With the round of 16 matchups now set in the Champions League, theScore examines every fixture, giving each a “watchability” ranking out of five.
8. AS Roma vs. FC Porto
Both Roma and Porto had to be beaming after seeing their names get pulled out of their respective pots on Monday.
Despite making a run to last season’s semifinals, the Italian club was viewed as one of the weakest teams remaining in the tournament this time around. Continually selling off your best players and then not getting consistent contributions from their supposed replacements can have that effect.
The Portuguese unit, meanwhile, are by some margin the least intimidating of the eight group winners. Naturally, they’ve been paired together.
This could certainly be entertaining – there are intriguing attackers on both sides, and Roma have been calamitous defensively at times – but amid several other matchups between legitimate heavyweights, this one doesn’t have quite that same level of star power.
Watchability score: 📺
7. Schalke vs. Manchester City
There’s been a growing sentiment among neutral fans this season that Manchester City’s near-invincibility has become a bore. The idea that they’ve almost “perfected” the game has made many of their matches feel like foregone conclusions before a ball is even kicked.
This encounter is no different.
Schalke, who have struggled mightily to score goals this season, will need to find another gear – and probably get some luck – if they hope to overcome the talent gap that exists between the two clubs. That’s not a shot at Domenico Tedesco’s side, it’s simply the reality that almost every other team in Europe faces when pitted against Pep Guardiola and Co.
The overwhelming sense that City will cruise to victory makes this one of the least captivating matches to come out of Monday’s draw.
Watchability score: 📺📺
6. Lyon vs. Barcelona
Could Lyon’s exciting collection of fearless, blossoming stars pull off another huge upset? After beating Manchester City in the group stage at the Etihad – and then holding Guardiola’s side to a draw in the return fixture – Les Gones get a crack at claiming another big scalp in the form of Barcelona.
Once again one of the favorites to hoist the coveted trophy, the Catalan giants have needed Lionel Messi to paper over plenty of defensive cracks this season. The Argentine leads Europe’s top five leagues in goals (14) and assists (10) on the campaign, and his indescribable brilliance has compensated for an aging defense and increasingly rickety midfield.
Both clubs are loaded with electrifying forwards, and both have struggled defensively this season. It’s the perfect recipe for highlight-reel material, and that’s before you consider that Messi will be running at Jason Denayer.
Watchability score: 📺📺📺
5. Tottenham vs. Borussia Dortmund
Familiar faces will lock horns in February when two sides who met in last season’s group stage renew acquaintances. Tottenham won both of those matches, but will be tasked with slowing down a reinvigorated Borussia Dortmund team that’s playing with pizzazz under Lucien Favre.
Jadon Sancho alone is must-see television every time he gets on the ball, while Spurs will once again be looking to Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son – who combined to score all five of their goals against Dortmund last year – to provide the attacking impetus.
Neither side is perceived as a tournament favorite, but for viewers, that may actually be a positive. Both teams will back their chances of advancing to the quarterfinals and should be willing to push the envelope.
Watchability score: 📺📺📺
4. Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus
On paper, this is arguably the marquee tie of the round. Atletico Madrid and Juventus have combined to feature in four of the last five Champions League finals, with each coming out on the losing end twice. There’s star power aplenty, with the addition of Cristiano Ronaldo adding another layer of intrigue. The Portuguese forward scored 22 goals in 31 matches against Atleti during his time with Real Madrid, often outgunning counterpart Antoine Griezmann.
In reality, though, this has all the makings of a street fight between two of Europe’s best defensive sides.
Can Atleti, so prolific from aerial situations since Diego Simeone’s appointment, exploit Juve’s struggles defending crosses? Or will Max Allegri devise a plan that puts the likes of Paulo Dybala and former Atletico striker Mario Mandzukic in a position to break down the stout Spanish club?
For anyone tuning in looking simply for some old-fashioned chaos, the impending battle between Diego Costa and Giorgio Chiellini should be a doozy.
Watchability score: 📺📺📺
3. Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain
These are two of the biggest clubs in world football, each littered with a bevy of stars who can bring any match to life.
What we’re really looking at, though, is one team who exhibits those qualities, and one that has slowly devolved into a mid-table sideshow.
Paris Saint-Germain can frustrate at times with their lack of cohesion between the midfield and frontline, but Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are legitimate world-class attackers who will be salivating at the prospect of shredding Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and the rest of the shoddy Manchester United backline.
The Red Devils, on the other hand, have shown a complete lack of ability to play cohesive attacking football. At the behest of their manager, the players have resorted to a dour style that only becomes exciting, if not fluid, in the latter stages of matches when a late goal is needed to steal a positive result.
It’s possible that Jose Mourinho may not even be at the helm of the club come February – which would surely be welcomed by the likes of Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. But for neutrals, the Mourinho soap opera is the type of never-ending drama that you can’t take your eyes off.
Watchability score: 📺📺📺📺
2. Ajax vs. Real Madrid
Can the kids knock the European champions from their perch?
Coveted young stars Matthijs de Ligt – recently bestowed with the Golden Boy award – and Frenkie de Jong could be taking a glimpse into the future when they visit the Bernabeu – both have been heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid’s bitter rival, Barcelona. What an audition it would be if the two in-demand youngsters, together with the likes of Hakim Ziyech and a reborn Dusan Tadic, send the three-time reigning holders packing early.
Madrid have been comically fragile defensively this season, and as Ajax proved in their frenetic group stage finale against Bayern Munich, they have the weapons to cause plenty of problems.
Santiago Solari also has the not-so-small matter of the Madrid derby to consider just days before the first leg against the Dutch side. If he hasn’t figured things out by then, February could be a rough month at the Bernabeu.
Watchability score: 📺📺📺📺
1. Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich
It wasn’t pretty early, but Bayern Munich have largely recovered from their sloppy start to the campaign. Robert Lewandowski, who will need to outduel Virgil van Dijk, has rounded into form, and with that, the Bavarian club is looking more like the team that has reached the Champions League semifinals in four of the last five seasons.
Questions still remain about an aging collection of central defenders, though, which is the last thing you want to be worried about when the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are racing at you from all angles.
Liverpool are themselves just revving up their attacking engine after some uncharacteristically tame performances earlier in the campaign.
Salah, almost out of nowhere, is tied for the Premier League lead in scoring, and barring injury, both Fabinho and Naby Keita should be fully integrated into Jurgen Klopp’s newfound 4-2-3-1 system by the time the first leg of this tie rolls around. Wary of the Reds’ quick transitions, will Niko Kovac opt for a more conservative approach than usual?
It’s just one of many questions that makes this encounter the most fascinating of the round.
Watchability score: 📺📺📺📺📺