Manchester City, Real Madrid Lead The Contenders As Champions League Knockouts Begin

Feb 11, 2024

Manchester City and Real Madrid will both be in action when the UEFA Champions League knockout stages begin this Tuesday, and it is the eventual two winners of European football's biggest prize who appear to be the strongest contenders to progress this season . Pep Guardiola is busy dashing City's chances of repeating their remarkable treble from last year, when they retained the English Premier League title and won the FA Cup before claiming their first Champions League crown.

“We have a 99.99 per cent chance that we won't win the treble because it's never happened,” Guardiola said this week when asked about the chances of retaining all three trophies.

Yet City are looking to be in their best form again at the right time, and they head to Denmark for the last 16 on Tuesday with the first leg against FC Copenhagen on the back of 10 consecutive wins in all competitions.

Copenhagen reached the knockout stage of Europe's elite club competition for the second time and first since 2011.

They held City at home in last season's group stage and beat Manchester United 4-3 at their Parken Stadium earlier this season, so Tuesday's game will probably not be as straightforward for the reigning champions.

But Guardiola's team will certainly be too strong over the two legs, and Madrid should also have a lot in store for RB Leipzig, who they will face for the first time in Germany.

Led by Jude Bellingham and Vinicius Junior, Carlo Ancelotti's side are in great form in La Liga despite being hampered by injuries in defence.

The last 16 draw in December was somewhat of a disappointment, even if the clash between last season's runners-up Inter Milan and Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid was an upset.

It will also be interesting to see how Barcelona perform against Napoli as the Catalans head into their final months under Xavi Hernandez before their great former player departs as coach at the end of the campaign.

Given Napoli's own difficulties in reaching the Serie A title last season, Barcelona are expected to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2020.

That year they defeated Napoli in the last 16 before suffering a resounding 8–2 defeat by Bayern Munich in Lisbon.

Bayern themselves travel to face Lazio after a 3-0 defeat to Bayern Leverkusen that left their decade-long grip on the Bundesliga title looking weaker than ever.

Harry Kane and his teammates will be hoping their return to continental competition brings out the best of them, especially with the growing possibility that the England star's first season in Germany could end without a major trophy.

PSG's last chance with Mbappé?

If all the giants avoid shock defeats in the last 16 then a classic quarter-final line-up could be in the making.

Arsenal should be too strong for Porto, while PSV Eindhoven and Borussia Dortmund meet in a battle of the two outsiders.

Then there is Paris Saint-Germain, the club that has made a habit of failing spectacularly in Europe in recent years despite the huge spending of its Qatari owners.

PSG have exited in the first knockout round in five of the last seven seasons, and it seems certain that this will be their last chance to win the Champions League with Kylian Mbappe.

It appears the France captain's future may lie elsewhere – possibly with Real Madrid – as his contract expires after this campaign.

Yet PSG's form this season under Luis Enrique – the man who led Barcelona to Champions League glory in 2015 – has been so inconsistent that their chances of going all the way across Europe seem unlikely.

Understandably, the French club's wary supporters will also be dreading facing Real Sociedad, who they face in Paris in the first leg on Wednesday.

The Basque team has come into the match in poor form and with a lot of injury problems, but all the pressure will be on PSG.

“If you want to go to the final you have to play against the best teams,” Real Sociedad coach Imanol Alguacil said, reflecting on the draw.

“Getting to the finals is their objective. Imagine what a blast it would be if we eliminated them.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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