Having reached an unlikely final last season, Tottenham Hotspur’s current Champions League quest has taken them back into the knockout rounds.
Spurs finished six points clear of Olympiacos to qualify as runners-up in Group B but to say they had it easy would be anything but the truth — the Lilywhites endured some tough moments, not least a 7-2 thrashing at home to Bayern Munich, and had to work through a managerial change with Mauricio Pochettino being replaced by Jose Mourinho.
That said, qualification was in the bag by the time they rocked up in Bavaria for their final group game and given their trials this season, Spurs’ players can give themselves a pat on the back at a job well done.
As always in the Champions League last-16, teams are unable to draw other sides from their domestic league or their group. With Tottenham finishing second in their group and fellow English sides Liverpool and Manchester City winning theirs, Spurs are left with a total of five potential opponents. They are Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Barcelona, RB Leipzig and Valencia.
That is one hell of a list of potential opponents and if Spurs wish to go on another fairytale continental run, they’re going to have to send home some juggernauts along the way. So, who will Tottenham want to avoid in the last-16 and which side would give them the best chance of advancing?
We’ve taken a look below…
Tottenham’s best possible Champions League last-16 draw
Best Champions League finish: Runners-up (twice)
Current domestic league position: 8th in La Liga
UCL head-to-head: N/A
Valencia did fantastically well to top a group including Chelsea, Ajax and Lille and deserve great credit. A 3-0 humbling at home to Ajax aside, Los Che were disciplined and resolute as they notched up 11 points and lost just one of their six group games.
That said, their Champions League form has absolutely been the high point of their season so far, with Valencia struggling in eighth place in La Liga and suffering their fair share of off-the-field turmoil, replacing popular manager Marcelino.
Spurs really are short of favourable draws for the round-of-16 but Valencia seem to offer the most likely route into the quarter-finals, with the Spanish side conceding more goals (23) than any other side in the top half of the La Liga table and keeping just five clean sheets across all competitions so far this season.
Tactically, Valencia line-up in a narrow 4-4-2 formation and prefer to sit in and soak up pressure, rather than go hunting for the ball. Going forward, they rely heavily on the creative exploits of midfield playmaker Daniel Parejo, who has laid on more chances (28) in La Liga than any other Valencia player this season. The Spain international can split a defence in an instant with his excellent vision and composure on the ball, and has proven an excellent supply man for the likes of Rodrigo Moreno and Maxi Gomez.
In Daniel Wass and Jose Gaya, Valencia possess two incredibly adept attacking full-backs who need no second invitation to surge forward. However, therein lies a potential weakness for Spurs to exploit. While Valencia’s full-backs can cause havoc further forward, Francis Coquelin tends to be the sole player responsible for sitting in and covering their runs. If Mourinho fields both Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura, Spurs could really hurt Los Che on the break, with their pace likely to cause serious damage when isolated one-on-one against Ezequiel Garay and Gabriel Paulista.
Furthermore, Valencia’s four-man midfield could make it really easy for Spurs to create a numerical advantage here, allowing them to dominate possession and exploit the Spaniards as they wish — they can play the ball deep to suck them out and hit them in behind, or they can push them into their own area and beat down the door with immense pressure. Dele Alli and Harry Kane are experts in fluid movement to confuse opposition defences and this, coupled with the overloads Spurs can create, gives them a ton of potential to hurt this prospective opponent.
Tottenham’s worst possible Champions League last-16 draw
Best Champions League finish: Winners (five times)
Current domestic league position: 1st in La Liga
UCL head-to-head: Tottenham wins: 0 Draws: 1 Barcelona wins: 1
PSG are tearing France apart again and finished above Real Madrid in their Champions League group. Juventus breezed past the likes of Atletico Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen to get here. RB Leipzig are right in the thick of the Bundesliga title race and are playing some seriously entertaining football. But not a single of them have a Lionel Messi at their disposal.
The Argentina international already has 14 goals and nine assists across La Liga and Champions League play and for all Ernesto Valverde’s struggles as manager, Messi continues to drag Barca through and can turn a game in an instant. At 32 years old, he will be champing at the bit to seal at least one more Champions League crown.
The Catalan giants topped an incredibly tough Group F ahead of Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan without losing a single game, while they currently occupy the summit of the La Liga table as well, edging out rivals Real Madrid on goal difference.
Tottenham pulled off a superb draw at the Nou Camp last season to set the path for their final appearance but that was most definitely a high point in this fixture for them, as they are yet to beat Barca in four attempts.
Beyond Messi, Antoine Griezmann is a truly world-class forward, while Luis Suarez still has the ability to turn it on when the moment takes him. Sergio Busquets remains one of the finest holding midfielders in the world and forms part of a brilliant game-dictating trio alongside Arthur and Frenkie de Jong.
Barca haven’t convinced all the time under Valverde and he is a man under pressure, despite two La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey. But make no mistake, appetite for Champions League success is high in these parts and few will want to face Messi and Co when they have a point to prove.