Champions League: Which round-of-16 matchups will entertain the most?

Liverpool's Curtis Jones celebrates with teammates after scoring against Ajax. (Peter Byrne/Pool via AP)

What better way to start a week than with a cup of coffee, a fresh bagel and a UEFA Champions League draw that churned out some scintillating matchups?

Obviously whatever transpires in the next two months in terms of form, coaching changes and signings can affect the dynamic of these games. Borussia Dortmund experienced one of those over the weekend, while Atalanta may suffer a devastating loss in the near future.

However, on the surface, most of these matches should be enthralling. From intriguing tactical and coaching battles to potential goal-fests, there's a lot to look forward to in February.

Here is an in-depth ranking of each Champions League round of 16 match based on the entertainment factor.

8. Porto vs. Juventus

While Porto coach Sergio Conceicao channelled another former Dragoes manager in Jose Mourinho during his group-stage battles with Pep Guardiola, that alone may not be enough to overcome Juventus.

Cristiano Ronaldo has tallied 14 goals in 11 matches overall, failing to score in just two of Juventus' matches so far this season, which gives Juve the clear advantage.

But the Bianconeri are slowly formulating their best XI. It's evident that summer signing Weston McKennie needs to be included, especially after his performances in recent wins over Barcelona and Genoa. Throw in the creativity of Aaron Ramsey, Dejan Kulusevski and Alvaro Morata's tactical flexibility, this is a side that's yet to hit its peak.

As for Porto, no team recorded a lower expected goals (xG) in the group stage than the Portuguese. It also ranks middle of the pack in expected goals against (xGA) and with Ronaldo's prowess, Conceicao will surely opt to sit deep and counter, as he did against Manchester City in both of their games.

Colombian winger Luis Diaz is a thrilling player to watch, but other than him and Ronaldo potentially producing a man-of-the-match performance, the excitement factor is low for this matchup.

7. Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Manchester City

Under normal circumstances, and 2020 has been anything but, this matchup would be ranked much higher.

But the reason this clocks in at No. 7 is Manchester City's dour displays of late. The Citizens haven't scored an away goal in the Premier League since Halloween, and just 17 overall in the league. Sure, they shined in the Champions League group stage, but Borussia Monchengladbach will be a much stiffer test than, say, Olympiacos.

Guardiola sides have struggled away from home in the Champions League knockout stage, so 'Gladbach can spring a surprise. Coach Marco Rose might opt to replicate a strategy utilized by a few clubs last season against City: Send balls in behind the full-backs and pounce on the break.

Watching Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea on the counter-attack as Man City attempt to will be worth the watch in itself.

6. Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea

Everyone is aware of Atletico Madrid's modus operandi in knockout-stage settings. This writer enjoys watching disciplined, compact blocks from time to time, but many fans aren't as gripped by those games, which is totally understandable.

The main fascination surrounding this game will be Frank Lampard's lineup and how it performs against Atletico's counter-attacks, especially with Luis Suarez and Joao Felix posing significant threats.

Only Manchester City (1.5) conceded a lower xGA than Chelsea (4.4) in the group stage, although both sides were drawn into easier groups compared to the other clubs in the round of 16. But with Hakim Ziyech's tendency to constantly progress the ball, that might unlock Atletico's deep block.

5. Sevilla vs. Borussia Dortmund

This might be one of the most balanced ties of the round, which has so much uncertainty after the firing of Lucien Favre at Borussia Dortmund.

At the time of writing, Dortmund has yet to play a match under interim boss Edin Terzic, so it's difficult to predict how the Germans will be deployed. But let's be honest, Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Giovanni Reyna are always buckets of fun.

Sevilla will be a tough out for Dortmund, though. Julen Lopetegui's side are well-drilled, organized off the ball and move the ball fluidly, even after the departures of Sergio Reguillon and Ever Banega. The only issue – a vital one, mind you – is finishing.

One solution could be starting Youssef En-Nesyri up front more often. He's clearly more productive than Luuk de Jong when analyzing their underlying numbers this season. De Jong is more involved in Sevilla's buildup, as noted by his xGBuildup, but the scoring woes are too great to ignore.

If En-Nesyri starts against Dortmund, this could be an even more difficult result to predict.

4. Barcelona vs. PSG

If it wasn't for Barcelona's horrific start to the season, this would be a near-indisputable No. 1 on the list. Sure, Barcelona's form could improve between now and February, but given that this has been a club on the decline for a few years, it's unlikely.

This matchup is littered with storylines. Neymar will face Barcelona for the first time since his transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, not to mention the last time these sides met in the round of 16, it produced one of the greatest Champions League comebacks of all-time.

If not for anything else, watch this game for the prospect of another historic defeat for Barcelona. With a motivated Neymar, a prolific Kylian Mbappe and in-form Angel Di Maria, that's a huge possibility.

3. Lazio vs. Bayern Munich

Canadians will tune in to see Alphonso Davies. Fans worldwide should watch Lazio and Bayern Munich because this could be one of those aforementioned goal-fests.

Bayern is one of the favourites to win the Champions League, and rightfully so. But if current trends continue in 2021, then this will be a close matchup.

Because Bayern like to press high and take initiative, it leaves them susceptible to counter-attacks and they concede high-quality chances. Union Berlin proved that to be true over the weekend.

Lazio average more than 3.5 shots per 90 minutes in counter-attacking situations. That shoots up to 4.5 in the Champions League. Ciro Immobile, Joaquin Correa, Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic could run riot on the break.

2. Atalanta vs. Real Madrid

Should Papu Gomez leave Atalanta in January, then Atalanta will be up against it vs. Real Madrid. Gomez has been involved in nine goals in 15 matches for the club in all competitions. He's averaging 2.1 key passes per 90 minutes in Serie A and the Champions League. It's safe to say losing the Argentine would be a blow.

But if Gomez stays and starts the first leg, this could be enthralling. Atalanta was minutes away from advancing to last season's semifinals if not for a late PSG comeback. They play man-to-man across the pitch, which can make them very open, but it pays dividends as that endless pressure creates countless scoring chances.

Madrid's and Atalanta's xG is practically even. Defensively, the Spaniards have a stronger record when analyzing the underlying numbers, though the actual goals conceded is almost level. This could be a much closer game than many would believe.

1. RB Leipzig vs. Liverpool

Two of the best coaches in the world will go toe-to-toe when Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool and Julian Nagelsmann's RB Leipzig square off.

Twenty-three goals were scored in Leipzig's games during the group stage, whereas Liverpool only conceded three times. Something will give in this matchup.

One of the more intriguing storylines will be Dayot Upamecano, who has been linked to the Reds for months now. The French centre-back is one of the top young defenders in Europe and has been integral to Leipzig's success. With his ball-playing abilities, pace and defensive acumen, he could be a difference-maker in this tie, should he remain in eastern Germany.

Both sides are renowned for their energetic, high-pressing systems that bring fans out of their seats. This will be the can't-miss tie of the round of 16 for that very reason.

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