After a several month break UCL is back in business with the first legs of the Round of 16 on Tuesday, February 13th (Mardi Gras by the way). Back toward the end of summer the preview ran through the Group Stage and the expectations. As has come to be the norm most teams expected to advance did but there are always a surprise or two in the mix.

Predicted Group Stage Advances:

Group A – Bayen Munich and Manchester United. Well Bayern made it but Man U flamed out and is replaced by FC Copenhagen.

Group B – Arsenal and PSV as projected.

Group C – Real Madrid and Napoli as projected,

Group D – Inter and Benfica were projected in a tight group. Inter went through but Benfica was beaten out by Real Sociedad.

Group E – Atletico and Lazio (close with Feyenoord) both advance.

Group F – PSG and AC Milan but warned bettors to stay away from this group. PSG made it through but Dortmund wins the group.

Group G – Manchester City easily wins the group and Leipzig takes second and thats exactly what happened.

Group H – Barcelona and Porto as projected.

The format for this round is unchanged. Each pairing will feature a home-and-away tie over the next month. The 8 winners advancing to the Quarterfinals. The draws for the Quarter and Semi-finals will be held on March 15th. Quarterfinal play then occurs in mid April. Semi-Finals the last week in April and first week in May, culminating with the Final slated for June 1st in iconic Wembley Stadium in London, England. So with that lets take a look at the Round of 15 matchups.

Leipzig vs Real Madrid

The oddsmakers favor Real in this one and its hard not to. They are stout top to bottom with such studs as midfielders Jude Bellingham and Luka Modric. Bellingham leads La Liga in scoring but he has an ankle injury and is likely to miss the first leg. Modric is 38 years old an you wonder how much longer he can continue to play at a high level. Then they have one of the all time greats in the nets in Thibuat Courtois. The problem for Real opponents is that as good as Courtois is he doesn’t even play much anymore with the back now anchored by Kepa Arrizabalaga. In front of Kepa are two players as I see key to this matchup in defenders Nacho and Antonio Rudiger. They are a tough duo to breakdown. But probably the best news for Real fans is their form. In their last 5 matches they have been outstanding going 5-1-0. (W-D-L). The flip side of this tie isn’t going as well as Leipzig have ween a woeful 1-1-3 in their last five matches. They are going to have stellar play from forwards Lois Openda and Benjamin Sesko. They combined for 6 goals in group play and will need them to score and hope the back line can keep Madrid in check.

Prediction – Real Madrid advances

Copenhagen vs Manchester City

If you like to take a shot with your money place a bet on Copenhagen. Your likely throwing your money away but hey its sports and they have to play. Copenhagen is a really fun team to  watch,. Aggressive attacking soccer. Keep your eye on Diogo Goncalves. The striker from Portugal is going to have to play lights out to give them even a punchers chance. But pure form says they are in trouble. The come in on a 2-2-1 run against  a Man City team on a 5-0-0 run. And Man City is healthy and only 2 points back of EPL leaders Liverpool but they have a game in hand. They are eyeing a consecutive English treble AND another UCL trophy. Here’s all you need to know. They have played each other twice in history. Copenhagen has yet to score a goal against Man C.

Prediction – C/mon man is this a serious question? Man C runs away here,

PSG vs Real Sociedad

Sociedad comes in a a kissing their sister streak having gone 1-3-1 in their last 5. Sooner or later you have to win matches to do much and this is no different. However, given that the first leg is at PSG they’d be totally fine with a draw. But they are sitting in 7th in La Liga and not looking like a team that has the horses to get past one of the tougher sides in Europe. PSG is once again running away with Ligue 1 and have a whopping goal differential of +33 in but 21 matches. When you average over a 1.5 goals/match more than your opponents, well you don’t lose much and they haven’t lost much of late coming in on a 4-1-0 run. As always when PSG steps on the field the focus turns to Kylian Mbappe. As he goes so goes PSG. Mbappe has let it be known that he’s not likely to stay in France once his contract is up. Is he unhappy? Who knows but it doesn’t seem to matter. He’s scored 20 goals in just 13 matches and leads the league. He is just a special player, one of the best on the planet and he’s going to be a handful for Sociedad.

Prediction – PSG wins the first leg by enough that Sociedad is DOA heading to the second leg.

Lazio vs Bayern Munich

In most years the quick take would be that Bayern wins easily. But this may not be most years. They sit 5 points behind Bundesliga leader Bayern Leverkusen and their run of 11 straight league titles is in serious trouble. They have been playing fine soccer going 3-0-2 of late but they have shown they can be beat. The key to beating Bayern is to shut down Harry Kane. Easy to say but very hard to do. The English striker is relishing his first season in Germany scoring 24 times in his first 21 matches. But Bayern has shown some weakness in the back. Keepers Manuel Neuer and Sven Ulreich are fine but have regressed a bit and missing LB Alphonso Davies is a tough blow. His strained knee ligament may keep him out for a spell. Lazio has been fine of late (3-1-1) and they have a solid defense allowing just a goal/match in Serie A. They will need to do at least that against the scoring machine of Bayern. They must get a good result in the home leg as heading to Germany behind by multiple goals would be the death knell. Realistically they need to win this one at home and try and get a no scoring draw on the road. They likely sit back against Bayern who will coming out attacking and hope to find some quick counters with Pedro Rodriquez or Ciro Immobile getting behind the Bayern back line. They have the speed to do so but will need to pick their spots carefully.

Prediction – In the end I think Bayern is just too good and Kane wants a trophy.

Inter Milan vs Atletico Madrid

Inter is leading the Serie A in what may end up being a runaway. In 23 league matches they have scored 55 goals while only allowing 12. Tops in both stats for the league. With a goal differential of almost 2 goals/matches Madrid is going to have their hands full. And on a 5-0-0 run compared to Madrid’s 2-1-2 you have to like Inter here. In group play keeper Yann Sommer played in 5 of their 6 matches and allowed but a single goal. He’s just tough to get the ball by. Atletico haven’t been bad though and sit 4th in La Liga. Forwards Alvaro Morata and Antoine Grizmann have combined for 24 Serie A and 10 UCL goals. They are good. Really good. This should be a very entertaining set of matches but in the end I think Inter’s defense wins out.

Prediction – Inter Milan moves ahead but Atletico could surprise some.

PSV vs Dortmund

First the good news for PSV. They are the clear top team in the Eredivisie Dutch League and have a monster +58 goal differential. They just score and score a lot and are a very fun team to watch. They are loaded with quality players and if you are a fan of the USMNT then this one of the team for you with striker Ricardo Pepi, winger Milak Tillmna, and RB Sergino Dest. Now the not so good news. Its hard to judge the quality of this team because the overall depth of the league isn’t as good as the big Euro leagues. Dortmund on the other hand are used to playing in the much tougher Bundesliga. You just don’t know who the overall step up in competition helps prepared teams for this stage of UCL. Dortmund has been on a pretty solid run of late (4-1-0) and look solid all across the field. When you can afford to loan out a solid attacking midfielder like Gio Reyna you know they are deep. With the return of Jadon Sancho to an already crowded midfield there just wasn’t enough minutes to get Reyna on the field. Hopefully he see’s a lot more time the rest of the way in the EPL with Nottingham Forest. This is going to be a match of contrasting styles. PSV will attack from all over the pitch but they really like the middle Luuk De Jong. Dortmund will try and possess the ball, especially in the midfield and look for open channels to run through balls to Karim Adeyemi.

Prediction – I like PSV in this one.

Arsenal vs FC Porto

Poor Arsenal. If not for being in the EPL and constantly overshadowed by giants Man C and Liverpool they’d get a lot more attention than they do. But they see a chance to advance to at least the semis here and well they should. Look at the middle of the lineup for this side. Odegaard, Jorghino, Rice, and Havertz. That’s a world class midfield. Then up top they feature Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka. That’s as solid of a team as you can find. And they are playing well (4-0-1) to boot. FC Porto is coming in on fine form (4-1-0) but not sure they match up well in the middle of the field. Stephen Eustaquio and Alan Varela are going to need some help from the wingers (Mendi Taremi and Pepe) dropping deeper in support. They have the ability but not sure they can keep their shape for 90 minutes at least enough of the time to slow down the Gunners attack.

Prediction – Arsenal moves forward.

Napoli vs Barcelona

Interestingly enough oddsmakers have this one pretty much a coin toss. Napoli is down in 9th in the Serie A but playing stout defense allowing just over a goal/game. They are on a 2-1-2 run so fair at best of late. The storyline for Napoli is pretty straightforward. Victor Osimhen needs to score goals and Alex Meret in the net needs to not allow them. But this Barcelona team is not as strong as in recent memory. They will heed front line production from Robert Lewandowski, Joao Felix and Ferran Torres. And they must have better goaltending. In group play starter Marc=Andre ter Stegen was fine (4 matches allowing just 2 goals) but backup Inaki Pena not so much (2 matches allowing 4 goals). In league play ter Stegen has been ok (16 goals in 14 matches) but Pean hasn’t been good (17 goals in 10 matches). I think we will see ter Stegen in goal but if they have to go with Pena that may be enough to put Napoli over the top.

Prediction – ter Stegen in goal then Barca advances. Pena in goal Napoli moves on.

So there it is and it all starts February 13th with all the matches being shown on Paramount+.

Steve Birrer
Steve Birrer

Soccer Analyst

Steve is an avid fan of all things soccer and the O’s. Originally from the west, he grew up in the Baltimore area. He returned to the west for college where he earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University and spent 36 years working at the Idaho National Laboratory prior to retiring in 2013. It was during his school years in Baltimore where he learned to play soccer and that developed into a life long passion. He played competitively for over 40 years and was a four year starting goalkeeper at MSU. He also coached and refereed in the Idaho premier soccer and High School programs for many years.

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