Your 2019 Champions League Roundup

Your 2019 Champions League Roundup

A preview of all remaining Champions League teams

Michael Levin SPORTS EDITOR

Photo: WIKI

February is the month of sports. Between the Super Bowl, the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL), sports fans will have plenty to handle as January comes to a close. However, there is one tournament that many North American sports fans overlook: the UEFA Champions League. As the round of 16 begins February 12, The Mike brings you a preview of all 16 teams in the tournament.  

Manchester United 

If you were to look at Manchester United’s chances at making any noise in the Champions League one month ago, you’d be left gravely disappointed. With Jose Mourinho at the helm, Manchester United was playing extremely uninspired football, focusing on a defensive game plan that did not play to their strengths whatsoever. Perhaps the best midfielder in the world, Paul Pogba, was being benched some games, and the Premier-League side saw themselves sliding down the table as time went on. Mourinho was finally sacked on December 18, 2018, when he was let go in favor of interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Since his arrival, United have enjoyed a period of fantastic form, lead in part by the brilliance of Pogba, the emergence of Marcus Rashford, and David de Gea reminding us why he should be considered the best keeper in the world as they now find themselves in sixth place, tied with Arsenal for points. However, even with this new spark, they will find themselves going up against an incredible Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) squad with much to lose, and I do not see them going far, let alone past the first round. In a season mired in disappointment, United should hope for a top four finish in the Premier League, and not much else. 

Prediction: Loss in round of 16 

Paris Saint-Germain 

Boasting perhaps the best front three in the whole world, Paris Saint-Germain’s attack has been leaving all of Ligue 1 shivering in their boots with every passing game as they steamroll their way to yet another league championship. Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are two of the most exciting players in the world at the moment, and Edinson Cavani has been one of the most prolific goal scorers of the last generation. However, while they have shown they can get it done in league play, it’s difficult to see them stepping their game up as the tournament progresses and they start playing more difficult competition. Christopher Nkunku and Lassana Diarra can provide some stability off the bench, but are simply outclassed by many of the other bench players on other top sides. Even with this, Marquinhos, who recently has been stepping more into the role of central defensive midfielder, has been showing flashes of brilliance, giving them more hope. This PSG squad is certainly young and talented, and should be able to make it out of the round of 16 against Manchester United with ease. However, as they move along and face more difficult competition, I expect them to falter, and would say their limit is an appearance in the semi-finals. That being said, if there is a year for Neymar and Co. to prove their haters wrong, it certainly is this year. 

Prediction: Loss in semi-finals 

Dortmund 

In a rematch from last year’s Champions League, the unexpectedly dominant Dortmund (BVB) will be looking to take their revenge on Tottenham, a side that has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season, but is still plagued with inconsistency. Jadon Sancho looks like the next great talent to come out of England, and Marco Reus’ first season not plagued by injury has seen him back in his proper form that at times can make him one of the best in the world. With this dominant attack and often rapid pace of play, BVB should be able to handle Tottenham in the round of 16, especially with an injured Harry Kane. However, as they progress through the tournament, their youth and inexperience should catch up to them. They might be able to sneak into a semi-final appearance depending on their draw after the round of 16, but the quarterfinals is where the end of the line seems to be. 

Prediction: Loss in quarterfinals 

Tottenham Hotspurs 

In a season that started off as optimistic as possible, things have gone downhill rather quickly for this Tottenham Hotspur squad. Dele Alli, Harry Kane, and Kieran Trippier all broke out during the World Cup in some way, and looked to continue their fine form into the Premier League season. However, months removed from the start, things are beginning to look bleak. Now, with Kane out until March and Son Heung-min on international duty, all the Spurs can do is hope that the season doesn’t get too far out of their hands. Victory was definitely a possibility, if not an expectation, after the draw against Dortmund, but with their very best player out for both legs, it seems like their Championship ambitions are done. 

Prediction: Loss in round of 16 

Real Madrid 

The current season for Real Madrid has definitely been one to forget. With the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo over the summer, Madrid has seen its season crash and burn over the last several months. In addition to this, they’ve been plagued with a plethora of injuries, creating a team that is a combination of young up-and-comers with too much responsibility, and world-class stalwarts that are clearly exhausted from winning Champions League in the previous year, as well as the World Cup. They should be able to take care of business against Ajax, but do not expect them to make it much further than that. 

Prediction: Loss in quarterfinals 

Ajax

As the only squad from a Dutch league remaining in the tournament, Ajax should be proud of themselves for making it this far. Their squad is brimming with young talent, as Dutch teams typically are, but this talent is simply too young and inexperienced to make any real noise in this year’s Champions League. This is simply not their year, and they should bow out in the first round against a Real Madrid team that is on the brink of collapse. 

Prediction: Loss in round of 16 

Schalke 

When Schalke fans turned on the TV to see which side their team would draw for the round of 16, I’m sure that seeing Manchester City come up was one of the worst things they could have expected. In fact, while their opponent can be unstoppable when in form, the form of this Schalke squad has been extremely lacking. They currently find themselves sitting in 13th in the Bundesliga with an uninspiring five wins. Their team has no particular stand-out in terms of talent, apart from Weston McKennie, one of the few promising American prospects playing in Europe currently. While I would offer some solace for Schalke fans, there really appears to be none as they come closer to playing Manchester City, and they should hope for a quick and painless defeat.  

Prediction: Loss in round of 16 

Manchester City 

There really isn’t much else that can be said of this Manchester City squad. This is the same City side that broke the record for most points, wins, and goals, as well as several other stats for any Premier League team ever. Despite their much weaker track record in the Champions League, I expect City to move out of the round of 16 without breaking a sweat. However, City has been plagued with injury problems all season long. Kevin De Bruyne, perhaps the best attacking midfielder in the world, has been sidelined for a majority of the season with injuries, and will need to be carefully inserted back into the lineup to ensure that he stays healthy. In addition to this, stalwart David Silva has recently been sidelined with a hamstring injury, while starting left back Benjamin Mendy has been recovering from a knee injury for several months now. While they certainly have the depth to continue playing at a high level, it will be difficult to say whether or not their replacements can play at a level to help them advance all the way to the finals. It will certainly be a rocky road for them as they move on in the tournament, and it will be interesting to see how they face this adversity.  

Prediction: Loss in the semi-finals 

Lyon

Much like Ajax, this is a talented Lyon team filled with excellent young players who simply do not have the experience to make it out of the round of 16, especially when you look at who they are facing. Memphis Depay has been having a career year, while Nabil Fekir has been developing into one of the best young attacking midfielders. Youngster Houssem Aouar has been enjoying success at the club for the better part of two years now, while Ferland Mendy is looking more and more like his brother, Benjamin Mendy, with each passing day. However, even with all of this young talent, they will be facing Messi and Co. in the first round, perhaps the worst fate they could have expected.  

Prediction: Loss in round of 16 

Atletico Madrid 

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We may never know, but Atletico Madrid’s matchup against Juventus could certainly give us an idea of what it looks like. Atletico Madrid and their manager Diego Simeone are known for consistently putting forth dominating defensive performances, with top keeper Jan Oblak in great form, as well as a strong backline that includes Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin. Up front, they boast one of the best strikers in the world, coming fresh off of a World Cup win, Antoine Griezmann, who is known for his goal-scoring as much as his wild celebrations. However, for a team known for their deep Champions League runs, their run may end abruptly this year after drawing one of the heavy favorites in the first round in Juventus. I expect two hard-fought games from the Spanish side before bowing out. 

Prediction: Loss in round of 16 

Roma

After one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the Champions League last year against Barcelona, Roma finds themselves moving past the group stage again, but this time with a weaker squad. After last year’s third place finish in Serie A, Roma currently finds themselves in sixth place, nine points behind third place Inter Milan. Losing Radja Nainggolan, a top midfielder, rising goalkeeper Alisson Becker, and Kevin Strootman has definitely affected their play this season, as the side appears much shakier than in recent memory. Especially going up against an underrated Porto side, I think Roma’s championship hopes die in the first round. 

Prediction: Loss in round of 16 

FC Porto 

Porto moved on from the Group Stage after dominating a weak group that included Schalke, Galatasaray, and FC Lokomotiv. Despite the definite lower level of competition in their group compared to the others, Porto displayed their strength and proved themselves to be a formidable side. Their defense — which features Brazilian talents Alex Telles and Eder Militau — just added Pepe from Besiktas, which should help bolster it for the coming rounds. In addition to their Group Stage dominance, they also find themselves in first place in the Portuguese League. Even though they are one of the lowest spending sides of the teams remaining, they find themselves in a good spot facing off against Roma and should be hungry to possibly upset a favorite. 

Prediction: Loss in semi-finals 

Bayern Munich 

While Bayern were probably dreading playing in the Champions League at the start of the season, Liverpool should be looking out for them now as they have only gotten hotter as the season has gone on. They started off on the wrong foot under new manager Niko Kovac, dropping points that in past years they normally would not have. Despite this, they have definitely been rising in form lately, rising up the ranks and finding themselves in second place, and only six points back. Even with their stars of the past like Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery aging, newer signings Leon Goretzka and Renato Sanches represent the new Bayern Munich of the future. However, the Liverpool squad they will be facing is simply too hot for them to handle, and I expect them to be bounced out in the round of 16. 

Prediction: Loss in round of 16 

Liverpool 

Liverpool is currently sitting atop the Premier League, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, boasting a team that is as complete as we’ve ever seen. After getting to the Champions League final last year before losing in disappointing fashion, Liverpool will be back in the elimination stage with a chip on their shoulder. They made some great additions over the summer, bringing in Alisson Becker, a goalkeeper that has brought much needed stability to what was easily Liverpool’s weakest link, as well as two central midfielders with much to offer. Fabinho has been their defensive rock in midfield this season, while Naby Keita has done a solid job with the link-up play, as well as providing much needed assistance in most facets of the game in attack, as well as defense. With no Steven Gerrard or Loris Karius to let things slip away, and all the momentum in the world, some might say they could win it all, but with Barcelona and Juventus to face, I would not agree with them. 

Prediction: Loss in semi-finals 

Juventus

As for Juventus, there really isn’t much to be said. A team that has been dominating the Serie A for years now and has been on the cusp of a Champions League win for years has added the greatest goal-scorer of all time to their squad, bolstering an already blazing fast attack that features the likes of Douglas Costa, Juan Cuadrado, and young talent Paulo Dybala. Even better for Juventus, their defense is as good as their offense, with stalwart Giorgio Chiellini holding it down with Leonardo Bonucci and Wojciech Szczęsny. Perhaps the deepest team in the entire tournament, I expect them to blow out all of their opponents. All except for one.  

Prediction: Loss in finals 

Barcelona

Another year, another season where Lionel Messi continues to prove not only why he is probably the best ever, but also that when he is in form, Barcelona can and will overcome every obstacle. Despite missing several games to injury, he still leads all top five European Leagues in goals and assists. Add in one of the most uniquely talented strikers in the world in Luis Suarez, as well as a defense and midfield that contain the classic FC Barcelona DNA, and this year’s team is one to be reckoned with. They sit at the top of La Liga with only two losses, and no losses at the Group Stage. They have rarely missed a step, and should only continue to get better.  

Prediction: Champions 

With all things considered, there are only three true contenders I see now: Barcelona, Juventus, and Liverpool. Each team has a plethora of world-class players that will each have their eyes on the prize, but given the nature of any tournament, there can and will be only one champion, who I think will be Barcelona. After a disappointing exit last year, and with arguably the greatest of all time on their side, I think it will finally be their season where they are able to bring the trophy back to Spain, but not to Madrid.  

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