If the UEFA Champions League round of 16 continues as it has begun, the knockout phase of this year’s tournament could become a classic.
Four teams will compete in the first leg of their round of 16 series Tuesday, with Manchester City hosting Monaco in England and Bayer Leverkusen welcoming Atletico Madrid to BayArena in Germany. Each side will look to strike early blows with hopes of easing their paths to the quarterfinals, as Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich already have done.
Both games will kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, and fans in the U.S. can watch them online at FOXSoccer2Go.
We looked ahead to both matchups in December following the round of 16 draw. Now it’s time to preview them and revise our predictions (if necessary) in light of the last eight weeks, which have included a winter break and plenty of domestic action.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid defeated Bayer Leverkusen on penalty kicks in the round of 16 in 2014-15. After two years of waiting, the hosts finally can get some revenge.
Leverkusen sits eighth in the Bundesliga (German first division) standings, but winning two consecutive games has lifted the mood at the club at a pivotal moment in the season.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has been key to his team’s improvement, scoring five goals in his last three games. Karim Bellarabi’s recovery from the injury that sidelined him throughout the group stage also is a welcome boost. But Hakan Calhanoglu and Jonathan Tah will be out due to suspension and injury, respectively.
The Champions League represents Atletico Madrid’s best opportunity to win a major trophy this season, having fallen to fourth place in La Liga (Spain’s first division) and suffered elimination from the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup).
Atletico Madrid will be without regulars Diego Godin, Juanfran and Tiago all are expected to miss the contest due to injury. Goalkeeper Jan Oblak could improve Atletico Madrid’s chances if he returns from injury for his first game in over two months.
Bayer Leverkusen’s 10-game home unbeaten streak in European play is impressive. But Atletico Madrid’s players are certified road warriors.
Revised prediction: We’re keeping it at a draw. 1-1 sounds good.
Manchester City vs. Monaco
Tuesday’s showcase game tests Manchester City’s impressive home unbeaten streak in the Champions League.
Monaco is the surprise leader of France’s Ligue 1, and its potent attack is the principle reason. Monaco is averaging 2.92 goals per league game, the highest rate in Europe’s major leagues. Manchester City must beware of the threat Kylian Mbappe poses.
However, Monaco won’t be able to count on injured center back Jemerson.
Manchester City has won four and drawn two in its last six games, with its improved defense credited for its fine form. The star-studded club is in second place in the Premier League standings, but its chances of overtaking Chelsea for the title are remote.
Manchester City will be without injured forward Gabriel Jesus and defender Vincent Kompany. Sergio Aguero will spearhead the attack, as speculation over his long-term future with the club mounts.
Revised prediction: Manchester City 3, Monaco 1
Thumbnail photo via YouTube/FOX Soccer