with the German side will give their experienced players a chance to throw down their authority, while Lampard has already proven enough tactical acumen to go toe-to-toe with Nagelsmann over two legs.

What’s the worst draw Chelsea could get for the Champions League last-16?

Barcelona

Best Champions League finish: Winners (five times)

Current domestic league position: 1st in La Liga

Head-to-head: Chelsea wins: 5 Draws: 6 Barcelona wins: 6

Chelsea and Barcelona have played out some wonderfully entertaining Champions League ties over the years and for the neutral, this would be a dream time. For Chelsea, though, it’s probably more of a nightmare.

Sure, the Blaugrana aren’t the terrifying force they were a few years ago and Ernesto Valverde has come in for plenty of criticism, but they’re still a daunting prospect for any of Europe’s big hitters.

Barca currently sit top of La Liga — one point ahead of rivals Real Madrid having played a game more — and, of course, they have a Lionel Messi at their disposal.

The Argentine sensation recently scooped a record sixth Ballon d’Or award and 14 goals in 16 games across all competitions this season already. Give him space and he’ll bend one into the far corner, close him down and he’ll ghost past you as if he were an ethereal being.

Of course, beyond Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez are match-winners in their own right, while Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Arthur and as dominant a midfield trident as you’re likely to find.

Barca fans want nothing more to than to see Messi seal another Champions League title and at 32 years old, he’ll be more determined than ever to seal that success once more.

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