Finally, after a wait of two months, the 2021/2022 UEFA Champions League season makes a return with box-office and blockbuster fixtures as we usher in the Round-of-16 Stage. The Group phase concluded last December with 16 out of 32 teams progressing to the knockout rounds, with eight others dropping into the UEFA Europa League knockout stage while the remaining eight teams bade farewell to European football for the rest of the campaign.
No doubt, this is the beginning of the most exciting phase of the competition which reaches its critical point. The lesser lights are most times put aside, as the “Big Boys” navigate their way to the latter rounds of the tournament.
On Tuesday February 15th, the Road to the UEFA Champions League Final in St. Petersburg, Russia will resume with two mouth-watering clashes. First, Paris Saint Germain will take on all-time record winners Real Madrid at the Parc de Princes, while Premier League defending champions Manchester City travels al the way to Lisbon to face Sporting CP.
The tie between PSG and Real Madrid is one fascinating tie with so many undertones. Firstly, former Los Blancos defender Sergio Ramos who now features for Le Parisiens, will be playing against his former team (if he recovers from injury), same as goalkeeper Keylor Navas who won successive UCL titles with Madrid during his time at the capital. Also, Argentine superstar Messi faces his old foes and long-term rivals with whom he has had a storied history with. But most importantly, the fixture will be an audition for superstar Kylian Mbappe, as he prepares for a likely relationship with Madrid during the summer.
The other simultaneous fixture on Tuesday night will see Manchester City travel to Portugal to face Sporting Lisbon. The Cityzens are undefeated since their last outing in the competition against Leipzig on Matchday Six. City come into the fixture on the back of an impressive 4-0 away victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road last time out, while Sporting could only manage a 2-2 draw with domestic rivals FC Porto.
Wednesday being January 16th will see the turn of Italian Serie A giants Inter Milan welcome high flying Merseyside outfit Liverpool at the San Siro Stadium. The Reds have already visited the famous stadium when they took on the Nerazzurri’s eternal rivals AC Milan on Matchday Six, with Jurgen Klopp’s men claiming a 2-1 victory which ensured they topped their group with maximum points.
The Reds will feel they have what it takes to get a good result against Inter Milan in the same stadium. Liverpool are in a great run of form and have been boosted with the return of star duo Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, following their exploits at the CAF African Cup of Nations in Cameroon. Also, the club spent big in the January winter transfer window by acquiring Colombian international Luiz Diaz from FC Porto to bolster their squad.
The Nerazzurri over the weekend ceded top spot in Serie A to Napoli after a 1-1 draw with the Neapolitans but will look to put that behind them as they bid to reach the last-eight.
Our final fixture on Wednesday will see Austrian kings RB Salzburg welcome German Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. Salzburg earned a 2-1 away win against Rapid Wein in the domestic league, but Bayern Munich on the other hand suffered an uncharacteristic 4-2 defeat at the hands of VFL Bochum. While there is no cause for alarm for the Bavarians, few eyebrows will be raised as regards their leaky and shaky defence this season though they are expected to breeze through to the quarter-finals.