The survivors of the UEFA Champions League's group stage have their marching orders, with the eight matchups set for the round of 16 that will kick off the knockout stage in February.
Much can happen between now and then, with a full transfer window that will open and shut, potential injuries and managerial changes and considerable shifts in form all in play over the next two months. But as things stand now and after Monday's last-16 draw, here's a look at the eight matchups–and the likely winner from each one that will advance to the quarterfinals as the road to the final in Istanbul continues.
Borussia Dortmund vs. PSG
When Thomas Tuchel was sacked as Borussia Dortmund coach in 2017, it was after a frustrating two seasons characterized by strained relations with the board. Although he ended a five-year trophy drought with a German Cup, there was a clear sense he had underperformed.
There has been some friction of late at PSG as well, and league form has been unremarkable, but the 3-0 win over Real Madrid in the group stage raised hopes Idrissa Gana Gueye could give its midfield the bite it has been lacking.
Dortmund, meanwhile, is deeply inconsistent and heavily reliant on Jadon Sancho for inspiration.
Prediction: Straightforward PSG win
Real Madrid vs. Manchester City
With Liverpool 14 points clear of Man City at the top of the Premier League, Europe must be the priority for the English club this time around–as you suspect it always has been for the club’s owners.
It hasn’t been an easy season so far for Pep Guardiola’s side, but the probable return of Sergio Aguero and, particularly, Aymeric Laporte, after injury should restore ruthlessness to the attack and at least some defensive authority.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, has slowly improved after a shaky start, although this will represent a major test for its reconstituted midfield. The Zinedine Zidane-Guardiola showdown of managers adds another element of intrigue to this tie of big-spending powers.
Prediction: Narrow Manchester City win
Atalanta vs. Valencia
This pairing means there will be at least one surprise side in the last 16. Atalanta edged through having lost its first three group games and with a large slice of luck, but its high-tempo pressing game can cause problems for any side, as Manchester City discovered.
Valencia has improved after a difficult start to the season, but it remains only seventh in La Liga. The fact that it dug out 1-0 wins away to Chelsea and Ajax in the group stage suggests a certain toughness and streetwiseness, but it is so inconsistent that it’s almost impossible to know how it will look come February.
Prediction: Narrow Atalanta win
Atletico Madrid vs. Liverpool
Atletico may sit only fifth in La Liga, but it represents a dangerous opponent for the reigning European champion. Its big problem this season has been a large number of draws–eight in 17 league games so far–something that seems the result of a lack of attacking cohesion largely caused by the major overhaul it attempted in the summer. As players settle, it should improve, and drawing games can be a route to success in a knockout tournament that it will never be in a domestic league.
Liverpool, at the moment, looks the most explosive side in the world, but fixture congestion could blunt its edge by February. It will surely have good memories upon its return to Atletico Madrid's Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, the site of its triumph over Tottenham in last season's final.
Prediction: Narrow Liverpool win
Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich
Bayern is a very difficult side to understand these days. It won six out of six in the group stage–only the seventh side ever to do so–and put 10 goals past last season’s runner-up, Tottenham, across two games, but its domestic form has been less certain and it is just fifth in the Bundesliga. That led to the dismissal of manager Niko Kovac, and it’s far from clear how long interim coach Hansi Flick will hold the job.
Still, if Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry remain in the sort of form they are now, they could rip apart a Chelsea side that has looked extremely defensively suspect under Frank Lampard. Now Chelsea manager, Lampard was a vital part of the Chelsea side that won the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern in Munich, but he may not enjoy this trip to the Allianz Arena as much.
Prediction: Straightforward Bayern win
Lyon vs. Juventus
Lyon sits just eighth in Ligue 1, and its progress to the last 16 was marked by the club captain Memphis Depay rowing with fans over a banner in which they depicted the center back Marcelo as a donkey. Depay has since ruptured cruciate ligaments, ruling him out for several months. Coach Rudi Garcia, meanwhile, is unpopular because of his past association with Lyon’s great rival, Saint-Etienne.
Juventus, meanwhile, has not been especially convincing under Maurizo Sarri, but it should have far too much for a club suffering a series of simultaneous crises.
Prediction: Straightforward Juventus win
Tottenham vs. RB Leipzig
On one side is the thrusting, young Julian Nagelsmann with his high-tempo, high-pressing modernity; on the other, the brooding Jose Mourinho, who by then will be 25 years his elder and remains skeptical of new ideas, preferring instead a more reactive style, but hampered in that pursuit–at least for now–by the fact that his defense is falling apart.
Spurs has won five out of seven since Mourinho took charge after Mauricio Pochettino's ouster, but its problems at the back were exposed both by Manchester United and Bayern and could be again by the current Bundesliga leader, whose 42 goals in 15 matches are the most in Germany's top flight.
Prediction: Narrow Tottenham win
Napoli vs. Barcelona
A tale of two crises. One the one hand, a proper crisis, with Carlo Ancelotti sacked after a run of nine games without a win and replaced by Gennaro Gattuso and players in open revolt against the club president; on the other, Barcelona’s weird unease with itself despite sitting atop La Liga and having won its difficult Champions League group.
Yet Barcelona is right to feel it is nothing like the side it used to be, with its midfield still vulnerable to quick counters. Fortunately for Barcelona, it has the brilliant Lionel Messi to paper over its cracks and should be able to navigate this matchup with relative ease.
Prediction: Straightforward Barcelona win