The Knockout Stage of the UEFA Champions League is Underway


Josh Klopp

The knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League began with a splash as Paris Saint Germain’s Kylian Mbappe upset Real Madrid with a last-second stunner. His brilliant finish in the 94th minute of the opening match of the round of 16 set the tone for what will undoubtedly be two weeks of must-watch soccer. The round of 16 draw took place on December 13. It left us with several huge matchups involving the biggest clubs in the world.

The biggest of the eight matchups determined by the draw was the one to kickoff the knockout stage. This will be a battle between the top clubs in two of Europe’s most prominent soccer countries. Real Madrid from Spain and Paris Saint Germain from France. Real Madrid has a history of dominating this tournament. They’ve won the Champions League 13 times, 6 more than any other club in Europe. They’ve cemented themselves as perennial contenders. This is what makes this matchup so interesting. Paris Saint Germain has never won the Champions League. As they’ve grown to become a dynasty in France and a powerhouse in Europe, they have publicly set their sights on a Champions League trophy. With an attacking trio of Leonel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar to accompany an entire lineup of classy players, there is no reason they should not be the favorite in any competition. These clubs squared off in the first match of the round of 16. For most of the match it seemed that the first leg, being played in Paris, would result in a draw. That was until star power prevailed in the final moments. Kylian Mbappe slid past two defenders and used his blazing speed to break toward goal and finish to snag a win at their home stadium. The second leg will be played in Madrid on Wednesday, March 9.

To follow the list of historical success, the next most successful club is Liverpool. Liverpool enters the round of 16 as the winner of what many referred to as the “group of death”. This was no problem for Liverpool, as they won every match and built an abundance of momentum. The round of 16 draw pitted them against Inter Milan, another powerhouse of Europe. This is another tough draw for Liverpool but, from what they’ve shown so far in the tournament, they should have no problem handling Inter Milan and moving forward. 

The only club to hamper the domestic success of Liverpool is Manchester City. Manchester City faces a favorable draw in the opening round of the knockout stage. They will square off against Sporting CP from Portugal. Sporting has a strong club and impressed many to reach this point in the tournament, but Manchester City is far too powerful and will surely move on. The other club from Manchester is also still alive in the Champions League. Manchester United has been facing very hard times as of late, but their supporters will remain optimistic for their clash against Atletico Madrid. With little to play for in other competitions, Manchester United will be fully committed to extending their run in Europe. To cap off the clubs from England is Chelsea. Chelsea is the current champion of Europe and will most likely push on to the next round after drawing LOSC Lille of France. 

None of these clubs, however, have dominated in recent matches as much as Ajax. This Dutch club is the hottest in Europe. The draw has them matching up against Benfica of Portugal. Benfica has played wonderfully so far in this tournament, but it is hard to see them overcoming the Dutch powerhouse. With the mention of a powerhouse, it would be wrong to go further without addressing Bayern Munich. Bayern has been one of the biggest and most successful clubs in Europe in recent years and shows no sign of slowing down. They’re led by the undisputed best striker in the world, Robert Lewandowski. With his goal-scoring prowess, RB Salzburg of Austria will have an extremely difficult time upsetting the kings of Germany. Last, and maybe least, is the matchup between Villarreal and Juventus. In terms of star power, this draw has little to offer. Last year, Villarreal shocked the continent by knocking off Manchester United. They are a very lovable club, but will most likely fall against one of the biggest clubs in Italy.

The first leg matches in round of 16 will occur on February 15, 16, 22, and 23. The second leg will be played on March 8, 9, 15, and 16. These will lead the remaining teams to the quarter and semi-final draws on Friday, March 18.