The dominance of the 'big five' in the Champions League
The draw for this season’s Champions League last-16 has been made and like most campaigns, Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues are dominant. Ligue 1 are represented by two clubs, Serie A and the Bundesliga by three, while the Premier League and La Liga make up the rest of the pairings (with four clubs representing each domestic division). In Champions League latest odds, Manchester City and holders Liverpool are among the favourites to lift the trophy at the end of the season. Let’s take a look at the English and Spanish contingent looking to progress through the knockout stages of the competition.
Real Madrid v Manchester City
Real Madrid paid the price for finishing second in Group A and entered the draw as an unseeded team, while Manchester City went through as Group C winners and were drawn from the seeded pot. Real’s domestic season started slowly, but as is the way under Zinedine Zidane, performances have improved and they seem to have turned a corner, with Los Blancos once again challenging Barcelona for the title. For City, the Premier League title looks a distant dream with Liverpool runaway leaders and one can only presume Pep Guardiola’s side will put all their efforts into Europe instead.
The Citizens don’t have the best record against the Spanish giants, with two draws and two losses from their four encounters. The two teams last met in the semi-finals of the 2015-16 tournament. After a goalless first-leg, an own goal from Fernando sent Real through as 1-0 winners and they went on to win the Milan final against rivals Atlético Madrid, after extra time.
Atlético Madrid v Liverpool
Atléti are in a period of transition as their league form and position will attest. Los Rojiblancos sit fifth, having drawn eight of their matches this campaign. In the Champions League, they were group runners-up to Juventus. Diego Simeone’s side have a history of upsetting the odds but face a very tough test against an in-form team. Liverpool are storming it: top of the Premier League by 10 points, having dropped only two points all season, and Group E winners with four wins from six. Things are looking very good for Jürgen Klopp’s side and they must be considered favourites for their round-of-16 tie.
The two clubs met in the Champion League group stages during the 2008-09 season, with both fixtures ending in 1-1 draws, as Liverpool topped Group D and Atléti finished as runners-up. The following season, both sides transferred to the Europa League at the knockout stages and met in the semi-finals. This time, over two legs, the Spanish outfit came out on top, winning on away goals in extra time to contest the final against Fulham – which they won.
Looking at the rest of the English clubs completing the draw, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea face Bayern Munich. The Germans will be looking to exact revenge for their Final loss on home soil in 2012, when Chelsea were victorious on penalties. Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur, newly revitalised under José Mourinho, face Red Bull Leipzig.
Top of La Liga and top of Group F, Barcelona play Napoli, who appear to be in crisis, under Gennaro Gattuso. Elsewhere, Juventus will be looking to make amends for their early exit at the hands of underdogs Ajax last campaign. They face another unfavoured side in Ligue 1’s Lyon this time around and must hope that the pressure doesn’t get to them.