What to Watch For as Champions League Round of 16 Gets Underway

Half of the last 16 kicks off this week, with Juventus-Tottenham and Real Madrid-PSG headlining the slate.
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The UEFA Champions League is finally back after a two-month break and you can bet football fans around the world are already preparing for the upcoming game nights with their friends. The group stage came to a close in December and now it's time for the real action as the Last 16 begins.

There are four matches set to take place this week on Tuesday and Wednesday, and with giants like Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid squaring off against each other, fans better be prepared for any twist or turn the match week might have in store. 

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Juventus vs. Tottenham

Another Titan for Spurs to Topple?

Tottenham enjoyed a memorable group campaign after taking four points off back-to-back reigning holders Real Madrid, which included a stunning 3-1 win over Los Blancos at Wembley.

Juventus, who were beaten to the top spot in their group by Barcelona, are a historic giant cut from the same cloth as Real and would be another huge scalp for the Premier League side, who are definitely still 'small fish' in this 'big fish' pond.

It's not exactly David vs Goliath, but it's not a level playing field either.


Choker vs Choker?

While a dominant force in Italy throughout their history - 33 Serie A titles can definitely attest to that - Juventus are the ultimate chokers when it comes to the Champions League.

Including the days of the original European Cup, Juve have played in nine finals over the years and managed to lose seven of them. The most recent was, of course, last season against Real Madrid, while they were also played off the pitch by Barcelona in 2015.

'Spursy' Spurs have long held a reputation as being England's chokers of choice, although it is a label they have started to shed under Mauricio Pochettino.


A Story of Two Number 10s

The hopes for both teams will ultimately rest on their respective No. 10s, Paulo Dybala for Juve and Harry Kane for Spurs.

Each man is currently 24 years of age and both are expected to kick on and establish themselves as the best in the world in the seasons to come - these are two players who could genuinely win the Ballon d'Or when the Ronaldo/Messi duopoly is finally over.

What's more, each is having a 'career' season in 2017/18. The typically deeper Dybala is fast closing in on 20 goals so far, while Kane has astonishingly found the net over 30 times already.


Potential Twist: Fernando Llorente spent two seasons at Juve between 2013 and 2015, scoring 27 times for the Bianconeri. He has been a bit-part player at Spurs since joining from Swansea, but it would certainly be a story if he could make an impact against his former club.

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Basel vs. Manchester City

Beyond the Last 16

National champions on 12 occasions this century, Basel have been Switzerland's regular representative in the Champions League. But the club has never gone beyond the Last 16.

Manchester City were eliminated at the same stage last season, falling to Monaco, and have only been further on one previous occasion, despite six attempts in total - that was when Manuel Pellegrini led a team to semi-finals in 2015/16.

This time, one of the two sides has to go beyond the Last 16.


Does a 'Quadruple' Beckon?

With the Premier League all but sewn up and a place in the Carabao Cup final booked for the end of the month, City are looking at the next small step in completing a never-before-seen 'quadruple' by getting off to a good start against Basel.

No English team has ever won four major trophies in the same season to complete what has always been seen as the impossible dream.

A 'quadruple' would be a massive step because City have only ever done a 'double' once before, combining the 2013/14 Premier League and League Cup - and that's not even the real 'double'. Ironically, Basel are actually well accustomed to 'doubles' in Switzerland.


You Look Familiar

The only scary thing for City fans about Basel striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel is getting hopelessly tongue-tied trying to utter the Dutchman's name. That is because he was worse than awful during a single season at Norwich back in 2013/14.

The thing is, he could actually come back and bite City, though. Van Wolfswinkel scored 23 goals in the Netherlands for Vitesse Arnhem last season and had netted eight in 14 for Basel this season before suffering a fractured foot in September.

He's fit again now and should be getting back to his former sharpness for City's visit.


Potential Twist: City are such massive favorites to win the tie that there's a risk they are just too complacent, giving Basel the inch they need to cause an upset. Either that or the Swiss side's red and blue shirts will kid City into thinking they are facing Barcelona...

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Porto vs. Liverpool

Flaky Reds

Liverpool finished top of their group, but it certainly seemed like there were times when they didn't want to after twice throwing away leads in games home and away against Sevilla.

Jurgen Klopp's team just couldn't see games out against the Spaniards, giving up a 2-1 lead with 20 minutes to go at Anfield and then a 3-0 half-time lead in the reverse fixture in Andalucia.

When aggregate scores are at stake, Liverpool cannot afford to do the same against Porto. If they manage to open up a cushion, they absolutely have to hold onto it.


Transfer Links

Liverpool are linked with players all across Europe and the wider world on a near daily basis and there are a handful of individuals in the Porto ranks that have been rumored Anfield targets.

Any substance in such speculation has been tellingly lacking, but if nothing else this Last 16 tie will give fans a good opportunity to have a look for themselves and make their own mind up.

Legendary ex-Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas is one, tricky Algerian winger Yacine Brahimi is another popular source of gossip. There are also midfield pair Hector Herrera and Danilo Pereira, although the latter faces a serious battle to be fit for the first leg.


Virgil Steps In

Philippe Coutinho may be gone - he won't play for Barcelona in the Champions League until next season - but Virgil van Dijk will make his Champions League debut for Liverpool following his record £75m move from Southampton last month.

The Dutch center back was bought to address Liverpool's defensive weakness, although it must be said that the Reds have only managed to keep one clean sheet when he's played.

Van Dijk isn't new to the Champions League. In a total baptism of fire, he was part of a Celtic team that was thrown into a group of death with Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax in 2013/14.


Potential Twist: Porto have been in this position before, underdogs at this stage of the Champions League against English opposition. On that occasion it was 2004 against Manchester United, with Jose Mourinho making a name for himself on Old Trafford's touchline.

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Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain

The Ultimate Old vs New

Real Madrid are reigning back-to-back European champions, the most iconic club in the history of the entire history of the European Cup/Champions League. PSG are upstarts formed in 1970 and are only enjoying their current success because of a wealthy owner.

But the two are equals on the pitch now and there is plenty for Real to be scared of in the French club's ranks, especially after they set a new goals record in the group stage.

If PSG win, it could well be the catalyst for more to come in Paris. On the other hand, they have choked so many times in previous seasons, people are still not ready to take them seriously.


The Neymar Factor

PSG bought Neymar for a world record €222m in the summer, forcibly ripping him away from a Barcelona that were so desperate not to sell they are even suing the player for €75m in earnings he was paid from his new contract last season, plus damages.

Neymar has a point to prove every time he steps out onto the pitch, to show people that he joined PSG to further his football ambition and not simply for the monster payday. Going head-to-head with Real is the perfect chance to do that.

The other side of this is that Real are rumored to be very keen on signing the Brazilian. This could be an opportunity to establish contact without raising too much suspicion.


Has Ronaldo Still Got It?

With a 26-year-old Neymar on one side hoping to drive PSG to victory, there is a 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo on the other hoping to prove he can still perform on the very biggest stages.

Ronaldo is the Champions League's top scorer after the group stage with nine goals from six games so far. Four of those came against minnows APOEL, though, and the Portuguese icon has scored way less than normal in La Liga this season.

His own personal ambition to be the best has always been all the motivation he' ever needed, but if Ronaldo wants any more for this game there's plenty of it.


Potential Twist:With all the focus on Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema, Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani, what if all that incredible attacking prowess on both sides simply cancels out and it is actually the defenders who steal the show. We all know that Sergio Ramos likes to be the center of attention.