The UEFA Champions League Round of 16 draw is set, with Leg 1 matches beginning in February.
Since a couple of powerhouse teams were placed in Pot 2 (Liverpool, Ajax, Atletico Madrid) as well as one comically dysfunctional global brand on the mend (Manchester United), the draw produced a fair amount of intrigue.
Also, with three of the four English teams that advanced facing off against German squads, expect a solid month’s worth of tired and lame WW2 call-backs.
Here’s a look at the matchups, odds, and analysis.
Champions Leagues Futures (BetStars Sportsbook)
|Paris St.-Germain (PSG)||France||7/1|
Schalke 04 vs. Manchester City
(These ties offer little intrigue / seem like foregone conclusions)
Even after their recent run of bad form, Manchester City is the current odds-on favorite to win the Champions League (13/5 at BetStars) and have arguably the easiest Round of 16 matchup against Schalke 04.
FiveThirtyEight has City as the third-ranked global team (and favorites at 17% to win the Champions League) right now and Schalke at #44. That 41-team difference is the biggest match-up disparity by far in the Round of 16.
Schalke is closer to relegation than to the top 4 in the Bundesliga this season. They qualified mostly by being in the weakest group (D, won by Porto). Manchester City could rest many of their key starters and still comfortably win this one. In fact, they’re currently 88% to win the match-up, the most lop-sided of any tie.
Even playing at home, Schalke is the biggest Leg 1 underdog at +600 to win.
Lyon vs. Barcelona
Barcelona is fourth overall in the Global Club Rankings and Lyon is #36. Unlike Schalke, Lyon is having a respectable Ligue 1 season (which isn’t saying that much, it’s Ligue Un), resting comfortably in the top 4.
Barcelona is Barcelona though, and Lionel Messi is still doing stuff like this. The Camp Nou club is around 9/2 to win the Champions League, and FiveThirtyEight has them second favorite (in part due to the easy Round of 16 match-up) at 14%.
Lyon is at +550 to win Leg 1, not far behind Schalke.
If a Champions League Match Falls in the Woods and No One Is There, Does it Make a Sound?
(This tie won’t be watched outside of Italy and Portugal, and even that’s being generous)
Roma vs. Porto
If you’re a Porto fan or player, buy a lottery ticket.
First, Porto gets placed in by far the easiest group, ending atop the table with the most points of any club. Then, Porto gets one of the weaker Round of 16 opponents in last year’s semi-finalist, Roma.
People are bagging on Porto a bit too much though. Porto has gone around 15 games without a defeat and are confident. They’re a respectable #26 in the Global Club Rankings (Roma is actually on the rise though, at #23).
Roma is +100 to win Leg 1 against Porto’s +290 (and +240 for a draw). Both teams are around 100/1 to win the Champions League. It’ll be an even match that ultimately Porto should be able to squeak by and be the sacrificial lamb for somebody in the Quarters.
Manchester United Needs Its Own Category
Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Now that ManU manager Jose Mourinho has been sacked, things are getting interesting.
Before Mou unceremoniously left Old Trafford, it was just as likely that you’d see a frustrated Paul Pogba go streaking during Leg 1 in protest as an actual ManU win. Almost anything was on the table.
It’s hard to say.
They got a terrible draw with PSG given their leaky defense. Yet, they’re scoring goals again.
BetStars has PSG at 7/1 to United at 50/1 to win the Champions League.
And betting markets have PSG at +110 to win Leg 1 at Old Trafford to ManU’s +250.
This is one tie you might want to wait to wager on until February rolls around and the world has a better feel for who Manchester United really is this year.
Matches with Upset Potential
(These ties could surprise)
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Borussia Dortmund
This one may be the most underrated match-up of the bunch.
While barely qualifying for the Round of 16 and ending up in Pot 2, Tottenham is higher ranked in the Global Club Rankings than Dortmund (#11 to #13) and their futures reflect that as well (25/1 to around 30/1).
However, Dortmund (also known by most Americans as “that team that Pulisic guy is on or is he on Chelsea or Arsenal now”) are in fine form, crushing the Bundesliga and sitting atop the table this late for the first time since Jurgen Klopp was doing things like this on their sideline.
If you tune in, expect to see a lot of goals. Don’t expect to see a lot of Pulisic though, as he’s not a regular starter right now for BVB.
Atlético Madrid vs. Juventus
That collective “oh per l’amor di scopare” you heard from Allianz Stadium was when Juventus drew Atlético Madrid.
This is another evenly matched pairing. Atlético steps up in Cup play, winning last year’s Europa League and making the Champions League finals two of the last five years.
Juventus is Juventus and have that preening prima donna Cristiano Ronaldo doing what he does best: scoring a goal a game and crushing souls.
Futures markets have Juventus heavily favored for a Champions League title than Atlético (6/1 to 20/1). While FiveThirtyEight has Atlético Madrid favored to win Leg 1, they expect Juventus to advance (60% chance). This is one to watch though if you’re looking for some Round of 16 value.
Ajax vs. Real Madrid
This one is pretty straight-forward: Ajax is on the rise and in good form, and Real Madrid is not.
Ajax is at 7% to win the Champions League compared to 5% for last year’s victor in Madrid.
Real Madrid get the “Dallas Cowboys / Pittsburgh Steelers” treatment on futures being a very public team, listed at 12/1 to Ajax’s 80/1. Ajax’s Round of 16 odds reflect a heavy lean on Real Madrid as well. Some of that is understandable as well, given how Luka Modric and Gareth Bale have recently performed on the biggest global stages.
However, unless Real Madrid find last year’s form by February, this one could easily see Ajax advancing.
(This tie could be semi-final or finals match-up any other year, including this one)
Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich
This match-up pits Global Club Ranking #2 (Bayern) vs. #1 (Liverpool). That’s right, the two best teams in the world are meeting in the Round of 16.
Bayern made the semifinals last year. Liverpool made the finals last year and could’ve won it all had it not been for evil-thug Sergio Ramos cheap-shotting Loris Karius and Mohammed Salah.
Both teams can score at elite clips. Both teams will be missing key contributors for Leg 1 (Thomas Mueller for Bayern, and current Man of the Season Virgil van Dijk for Liverpool).
Liverpool is off to a historical start in the Premier League, sitting atop the table without a defeat. Bayern Munich is chasing BVB in the Bundesliga, but are finding their form of late.
Liverpool’s futures at BetStars are 11/1 to Bayern Munich’s 12/1. FiveThirtyEight has Liverpool at a 11% chance to win the Champions League to Bayern’s… 11%. Liverpool are 51% to advance. Anfield has been a fortress all year for Liverpool, and has them at +100 to win Leg 1.
If the winner of this tie doesn’t draw Porto or Roma in the Quarters, they’ve done something to piss off the soccer gods. Buckle up for this one.