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Europe's Most Exciting Competition - The Champions League Returns

Atlético de Madrid vs. Liverpool - Tuesday, 2/18 @ 3:00PM* (All Times US - EST)

The Spanish giants from Madrid have been pitted against the defending champions of Europe from Merseyside.

For Atlético de Madrid, Diego Simeone’s men face a tall task of beating Jurgen Klopp’s monstrous side who have shown little to no signs of vulnerability this entire season. 

Currently unbeaten in the Premier League with 24 wins and 1 draw from 25 matches, they sit cozy atop the table with a whopping 22 point advantage over Manchester City. Their only major defeat this competitive season came against Napoli in the group stage way back in September, a 2-0 result in Naples. Since then, Klopp’s group have shown no flaws whatsoever in their craft, playing rock solid defence behind Virgil van Dijk, controlling the midfield through captain Jordan Henderson and having Mohamed Salah leading the attacking assault.

Meanwhile, Atléti finished second in their group behind Juventus to book their spot in this round, but have endured quite a few troubles along the way in league play. Currently sitting 4th in the La Liga table and proving susceptible to humbling defeats, Simeone will need his men to match his level of intensity and show they should not be slept on to pull off an upset.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Paris Saint-Germain - Tuesday, 2/18 @ 3:00PM

Boasting one of European football’s most vibrant and talented projects, Bundesliga’s Borussia Dortmund lock horns with French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.

Lucien Favre’s side, currently sitting third in the table, have been driven by an invigorating youth injection over the years and now employ a quartet that is a real force to be reckoned with. Achraf Hakimi, attacking starlet Jadon Sancho, Julian Brandt and Norwegian sensation Erling Haaland each have enjoyed great success in 2019/20, but we would be remiss to not highlight the exploits of the newcomer.

The 19-year old has scored 7 goals in 4 appearances since arriving at Signal Iduna Park last month from RB Salzburg. There, he spent the entire group stage phase, compiling a stunning 8 goals in 6 appearances. While the Parisian club certainly has their hands full with the big striker, they employ an attacking unit that, when operating at full fitness and effectiveness, may be the best remaining in this competition.

Armed with the artillery to make even the most study defensive sides tremble, Thomas Tuchel, who coached Dortmund from 2015 to 2017, could run out Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Angel Di Maria and Mauro Icardi, making this clash one with immense goal potential. 

Atalanta vs. Valencia - Wednesday, 2/19 @ 3:00PM

Serie A sweethearts Atalanta are set to keep their Cinderella story going as they take on Spanish club Valencia.

Making their debut in the UCL, La Dea are the perfect example of what a well-run academy, youth scouting, shrewd market operations and a progressive coaching style can bring. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side are currently 4th in the league table, boasting Italy’s most potent offence ahead of Juventus, Lazio and Inter. Names like Papu Gomez, Josip ilicic and Duvan Zapata produce, bring real balance and are a trio that works hard to carry out Gasperini’s free-flowing style of calcio. 

Without a doubt, the Bergamo-based outfit, who will play this first leg at San Siro, are in position to upset an Albert Celades’ squad that has shown its share of inconsistencies in this competition. But, there is a good amount of youth in this side that oozes potential, including Ferran Torres and Maxi Gomez. 

This one could go either way.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. RB Leipzig - Wednesday, 2/19 @ 3:00PM

Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham are set to stand toe to toe with an exemplary football model of German engineering in RB Leipzig.

For the English side, it has certainly been a very turbulent follow-up season after finishing runner-ups last year to Liverpool in the final. Sitting 6th in the Premier League and proving less than sharp on many occasions, it will take a real unified effort to overcome the injury to star striker Harry Kane and loss of Christian Eriksen. Against a well-oiled, fledgling youth German side in RB Leipzig, Mourinho finds himself in a precarious situation to advance beyond this round. 

Julian Nagelsmann’s side have talent in spades and some of the best young names in the game today. Between Timo Werner, Christopher Nkunku, Dayot Upacameno, Tyler Adams and Dani Olmo, you have only heard the short end of all they possess. Beyond the rich quality of their personnel, Die Roten Bullen play with confidence, expression and no fear to assert themselves under pressure.

Chelsea FC vs. FC Bayern - Tuesday, 2/25 @ 3:00PM

Chelsea and FC Bayern rekindle their past history with a rematch of the 2012 UCL Final, ironically enough, in Munich.

In year one of the Frank Lampard era, the Blues seem to be right on target to fulfill their league objective of finishing top four while giving real opportunity to the kids of their youth academy. Striker Tammy Abraham leads the team with an impressive 13 goals in Premier League play, while Reece James, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi have each breathed new, fresh life into a side now finally beginning to rebuild a project capable of lasting at the top. 

Though Lampard possesses veteran midfielders N’Golo Kante and Jorginho, as well as USMNT star Christian Pulisic, Bayern Munich are battle tested and have a wealth of experience in making deep runs in the competition.

Leading the Bundesliga behind the scoring prowess of hitman Robert Lewandowski and his 22 goals, the Pole also has shown he can do the heavy lifting up front required of him in this tournament with an additional 10 strikes to his name. Between him, Thomas Muller, Joshua Kimmich, David Alaba and goalkeeping leader Manuel Neuer, it may take something truly special from the English straight from their 2012 winning playbook to trump the German giant.

SSC Napoli vs. FC Barcelona - Tuesday, 2/25 @ 3:00PM

Now without Carlo Ancelotti, Napoli set out to stun reigning Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi and his Barcelona.

The Gennaro Gattuso-led Partenopei have not enjoyed the best domestic season, this after coming in with expectations of contending for a Serie A title with Juventus. Sitting 11th in the league, their hopes for silverware now lie in the Coppa Italia and Champions League. Despite their struggles though, the Azzurri have shown they can be a real thorn in the side when operating well, functioning to their full potential and motivated, the last trait which Gattuso must ensure meets his high standard. 

Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Arkadiusz Milik is more than enough to stifle Barcelona’s defence, while Kalidou Koulibaly cannot be forgotten as one of the game’s best central defenders. As for the Catalan club, well they have been carried quite a bit by the little Argentine magician Messi this entire season. 

Domestically, the 32-year old has scored 14 goals and supplied a further 11 assist, this in addition to his total five goal contributions in the group stage. Barcelona undeniably have the quality and experience to emerge as a favorite, and that especially rings true when you have Messi in your corner. Whether or not Quique Setien can get the best from Antoine Griezmann, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal , Frenkie de Jong and the rest of this starpacked group remains to be seen.

FC Barcelona and SSC Napoli met twice last summer - this is how the first leg went down in Miami

Lyon vs. Juventus - Wednesday, 2/26 @ 3:00PM

Despite falling on harder times in Ligue 1 play, Lyon find themselves as one the last 16 remaining in the tournament as they take on Italian superclub Juventus.

The French side currently holds a 9th place position, with Rudi Garcia attempting to make up for the hole he was placed in after taking over for Sylvinho back in October. Though Lyon fans expect to be much higher in the Ligue 1 table pushing PSG for top honors, Garcia surely has an exciting crop of stars with varying levels of experience to put on display for the world to see. 

Without the injured Memphis Depay, Les Gones stars Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar and Rayan Cherki make for a fascinating follow throughout these next few matches. However, it will take something truly stunning for them to disrupt ‘the Old Lady’s’ quest for Champions League supremacy, especially with Cristiano Ronaldo in scintillating form.

The 35-year old Portuguese star is the competition’s all-time leading scorer overall and in the knockout stages. A man on fire, Ronaldo has played in eight games this calendar year and has scored in each of them, with a total of 12 goals. Simply put, he lives for this platform and only feeds of the heaping amount of pressure thrown on him.

Even though the Bianconeri finished first in their group, Maurizio Sarri seems to be stuck in between two varying styles of football as opposed to being completely locked in with his ‘Sarriball’ system which made him a success at Napoli and Chelsea. Despite not operating to full effect, Juventus are still right there for the Scudetto, a semifinalist in the Coppa Italia and a favorite for the UCL crown.

Real Madrid vs. Manchester City - Wednesday, 2/26 @ 3:00PM

La Liga’s first place side and the defending Premier League champions are raring to deliver must-see football over the next 180 minutes.

Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid have only suffered one defeat in league play, clinging to a three point lead at the top ahead of Barcelona. But of course, for Madristas, settling on another La liga title is not the Real Madrid way. As 13-time winners of the UCL, they pride themselves on being the best in Europe and that is what they will set out to do here vs. Manchester City. 

City may be even more motivated after UEFA handed down a two-year Champions League ban

With new Galactico Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and serial winner Sergio Ramos, they shall always remain a threat for the throne.

As for City, barring a monumental collapse by Liverpool, they will be relinquishing their Premier League champion status. Yet, Pep Guardiola and his Manchester side know they have what it takes skill-wise to win this tournament. Though it has evaded them in recent years, City have talent in abundance with Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling to make noise assuming they make it past this first tall hurdle.

Manchester City and Real Madrid met at ICC 2017
 
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