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The Champions League reconvenes this week as the world’s elite club competition begins its knockout phase with four first leg ties, starting with a heavyweight clash in Manchester.
Manchester United vs Paris Saint Germain
When the draw was made, Jose Mourinho was still at the helm at Old Trafford and this tie looked like a banker for PSG. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United are a very different proposition. Since Solskjaer’s appointment, United are unbeaten and have rediscovered the swagger of old with Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba in sensational form.
PSG meanwhile have suffered the double injury blow of losing both Neymar and Edinson Cavani. At home, PSG’s hopes of an invincible title season have ended, but they still hold a 10-point lead at the top of Ligue 1.
PSG represent the stiffest test of Solskjaer’s reign to date, and even weakened, they will have Kylian Mbappe and United outcast Angel Di Maria leading the line. United will go for the jugular at Old Trafford, but they remain defensively vulnerable and Mbappe’s pace could prove deadly on the counter. United must take a lead to Paris if they are to stand a chance of progressing and need David De Gea on top form in-goal.
Prediction: 1-1 (First Leg) 1-3 (Second Leg)
Roma vs Porto
Last season’s semi-finalists Roma have endured a mixed season. Roma were comfortably beaten home and away by Real Madrid in the group phase and sit just 6th in Serie A. They continue to score goals with Stephen El Shaarawy enjoying a strong season domestically.
Porto were the under-the-radar success of the group phase cruising unbeaten through Group D and scoring 15 goals. The 2004 European Champions currently sit top of the Portuguese Primiera Liga by a single point with striker Moussa Marega nabbing 14 goals in all competition.
Roma are an unpredictable side in Europe capable of both sublime and awful performances, which was highlighted by last season’s tie with Barcelona. Roma will hope to put the tie out of sight in the first leg before travelling to Porto, with Edin Dzeko likely among the goals in Rome.
Prediction: 2-1 (First Leg) 0-2 (Second Leg)
Ajax vs Real Madrid
Two of the great names of European football clash in Amsterdam on Wednesday night when Ajax take on defending champions Real Madrid. Ajax start as huge underdogs, but emerged unbeaten from a tough-looking group with Bayern Munich and Benfica. Serbian striker Dusan Tadic is enjoying a prolific first season in Holland with 22 goals in 34 games, meanwhile Frenkie De Jong will be looking to put a marker down on Madrid ahead of his €75M switch to Barcelona.
Real are recovering from their horrendous start to the season and have fought their way back into 2nd place in La Liga. Gareth Bale bagged his 100th Real Madrid as Real won the Madrid derby on Saturday night, but inevitably, manager Santiago Solari will be under pressure until he delivers a major trophy.
The absence of Ronaldo still inevitably hangs over this season in Madrid, but it would still be a major shock if they went out to Ajax. The first leg will be tough, but Madrid should have too much quality for Ajax.
Prediction: 1-2 (First Leg) 0-3 (Second Leg)
Tottenham vs Borussia Dortmund
Two of Europe’s most exciting teams clash at Wembley on Wednesday with Tottenham taking on Bundesliga pace setters Borussia Dortmund. Tottenham have kept on Liverpool and Manchester City’s coattails, despite the absence of talisman Harry Kane. Spurs’ revamped midfield of Moussa Sissoko and Harry Winks have stepped up, while Son Heung-Min has provided the goals.
Dortmund are enjoying their best season since 2012 with their electric attack of Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus and Pablo Alcacer tearing up the Bundelsiga. However, they let a 3-goal lead slip against Hoffenheim at the weekend and saw Bayern trim their lead at the top to 5 points. Ending Bayern’s domestic dominance is Dortmund’s biggest aim of the season, but they will be desperate to reestablish themselves at the sharp end of the Champions League.
These two clashed in the group phase of last season’s Champions League with Tottenham doing the double on Dortmund with Kane scoring 3 times. The England captain may be available for the second leg later in the month, but he won’t play on Wednesday.
Prediction: 1-1 (First Leg) 1-2 (Second Leg)
Picture Credits- Getty, Zimbio, Talksport