The lengthy layoff in between the Champions League group stage and knockout rounds is finally over, and the road to the final in Kiev is about to get kick-started into high gear, with four round-of-16 first legs this week followed by four more next week.
Since December's final group game, plenty has changed. A supremely active winter transfer window featured a bevy superstars changing teams–though not all are eligible for European competition with their new sides due to being cup-tied (i.e. Philippe Coutinho swapping Liverpool for Barcelona). League races are largely settled across Europe's top five, save for Italy, and two-time reigning champion Real Madrid's form has bottomed out, though it recently has shown glimpses of getting back to itself, at least in the attack.
So how will the round play out, and which teams will be advancing to the quarterfinals? Here are our picks:
Chelsea vs. Barcelona
First Leg: February 20 at Chelsea | Second Leg: March 14 at Barcelona
This could not come at a worse time for Chelsea. The club received a Monday reprieve at home in a 3-0 win over last-place West Brom, but even so, after consecutive losses to Bournemouth and Watford and a League Cup semifinal ouster at the hands of Arsenal, the Blues are certainly not trending in the right direction. Factor in Alvaro Morata's wonky back, and Chelsea's attacking woes continue to pile up. That's an issue, because it's going to take goals to topple Barcelona. Coutinho may be ineligible due to his previous play for Liverpool in the competition, but Luis Suarez is finding his top form, Lionel Messi is Lionel Messi, and the Blaugrana have every reason to believe they'll coast. Yes, Messi has never scored in his career against Chelsea (yet), and the Blues have that heroic 2011-12 semifinal performance to look to for inspiration, but this shouldn't be a close call.
Prediction: Barcelona advances on a 6-1 aggregate
Basel vs. Manchester City
First Leg: February 13 at Basel | Second Leg: March 7 at Manchester City
On paper, this is the most lopsided matchup of the bunch, and one would expect it to play out like that, too. That's not to take anything away from Basel, which has had its moments against English competition–most notably against City's rival Man United–but Pep Guardiola's side, even without the injured Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, is as well-oiled a machine as there is on the continent. With Kevin De Bruyne hitting new heights and Sergio Aguero doing just fine in taking on the scoring load, this has the potential to get real ugly.
Prediction: Manchester City advances on a 7-2 aggregate.
Juventus vs. Tottenham
First Leg: February 13 at Juventus | Second Leg: March 7 at Tottenham
Strength meets strength as Juventus puts its remarkable defensive record on the line against Harry Kane-led Tottenham. It's all about the first leg for Tottenham, which won't be daunted by the task of playing Juventus after topping Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in a brutal group. Get an away goal, and there's plenty to be confident about for the second leg at Wembley. That's easier said than done, though. Starting with Juventus's 0-0 draw with Barcelona to close the group stage, the club has posted a clean sheet in 15 of its last 16 matches. Kane will be a marked man, meaning someone else–paging Dele Alli of 2016-17!–will need to provide the spark to break through against the Bianconeri.
Prediction: Juventus advances on a 2-1 aggregate
Real Madrid vs. PSG
First Leg: February 14 at Real Madrid | Second Leg: March 6 at PSG
Unfortunately, this is not a semifinal. The two high-priced, high-powered sides square off in the last 16, with Real Madrid paying the price for finishing second in its group. Of course, that didn't matter last season, when Real won its second straight UCL title, but this year's team is considerably different, less deep and has endured unexpected struggles. Now is not the time to be facing Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani & Co., and given Real's defensive struggles of late (multiple goals conceded in three of its last five matches in all competitions, two clean sheets in 10 matches since the turn of the new year), the first leg at the Bernabeu has do-or-die written all over it. The success of PSG's season depends on how it fares in Europe, while the Champions League is all Real Madrid truly has left to play for in an otherwise lost campaign. On top of all of that, Zinedine Zidane and Unai Emery could both be managing for their futures. Rarely do you see such high-stakes urgency in the round of 16.
Prediction: PSG advances on a 5-4 aggregate
Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas
First Leg: February 20 at Bayern Munich | Second Leg: March 14 at Besiktas
Besiktas was one of the surprise standout clubs of the group stage, rolling through a tricky foursome involving Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto to coast to first place. Then, it promptly handicapped itself by selling star striker Cenk Tosun to Everton. Would it have mattered vs. Bayern Munich? That's debatable, but ever since Jupp Heynckes retook the reigns at Bayern, the German power has done what it does best and pummel opponents (it's 21-1-0 since Heynckes replaced Carlo Ancelotti, including a statement win over PSG), and Besiktas will be hard-pressed to continue its impressive run through the competition.
Prediction: Bayern Munich advances on a 5-2 aggregate
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma
First Leg: February 21 at Shakhtar Donetsk | Second Leg: March 13 at Roma
If there's a true surprise in the round, this could be it. Shakhtar acquitted itself wonderfully in a group that featured Manchester City and Napoli, edging the Serie A leader to go through in second place. Its reward was a draw with Roma, which has fallen way off the pace in Italy and sits in fourth after a stellar start to the season. It sold Emerson Palmieri to Chelsea, has combated disciplinary issues with a pair of key players and now has to face a potentially explosive team–albeit one in the middle of its domestic break. Shakhtar typically features stars who go onto big transfers, and in Brazilians Fred and Bernard and Argentine striker Facundo Ferreyra, the Ukrainian side has more than enough to compete.
Prediction: Shakhtar Donetsk advances on a 4-3 aggregate
Porto vs. Liverpool
First Leg: February 14 at Porto | Second Leg: March 6 at Liverpool
One thing is for sure with Liverpool in this season's Champions League: There will be excitement. The Reds featured in a match in which they blew a 3-0 lead and two more in which they dropped seven goals on the opposition. With Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane at the wheel, no defense is safe. But Liverpool's defense hasn't exactly been the definition of "safe," either, and this is where Virgil Van Dijk can earn his money. The Dutch center back will make his Champions League debut with the task of slowing Porto's prolific trident of Vincent Aboubakar, Moussa Marega and Yacine Brahimi, and opening the series at the Estadio Do Dragão is no easy task. Expect plenty of goals.
Prediction: Liverpool advances on a 6-4 aggregate
Sevilla vs. Manchester United
First Leg: February 21 at Sevilla | Second Leg: March 13 at Manchester United
Manchester United has been wildly inconsistent recently, and despite bolstering its attack with the acquisition of Alexis Sanchez, the goals haven't exactly followed. Sevilla, meanwhile, is riding the high of reaching the Copa del Rey final and gets to host the opening leg at the Pizjuan, which can be a house of horrors for the opposition. You'd expect Jose Mourinho to cobble together a conservative, defensive plan to take the air out of the crowd and silence the likes of Wissam Ben Yedder to see out the road leg before going for the win at home in the first meeting ever between the two clubs.
Prediction: Manchester United advances on a 2-1 aggregate