What to Watch for as UEFA Champions League Knockout Stage Begins

The Champions League is back.

The UEFA Champions League knockout rounds begin Tuesday afternoon with two round-of-16 matches. The first legs continue with two more matches on Wednesday as well as Feb. 19 and 20. Every match will stream on B/R Live, and a select match each day will also broadcast on TNT. Coverage every day will start with B/R Football Matchday at 2 p.m. and finish with the post-match show on TNT. B/R Live will broadcast post-match press conferences after every match.

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Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric help Real Madrid resume its chase for a fourth Champions League trophy in a row.Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

In the U.K., every match will be available on BT Sport.

Let’s dive in. But first, 🚨new ball alert 🚨:

UCL matches this week

All kickoffs are 3 p.m. ET (Odds via OddsShark)

Tuesday

Manchester United (+135) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (Watch on B/R Live, TNT)

PSG may be the only team that’s not excited for the Champions League to resume this week. The French squad is decimated by injuries, and it’s not rotation players who are hurt, it’s the top players. Brazilian star Neymar will miss both legs against Manchester United due to a foot injury sustained in late January, and Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani injured his hip over the weekend in a Ligue 1 match, putting his status for this afternoon in heavy doubt.

Not many outside of Paris will be upset for the French side that has one of the largest payrolls in world football, but there’s just that much more pressure on 20-year-old French sensation Kylian Mbappe to carry the load. The winger will have to lead from the front while legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon leads from the back, still in search of his first-ever Champions League crown.

On the other side of the pitch is a squad seemingly feeling the total opposite from PSG, as Manchester United has been rejuvenated following the sacking of Jose Mourinho. The Red Devils are unbeaten since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over in mid-December, with 10 wins and one draw in that span. The key to their success has been the unleashing of midfielder Paul Pogba, who has scored 8 goals in those 11 matches after being underutilized during Mourinho’s time in charge.

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If Pogba can dictate play within the middle of the field and put himself into attacking positions to score, the depleted PSG side may not be able to keep pace. However, even if the French side falls in Leg 1, if it’s able to tally an away goal or two and stay within striking distance, a healthier team in the return leg in Paris could be very dangerous.

AS Roma (+105) vs. FC Porto (Watch)

This matchup is a dark-horse candidate to produce two very entertaining legs. Both teams can score. Both have strong European experience. And both feel as though they can play with the top teams in the Champions League.

Last season Roma advanced past Barcelona to the semifinals of the competition, narrowly losing to Liverpool. Porto has been a regular in the Champions League in this century but hasn’t made it past the quarterfinal stage since winning the title in 2004.

This match features another legend in goal, as Iker Casillas—a three-time Champions League winner at Real Madrid—faces a tough task in keeping the Italian side’s attackers out of the back of the net. As we alluded earlier, these guys can score, as both Roma’s Edin Dzeko and Porto’s Moussa Marega are tied for third in the entire competition with five goals each so far. Expect a lot of high-paced action up and down the pitch in this one.

Wednesday

Tottenham (+135) vs. Borussia Dortmund (Watch on B/R Live, TNT)

Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund are no strangers to meeting in European competition, and they’ve had some excellent battles. Spurs won both matches between the sides in last season’s Champions League group stage. In 2016, Dortmund defeated Tottenham over two legs in the Europa League round of 16. They’ve split their last four head-to-head matches, with Dortmund holding a slim 7-6 total goal advantage across those meetings.

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Harry Kane‘s injury prognosis of being sidelined until early March with ligament damage in his ankle certainly puts him out of Leg 1 and leaves only the smallest of windows for a return in Leg 2. Spurs’ result in the first match will likely influence just how much Kane and the team push to have him back in time for the return leg. If he can return, Kane will be especially valuable against the German side, as he has scored three goals in his past three games against Dortmund.

For the Germans, they’ll look to continue the strong form at both ends of the pitch they showed in the group stage. Dortmund featured a balanced attack that scored 10 total goals while only conceding two, with many players getting onto the scoresheet. Spanish striker Paco Alcacer and English winger Jadon Sancho will push Dortmund’s attack with pace and attempt to create lanes and openings in the Tottenham backline and finish in the final third. United States star Christian Pulisic could be a dangerous weapon as a substitute for Dortmund if they need a late goal.

Ajax vs. Real Madrid (-110) (Watch)

The winners of three-consecutive and 13 overall Champions League titles, Real Madrid resumes its quest for an even more unprecedented fourth-straight triumph. After an autumn coaching change, Los Blancos won their group, then won the Club World Cup and are now red hot in Spanish competition, advancing to the semifinals of the Copa del Rey and vaulting up to second in La Liga.

Tomorrow’s first leg against Dutch power Ajax will finish off a brutal week away from home for Madrid, which began with a draw at Barcelona last Wednesday followed by a derby win over city rival Atletico Madrid on Saturday. With Champions League goal king Cristiano Ronaldo now at Juventus, Real operates more by committee on the goal-scoring front, leaning on longtime striker Karim Benzema as well as Brazilian teenager Vinicius Jr., whose form has kept him in the starting XI despite Gareth Bale‘s return from injury. Love-him-or-hate-him captain Sergio Ramos anchors the Spanish side at the back, and Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric orchestrates everything all over the pitch.

Playing Leg 1 at home in Amsterdam, Ajax certainly will look to jump on Madrid early and take advantage of what have to be tired legs from the past week. The Dutch side has one of the most prolific attacking and scoring duos of the last 16 teams. Forward Dusan Tadic and defender Nicolas Tagliafico combined to score eight goals in the group stage, tied for the most by any pair of teammates in the competition. While Ajax will want to get out and score, it has to be mindful of opening up too much, given how important an away goal or two will be for Madrid. Ajax gave Bayern Munich all it could handle in the group stage. Can it go one step further and upset the title holders?

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UCL Group Stage Refresher

Speaking of the Group Stage, here’s a look back at how we got to this point. Thirty-two teams spread across eight groups finished up this way:

Two groups, in particular, went a little wild. Groups B and C could be called the co-Groups of Death, and in both cases, an English team squeezed by an Italian side on a tiebreaker scenario after a wild final matchday.

And of course, there were outstanding goals and some great celebrations and antics to go with them.

Be sure to also catch up on the B/R Football series The Champions before the new season begins with the knockout stage. Watch every episode by clicking or tapping on the first one below:

Round of 16 Look Ahead

After the four first leg matches this week, the other half of the draw plays next Tuesday and Wednesday. Every match will again kick off at 3 p.m. ET and air on B/R Live, with one per day broadcast on TNT.

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Wednesday, Feb. 20

Atletico Madrid (+170) vs. Juventus, Preview (Watch on B/R Live, TNT)

Schalke vs. Manchester City (-360), Preview (Watch)

Tuesday, Feb. 19

Liverpool (+100) vs. Bayern Munich (Watch on B/R Live, TNT)

Lyon vs. Barcelona (-150) (Watch)

FiveThirtyEight projections for the entire Champions League round of 16

Europa League is back, too

And don’t think we forgot about the UEFA Europa League. How could we, with goals like this from the group stage:

The UEL knockout stages begins with the first legs of the Round of 32 this week. One match will be played this afternoon while all the rest kick off on Thursday (it’s perfectly OK for the beautiful game to be your special someone on Valentine’s Day). Every game will stream on B/R Live. Here’s the full schedule:

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Tuesday

12:55 p.m. – Fenerbahce vs. Zenit (Watch)

Thursday

12:55 p.m. – BATE vs. Arsenal (Watch)

12:55 p.m. – Galatasaray vs. Benfica (Watch)

12:55 p.m. – Lazio vs. Sevilla (Watch)

12:55 p.m. – Rapid Wien vs. Inter Milan (Watch)

12:55 p.m. – Stade Rennes vs. Real Betis (Watch)

12:55 p.m. – Olympiacos vs. Dynamo Kyiv (Watch)

12:55 p.m. – Krasnodar vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Watch)

12:55 p.m. – Slavia Praha vs. KRC Genk (Watch)

3 p.m. – Viktoria Plzen vs. Dinamo Zagreb (Watch)

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