Following the first legs of the eight Champions League last 16 ties, some are perfectly poised heading into the reverse fixture….and others are all over bar the shouting.
The news for the English sides competing at this stage of the tournament is almost universally positive, and there is the distinct possibility that at least four of them will take their place in the last eight of the Champion League for the first time since the 2008/09 season.
We will lose one of the bookmakers’ favourites for the title with PSG and Real Madrid set to conclude their encounter in Paris, while Juventus – a finalist in 2015 and 2017 – have it all to do at Wembley against Tottenham.
So how is the last 16 draw currently shaping up? Here are our Championship predictions and previews.
There’s not much to write about this one: Liverpool obliterated their Portuguese opponents in the first leg courtesy of goals from their fab three: Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino.
Don’t expect the Reds to show any mercy in the return fixture either; Jurgen Klopp is determined to see the tie through with a strong performance on home soil. “I am too long in the business to think anything is sorted before the final whistle. We owe our supporters at Anfield a 100% performance, and that’s what we want to deliver,” he told the BBC.
As for Porto, they have a Primeira Liga showdown with Sporting Lisbon just four days prior to this fixture, and they will be expected to play their strongest side in that knowing full well that their Champions League race is run.
Despite all their millions, PSG simply cannot buy any luck. Just days ahead of the biggest game of their season, their £200m talisman Neymar has broken his foot and will spend around six weeks on the sidelines.
The Brazilian has scored 29 goals and assisted 18 others this term, and you would suggest that his absence spells curtains for his side’s hopes of overturning a two-goal deficit against the current Champions League holders.
It has been far from a vintage campaign for Real Madrid, who sit some 14 points adrift of Barcelona at the summit of the La Liga table.
The Galacticos’ so-so away record in league action (W7 D4 L2) was backed by a 1-3 mauling at the hands of Tottenham at Wembley, and so we can say that Zinedine Zidane’s men do not travel with confidence.
But the loss of Neymar will surely prove too much for the Parisians to overcome, and Real should see out the aggregate win with relative comfort.
Wed March 7: Manchester City vs Basel (4-0)
The bookmakers have Basel at odds of 500/1 to qualify for the quarter finals, and that is a price that is wholly representative of their chances.
Manchester City simply do not lose on home soil: they are unbeaten in 17 Premier and Champions League matches at the City of Manchester Stadium this term, with 16 of those ending in victory.
It is almost impossible for the Swiss side to come away with anything but a defeat from a second leg which Pep Guardiola has already confirmed he will be treating with absolute seriousness.
Wed March 7: Tottenham vs Juventus (2-2)
Football is often, at the highest level at least, a game of nuance, strategy and precision, with every tactical move predicated over as if it was a game of chess on grass.
Other times, the beautiful game is almost witlessly simple. Here, if Tottenham score they will almost certainly progress to the quarter finals of the Champions League for the first time in their history.
That’s because they banked two away goals in a fine first leg performance at Turin, and at times in the first half there they appeared ready to run away with the tie as Juventus’ typically resolute defending deserted them.
The balance of power here dictates that the Italians have to chase the game in order to find that all-important goal, and that is not a natural position for them to be in. You suspect that Spurs might just pick them off on the counter on what will surely be a raucous evening at Wembley.
Tues March 13: Man United vs Sevilla (0-0)
As far as Manchester United fans are concerned, they have achieved the hard bit by avoiding defeat in the first leg against Sevilla at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium at which they are so solid.
The contrast between the Spaniards’ home and away form is startling, and already this term they have lost eight of their fourteen dates on the road in La Liga, and in this competition were trounced 1-5 by Spartak Moscow and failed to win at whipping boys Maribor in the group phase.
United, sitting pretty with eleven wins from fourteen at Old Trafford in the Premier League – including Sunday’s morale-boosting triumph over Chelsea, may only need to score once to progress here, and that makes them a resounding favourite to move forward to the last eight.
Tues March 13: Roma vs Shakhtar Donetsk (1-2)
This tie is rather delicately poised after the exotically-named Brazilian Fred handed Shakhtar Donetsk a 2-1 lead from the first leg courtesy of a sublime free kick.
The Ukrainians were good value for their win, and it perhaps should have come as no surprise given that they had already beaten Manchester City and Napoli on home soil.
A trip to Rome is a far different proposition however, and the hosts will fancy their chances with an away goal in the tank. They didn’t concede a goal in front of their own supporters in the group phase, and will be acutely aware that Shakhtar’s away form in the Champions League reads a rather paltry W3 D3 L9 – a run in which they have failed to find the net on eleven occasions.
Wed March 14: Besiktas vs Bayern Munich (0-5)
Two-legged ties last 180 minutes plus extra time where necessary, and yet this fixture was all over as a contest as early as the 16th minute of the first leg.
That was the moment at which Besiktas’ Domagoj Vida was given his marching orders, leaving his teammates to defend with ten men against Bayern at their fearsome Allianz Arena home for more than an hour.
You probably know what happened next: the Germans ran riot, bagging five goals without reply and securing their spot in the quarter finals.
Besiktas will be playing for pride only in the second leg, and that makes them a dangerous animal. Don’t be afraid to support them in the handicap markets here against a Bayern side present in Turkey in body if not mind.
Wed March 14: Barcelona vs Chelsea (1-1)
This is was one of those rare instances when both teams, you suspect, will have been happy with the 1-1 draw.
Barcelona have an away goal to take with them back to their formidable Nou Camp home for the second leg, while Chelsea are very much in the tie despite possibly fearing a heavy defeat at Stamford Bridge.
The Catalonian outfit have won 23 of their last 24 Champions League matches on home soil, and so Chelsea can leave any pretensions of a smash-and-grab raid at the door.
Instead, Antonio Conte will focus on gaining a 1-1 draw; that would take the tie to extra time and surely give his outfit their best chance of progressing to the last eight.