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What to Watch for in the Champions League Round of 16

Europe’s top-tier club competition resumes this week. With the group stage behind us, we look ahead to the match-ups between the 16 remaining teams vying to be crowned champions of European club soccer.

Paris Saint Germain vs. Barcelona
Ligue 1 powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain have been the dominant force in French soccer in recent seasons but have yet to carry that dominance into Europe, despite reaching the quarterfinals in the past four seasons. This year, the way forward for manager Unai Emery’s team lies through a Barcelona team that despite some recent wobbles, remains one of the top teams in Europe.

PSG are undefeated in 11 matches across all competitions and haven’t lost at home this season. While the title race in France is closer than it’s been in seasons past, PSG have been improving of late, thanks in part to the form of striker Edinson Cavani, currently the most prolific scorer in Europe.

The French side has a good shot at getting a result against Barça at the Parc des Princes. However, over the course of two legs, the Catalan side led by the deadly trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, is the strong favorite to progress over the course of two legs. Barcelona aren’t looking like favorites to win La Liga this season and coach Luis Enrique is likely aware that the only way to save his job will be to win, or at least reach the final of the Champions League.

Benfica vs. Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund are not having quite the kind of season we’ve come to expect from them. Despite playing some scintillating soccer, Thomas Tuchel’s men sit fourth in the Bundesliga this season and are effectively out of the title race. But on their day, Dortmund are still capable of beating any team in Europe and a deep run in the Champions League is not unfeasible.

The German team has already managed some big results this season, beating Bayern Munich in the league and twice holding Real Madrid to draws in the Champions League. With a free-scoring attack led by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembele, Dortmund should have more than enough firepower to dispense with a Benfica side that despite topping the league in Portugal, will need to muster something of an upset to get the better of one of Germany’s best teams over two legs.

Real Madrid vs. Napoli
Current Champions League holders Real Madrid are many pundits’ favorites to retain the title this season. Madrid are top of the league in Spain and have a star-studded squad lead by Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo – aka “The BBC.”

However, while Madrid are favorites, this is a Napoli side not to be underestimated. After beating Genoa in Serie A this weekend, the Neapolitan outfit extended its undefeated streak to 18 games in all competitions. Napoli sold their best player, Gonzalo Higuain, in the summer, but seem to have coalesced as a unit without the Argentine striker. The team has also benefitted from the emergence of Belgian Dries Mertens as a goal-scoring force.

Real Madrid have shown a few wobbles of late. The La Liga clubs has also traditionally had trouble with Italian teams. Madrid are still strong favorites but if there is to be any kind of upset in this round, this might be the match-up where it occurs.

Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal
Poor Arsenal. Even after topping their group in this season’s Champions League group stage, the North Londoners yet again find themselves drawn against a European powerhouse – in this case Bayern Munich – in the round of 16. Bayern have seen the Gunners out of Europe at this stage twice in the past five years and are favorites to progress again.

Arsenal bounced back from recent bad results with a confident win in the Premier League this weekend. But beating Hull City and beating Bayern are two different matters. If Arsenal are to have any chance of getting past the round of 16 for the first time in over six years, it will require big performances from the team’s top players – namely Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.

The Munich side has perhaps the best squad in Europe with a deadly attack comprised of players like Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben. Despite being seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, this Bayern side has labored somewhat of late. Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti has admitted the team are still learning his style and if there was a season for Arsenal to pull off an upset, this is surely it. The question is will Ozil and Sanchez show up for the party?

Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atlético Madrid
Despite being traditionally among the strongest teams in their respective leagues, neither Bayer Leverkusen nor Atlético Madrid are contenders for their domestic titles this season. But both teams are former Champions League finalists and it there is a tie in this round that could go either way, it’s this one.

On the one side, you’ve got Leverkusen whose manager, Roger Schmidt, has instilled a hyper-intense, high-pressure style on his young, energetic team. After a flat spell, Mexican striker Javier Hernandez is back amongst the goal for Leverkusen. With his experience playing in Spain for Real Madrid and in the latter stages of the Champions League for Manchester United, “Chicharito” will need to play a part if Leverkusen are to triumph over two legs.

On the other side, you’ve got an Atlético side that has reached the final of this competition twice in the last three seasons, losing to rivals Real Madrid on both occasions. Diego Simeone’s team has not quite been at the races in La Liga this season but are still capable of giving any team on the continent a hard time on their day.

Manchester City vs. AS Monaco
Manchester City fans were relieved when their team drew Monaco for this round. They must not read the news from France because while this City side has had its ups and downs this season, Monaco have been absolutely flying in Ligue 1. The principality outfit is top in the French league and has scored more than 100 goals in all competitions, making them the highest scoring team in Europe this season.

Monaco boast a high-flying attack led by striker Radamel Falcao who after a couple of seasons in limbo, is back to his best. Falcao was on the score sheet twice this weekend as Monaco pasted Metz 5-0 with teenage striker Kylian Mbappe-Lotte providing the other three goals.

After a flying start in the Premier League, Pep Guardiola’s Man City have had their ups and downs this season. One of those “ups” consisted of City beating Guardiola’s old team, Barcelona, in the group stage. Lately, with the emergence of teenage Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus, there have been signs that Guardiola’s team is starting to play at the level expected of them. But will it be enough to get City past a Monaco side that’s already the in-form team in Europe this season?

Sevilla FC vs. Leicester City
Last season Leicester City became the most unlikely title winners in the history of the English Premier League. This season, the Foxes look to be headed down to the second division. However, Leicester led their group in the Champions League and now face a challenging but not unwinnable tie with Sevilla.

Midfielder Riyad Mahrez in particular, has taken to playing in Europe’s premier club competition like he was born to do it, scoring four goals in the group stage. More problematic has been striker Jaime Vardy who has yet to find the back of the net in the Champions League.

If there was a time for Vardy to break his European duck, this is surely it. While Sevilla are not among the favorites to win the competition, this is a team that has won Europe’s secondary competition – the Europa League – the past three seasons running. Sevilla are also in the La Liga title race, sitting in third, just three points behind Real Madrid. Unless Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri can conjure some of last season’s magic, look for Sevilla’s quality to be too much for the Foxes to handle.

FC Porto vs. Juventus
Juventus have dominated Italian soccer for the past half-decade and look to be well on the way to their sixth consecutive title. However, it’s been more than 20 years since Juve last won a European title. They came close two years ago, reaching the final only to succumb to Barcelona.

But Juve have reinforced since then, bringing in striker Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli and defender Dani Alves from Barcelona. Juve are undefeated in 2017 and it’s difficult to make a case for an FC Porto side that while talented, are unlikely to be a match for a team that’s basically one of the top five in Europe currently.

Watch the Champions League round of 16 this week on FS1 and FS2.

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