With the new year upon us, attention turns to the knockout phases of European club competition, with the Champions League first and foremost in our minds. There are just 16 teams left in the tournament, and the process of elimination starts again with the first round, beginning on February 13. This is the path to glory for one of the remaining sides. Can reigning champions Manchester City repeat their success?
Standout Performances – Teams to Watch
After winning last season, Manchester City are favourites once again, and with Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne likely recovered from their injuries, they could be deadly opponents.
Real Madrid, of course, can’t be ruled out of contention, and with Vinicius Jr. at the top of his game alongside the devastating Jude Bellingham, they can beat anyone on their day.
And with Harry Kane seemingly settled in with his new Bayern Munich teammates, the German champions could finally win the tournament after their recent European trophy drought.
Key Matchups in the Round of 16
Manchester City will face Danish side FC Copenhagen with Pep Guardiola playing away first, and FC Copenhagen will be aiming to add another Manchester team to their list of victims, having beaten Manchester United home and away in the group stages.
Real Madrid will also be the away team on February 13, when they play Bundesliga side RB Leipzig. Carlo Ancelotti has signed an extension on his deal to remain with the competition’s most successful ever teams, and they are currently neck and neck with Girona in the race for La Liga. Bellingham’s searing form remains the key to their chances in both tournaments.
Leipzig were well off the pace in the Bundesliga in the first half of the year, and their Champions League defeats to Manchester City make them underdogs in the tie.
Bayern were winners in both group stage matches against Manchester United, while they are battling Bayer Leverkusen for the league this year in a tough domestic competition, they will expect to defeat a struggling Lazio.
Team Analyses – Strengths and Strategies
While Bayern, Real and City will all fancy their chances to lift the trophy, there are more than just those three teams who could emerge as winners this summer.
Arsenal might not be able to best Liverpool in the league this year – though they are far from out of the race – but with Declan Rice, Buyako Saka and William Saliba as their key performers, they might have enough about them to negotiate the Champions League knockout stages given Mikel Arteta’s tactical abilities.
Barcelona, too, are not quite as dangerous as they were last year under Xavi Hernandez, so much so that the Catalan’s position could be under threat. They still boast tremendous attacking prowess with Robert Lewandowski leading the line, but their vulnerability in defence could see Napoli, as Victor Osimhen is still threatening in front of goal, get past them if Walter Mazzarri can help them rediscover their rhythm.
Another team that could still spring a surprise is Paris Saint-Germain. While they have yet to show their best on the European stage, Kylian Mbappe’s potential swansong with his colleagues could spur him on to drag them along deep into the competition. With Real Sociedad their solid but unspectacular opponents, it would be a huge upset to see PSG leave the tournament at this stage after battling through a tough group including AC Milan, Newcastle and Borussia Dortmund.
Socios.com Partnership – Supporting Qualified Teams
Socios has partnerships with FC Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan, Manchester City and Arsenal, amongst others.
By accumulating Fan Rewards by using Fan Tokens, supporters can get behind-the-scenes experiences, VIP tickets, meet club legends, check in to games, pick their favourite players, new kit and merchandise, and stay right at the heart of the action, all while being rewarded for their passionate commitment.
Road to the Quarterfinals – Anticipating the Draw
Clubs who get past the first knockout stage will then be thrown into the quarter-finals. It is here that teams from the same leagues can be drawn together, potentially throwing up intriguing domestic rivalries on the European stage. Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta and his old boss, Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola ,could go toe to toe, or maybe we’ll get another edition of El Clasico between Real and Barca. Maybe Inter Milan, leading the way in Serie A, can go one better this season to lift the Champions League trophy?
Fan Engagement – Predictions and Reactions
You can take part in the experience of the first round by giving your comments, taking part in polls, or interacting on social media. One of the ways to get involved is for you to predict how each of the knockout ties will turn out, and who will go through to the Champions League quarter-finals.