The first knockout round of this season’s Champions League has thrown up some mouth-watering ties, but fans will have to wait until February for the action. In the meantime, here are the key players who are likely to prove decisive in each of the Champions League last 16 ties.
Who are the key players in the Champions League last 16?
Barcelona vs. PSG – Neymar
There can be no other choice than Neymar, with the Brazilian superstar set to return to Camp Nou four years after he left Barcelona to join PSG. He hit six goals during the group stage. Neymar is yet to deliver the Champions League title he was brought to the French capital to claim, but after reaching the final last season PSG will be confident of going one step better
Barcelona have been in crisis for much of the year with Ronald Koeman seemingly nothing more than a stopgap, while Lionel Messi has been out of sorts after failing to force his way out of the club during the summer. Messi has even been linked with a switch to PSG, reuniting with Neymar, but it is the Brazilian who seems certain to have the greater impact than the veteran over the two legs.
RB Leipzig vs. Liverpool – Angelino
Liverpool will be strong favourites to progress past the Champions League last 16 but they will have to find a way to contain Angelino, who helped to knock out Manchester United during the group stage.
The Dutch defender often pops up in other positions and his late runs into the box are a menace, helping him to score three times in the group stage, as well as providing three assists. An individual battle between Angelino and Trent Alexander-Arnold could be a classic.
Porto vs. Juventus – Alvaro Morata
Cristiano Ronaldo remains the star of the show under Andrea Pirlo’s leadership for Juve, but he was outscored by Morata in the group stage. The Spanish striker struck six times and could have had a lot more had he been able to stay onside, with a number of goals chalked off.
Morata has bounced around some of Europe’s biggest clubs but he seems at home back in Turin, with Porto unlikely to be able to match the Serie A champions’ quality. But Porto only conceded three times in the group stage, so this could be tighter than it looks.
Sevilla vs. Borussia Dortmund – Erling Haaland
Matching Morata and Neymar on six group stage goals was Haaland, with the Dortmund striker happy to shoulder the goalscoring responsibility for his side at the age of 20.
The sacking of Lucien Favre means it is difficult to predict what sort of Dortmund will come up against Europa League holders Sevilla in the Champions League last 16, but in Haaland they have a future great of the game.
Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea – Joao Felix
Another of Europe’s most exciting young players will be on show when Atletico Madrid take on Chelsea, with Felix developing at a rapid rate in the Spanish capital.
The Portugal international raced to double figures for club and country this season and his partnership with new signing Luis Suarez has fired Atletico into La Liga title contention. Defence seems to be Chelsea’s weakness and keeping out Felix promises to be a challenge.
Lazio v Bayern Munich – Ciro Immobile
Defending champions Bayern were handed a difficult draw in the Chanpions League last 16, with the prolific Immobile likely to pose a stern test for the German giants.
The Lazio striker scored the first goal in three group games with the 30-year-old in the form of his life after finding the net 36 times in Serie A last term. If Lazio are going to cause an upset, they will need Immobile to be at his best next year.
Atalanta vs. Real Madrid – Sergio Ramos
Progressing from the group stage went to the wire for Madrid after two defeats to Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine, with pressure piled on Zinedine Zidane as a result. But with Zidane’s future in peril, old heads like captain Sergio Ramos dragged Madrid to a string of key wins including a derby defeat over Atletico, potentially saving the Frenchman’s job.
Ramos has led Madrid to four Champions League crowns and, after taking over penalty duties from Ronaldo, is an even more regular goalscorer for Los Blancos too. His character and defensive leadership will be crucial against an Atalanta side that lit up last season’s tournament. For the Bergamo-based side, much depends on if the rift between star man Alejandro Gomez and coach Gian Piero Gasperini can be healed.
Borussia Monchengladbach v Manchester City – Ruben Dias
City have not seemed their usual selves this season but there has been one shining light, with defender Dias helping to instil defensive solidity for Pep Guardiola’s side.
The Catalan has a tendency to overthink big games – City were incredibly muddled against Lyon last season – but he knows he can rely on Dias to be a powerful presence at the back.
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