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Thu. Apr 18th, 2024
Pep Guardiola Kylian Mbappe Xavi UCL draw GFXGetty

The draw for the Champions League last 16 has just been completed and, as ever, it’s thrown up some fascinating fixtures, with Napoli’s ‘Diego derby’ with Barcelona and Diego Simeone’s return to Inter with Atletico Madrid arguably the pick of the bunch.

Hopes of an another English success have been lifted with Manchester City being paired with Copenhagen, and Arsenal paired with Porto, but Bayern Munich will also be supremely confident of seeing off a Lazio side that is struggling in Serie A.

Elsewhere, Borussia Dortmund should have the beating off PSV, while a Jude Bellingham-inspired Real Madrid will be expected to see off RB Leipzig with a minimum of fuss but what about Paris Saint-Germain, who must take on surprise package Real Sociedad?

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Below, GOAL runs through the winners and losers of Monday’s draw in Nyon…

  • PEP GUARDIOLA MANCHESTER CITYGetty Images

    WINNER: Pep Guardiola

    It was put to Pep Guardiola after Saturday’s draw with Crystal Palace that Manchester City have been a bit unfortunate of late – but the manager was having none of it. You make your own luck in this game and the Catalan knows that he has plenty of work to do at the moment, with the winning machine he has constructed at the Etihad showing signs of wear and tear in recent weeks.

    A team bidding to become the first club to win four consecutive Premier League titles has taken just seven points from their past six games – that’s not atrocious but it does constitute a crisis for City, who have some serious competition in England’s top flight this season.

    On the plus side, their hopes of winning a second consecutive Champions League have been seriously boosted by the last-16 draw. FCK did wonderfully well to beat Galatasaray and Manchester United to second place in Group A and they’re a very awkward team to play at Parken, as City well know, having been held to a scoreless draw in Copenhagen just over a year ago.

    However, the Danes are undeniably the weakest team left in the tournament, so Guardiola will be breathing a huge sigh of relief right now. Having already come through the easiest of groups, City really are benefiting from the luck of the draw in this season’s Champions League and Pep will take all the good fortune he can get, even if he won’t admit it in public.

  • Xavi Barcelona 2023-24Getty Images

    LOSER: Xavi

    Poor Xavi can’t catch a break right now. After a humiliating midweek loss at Antwerp, Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw by Valencia on Sunday that means they now trail Liga leaders Real Madrid by seven points, meaning a successful title defence is looking seriously unlikely right now. Given the way they’re playing, the Blaugrana may not even finish above Girona.

    With all of that in mind, Xavi really could have done with a nice draw in the last 16. Instead, Barca have been paired with one of the most dangerous unseeded sides in Napoli. Obviously, the Diego Maradona derby will be an enjoyable nostalgia-fest. But Xavi won’t be interested in dwelling on the past, given his future could well be on the line.

    Barca have, of course, already achieved their primary objective by reaching the knockout stage for the first time in three years, which was of the utmost importance to the Catalan club’s coffers, but the pressure is nonetheless mounting on their coach, given that the team’s recent performances have been as underwhelming as their results.

    Napoli have their own issues right now. Their own league title defence is already effectively over but Victor Osimhen & Co. do appear to be coming good again under Walter Mazzarri. The Partenopei have never beaten Barca in continental competition but they represent a real threat to the Blaugrana’s hopes of reaching the last eight – and Xavi’s job.

    • Kylian-Mbappe(C)GettyImages

      WINNER: PSG

      Boy did PSG need that! Things are not going well at the Parc des Princes right now. Luis Enrique’s men may be top of Ligue 1 but they’re not playing well and Kylian Mbappe does not look at all happy (when is he ever?!), as underlined by his surly demeanour in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Lille.

      And let’s be honest: were it not for a terrible penalty call against Newcastle, PSG would have suffered an embarrassingly early – and fully deserved – group-stage exit in the Champions League.

      So, while there’s absolutely no doubt that Real Sociedad will fancy their chances of upsetting the Parisians in the last 16, it’s clear that PSG dodged a bullet in the draw.

      The Basques boast the meanest defence in the tournament (just two goals conceded in a group containing Inter), which is brilliantly protected by the much-coveted Marin Zubimendi. In many ways, La Real are everything that PSG are not: a proud and wonderfully well-organised group of over-achievers. They will pose plenty of problems.

      However, there’s no getting away from the fact that the draw could have been a lot harsher on the French champions, who will doubtless believe that they should have sufficient firepower to get past a team that lacks both experience and a prolific goalscorer.

    • Maurizio SarriGetty

      LOSER: Serie A’s hopes of an extra UCL spot

      Two of Europe’s biggest leagues will have five teams in the 2024-25 Champions League, with additional spots set to be allocated based on how each nations’ teams perform in this season’s tournament. As it stands, an additional qualification berth would go to both Germany and Italy.

      However, despite seeing two sides (Newcastle and Manchester United) finish bottom of their Champions League groups, England remains very much in the hunt and a lot could change during the knockout stage. Indeed, the draw did not go well for Italy from a coefficient perspective. Lazio, who are struggling terribly in Serie A, have little hope of beating Bayern Munich, while both Napoli and Inter are in 50-50 clashes with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, respectively.

      There is a very real risk that all three could go out, which would be a disaster, given Arsenal and Manchester City are almost certain to reach the quarters after being given soft draws. Serie A enjoyed a remarkable renaissance in Europe last season – something similar is likely to be required this time around if Italy is to hold onto that extra Champions League spot.

      • Mats Hummels Borussia Dortmund 2023-24 Champions LeagueGetty

        WINNER: Borussia Dortmund

        Despite winning their group, Dortmund were by no means guaranteed a decent draw in the last 16. Napoli and Inter were both unseeded. However, BVB have got their just reward for recovering from a Matchday One loss at the Parc des Princes to take top spot ahead of PSG, AC Milan and Newcastle.

        PSV shouldn’t be underestimated, of course. They don’t lack fighting spirit, as they proved by scoring twice in the closing stages to record a dramatic 3-2 win over Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan that secured a spot in the last 16 with one round remaining. Veteran forward Luuk de Jong is still a serious threat at 33 – particularly in the air – while Johan Bakayoko is one of the most exciting young forwards in Europe. Their USMNT contingent (Sergino Dest, Malik Tillman and Ricardo Pepi) will also be looking to get one over on their compatriot Gio Reyna (provided he’s still at Signal Iduna after the January window closes!).

        However, Dortmund have proven both their mettle and their quality in the group stage, with the evergreen Mats Hummels excelling at centre-back. It would be a massive surprise if the impressive Edin Terzic doesn’t lead his side into the quarters.

      • diego simeoneGetty Images

        LOSER: Atletico Madrid

        Paris Saint-Germain may have some star power, but Inter were the unseeded side that every group winner wanted to avoid in the last 16. Unfortunately for Atletico Madrid, they drew the short straw, forced to face last season’s runners-up despite topping their pool.

        Diego Simeone will obviously be looking forward to returning to San Siro from a personal perspective. As a former Inter midfielder, he remains revered by the club’s fans, who have long dreamed of the Argentine coaching the Nerazzurri at some point.

        However, Simeone will be acutely aware of just how difficult it will be for the Rojiblancos to get the better of Simone Inzaghi’s troops, who have arguably taken their game to another level this term. True, they failed to finish ahead of Real Sociedad in their group but Inter didn’t lose once and in Lautaro Martinez and Marcus Thuram they possess arguably the most complementary front two in Europe right now.

        This tie really could go either way, as the only certainty is that a potential winner is bowing out.

        • Mikel-Arteta(C)GettyImages

          WINNER: Arsenal

          First things first, Porto will be no pushover. Sergio Conceicao is an excellent coach and his side have plenty of goals in them. Medhi Taremi, Evanilson and Galeno will need to be watched very closely indeed by William Saliba & Co.

          However, Arsenal will be huge favourites to progress to the quarter-finals, and with good cause. The Gunners are not without their flaws – the goalkeeping issue hasn’t gone away and one wonders what would happen if the excellent Declan Rice were to pick up an injury – but they have a wonderful array of attacking options. Gabriel Jesus has started scoring again, while even Kai Havertz looks like he’s coming good. Arsenal have also impressed defensively, conceding just four times in the group stage.

          Tougher tests lie ahead but the north Londoners’ first appearance in the Champions League since 2016-17 could prove very memorable indeed.

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