Football Features

One thing we think will happen in every Champions League round-of-16 first leg tie

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 14:30, 14 February 2022


Ladies and gentlemen, gird your loins because the Champions League is back! Everyone’s favourite self-important cup competition returns with the round-of-16 and we’ve got some mouthwatering ties to look forward to.

But what will happen in the first legs? Obviously there are many possible scenarios that could transpire, but we’ve had a look and narrowed it down to one event per team. Whether that event is big or small depends on the circumstances.

Sporting vs Manchester City

  • Where: Estadio Jose Alvalade, Lisbon
  • When: Tuesday 15 February
  • What we think will happen: Man City to make more than 500 passes

Manchester City are much, much better than Sporting. It’s not that Sporting are even that bad, City are just that good. Pep Guardiola’s men have been super impressive so far in the Champions League, dominating every game played.

In typical City fashion they’ve had over 50% possession in each game and, besides their matchday one win over Leipzig where they attempted 468, the Citizens have bagged at least 500 passes in every game, and you can expect that to continue in Lisbon.

PSG vs Real Madrid

  • Where: Parc des Princes, Paris
  • When: Tuesday 15 February
  • What we think will happen: Messi to make his mark against Madrid

Leo Messi has played Real Madrid 45 times throughout his career. He’s won 19 times, scored 26 goals and provided 14 assists. His Barcelona career ended with three straight El Clasico defeats but before that slump (brought on by his team-mates) the Argentine owned Real.

Now he’s surrounded by his new team-mates at PSG, including Real academy graduate and Madrid-born Achraf Hakimi — who will be itching to haunt his former side — you can expect the dominance to continue. Whether it’s a goal, an assist, or even just an awe-inspiring level of control, Leo Messi is going to run that match.

Salzburg vs Bayern Munich

  • Where: Red Bull Arena, Salzburg
  • When: Wednesday 16 February
  • What we think will happen: Robert Lewandowski to score at least two.

Bayern have been ridiculously dominant so far this season in the Champions League. The Bavarians have won all six of their group stage games, scoring three or more goals in five of the games. And of course, the protagonist in that group-stage dominance was Robert Lewandowski.

The prolific Pole has continued to serve up exhibitions of goalscoring brilliance in Europe’s premier knockout tournament — and there are no suggestions he is considering slowing down just yet. And against Salzburg he has three goals in two games after Bayern met them in the 2020/21 group phase.

Lewy notched a brace in a 6-2 demolition job in Salzburg and the opener in a 3-1 win at the Allianz Arena. Given he has nine in the tournament already this campaign, sitting one below current ‘Golden Boot’ leader Sebastien Haller, he will be champing at the bit to extend his tally

Inter Milan vs Liverpool

  • Where: San Siro, Milan
  • When: Wednesday 16 February
  • What we think will happen: Dzeko and Salah to both score

Edin Dzeko has scored a goal in each of the last three games he has played against Liverpool. That’s one against the Reds for Manchester City in 2015 and in each leg for Roma across the 2018 Champions League semi-final. Meanwhile Mohamed Salah (or Sadio Mane) have scored in 10 of Liverpool’s last 11 European games — and the Egyptian netted in five of the six games he played in the group stages.

So what do you think will happen when Dzeko and Inter face Salah and Liverpool? Why, both men will score obviously! The tie itself should swing Liverpool’s way, but they won’t be able to keep Dzeko out.

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Chelsea vs Lille

  • Where: Stamford Bridge, London
  • When: Tuesday 22 February
  • What we think will happen: Jonathan David to continue European purple patch.

Lille has been a hotbed for emerging talent in recent years, as Chelsea themselves would attest to having signed Eden Hazard from the Hauts-de-France club in 2012, and there is now another attacking force tearing up the French league and making considerable noise in Europe.

Jonathan David enters this showdown in red-hot Champions League form, having bagged in Lille’s last three games, against Sevilla, Salzburg and Wolfsburg, taking his tally to 16 for the campaign across all competitions. Linked with another London club in Arsenal, David could have a chance to firmly put himself in the shop window with another stellar scoring performance — as we expect him to do.

Villarreal vs Juventus

  • Where: Estadio de la Ceramica, Villarreal
  • When: Tuesday 22 February
  • What we think will happen: Dusan Vlahovic to mark his Champions League debut with a goal

It took Dusan Vlahovic just 13 minutes to score on his Serie A debut with a delicious chip. Now the big money striker is set to make his Champions League debut with Juventus against Villarreal.

The Yellow Submarine are no pushovers, but an elite goalscorer like Vlahovic will give them an edge they haven’t had for a while. Don’t rule out the chance that Villarreal could spring an upset, but whatever the result, Vlahovic is scoring.

Benfica vs Ajax

  • Where: Estadio da Luz, Lisbon
  • When: Wednesday 23 February
  • What we think will happen: Sebastien Haller to run riot

Ajax have been phenomenal this season. Sebastien Haller has scored in every game so far and the Amsterdammers themselves have won every game. Now they look to bring that dominance into the knockout rounds.

What’s interesting about Ajax isn’t that they’ve won every game, but that they’ve won it in style. They were utterly dominant, they took at least 15 shots on five occasions, only managing 13 on matchday one (despite winning 5-1). Even though they’ll be away in Lisbon, Haller should come to the fore once again and continue tussling with Lewandowski for this season’s ‘Golden Boot’.

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Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United

  • Where: Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid
  • When: Wednesday 23 February
  • What we think will happen: Cristiano Ronaldo to score at least once

In a six-season spell from 2013/14 to 2018/19, Cristiano Ronaldo’s team eliminated Atletico Madrid from the Champions League five times. The 2014 and 2016 finals spring to mind, but Ronaldo’s Madrid also beat Atleti in the 2014/15 quarter-finals and 2016/17 semi-finals.

Atleti were dumped out in the group stages for 2017/18, but even after Ronaldo had joined Juventus that summer and lost 2-0 in the first leg of the round-of-16, he turned up with a hat-trick in the second leg to knock Diego Simeone out.

So it doesn’t matter that Ronaldo is playing poorly, or that United don’t look like they could beat a drum right now, Cristiano Ronaldo is going to show up once again to torture poor Simeone. After all, across his career, the Portuguese icon has played Atletico Madrid more than any other opponent, beating them more times than anyone else, while only Sevilla have conceded more goals to him.