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Champions League last 16: previews and predictions for this week’s ties

Champions League last 16: previews and predictions for this week’s ties

Atlético Madrid v Chelsea, Tuesday 8pm GMT

While Thomas Tuchel’s unbeaten record as Chelsea manager remains intact, he will view their 1-1 draw at struggling Southampton over the weekend as two points dropped rather than one gained. However, his squad is in good shape for the trip to Bucharest to face Atlético Madrid. With Thiago Silva the only Chelsea player sidelined, Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen will be competing for a place in a back three.

Atlético had an even worse result at the weekend, losing 2-0 at home to Levante. Their seemingly comfortable title charge is suddenly looking far less convincing. That’s just one win from four in the league for Diego Simeone’s side, who are now without a clean sheet in seven games. In fact, Atlético have kept just one clean sheet in their 10 matches since the turn of the year, having shut out 13 teams in 21 matches beforehand this season. Jan Oblak has conceded twice as many goals (six) as he has made saves (three) in their last four league games. Chelsea could be playing them at the right time.

Atlético also have to deal with a number of absentees, with wide options looking limited due to Kieran Trippier’s suspension and injuries to Sime Vrsaljko and Yannick Carrasco. Utility man Marcos Llorente, who is one of the most improved players in Europe over the past year, may well fill in out wide having scored nine and assisted eight goals this season. He was the hero when Atlético knocked out Liverpool this time last year. The Spaniards have a good record against English opponents in the last 16, having also beaten Chelsea at this stage back in 2014. Prediction: Atlético to go through after a draw in the first leg.

Lazio v Bayern Munich, Tuesday 8pm GMT

The holders are not in great form going into their last-16 tie with Lazio, having followed up a 3-3 draw with relegation-threatened Arminia Bielefeld with defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt at the weekend. Hansi Flick’s side are clearly missing Benjamin Pavard and Thomas Müller, who are out having tested positive for Covid, with Serge Gnabry also sidelined. Niklas Sule is also a doubt, meaning Bouna Sarr could start at right-back.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, the former Stoke forward who played for PSG against Bayern Munich in the final last season, has been deputising for Müller and could start behind Robert Lewandowski. There is also a chance that Leon Goretzka could move forward into that position, with David Alaba stepping into midfield alongside Joshua Kimmich, with Lucas Hernandez partnering Jérôme Boateng in defence.

Lazio have no such dilemmas, though goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha remains sidelined, meaning Pepe Reina will face one of his former clubs, albeit having played just three times in his single season at Bayern. Simone Inzaghi is likely to name an unchanged side from the team that beat Sampdoria 1-0 at the weekend to make it seven wins from their last eight league matches.

All eyes will be on the head-to-head between the top two scorers in Europe’s major leagues last season. Ciro Immobile scored 36 goals in Serie A to Lewandowski’s 34 in the Bundesliga. The tables have turned this season though, with Lewandowski racking up 26 goals to the Immobile’s 14, though Immobile does have more in this season’s Champions League, leading five to three in that regard. Prediction: Bayern to go through after a draw in the first leg.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting may start for Bayern against Lazio.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting may start for Bayern against Lazio.

Photograph: Matthias Schräder/APAtalanta v Real Madrid, Wednesday 8pm GMT

Having been within minutes of a place in the semi-finals last season, Atalanta are aiming to build on an outstanding debut campaign in the Champions League and will relish the chance of playing the most decorated side in the competition. Real Madrid are well off their peak and injuries have mounted horrendously for Zinedine Zidane. As many as nine first-team players are sidelined, including captain Sergio Ramos, top scorer Karim Benzema and €100m signing Eden Hazard.

Zidane must decide whether to go with an out-and-out striker, with Mariano the only real option now that he has allowed Luka Jovic to go out on loan, or deploy a false nine. Real Madrid rely heavily on Benzema to score their goals. He has scored 16 this season in La Liga. Their next most prolific goalscorer is defensive midfielder Casemiro, with six. By contrast, Atalanta have two strikers in double figures in Serie A: Luis Muriel on 16 goals and Duván Zapata on 12.

Atalanta did allow their captain and fan favourite Papu Gómez to move to Sevilla last month but they still have plenty of attacking options. Two impressive wins over Napoli have put them back on track in the league after a minor wobble. They have lost just once since the start of November, so approach this home game as slight favourites. Prediction: Atalanta to win the first leg and progress to the quarter-finals.

With Karim Benzema missing, the goalscoring burden has fallen on Casemiro.

With Karim Benzema missing, the goalscoring burden has fallen on Casemiro.

Photograph: Jose Breton/NurPhoto/REX/ShutterstockBorussia Mönchengladbach v Man City, Wednesday 8pm GMT

This will be the fifth game between Borussia Mönchengladbach and Manchester City in the Champions League. City won three of the previous four encounters, but they did have to settle for a 1-1 draw in their most recent meeting, in the group stage in 2016.

The Germans are a stronger outfit than they were back then, but they have not shown that of late, picking up just two points from the last 12 available in the Bundesliga. They have fallen down to eighth in the table, with the players perhaps disrupted by the news that their impressive head coach Marco Rose will be taking over at Borussia Dortmund come the end of the season.

Manchester City’s form could not be more convincing by comparison. They have won their last 18 matches in all competitions, keeping 12 clean sheets in that time. With Kevin De Bruyne able to return to the starting XI against Arsenal at the weekend after his injury lay-off, Phil Foden was given a rest having started six of City’s previous seven league games. He will hope to start against Gladbach and could even lead the line.

The competition is frankly outrageous under Pep Guardiola right now, with Ferran Torres nowhere near the starting line-up even though he scored four goals in the group stage – twice as many as any of his teammates. Unlike the other ties this week, both teams should be at full strength.

Despite their poor form in the Bundesliga, Gladbach carry a threat. They scored 16 goals in the group stage – more than City and second only to Bayern Munich (18) in the competition so far. The French connection of Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea was pivotal to that return, with both performing substantially better in Europe this season than they have done in the league. They have 14 goal involvements between them in the Champions League this season compared to just eight in the Bundesliga. Prediction: Manchester City to win the first leg and progress to the quarter-finals

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