The round of 16 of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League, Europe’s premier club soccer competition, kicked off this week. Matchups include a number of high-profile games including those between Paris Saint-Germain F.C. (PSG) at FC Barcelona and Chelsea F.C. at Atlético Madrid.
The competition draws clubs from a top tier pool of European leagues, including the Barclays Premier League (England), Serie A (Italy), the Bundesliga (Germany) and La Liga (Spain). The group stages, which concluded on Dec. 9, were highlighted by a number of notable upsets, including the elimination of Premier League squad Manchester United F.C. and the Italian giant Inter Milan. Both teams missed out on a trip to the round of 16 after losses to mid-sized German clubs RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach, respectively.
In the competition’s marquee matchup, the defending European champions PSG are taking on Barcelona, with the winner set to advance to the quarter-finals. Barcelona headed into the matchup with a significant advantage in experience. In their last three meetings in the Champions League, Barcelona sent home PSG all three times, including a 5-1 defeat on aggregate in 2012. The last time PSG overcame the Catalans in the knockout rounds was in the 1994-95 quarterfinals.
Led by international superstars Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann, Barcelona looked to continue their dominance against a formidable opponent in PSG, who boasts names such as 22-year-old French phenom Kylian Mbappe and Brazilian star Neymar. However, in Tuesday’s first leg, PSG made a massive statement, stunning Barcelona 4-1 on the road at Camp Nou, giving them virtually no chance of advancing. Mbappe played his best on the brightest stage, securing a hat trick in the win.
In another part of the bracket, Chelsea will take on the talented Atlético Madrid, beginning on Feb. 23. Atlético currently sits at the top of hyper-competitive La Liga, ahead of teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid. Recently, Atlético has opened up a five-point lead on their Spanish rivals after winning five of their last six games and are a strong favorite to win the Spanish domestic league. Led by former Barcelona forward Luis Suarez and Portuguese phenom João Félix, Atlético Madrid boasts a powerful attack that should be a handful for Chelsea’s defense.
Chelsea appears to be somewhat vulnerable amid a turbulent season in the Premier League. Despite signing Germans Kai Havertz and Timo Werner (for a collective fee of almost $150 million), Chelsea struggled through the first half of their Premier League schedule. After a widely successful 13-year stint as Chelsea’s manager, Frank Lampard was dismissed from his post in favor of former PSG head coach, Thomas Tuchel. Under Lampard, the two Germans Havertz and Werner struggled to find their form and often looked out of place on the pitch. Since Lampard’s sacking in January, Chelsea’s play has improved, with the team winning their last four league games. The contest against Atlético provides an important test for a young team looking to demonstrate that their expensive summer transfer signings were not in vain.
Liverpool F.C. and RB Leipzig played their first leg on Tuesday, with Liverpool prevailing 2-0 on the road against the Germans. On Wednesday, Sevilla FC fell to Borussia Dortmund 3-2 at home and Juventus F.C. suffered a shocking 2-1 defeat to FC Porto.
Elsewhere in the round of 16, Lazio and Bayern Munich will play their first leg on Feb. 23. On the following day, Atalanta B.C. takes on Real Madrid and Manchester City competes against Borussia Monchengladbach.