Champions League 2023-24 last-16 match-by-match guide

We take a look at the line-up for the next round of European club football's premier competition

Manchester City's Julian Alvarez, right, celebrates with Erling Haaland after scoring against RB Leipzig in their Champions League match at the Etihad Stadium on November 28, 2023. PA
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FC Copenhagen v Manchester City (February 13 and March 6)

How far apart are the two clubs of Manchester, in terms of achievable silverware? A modest six points in the Premier League table, where the defending champions, treble holders and Club World Cup favourites have been in unusually patchy form. As for United, their recent scorelines cast a far gloomier diagnosis on where they’re at and FC Copenhagen 4, United 3 is a standout.

That result last month takes on fresh relevance now that the reward for the Danish club’s fine group phase is a last-16 tie against City. The win over United, coupled with their draws at Bayern Munich and at Galatasaray serve to advise City. These outsiders have big hearts. And look out for another episode of Haaland v Hojland. Erling will now face the younger brothers – Emil and Oscar – of United’s Rasmus who are both at Copenhagen.

Forecast: City to show champion class and go through.

Napoli v Barcelona (February 21 and March 12)

The ‘Maradona derby’, so called because there were the two biggest European clubs the late Diego Maradona played for, used to come around infrequently. But this reprise will be the second within four years, after the clubs met, with Barcelona victorious both times over two legs, in the Champions League in 2019-20 and two seasons later, in the Europa League play-offs.

For the first time, both will come into the collision as domestic champions, although neither are ending 2023 quite so elevated in their leagues. Napoli are fifth in Serie A and Barca are at risk on Tuesday of slipping to fourth in La Liga, if Atletico Madrid avoid defeat at home Getafe.

Napoli’s planning for the tie will also be shaped by when and in what state of fatigue Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen and Cameroonian midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa return from the Africa Cup of Nations, which runs into mid-February.

Forecast: Barcelona to rediscover their better form and advance.

Porto v Arsenal (February 21 and March 12)

In the seven years since Arsenal last played a Champions League knockout game, Porto have got that far five times and twice made it further and into the last eight. And if the club are seasoned competitors at this level, then their iconic central defender, Pepe, is the epitome of that, both for his experience and a toughness that is part of Porto’s make-up.

Pepe, who won his first Champions League with Real Madrid a decade ago, turns 41 in between the two legs of the tie against Arsenal. How he and his colleagues cope with the 22-year-old whizz and invention of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli should have a key bearing on the outcome.

Forecast: Arsenal to progress

RB Leipzig v Real Madrid (February 13 and March 6)

Another trip to East Germany for the European Cup’s most decorated club, but a more taxing opponent than Union Berlin presented in the group stage. Not that Madrid made easy work of Union, needing late goals home and away to take six points off the Bundesliga strugglers.

Leipzig, semi-finalists in 2019-20, will be encouraged by the fact Madrid laboured a little in those matches, and by the ever-longer injury list the Spanish club are carrying, with David Alaba the latest to face a long-term layoff, joining Eder Militao and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois among the recuperating.

They are all significant absences in the back half of the side, and Jude Bellingham, for all his all-round impact, cannot cover all the shortfall.

Forecast: Madrid to impose their class, but by a fine margin.

Inter Milan v Atletico Madrid (February 20 and March 13)

Twelve years ago this weekend, Atletico Madrid, a club once notorious for their high turnover of coaches, took a punt on bringing back one of the ex-players as manager. Turned out to be a wise choice.

Diego Simeone, never apologetic for pragmatic tactics or touchline theatrics, has taken Atletico higher than they could have dreamt when they appointed him. The itch he still needs to scratch, though, is a Champions League title, having lost two finals as Atletico’s supremo.

A meeting with last season’s finalists, Inter, presents a high hurdle. Simeone is a former Inter player, too, and has been approached more than once to be their coach. But he knows they have a fine one in Simone Inzaghi, expert in knockout ties and a former Simeone teammate, from when they were at Lazio together in the early 2000s.

Forecast: Inter to find a way through Atletico.

Paris Saint-Germain v Real Sociedad (February 14 and March 5)

The French league champions might be half tempted to regard a meeting with La Real as a blessing. Some of PSG’s possible alternatives, after they finished second in their topsy-turvy Group F and so were unseeded for the last 16, looked far more daunting on paper.

But the well-run Basque club, in the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time in 20 years, cower to nobody. Yes, their three domestic defeats this season have come against Spain’s so-called ‘Big Three,” Real Madrid, Barca and Atletico, but they finished just above Inter Milan in their group.

La Real should at least match PSG for control of midfield and will note that, for all their wealth, Champions League-targeted ambition and Kylian Mbappe’s match-winning knack, PSG have in the last two seasons been knocked out at the last 16.

Forecast: PSG to advance, thanks to some individual brilliance.

Lazio v Bayern Munich (February 14 and March 5)

The fact of two former Chelsea managers facing up is no rarity (ex-Chelsea managers make up a sizeable group of men) but Maurizio Sarri and Thomas Tuchel are two of the more studious to have passed through Stamford Bridge’s churn. Right now, Bayern’s Tuchel is the happier, with Lazio’s inconsistency having plunged Sarri’s side into the bottom half of Serie A.

Bayern have had hiccups this season – out of the German Cup early, beaten 5-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga ten days ago – but where there is Harry Kane there is potency.

Kane of England versus Ciro Immobile of Italy is a duel to intrigue: both national captains and generation-defining centre-forwards, but the Bayern man trumps it on almost every measure.

Forecast: Bayern to stride into the quarter-finals.

PSV Eindhoven v Borussia Dortmund (February 20 and March 13)

PSV bounced back well from an early hammering, 4-0 to Arsenal, in their group. To effectively eliminate Sevilla, however jittery the Spanish club are at the moment, is already feather in their cap. There is European nous in the squad, notably in Luuk de Jong and Hirving Lozano, but they came into the last 16 draw aware they would be underdogs in every possible tie.

Dortmund – who topped probably the hardest group, ahead of PSG, AC Milan and Newcastle United – represents an inviting away trip, at least. It’s a mere couple of hours over the border by road. It will be a resonant journey for PSV manager Peter Bosz. He was in charge of Dortmund in 2017, an unhappy spell that lasted barely six months. A score to settle there, then.

Forecast: Dortmund to make the last eight.

Updated: December 18, 2023, 4:14 PM