The UEFA Champions League is back, and NMA brings the key transfers to your attention. Manchester United and Inter Milan bowed out of the tournament last December 2020. Two German Clubs, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach, took their places. That isn’t really a surprise since both groups were too difficult to predict by all experts.
On Monday December 14th, mouthwatering ties were drawn such as Paris Saint-Germain versus Barcelona, Sevilla versus Dortmund and Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea. While the other ties winners can’t be called with certainty, it would be a true upset if any result did not match its prediction come the end of March 2021.
RB Leipzig vs Liverpool
One of two matches to kick off the round of 16, this pairs the English Premier League Champions Liverpool with Germany’s youngest Club. Jurgan Klopp is aware of his defensive trouble; Virgil Van Dijk was injured early this season, and Joel Matip followed later on. Liverpool has reacted by bringing in two central midfielders, but both have yet to start. RB Leipzig on the other hand brought in one of Group A’s highlights: Dominik Szoboszlai from RB Salzburg. The left midfielder has not been fit since he joined, but he is sure to provide Angelino with resting time in the near future.
Barcelona vs PSG
This tie is the most anticipated among the eight clashes that will be played as part of the Round of 16. Neither club made any effort in the January transfer market. Barcelona’s lack of participation could be attributed to the reported financial difficulties the club is going through in addition to the election campaigns for a new president. PSG ownership/management on the other hand decided to replace the manager by sacking Thomas Tuchel and appointing former Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentine tactician / ex-capped center-back joined PSG as a player in 2001 appearing 70 times. He has now managed PSG in eight games, winning 6, drawing 1 and losing 1 since he joined on 2-Jan-2021.
Sevilla vs Dortmund
It was no secret to anyone that Sevilla had trouble scoring goals from possession style of play; they have needed on occasion to open play, risking conceding goals for the sole purpose of scoring first and closing down again.
On an unrelated note (so far), the professional rift between Papu Gomez and Gian Piero Gasperini almost caused Atalanta to be knocked out of the Champions League group stage. This rift only grew wider with time, and neither backing down, ultimately resulting in Papu Gomez’s departure. Sevilla is the biggest winner because they signed the Argentine play-maker.
Dortmund on the other hand is going though an identity crisis. Tactician Lucian Favre was sacked following an embarrassing 1-5 loss to Stuttgart on the same day of the UCL Round of 16 draw. The Germans have yet to appoint a replacement, mimicking Bayern Munich’s approach of giving a chance to the “interim” coach Edin Terzic, which is not doing the club any favors.
Porto vs Juventus
Neither team was heavily involved in the transfer market. Other than Sami Khdeira leaving Juventus on a free transfer to Hertha BSC, there was no major movement. Juventus has had defensive issues lately. The Serie A champions purchased Nicolo Rovella, a 19-year-old defensive midfielder from Genoa; with some trial and error, the Italian could become the new Marco Verratti.
Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea
The English Blues’ locker room was not a happy place or a professional environment. Poor morale manifested on the pitch with Chelsea dropping points throughout January. Management sacked Frank Lampard on 25-Jan-2021 and appointed the suddenly available Thomas Tuchel (see PSG above).
The new head coach has won three of four since he arrived most notably the 1-0 away victory over Jose Mourinho’s men. Chelsea did not take major part in the January transfer window.
Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone are on a nine-game winning streak in La Liga since December. Since Thomas Partey’s sudden departure on deadline day of the Summer window, Atletico Madrid were granted an exception to bring in Geoffrey Kondogbia in November.
It’s worth noting that Diego Costa’s unconditional release before the end of the January window (actually on December 29) makes him a free agent available for any club to sign at any time, window or not. However, the clubs who might take interest are more likely fighting relegation rather than Champions League.
Lazio vs Bayern Munich
Both Lazio and Bayern Munich are in excellent form. The Germans are leading the Bundesliga, seven points clear from runners-up RB Leipzig. The Italians are behind four teams led by AC Milan nine points away. They are on a six game winning streak in Serie A, while Bayern is on five in Bundesliga.
Most critics consider this tie to be one of the most straight forward to predict, and it may be. Neither bought or sold any key players, so both will look almost the same as in the group stage. Lazio however was not properly displayed in the Champions League because the team was disrupted by positive Covid test results. Hans Flick needs to do his homework right to figure out Simeone Inzaghi’s Lazio and stop any crazy wheels from turning.
Atalanta vs Real Madrid
Atalanta and Real Madrid managers Gasperini and Zinedine Zidane were predicted to be sacked this winter, but both remain at their helms. Papu Gomez left Atalanta as a sign that Gasperini has the Club’s trust to continue good results, and so far he has reached the semi-finals of Coppa Italia and UCL Round of 16, but he continues to drop points in Serie A. A spot in the Europa League next season may be the best Atalanta can hope for.
Real Madrid is joint second in La Liga, chasing after leaders Atletico Madrid. The activity on the transfer market was lacking for both clubs in terms of new players. Atalanta brought in a right-back to allow Hans Hatebour some resting time and offloaded Papu Gomez for locker room stability. Real Madrid only loaned three promising young players.
Borussia Monchengladbach vs Manchester City
Last but not least, another Germany versus England tie. Both teams are high scoring and are in great form, both defeating domestic league title-holders (Liverpool and Bayern Munich) since the start of 2021. Pep Guardiola has grown tremendously as a manager this year in my opinion. Lacking a center-forward in most matches, and working around Kevin De Bruyne’s recent injury has not and will not stop him or his new unlikely goal machine Ilkay Gundogan. This new level of squad management saw Manchester City spend nothing in the winter transfer market.
Like Man City, M’Gladbach’s high flying form was enough to avoid the transfer market. Notably, the Germans purchased 19 year old Kouadio Kone from Toulouse for 9 million Euros, but the Ivory Coast National remains in Toulouse as a loan-back player.
What do you think of the transfers made by each team of the UCL Round of 16? Will there be any regrets or any surprises? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
The first match kicks off on 16 February! Stay tuned for NMA coverage of the UCL Round of 16 starting with the preview on Saturday, players picks next Monday and closing with pre-match live chat on Tuesday!