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UCL Round of 16: Can Real survive PSG test?

 

Real Madrid face Paris Saint-Germain in the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League round of 16 following Monday’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland while Chelsea has been handed a tricky tie against Barcelona. Juventus will take on Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United have been drawn against Sevilla.

Elsewhere, Liverpool will play Porto, and Bayern Munich will test their mettle against Besiktas.

We look at all eight ties and see who come out of it.

Real Madrid v PSG

PSG might just be feeling the weight of the record 25 goals they struck in the group stage. Those goals helped propel them to the top of their mini-league, ahead of Bayern Munich.

PSG must face the holders in what is certainly the glamour tie of the round.

Besides the principal peacocks – Cristiano Ronaldo against Neymar – there is the intriguing trip to their native France for Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane and Karim Benzema, the striker marginalised by the French national team.

PSG’s Spanish tactician Unai Emery faces a decisive test in establishing the Ligue 1 leaders as a European power.

Juventus v Tottenham

Having beaten the holders already, Spurs now face last season’s finalists. Tottenham are certainly the member of the competition’s English quintet who have been granted fewest favours.

Mauricio Pochettino’s squad will feel emboldened by evidence that Juventus are less dominant in Serie A than they have been for most of the last five seasons. Spurs can also dig through the memory bank for some stirring nights the last time they made the knockout phase against Italian clubs AC Milan and Inter Milan.

The chance of taking on the likes of Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini should stimulate Harry Kane.

Expect, though, Juve’s experience at this level of competition to count for something.

Chelsea v Barcelona

Few European Cup fixtures are freighted with as much 21st-century grudge as this one.

But it will be revisited with less of the Pragmatists-versus-Purists caricature that it assumed when Jose Mourinho’s 2004-2007 version of Chelsea were taking on Frank Rijkaard and Ronaldinho’s dashing Barca.

There are still simmering resentments, notably about the negative posture of the Chelsea side that came to Camp Nou six seasons ago and snatched an aggregate semi-final win on the way to the club’s sole Champions League trophy.

Barcelona, champions four times in the past 12 years, are leading the Primera Liga and conceded just one goal in the group phase. They hope to have winger Ousmane Dembele and defender Samuel Umtiti back and fit by February.

Basel v Man City

Manchester City is overwhelming favourites to beat Basel, and perhaps even the Champions League title.

It is hard to avoid the impression that everything is smiling on Manchester City right now.

By the time they have to make the relatively short trip to Switzerland in February they should, on current unbeatable domestic form, have extended their lead in the Premier League further than the 11-point cushion they enjoy at the moment.

Basel must envy that: They are not even at the top of the more modest Swiss championship.

Basel did beat Manchester United last month but it is hard to see they have the tools to trouble Pep Guardiola’s high flyers.

City is the club that leaves Sergio Aguero – 131 Premier League goals – on the bench for some of its bigger games.

Basel are the club who have Ricky van Wolfswinkel – whose one goal in a season at Norwich City made him a watchword for Premier League ineffectiveness – at centre-forward.

Porto v Liverpool

The atmosphere for both legs should be terrific, the Dragao and Anfield being two of the most rousing theatres of continental football.

There was a time when these two club were passing the Champions League trophy between them: Porto the champions in 2004 and Liverpool the next year. Neither have the look of finalists now.

However, Porto’s more recent knowhow at this level – this their third arrival in the knockout phase in the past four years – gives them something today’s Liverpool lack.

There should be plenty of goals. Porto, top of the Portuguese league, has run into potent form lately, with Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar irrepressible. So have Liverpool, also a happy home for African forwards, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

Sevilla v Man Utd

Sevilla is a city with fond memories for Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.

It was there he won the first of his major European prizes, the 2003 UEFA Cup, in which he triumphed with Porto. There have been two Champions League titles for Mourinho since. At last season’s Europa League, United succeeded Sevilla as holders after the Spanish club had won three of them on the trot.

That sequence bears witness to Sevilla’s knack in knockouts, although the squad has altered a great deal since.

United will be wary of the resilient Sevilla who were thrashed in the Primera Liga by Real Madrid at the weekend. They have been able to raise their game in the Champions League, where they came from 3-0 down to draw with Liverpool.

Bayern Munich v Besiktas

The outcome could conceivably have been worse for Besiktas, who defied many expectations in not only making it through a tricky group but rushing to the top of it in style.

But it could have been much, better for Turkish champions, too. Bayern has to come regard a place in at least the last eight as almost an entitlement.

After a change of manager – Jupp Heynckes for Carlo Ancelotti – Bayern has recovered authority lately.

As Thomas Muller, the striker who won the Champions League final under Heynckes in 2013, put it: “We have national pride at stake in the competition now, because we are the only German club left.”

That is partly because RB Leipzig fell short, losing twice to Besiktas, who can guarantee Bayern a raucous reception for the second leg in Istanbul.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma

An alarming image appeared in Roma’s rear-view mirror when they drew Shakhtar. It made Francesco Totti, who was in the Uefa auditorium in his role as a Roma director, to smile wryly.

Back in 2010/11, the same tie left the Italian club – then captained by Totti – outside the quarter-finals and nursing a bruised ego. They had lost 6-2 on aggregate, defeated in both legs against a Shakhtar galvanised by their several Brazilian players.

Shakhtar are a different entity now, unable to play in their home city because of political upheaval, but impressive in reaching the last 16.

They beat Manchester City – they are unique for that, this season – to secure their place in the next phase. They also effectively knocked out Napoli, who look down on Roma in Serie A.

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