The Champions League Rolls into the Knockout Stages


PSG overcame a setback to win the group and set up an exciting match with Barcelona in the round of 16. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Michael Hernandez, Assistant Sports Editor

Over the past two weeks, the final matchdays of the Champions League group stages took place, with every team fighting for a chance to advance to the knockout stages. In matchday five, out of the 16 matches, there were some notable results. The defending champions Bayern Munich drew against Atletico Madrid 1-1, as they came from behind to tie the game late with a penalty. This draw ended an unbeaten streak for Bayern in all Champion League matches since the round of 16 in the 2018-2019 campaign where they lost to the eventual champions, Liverpool. That was a total of 15 games, which is remarkable on this level considering the opponents they faced during that period. In Group D, Liverpool secured their ticket to the knockout stage with a 1-0 win against Ajax. In Group C, Porto also secured their seat with a 0-0 draw with Manchester City. Before the final matchday, there were still plenty of spots available for the rest of the teams. 

On matchday six, several major events occurred. Barcelona versus Juventus brought the best players in the world against each other: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Last time those two played each other, Barcelona won 2-0 but Ronaldo had COVID-19 and missed the game. This time, Juventus won 3-0 with two goals from Ronaldo, which let them take first place in the group from Barcelona. 

The battle for survival in group H meant that it was a must-win. It was PSG against Istanbul Basaksehir and Manchester United against RB Leipzig. Both games were going to be played at the same time, but within 15 minutes of the PSG game, one of the Basaksehir coaches was sent off as the fourth referee allegedly used a racial term in describing the coach. This led to players of both teams walking off the field in protest to stand against racism. The match eventually resumed the following day where PSG won 5-1 and secured the top spot in the group. On the other side of the group, RB Leipzig upset United with a 3-2 win that guaranteed them a place in the last 16 and sent United down to the Europa League. As a reminder, the top two of each group go on to the knockout stages while the third-placed team goes to the Europa League knockout stages. 

In Group B, Real Madrid won their match against Borussia Monchengladbach 2-0 to secure their spot in the knockout stages. In the other group B match, Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk tied 0-0, which meant that Monchengladbach also qualified, while Shakhtar Donetsk finished in third and shockingly, Inter Milan in last place. In group A, Atletico Madrid also qualified with a 2-0 win against RB Salzburg. In Group F, Dortmund and Lazio both won their matches, which qualified them for the knock-out stages. You can take a look at the final group standings here.

With the final 16 teams in the Champions League determined with the group stages, the draw for the round of 16 was held on Monday. The eight group winners were in a draw against the eight runner ups. These were the winners of each group in order from group A to group H: Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, and Paris-Saint Germain (PSG). They were drawn against one of eight runners up: Atletico Madrid (A), Borussia Monchengladbach (B), Porto (C), Atalanta (D), Sevilla (E), Lazio (F), Barcelona (G), and RB Leipzig (H).

For the round of 16, there are some rules. The matches cannot be with the teams from the same group stage or domestic league. After the draw, the matches were announced. Bayern will face Lazio. Real Madrid will face Atalanta. Manchester City will face Borussia Monchengladbach. Liverpool will face RB Leipzig. Chelsea will face Atletico Madrid. Borussia Dortmund will face Sevilla. Juventus will face Porto. And last but not least, PSG will face Barcelona.

Out of these matchups, one of the more exciting ones will be PSG and Barcelona. It will feature former teammates Neymar Jr. and Lionel Messi. When they both played for Barcelona, they dominated Europe and won the treble in 2015. Another notable match up will be Liverpool and RB Leipzig. Liverpool won the Champions League in 2019 and cruised to their domestic title while Leipzig made it to the semifinals last year. Another good matchup will be Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, with Chelsea’s new attacking signings against Atletico’s “park the bus” defensive setup. Another interesting matchup is Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla. As for Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester City and Bayern, I believe those four will have no problem qualifying for the quarter-finals with the depth and quality of their players.

These matches will be played out in two legs. The winner will be scored on aggregate and if tied, then whoever scored more away goals will advance to the quarter-finals. The first leg will be held in February with the return leg in March. For now, all the teams can do is prepare for their opponents as the final 16 teams fight for the biggest club trophy in the world.