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UEFA Champions League 2021-22 Knock-Out Phase Preview & Predictions

My Football Facts ⇒ Articles

By Brian Beard | 14 DEC 2021

Let`s hope the games next February go a bit more smoothly than the UEFA Champions League draw did on Monday. Let`s hope also that the clubs that stand to lose millions because of the erroneous pairings first time out aren`t too badly hit. The new pairings do make predictions a little more clear cut, as clear as any predictions in football can be.

RB Salzburg v Bayern Munich

Salzburg were relishing Liverpool but now face Bayern Munich, arguably a slightly less daunting prospect although the number 1 Uefa ranking is a tall order for Red Bull. Munich swept through their group with great ease culminating in the 3-0 destruction of Barca, albeit a Barca side on the slide. What more can be said about Robert Lewandowski, robbed of the Ballon d`Or he just gets better with age and should fill his prolific boots in this tie.

I cannot see anything but a Bayern victory.

Sporting Lisbon v Manchester City

After starting their qualifying group with consecutive defeats a youthful and vibrant Portuguese side bounced back with three straight wins that took them through. City were one of my favourites for the UCL trophy at the start of the season but I`m afraid reservations have crept in. Despite having goals from all departments of the team there are times when the absence of a cutting edge, a proper centre forward cum striker, lets them down.

The Champions` League is not as forgiving as the Premier League when it comes to profligacy and such a failing may come back to haunt City as the competition intensifies. Don`t be surprised if Pep spends big in January on a striker.

City to go through.

Benfica v Ajax

“Out of the frying pan” so to speak, for Benfica.  Relishing Real Madrid they now have to settle for Ajax and maybe that will suit them, just. The Portuguese side hasn`t won a European trophy since the days of Eusebio, 1962 but when they finished above Barcelona in their group the world took notice. Their key players are Darwin Nunez and Rafa Silva along with defender Nicolas Otamendi plus Euro 2016 winner, midfielder Joao Mario.

Ajax are likely dark horses in this season`s UCL. Last season they reached the Europa League quarter finals and are still improving.

The Dutch side, are almost a throw-back to the days of `Total Football`, a fearless and dynamic young side with a relentless attack-minded approach to games, home or away. They have also overseen the rebirth of West Ham failure Seb Haller. He has rewritten the UCL record books this season. The first ever player to score nine goals in his first five UCL games and only the second player, after C7, to score in all group games in a single season after becoming the first player in the history of the competition to score five goals in his first two UCL matches. Oh, yes, he is also the fastest player to reach ten goals in UCL history.

Ajax to go through.

Chelsea v Lille

If this was a month ago I would be plumping for Chelsea without reservation and, in fairness, things might improve for the holders before spring but Tuchel must be worried at this stage how porous his defence appears and on a more regular basis than would normally be acceptable. Mende in goal has had a few wobbles and Lukaka has not maintained his blistering start in a blue shirt and there`s every likelihood that star defender Rudiger may be plying his trade elsewhere come February. Yes, there are goals around the rest of the team but if those other scorers fall short and Lukaku isn`t firing on all cylinders they might struggle against Lille who surprised everyone, including themselves, by winning League 1 last season. However they have struggled to reproduce the form of last season, domestically, and I expect they will not be strong enough to trouble Chelsea.

Chelsea to prevail

Atletico Madrid v Manchester United

OT might be relieved to face Atletico rather than PSG  but this is one hell of a tough tie for their interim manager. Madrid are the epitomy of a side that embodies its manager, hard, determined and difficult to beat. They struggled in the group but came good when it was required with a decisive 3-1 win in Milan to qualify. They also have the deadly duo of Suarez and Griezemann and any side that can score more than it concedes is a serious threat.

United, sadly, have crept into that group labeled `which team will turn up`. Ralf Rangrick`s start has underlined just how many players, under OGS, had simply stopped playing for their manager but more damningly also showed they couldn`t be bothered to play for themselves. Ronaldo may have to shoulder any hope United have of progress.

Atletico to win

Villarreal v Juventus

Juve have the third best defence in Italy but despite the fact they topped Chelsea to win Group H the manner of their 4-0 capitulation at the Bridge does not auger well for progress to the next round.

Villarreal won the Europa League last season and are an organized, efficient unit, a habit Unia Emery brought with him from Sevilla. While they do languish mid-table in La Liga they have enough European nowse to trouble Juventus. However, Juve have a good balance of youth and experience which should be enough to take them through.

Inter Milan v Liverpool

Inter are defensively sound, no surprise there, but they do lack a cutting edge to convert the many chances they create. Inter are ranked 24 by Uefa and are defensively compact but despite being top scorers in Serie  their inability to convert copious chances created could come back to bite them on the bottom. Their key player is midfielder Marcelo Brozavic, a box-to-box player who is equally proficient in attack or defence. This is the first time Inter have reached the knock-out stage in a decade.

Liverpool are an even better side than when they won the UCL and the Premier League and in Ibrahima Konate they have found a gem of a defender who perfectly complements van Dijk. Yes, they may lose Mane and Salah to the Africa Cup of Nations but rumour has it that Adama Traore is on Jurgen Klopp`s radar. Not only would he be a great asset to Liverpool he will also become a better player under Klopp.

Liverpool are one of my favourites for the trophy and should progress.

Paris Saint-Germain  v Real Madrid

Arguably, the tie of the round and whichever side progresses can win the UCL.

Messi has settled in to the Frecnh capital and perfectly complements Mbappe which should compensate for long-term injured Neymar. Biggest worry for Pochettino is the fact that in six qualifying games PSG conceded eight goals and that won`t do against a La Liga topping Real Madrid.

The Galacticos did rely heavily on the goals of Karim Benzema but the form and goals of Vinicius Junior have reduced the burden on the Frenchman and augers well for progress in this competition.

I think Real will just shade this one and progress.

And that completes the draw for the last 16 of the UCL, nearly.

In the aftermath of the `technical difficulties` that marred Draw #1 and the delayed decision to redraw there were a couple of posts on the internet that caught my eye.

Dan Walker, he of Football Focus, wrote.

“Max Verstappen has just been declared winner of the UCL.”

Another posting was more accurate. Richard Jolly wrote.

“Barcelona have been in the last 16 for the past 17 years – now they have been left out twice in one day.

By Brian Beard, Associate Historian to the Football Association

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