The 2018-19 UEFA Champions League resumes this week with first leg of the Round-of-16.
Sportsnet’s soccer panel of broadcasters, writers and pundits offer their picks and predictions below.
TOTTENHAM vs. BORUSSIA DORTMUND
Geoff Lowe: Tottenham’s late-game heroics in the final group stage matches have been rewarded with a Round-of-16 clash against the Bundesliga leaders. Under the tutelage of manager Lucien Favre and the stellar play of English teenager Jadon Sancho (among others), BVB hold a five-point lead over six-time reigning champs Bayern Munich in Germany. But Dortmund enters Wednesday’s first leg in London on a rare low after surrendering a 3-0 lead in the final 15 minutes to Hoffenheim over the weekend and settling for a draw.
Tottenham, meanwhile, will look to advance to the next round without its two best players as both Harry Kane and Dele Alli are out injured. The duo’s absence hasn’t slowed down Spurs, however, as the north London club has ridden a red-hot Son Heung-min to four straight wins in the Premier League.
But Dortmund will offer a much stiffer challenge than the mid-to-low-table Premier League sides Tottenham have faced during its recent run, and Spurs will likely find themselves in need of more heroics in the second leg in Dortmund.
Prediction: Dortmund wins 2-1.
AJAX vs. REAL MADRID
Donnovan Bennett: The good news for Real is Gareth Bale is fit to play in Wednesday’s match in Amsterdam. Ajax may not be so fortunate with Frenkie de Jong’s fitness. The midfielder, who will join Barcelona in the summer for 75 million euros, had to be taken off in the 79th minute of their Eredivisie match on the weekend that ended in a 1-0 defeat at Heracles.
Madrid head to the Netherlands after winning 3-1 in the Madrid derby at the Wanda Metropolitano securing their fifth La Liga win in succession. Ajax have lost their last six contests to Real Madrid, giving up 20 goals while netting just two.
Ajax not only have to beat the defending European champions, they are also trying to reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in 16 years. It’s a tough task, as Real have not lost at this stage in the tournament in nine years.
Prediction: Real Madrid wins 4-0.
MANCHESTER UNITED vs. PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
James Sharman: Times have changed in world football, and this match is a great example of that. All the pressure is on PSG, a super-club which is perhaps more desperate than any other to make noise in the Champions League, as recent years has seen its domestic dominance overshadowed by its European failings.
Manchester United, on the other hand, must see this tournament as pure gravy after its remarkable Premier League transformation under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that sees the Red Devils once again proudly sitting in the top four.
PSG should be favourites to hand Solskjaer his first loss as United manager on Tueaday at Old Trafford, but with Neymar and Edinson Cavani out, and question marks on stars Kylian Mbappe Marco Verratti, the door appears open for United.
Prediction: A 1-1 draw.
AS ROMA vs. FC PORTO
Peter Galindo: While Roma has been excelled in recent weeks, Porto has significantly cooled down and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. The reigning Portuguese champions drew their second straight match – 1-1 with Moreirense on Friday – and will be without top scorer Moussa Marega for the next two months.
Roma, meanwhile, cruised past Chievo 3-0 on the same day as Porto’s draw, and did so with a slightly rotated lineup. The Giallorossi only have one home defeat in the Champions League and have usually lived up to the big occasion under manager Eusebio Di Francesco.
That being said, Porto midfielders Danilo Pereira and Hector Herrera complement each other very well. They can shut down opposing attacks with ease and dictate the tempo of matches, as well. To top it off, centre-backs Eder Militao and Felipe have formed a formidable partnership. This is why it should be a very balanced match in the Italian capital on Tuesday.
Prediction: Roma wins 2-1.