With Feb. 14 looming around the corner, a few things are guaranteed: the Valentine’s Day hustle, cat mating season on campus, and of course, the world’s greatest sporting competition – the UEFA Champions League (UCL). After wrapping up the group stage in December, the UCL makes its highly anticipated return by way of its most exciting stage yet, the knockouts. It promises to deliver bundles of excitement, joy, and grief for fans alike.
This season’s edition of the UCL has made for some interesting match-ups and surprises such as Sevilla’s thrilling 3 goal comeback vs Liverpool, and Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich’s exchange of vital victories. What came as a surprise to many was Atletico Madrid, Napoli, and Dortmund all failing to qualify for the knockout stages, proving yet again that football is about as predictable as Game of Thrones.
With the first stage of the knockouts, the Round of 16, kicking off next week and stretching over the next month, the first day of matches pits Juventus vs Tottenham at the Juventus Stadium in Turin and Basel vs Manchester City at Saint Jakob Park on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at the usual 21:45 Lebanon time. A day later Porto host Liverpool at the Estadio De Dragao and Real Madrid host PSG at the Santiago Bernabeu. So if you were hoping that your significant other would take you to Paris for Valentine’s Day, that’s as close as it will get I’m afraid. Surely, two matches stand out above the rest and they are Juventus vs Spurs and Madrid vs PSG, with the latter game getting the edge as that week’s marquee match-up.
Concerning the stand-out games themselves, it is expected that each team will line-up as follows:
Juventus: (4-2-3-1) Buffon; De Sciglio, Benatia, Chiellini, Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic; Costa, Cuadrado, Dybala; Higuain.
Tottenham: (4-2-3-1) Lloris; Aurier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies; Dembele, Wanyama; Eriksen, Alli, Son; Kane.
Real Madrid: (4-3-3) Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.
PSG: (4-2-3-1/4-3-3) Areola; Alves, Silva, Marquinhos, Kurzawa; Verratti, Rabiot; Draxler, Mbappe, Neymar; Cavani.
Reading the players’ names serves to remind every fan just how mouthwatering the CL can be. Juventus’s South American attacking quartet will surely prove to be a testing adversary for one of England’s most solid defenses. As for Madrid vs PSG, we are treated to a “mini-Clasico” where we’ll see former Barcelona players Daniel Alves and Neymar go up against familiar foes in the Madrid squad. However, at this point in the season, Madrid find themselves in an unfamiliar character role – the underdogs. Yes, after winning the last two titles and three of the last four, Los Blancos are floundering this season, having finished second behind Tottenham in the group stage. They currently sit in 4th place in La Liga, trailing league leaders FC Barcelona by a staggering 19 points with only 16 rounds left, while PSG are flying high as one of Europe’s top 3 teams this season, alongside Manchester City and Barcelona, spearheaded by the incredibly talented attacking trident of Mbappe, Cavani, and Neymar.
Despite football being so difficult to predict, my prediction is that Juventus will defeat Tottenham 2-1 and Madrid will be held to a 2-2 draw by PSG. But then again, this is about as predictable as (SPOILER ALERT) Ned Stark dying in season 1.
So will Real Madrid be able to overcome this seemingly monumental obstacle? Will PSG finally put their Champions League hoodoo to rest? Will this be “third time’s the charm” for Juventus after losing the finals in 2015 and 2017? Or will Tottenham finally make their mark among the big dogs? If history has shown us anything, it’s that everything is possible. But one thing’s for sure, we’re all in for some exciting football.