Following the draw for the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16, we look at five talking points ahead of the first knockout round.
Can Arsenal end their last-16 hoodoo?
Arsenal’s first appearance in the knockout rounds for seven years will involve a two-legged tie with Porto, a favourable draw given some of the options available to the Gunners. The North Londoners are competing in this competition for the first time since 2016/17, while Arsenal have not reached the quarter-finals – or beyond – since 2010.
Arsenal have suffered seven straight last-16 exits in the Champions League, suffering eliminations to Bayern Munich (x3), Barcelona (twice), AC Milan and Monaco. In the seven seasons prior to that last run to the last eight, Arsenal reached the quarter-finals or further on five occasions.
Mikel Arteta’s team currently top the Premier League table and are mounting another push for the title this season. A strong run in Europe alongside that title push will be the clearest indication yet that Arsenal are ready to return to England and Europe’s top table.
▶️ Now playing: Every Champions League group stage goal
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) December 18, 2023
Arsenal last met Porto in the 2009/10 last 16. The Gunners overturned a 2-1 first-leg defeat after thrashing the Portuguese side 5-0 at the Emirates.
Holders handed dream draw
Though no tie in the Champions League’s knockout rounds can be described as straightforward, those at Manchester City will be pleased to have seen FC Copenhagen drawn out of the hat. The Danish side are into the last-16 for just the second time, having last reached this stage in 2010/11.
Jacob Neestrup’s side secured a famous win over Manchester United in the group stage and will return to the city to take on the European champions. City are unbeaten in four previous meetings with Copenhagen, though intriguingly have drawn both their encounters in Denmark.
Man City’s last four #UCL last 16 ties:
◎ 2020/21 – City 4-0 (on agg.) Gladbach
◎ 2021/22 – City 5-0 (on agg.) Sporting
◎ 2022/23 – City 8-1 (on agg.) RB Leipzig
◉ 2023/24 – City vs. Copenhagen
The Danes have already beaten one team from Manchester this season. 👀 pic.twitter.com/nBeAidsDFz
— Squawka (@Squawka) December 18, 2023
However, with tougher ties (on paper at least) against Paris Saint-Germain and last season’s runners-up Inter Milan a possibility before the draw, the Citizens will be content with how the last-16 has unfolded.
Simeone returns to another former club
Diego Simeone will return to another of his former teams in the first knockout round, after Atletico Madrid were drawn to face Inter Milan. Simeone’s side took on Lazio in the group stage, and will again face Italian opposition in the last-16. Atletico’s Argentine manager spent two seasons with Inter during his playing career, where he made 84 appearances in all competitions and won the 1997/98 UEFA Cup.
The tie shapes as arguably the most even of the last-16 draw, with Inter perhaps slight favourites after reaching the final last season. The Nerazzurri are currently top of Serie A after losing just one of their opening 16 games of the campaign. Inter, despite finishing behind Real Sociedad on goal difference, progressed from their Champions League group unbeaten for just the second time.
Le retour de Diego Simeone au Meazza ⚫️🔵 pic.twitter.com/iZ7xm3aJ02
— Inter FR (@InterMilanFRA) December 18, 2023
Atletico also reached the last-16 without defeat and have two of the tournament’s top scorers in their squad. Both Alvaro Morata and Antoine Griezmann scored five goals in the group stage, a joint-leading total alongside Manchester City’s Erling Haaland and Manchester United’s Rasmus Hojlund.
Will Bayern buy to boost Champions League hopes?
The January transfer window will come and go before the Champions League resumes in the new year, a chance for the contenders to strengthen their squads. Bayern Munich are among the frontrunners to be crowned champions ahead of facing Lazio in the last 16, but concerns remain in Thomas Tuchel’s side.
The German champions failed to sign a defensive midfielder in the summer, with a late move for Fulham’s Joao Palhinha collapsing in the closing stages of the transfer window. Bayern have shown vulnerability in the absence of a specialist midfield anchor, conceding six times during the group stage and keeping just two clean sheets. Earlier this month, the club’s unbeaten start to the Bundesliga season was ended in emphatic fashion as Eintracht Frankfurt ran riot to thrash Bayern 5-1 at The Waldstadion.
Harry Kane has reached 20 Bundesliga goals before Christmas in a record-breaking start to the season, while Kim Min-jae has reinforced the Bayern backline. Tuchel may feel, however, that another addition to his side’s spine is required this winter.
Can PSG improve from group stage struggles?
Paris Saint-Germain narrowly escaped from the Champions League’s ‘Group of Death’, with a number of unconvincing performances having seen the Parisians sneak through ahead of AC Milan and Newcastle.
PSG, despite that difficult draw, remained favourites for progress but continually flatter to deceive on this stage. Last summer saw huge upheaval and perhaps the best of PSG will not come until the second half of the campaign. However, more will be demanded from the French champions, who appointed a Champions League winning coach last summer (Luis Enrique) and have arguably the world’s best player (Kylian Mbappe) at their disposal.
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) December 18, 2023
It’s been 13 years since Qatar Sports Investment launched their takeover of the Parisians, but PSG appear no closer to winning a coveted Champions League title. After the failed superstar regime involving Neymar and Lionel Messi, PSG rebuilt last summer with a new, younger, project. Will a new direction deliver new results? It will take marked improvement from what we’ve seen to date.