Pep Guardiola’s quest to win a first Champions League crown for Manchester City will require a victory over the competition’s most formidable club after they were drawn against Real Madrid in the round of 16.
Guardiola has constantly played down City’s chances of winning European football’s biggest prize during his time at the Etihad Stadium, but with the defence of their Premier League title fading fast in the shade of Liverpool’s domestic brilliance, the pressure is on more than ever to do well on the continent.
City have reached the semi-final stage only once, under Guardiola’s predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini, when they were narrowly beaten by Real Madrid in 2016. They have been knocked out once in the last 16 and twice in the quarter-finals under Guardiola.
Real went on to the win the competition that year, the first of three titles in a row, and have lifted the trophy a record 13 times. As they were three years ago, Real will be managed by Zinedine Zidane, although they lost to Ajax in the round of 16 last season and have also been inconsistent in La Liga this season.
Nevertheless, it is a tough test for City to pass and an emotional one for Guardiola, given his strong ties to Barcelona and support of the Catalan independence movement.
“It’s a difficult one,” Txiki Begiristain, Manchester City’s director of football, said. “Real Madrid are the best. We want to be the best so we have to try to beat them. It’s always a pleasure to play against Real Madrid, and also to play in a big stadium like the Santiago Bernabeu. We’re happy to go there, of course, and we know what we are going to face, we know them very well.
“Also, of course, they know us and what we’re doing and our manager and our team. Everybody knows each other, but it’s a real pleasure to go there.”
There was also a tough draw in Nyon for defending champions Liverpool, who will face Atletico Madrid, although it will also mean a return to the Estadio Metropolitano, the scene of their triumph over Tottenham in the final in June.
Atletico are not the force they once were in Spain, and have looked like a team in transition under manager Diego Simeone after losing star striker Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona in the summer. But they finished second in La Liga last season and are still dangerous opponents, of which Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, is all too aware.
“Madrid is the place where we only have fantastic memories, all of us, so that’s great, but this time we play Atletico and it’s their home ground,” Klopp told his club’s official website.
“I think we had the home dressing room in that game. Maybe we can ask them: can we have that dressing room again? It was really nice. It was full with Liverpool signs, but I think they’ve got rid of them. It is fantastic. I had one of the best nights of my life in this stadium, but this time – first and foremost – we have to go there to work and try our best.”
Both City and Liverpool, though, will have the advantage of playing the second leg at home. Chelsea’s young side will not be expected to beat German giants Bayern Munich, although that may be a blessing in disguise for manager Frank Lampard.
Bayern have not been as impressive this season as in previous years, but still won all six of their group games and have arguably Europe’s best striker in Robert Lewandowski, who will relish facing Chelsea’s leaky defence. Lampard, who captained Chelsea to victory to a penalty shoot-out victory in the 2012 final against Bayern, said on the club’s Twitter account: “It will be very different and very taxing.”
Tottenham Hotspur will also travel to Germany, where they will take on new force RB Leipzig, who have emerged as Bayern’s main domestic rivals. It is a draw Jose Mourinho, the Spurs manager, will still feel has been kind to them and it is a tie club ambassador Ledley King believes they will win.
“The manager has won the Champions League and his experience will rub off on the players,” he said.
“They [Leipzig] are a good side, play with a lot of pace and intensity. Going to Germany is tough. It is one we won’t be taking lightly. It will be a tough task, but I am quietly confident we can get through.”
In other ties, five-time winners Barcelona play Napoli, who are eighth in Serie A, and Italian champions Juventus take on French side Lyon.
Ligue 1 leaders Paris St-Germain play two-time finalists Borussia Dortmund and Atalanta, playing in Europe’s elite competition for the first time, have been drawn against Valencia. The first legs will be played on Feb 18-19 and 25-26, with the second legs on March 10-11 and 17-18.
Champions League round of 16 draw in full
- Borussia Dortmund vs Paris Saint-Germain
- Real Madrid vs Man City
- Atalanta vs Valencia
- Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool
- Chelsea vs Bayern Munich
- Lyon vs Juventus
- Tottenham vs RB Leipzig
- Napoli vs Barcelona