This is the prize that every club in Europe wants to win. It is an indicator of the importance of a football club across the continent. On February 14, the Champions League returns for its Round of 16, and this year it’s more open than ever as competition begins to ramp up.
Due to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the group stage ended in November, which was earlier than usual. But now, with international duties complete for the players, the road to the final in Istanbul on June 10 can continue and really heat up.
The Round of 16 begins with the Round of 16. UEFA have drawn eight intriguing fixtures that include real heavyweights clashing at a relatively early stage in the competition, but which teams have a chance of progressing to the quarter-finals?
Some of the matchups here will be real blockbuster games. In a repeat of last year’s final in Paris, current holders Real Madrid will meet Liverpool. The two sides have faced each other several times in the latter stages of the competition over the past five years, with Madrid getting the better of Jurgen Klopp’s side on every occasion. Both teams are playing poorly in their domestic leagues this season, so what impact will that have on this European Cup encounter?
“I don’t know how to analyze this particular game because we don’t really know what to expect from these teams. But, if you’re not playing in the league like you should, I think they should turn to the Champions League because that’s their way of saving their season or their year.
Elsewhere, French and German champions PSG and Bayern Munich will face off in a repeat of the 2020 final. Both teams are finding it harder than usual to win their domestic titles at the moment , and that should fuel their passion to succeed in this tie.
PSG are one of two Middle Eastern-funded clubs in the competition desperate to win their maiden Champions League title. The French champions, along with Manchester City, have come close in recent years, but have missed the final hurdle badly. But this year, with some of the usual favorites set to come out early, it could finally be time for one of these two clubs to get their hands on the trophy.
“I think because some of the big hitters are maybe leaving a bit earlier than expected, it opens the door for PSG and Man City to qualify for the final semi-finals relatively easily,” said Emma Sanders, BBC Sport.
“And then it’s just whether or not they can show up on the day it matters. I think, for me, it’s one of those two to win this year.”
Elsewhere in Europe, another team making headlines in Italy is Luciano Spaletti’s Napoli. The Serie A leaders have already beaten big European sides this season, including Liverpool and Ajax, in the group stages. They face Eintracht Frankfurt in the Round of 16 and, given their form, they could be a dark horse to get to Istanbul. Above all, they will work to win their first Italian league title since 1990.
“What matters most to Napoli is winning the city title. I think the Champions League should be seen as a bonus,” explained Nima Roodsari, co-host of “The Italian Football Podcast”.
“I don’t think you can play like Napoli have played, not just in Serie A but also in the Champions League, and not have that echo all over Europe. At home, at the Stadio Diego Maradona, they can beat anyone. and beat anyone. So I think a quarter-final is the bare minimum we can ask of them, and from there it all depends on what happens on D-Day.”
So it’s all to play for as Europe’s biggest club competition, the Champions League, resumes. Will Real Madrid win an impressive sixth title in nine years? Or can Napoli’s dark horses shock the continent? We will have to wait and see.