Tuesday 20 October, 5.55pm
The Champions League is back, and we've asked Kevin Hatchard to explain how things have changed since the draw for the last 16 was made, and how COVID-19 is affecting the tournament...
"Borussia Dortmund have taken a step backwards since replacing coach Lucien Favre with his assistant Edin Terzic, while Sevilla continue to look solid and savvy, and they proved in the Europa League that they enjoy the role of underdogs."
Will the round of 16 follow the usual format, or has it been changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The two-legged home and away format has been retained, although some of the games have already been moved because of travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. For example, Liverpool were due to visit RB Leipzig and Manchester City were set to go to Borussia Mönchengladbach, but Germany are not currently allowing any travel from the UK, so both games have been moved to the Hungarian capital Budapest.
The games that have been switched are:
RB Leipzig v Liverpool (16th February) will now be played in Budapest in Hungary
Atletico Madrid v Chelsea (23rd February) will now be played in Bucharest in Romania
Borussia Mönchengladbach v Manchester City (24th February) will now be played in Budapest in Hungary
Will the away goals rule be scrapped?
Despite the obvious removal of home advantage for some sides, at time of writing, UEFA had no plans to abandon the away goals rule.
Will any fans be allowed into matches?
At least for now, games will be behind closed doors. In the group stage, attendances reflected the domestic approach to matches. If fans were allowed into league games, they were permitted to attend Champions League matches at 30% of capacity, but no away supporters are allowed in.
At the time this tie was drawn, it looked like a slam-dunk in Paris's favour. However, in the intervening two months, plenty has changed at both clubs.
PSG parted company with coach Thomas Tuchel, largely because of a breakdown in the German tactician's relationship with sporting director Leonardo. Former Spurs boss and PSG player Mauricio Pochettino has come in, and although that looks like a sensible appointment for the medium term, there hasn't really been a huge uplift in terms of short-term results. Yes, PSG won five of their first seven Ligue 1 games under the Argentinean, but a dreadful reverse at Lorient shows how much work there is to do. To make matters worse, injuries to Neymar and Angel Di Maria will keep them out of at least the first leg.
Barcelona are a chaotic mess off the field, but oft-criticised coach Ronald Koeman has managed to find some consistency. Antoine Griezmann is arguably playing his best football as a Barca player, Lionel Messi has shut out the noise about his future and his extraordinary contract, and Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong has settled down after a shaky start to his time in Catalunya.
The To Qualify market has evened up, with Barca 1.9620/21 to reach the last eight, and PSG 1.9720/21. If you look at the Match Odds market for the first leg, Barca are the 2.1411/10 favourites, with Paris trading at a hefty 3.45. That favouritism isn't reflected in the UCL Winner outright market, as PSG are 13.5 to win the tournament, and Barca are 18.017/1.
This remains a fascinating battle between German coaching scions Julian Nagelsmann and Jürgen Klopp, and there is plenty at stake for both clubs.
Liverpool have dropped out of contention for the Premier League title, and any lingering hopes were wiped out by their recent 4-1 home thrashing by Manchester City. Klopp has done a remarkable job in keeping the train on the tracks without Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez in central defence, but the removal of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho from midfield to cover those absences has left two departments weakened instead of one.
The Champions League is the only road to glory left open to Liverpool, and they'll face an RB Leipzig side that has already dumped out Manchester United in a must-win game. Like last season, Leipzig have shown they are one of the best teams in Germany, but aren't quite good enough to catch Bayern at the top. Defeats to Borussia Mönchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund, as well as the failure to hold onto a lead not once but twice in a 3-3 draw at Bayern, show there is a gap to bridge.
Liverpool are the massive favourites in the To Qualify market at 1.374/11, but I think that's too short. Leipzig beat Paris and Manchester United in the group stage, and they knocked out Atletico Madrid at a neutral venue last season. Liverpool have the superior players in general, but don't expect them to cruise through here.
Like Barcelona, Juventus have steadily improved over the past couple of months. They recently knocked Inter out of the Coppa Italia with a pair of mature and solid displays, and they have beaten Milan and Roma since the draw was made. The jury is still out on rookie coach Andrea Pirlo, but the Old Lady is still in the mix for domestic and continental glory. That Old Lady is being helped along by a mature gentleman - 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo looks as motivated as ever, and his goals in that cup semi-final against Inter show he still has a flair for the big occasion.
Porto are struggling to match the pace set by Sporting at the top of the Primeira Liga, and I'm not sure they'll be able to live with Juve over two legs. They'll always be incredibly competitive under coach Sergio Conceicao, and the Dragons have reached three UCL quarter-finals since they won the trophy in 2004, but Juve are worthy favourites To Qualify at 1.251/4. If you fancy backing Juventus to win the Champions League, now's the time. They are trading at 14.5.
While some teams have improved since the draw was made, Borussia Dortmund have made steps backwards. Firing coach Lucien Favre and trying to limp along with his assistant Edin Terzic hasn't had the desired effect, and there are serious concerns that Dortmund might not even be in the Champions League next season. They continue to give away preventable goals, and they have an alarming inability to make the most of spells when they are on top.
When you have star players like Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland, you can produce one-off displays of excellence, as they did in a victory at RB Leipzig in January, but they'll need a more sustained effort to overcome Sevilla.
The Europa League winners have been studiously drilled by coach Julen Lopetegui, and sporting director par excellence Monchi has built a fine squad. The acquisition of Argentinean genius Papu Gomez from Atalanta could prove to be a masterstroke, and it's worth remembering that this side saw off Manchester United and Inter in the latter stages of the UEL. Facing Dortmund, especially without fans at Signal Iduna Park, will hold no fears for them at all.
Sevilla are 2.285/4 to qualify, and I think they should actually be favourites based on current form. The Andalusians are 50.049/1 to win the tournament, and they look to be an attractive back-to-lay option.
Having led PSG to the final last season, and having taken that club into the last 16 this term, Thomas Tuchel now contests the knockout phase in a slightly different shade of blue. His impact at Chelsea has been positive so far, and I have no doubt that in the fullness of time, even the most sentimental of Blues fans will realise he is a massive tactical upgrade on Frank Lampard.
Atletico dumped out the holders Liverpool last term on a famous night at Anfield, only to then crash out to RB Leipzig in Lisbon. They were smacked 4-0 by Bayern in this season's group stage, and survived a jittery final game against Salzburg. They only actually won two of their six UCL matches.
Domestically, Atletico have been outstanding (an angry Luis Suarez, enraged by his dismissal by Barcelona, has been the spearhead), and they have built a significant lead over old foes Real Madrid and Barcelona. I still believe that La Liga is the priority of coach Diego Simeone, and he will know there is more work to do if Atleti are to be crowned as Spanish champions for the first time since 2014.
Chelsea look a better, more purposeful side under Tuchel, and I'd back them at 1.8910/11 in the To Qualify market to edge a close tie. If you want to take a more long-term approach, you could simply back Chelsea to win the tournament at 21.020/1 as a trading option.
I've said from the get-go that I think Bayern are the best side in the competition (I backed them as winners in the ante-post preview at 5.79/2), and I still believe that. They have added the Club World Cup to their glittering collection, making them only the second team after Barcelona to win six trophies in one year. The German record champions have had to deal with a punishing schedule, but have coped admirably.
Robert Lewandowski remains the world's best centre-forward, Thomas Müller is playing as well as ever, and the midfield axis of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich is outstanding. Manuel Neuer is back to his best in goal, and Alphonso Davies has returned to form after injury. Yes, Bayern take risks and concede goals, but they back themselves to outscore any opposition, and they are usually proved right.
Lazio have been on stellar form in Serie A, but their inexperience at this level could be exposed here. They nearly blew it in the group stage, as Club Brugge came within a whisker of snatching a late winner in the final match in Rome, and they drew four of their six games. Ciro Immobile, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto are all thrilling to watch, but I don't see an upset here. Bayern are 1.11/10 to qualify, and with good reason.
The fluctuating fortunes of these sides make for a fascinating match-up, and I'm not quite as excited about Real Madrid's chances of qualification as I was when the draw was made. Atalanta have since reached the Coppa Italia final, they have wiped the floor with Serie A title challengers Milan at San Siro, and they have proven they can survive without Papu Gomez.
However, my biggest concern about Gian Piero Gasperini's side remains their defending. They recently blew a 3-0 lead against Torino in a 3-3 draw, a result that followed a 3-1 home defeat to Lazio. Gasperini is trying to get his side to operate with a bit more control, but players like Karim Benzema will punish any mistakes.
Real looked in decent shape when the draw was made, but the last six weeks have heaped the pressure on coach Zinedine Zidane.
An atrocious Copa del Rey exit to third-tier Alcoyano was bad enough, but they have also tossed away league points against Levante, Osasuna and Elche. Although it's not his fault, Eden Hazard's vicious circle of injury hell means he can't be relied upon.
I do think Real will do just about enough, especially if players like Benzema and Luka Modric do what they usually do and shine in the big games, but I can't get excited about backing them To Qualify at 1.528/15. I put Real in my ante-post portfolio at 15.014/1 in the Winner market, but their patchy form has since taken them out to 21.020/1.
Although I still have doubts about whether Manchester City can cast off their Champions League baggage and win this competition (they are second favourites in the Winner market at 4.3100/30), I don't see how they will slip up against a talented but flaky Borussia Mönchengladbach. The Foals froze completely in their final group game at Real Madrid, losing 2-0 but qualifying thanks to Inter's inability to beat Shakhatr Donetsk.
If we appraise Gladbach's campaign with brutal honesty, they qualified by virtues of smacking Shakhtar twice. They blew leads in draws with Inter and Real, and lost to both in the reverse fixtures. In the Bundesliga, Marco Rose's men have beaten Leipzig, Bayern and Dortmund, but they have dropped far too many points against the lesser lights.
Gladbach's inexperience at this level is likely to cost them against an incredibly consistent Manchester City, who are defending superbly as a team and are set to reclaim their Premier League crown. The renaissance of John Stones has coincided with the positive impact made by Ruben Dias alongside him in central defence, Ilkay Gundogan has been outstanding in midfield and Phil Foden is getting better all the time.
There's no point backing City to progress at 1.081/12, but I'd certainly back them to win that first leg in Budapest. I'd double up a City win with Over 2.5 Goals on the Sportsbook's Same Game Multi at 1.865/6.
Tuesday 20 October, 5.55pm
Tuesday 9 March, 8.00pm
Wednesday 17 March, 8.00pm