Christmas day has arrived for football fans everywhere as the UEFA Champions League knockout round kicks off on Tuesday. The round of 16 looks to provide high drama as the Champions League returns to the two-match aggregate series to determine who advances to the next round.
Along with Liverpool battling RB Leipzig, the round of 16 will kick off with the 2020 UCL runner-ups in Paris Saint-Germain battling FC Barcelona in the round of 16 for the first time since their legendary meeting in 2017 where Barcelona overcame a 4-0 deficit in the first leg to defeat PSG 6-1 in the second leg and win on aggregate 6-5 in the greatest UCL comeback of all time.
Four years later, Barcelona have fallen on hard times. Legend Lionel Messi has feuded with leadership and the board and will most likely leave the club this summer. Barcelona sits third in the La Liga table despite leading the league in goals scored with 49. Messi leads the way with 15 goals and Antoine Griezmann has led a more vital role in the attack, notching six goals. In the group stage, Barcelona and Juventus split their meetings while dominating the rest of the group, losing the goal differential battle to finish second in Group G.
PSG once again comes into the round of 16 with injury concerns to their superstar, Neymar, who will be out through his sister’s birthday for the seventh year in a row. Due to inconsistencies from their superstars and fatigue from their run to the Champions League Final last season where they lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich, PSG has struggled to retain their dominance over Ligue 1, trailing Lille OSC by one point in the standings. The leader has been young superstar Kylian Mbappe, who looks to take over as the world’s best player when Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi lose their stardom, who has 16 goals and six assists this season. Striker Moise Kean has been a gem for PSG as they acquired him form Everton last fall, scoring 10 goals to alleviate the absence of Neymar. In the group stage, PSG won the tiebreaker with Leipzig on goal differential to win Group H.
With Neymar out, the pressure will be on the likes of Mbappe, Kean, Angel Di Maria and Mauro Icardi to pick up the scoring load for PSG. I believe they will find their rhythm against a Barcelona backline that has struggled this season. Messi will be spectacular but he won’t be able to carry the scoring enough to outlast PSG.
Aggregate prediction: PSG 5 Barcelona 3