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Biggest ties from the UEFA Champions League round of 16 draw

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Manchester City’s Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero (L) celebrates after he scores his team’s second goal during the UEFA Champions League 1st round day 6 group C football match between Manchester City and Marseille at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on December 9, 2020. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)

 

The group stage behind us, we can look forward to the Champions League round of 16 in February 2021. The draw for the first knockout round of the competition was made in Nyon on Monday, and it produced a series of fascinating match-ups. This article explores the best on offer.

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Holders Bayern Munich remain the club to beat in this competition. They finished top of Group A, and the theory of a more comfortable tie as a group winner turned out to correct when the draw pitted them against Lazio.

While the Serie A side has quality players, like Ciro Immobile, they have made an underwhelming start to the campaign. Failing to win five of their last six matches in all competitions, Lazio would shock Europe if they managed to topple Bayern over two legs. The Bundesliga giants won five and drew one of their six group matches, putting Atletico Madrid in the shade, Los Rojiblancos finishing second in their bracket.

Bayern’s dominance may come to scupper Chelsea’s European ambitions for a second season running. While the 7-3 aggregate win over the Blues last season was a direct contribution to their exit, any doom Chelsea suffer in the last 16 this time around will be done in a more roundabout way. By which we mean, Frank Lampard could blame Bayern for their tough draw against Atletico. Having said that, if Bayern hadn’t been as dominant, then Chelsea would have probably drawn them.

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It doesn’t bear deep thinking. Lampard has to focus on the matter at hand, and it’s a tough one. Atletico knocked out the last English team they faced when they sent a Liverpool side who were defending their Champions League crown packing. Diego Simeone’s club has met Chelsea in European competition before. They have played each other seven times, each club getting two wins apiece. Can Lampard handle the tactical acumen of Simeone? We would think not. Atletico looks an excellent bet to progress.

We wrote earlier about the rivalry between Bayern and Chelsea, but two ties in the last 16 have real Anglo-German feuds on display. Manchester City will take on Borussia Monchengladbach, while Liverpool face-off with an RB Leipzig team who have already sent another English side home in Manchester United. Both English clubs are expected to progress, but the tactical battle between Jurgen Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann will be fascinating to watch.

The latter humiliated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the group stage by anticipating and outmanoeuvring the United manager’s strategic plan in Leipzig, a defensive shape dominated by a midfield overload. Pep Guardiola has a record of making bizarre tactical decisions of his own in the Champions League knockout stages with City. His opposite number, Marco Rose, will hope that Guardiola attempts another curveball to outthink him. Gladbach are a decent bet to progress.

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