The Champions League’s last 16 teams are now known…or almost. Villarreal and Atalanta will do battle in Bergamo on Thursday after snowfall saw their game postponed, meaning that – for now – only Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have managed to fly Spain’s flag successfully through the group stages.
Barcelona and Sevilla, meanwhile, will have to make do with Europa League football after Christmas, which is the first time the Blaugrana have failed to progress since 2000/01.
Ahead of the draw in Nyon, Switzerland, on Monday, December 13, Real Madrid and Atletico will be looking ahead at the possible teams they could face in February.
PSG and Chelsea are threats
The European champions and 2020’s losing finalists both finished second in their respective groups, and everybody will want to avoid Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.
Each of the two will fancy their chances of going all the way, although their journeys have been complicated by their failure advance as group winners.
Real Madrid’s interest in Kylian Mbappe presents an obvious subplot in the event of them dating PSG, but they’d have to deal with Lionel Messi and Neymar as well as countless other talented players against the French side, not to mention a date with exes Sergio Ramos, Keylor Navas, and Achraf Hakimi.
Bayern and City…
Atletico Madrid’s situation is far from ideal, but Bayern Munich and Manchester City are probably two of the sides they fear the most.
The Bavarians are a steamroller and won each of their six group games, sending Barcelona into the Europa League in the process, while Pep Guardiola has one of the best squads in Europe under his orders.
Liverpool and Manchester United are other teams to avoid.
The Premier League’s strength
English football is at its most powerful this season, following two of the last three Champions League finals being all-English affairs in Liverpool-Tottenham (2019) and Chelsea-City (2021).
The Premier League environment is breeding ground for powerful sides and, with the best coaches in the world all in England, they’ll fancy their chances of keeping the Champions League on their shores.
The group winners will, as ever, play the second legs at home. This season, though, will be the first without away goals, meaning draws will lead to extra time and – at least we hope – more exciting and high-pressure moments. – Marca