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


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Chelsea v Lille, Tuesday

Chelsea left it late against Crystal Palace on Saturday before Hakim Ziyech’s 89th-minute goal earned them a 1-0 win at Selhurst Park. Thomas Tuchel’s side have won their last five matches, a run they will hope to continue against Lille at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night. The clubs have only met twice before in Europe – in the group stage of the Champions League in 2019 – and Chelsea won both of those games 2-1.

Tuchel is hoping to have Cesar Azpilicueta and Callum Hudson-Odoi available for selection. Andreas Christensen deputised for Azpilicueta at Crystal Palace on Saturday. If fit, Azpilicueta will probably play at right-back, but Tuchel may not wish to aggravate his groin issue with the League Cup final looming on Sunday. Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount are out, though Mount is at least back in training.

Having won Ligue 1 last year, Lille have been very disappointing this season and are not even in the top half of the table – they currently have a negative goal difference in the league. However, they have done a lot better in the Champions League, winning a group that also contained Red Bull Salzburg, Sevilla and Wolfsburg.

Leo Jardim has kept back-to-back clean sheets against Montpellier and Metz, and is likely to make his first Champions League appearance of the season in place of regular goalkeeper Ivo Grbic. Mehmet Zeki Celik is expected to return at right-back having sat out Lille’s goalless draw with Metz at the weekend due to a ban, while Gabriel Gudmundsson looks to have nailed down the left-back spot following Reinildo’s move to Atlético Madrid in January.

Leo Jardim is set to start for Lille against Chelsea.
Leo Jardim is set to start for Lille against Chelsea. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty

Angel Gomes lasted just 27 minutes against Metz before being forced off with injury and may miss the first leg in London. Timothy Weah replaced Gomes at the weekend and will probably line up on the opposite flank to Jonathan Bamba, though Hatem Ben Arfa is an option for boss Jocelyn Gourvennec. Renato Sanches, Xeka and Benjamin André are battling for the two central midfield spots in Lille’s favoured 4-4-2 system, with Burak Yilmaz and Jonathan David, their top scorer this season, up front. Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Lille

Villarreal v Juventus, Tuesday

This will be the first ever meeting between Villarreal and Juventus, which makes it the only one of the eight last 16 ties that has never been played before. Villarreal, the reigning Europa League champions, have been streaky this season in La Liga. They started the campaign with four draws, had a dip at the start of winter and then put together a run of four wins before Christmas to climb up the table. Following a short winless run in January they are now unbeaten in four and welcome Juventus to Spain on the back of a 4-1 win at Granada. Having been 13th at the start of December, they have their sights set on a top-four finish. It is difficult to know which Villarreal will turn up.

January arrival Giovani Lo Celso lasted 70 minutes against Granada on Saturday but he was pictured with ice on his leg after he came off and will, along with another former Tottenham man Étienne Capoue, need a late fitness test. Villarreal are without injured trio Rubén Peña, Francis Coquelin and Gerard Moreno, but Yéremy Pino is back in contention having missed their final group game with Atalanta in December due to a ban. Arnaut Danjuma recently returned to action following a spell on the sidelines and scored a hat-trick against Granada, which will give Unai Emery a boost. Even though Emery has won the Europa League four times, he has never taken a club past the last 16 of the Champions League.

Juventus travel to Villarreal for the first time in their history.
Juventus travel to Villarreal for the first time in their history. Photograph: Alessio Morgese/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

Juventus, who are fourth in Serie A having drawn three of their last four league matches, have a plethora of selection issues. Giorgio Chiellini, Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi will miss the trip to the Estadio de la Cerámica. Daniele Rugani pulled up in the warm-up before Juve’s 1-1 draw against Torino on Friday, which meant that Alex Sandro had to partner Matthijs de Ligt at the heart of the defence. Luca Pellegrini deputised at left-back, but he and Paulo Dybala sustained knocks in the derby. Dybala has not travelled with the squad, though Leonardo Bonucci has returned to training to boost Max Allegri’s defensive options.

Fortunately for Juve, Danilo is also available for selection and likely to start alongside De Ligt, with Alex Sandro returning to left-back. In attack, Moise Kean will probably line up alongside Álvaro Morata in support of Dusan Vlahovic, while fellow January arrival Denis Zakaria is also expected to start in a 4-3-2-1 setup. Prediction: Villarreal 2-1 Juventus

Atlético Madrid v Manchester United, Wednesday

These sides have not met since 1991, when Atlético Madrid ended Manchester United’s defence of the Cup Winners’ Cup. Atlético won that tie – which was also in the last 16 – 4-1 before being knocked out of the now defunct competition by Club Brugge in the quarter-finals. Diego Simeone had not even started playing for Atlético at that point, but he has now been managing the club for over a decade.

Atlético won La Liga last season, but they will not be retaining their title. They are 15 points behind Real Madrid and have been wildly inconsistent of late, winning three and losing three of their past six games. They did at least bounce back from their shock 1-0 home defeat to La Liga’s bottom club, Levante, with a 3-0 win at Osasuna at the weekend, but their home form has been poor, winning just three of their past six matches in front of their fans.

In a further blow for Atléti, Yannick Carrasco is suspended for both legs. The Belgian’s absence should mean that Thomas Lemar will start down Atletico’s left flank. That said, Simeone is sweating on the availability of Lemar after a suspected positive Covid test, with Rodrigo De Paul a further option if required. Felipe, though, returns from a ban and could start in a three-man defence alongside Stefan Savic and Reinildo Mandava. José Giménez may not be risked on Wednesday, but Simeone is likely to be without Daniel Wass, Antoine Griezmann and Matheus Cunha. Luis Suárez, who scored a great goal at the weekend, will relish a chance to face Manchester United again.

Manchester United have few injury concerns, although Edinson Cavani is facing a race against time to feature in some capacity. Alex Telles, Raphaël Varane and Diogo Dalot may return to the team in place of Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelöf and Aaron Wan-Bissaka as Ralf Rangnick refreshes his side after the 4-2 win at Leeds on Sunday. Jesse Lingard made his first Premier League start in a Manchester United shirt since New Year’s Day in 2020 on Sunday, but Marcus Rashford is likely to return on the right side of the attack.

Marcus Rashford could return to the starting lineup after missing out at Leeds.
Marcus Rashford could return after missing out at Leeds. Photograph: Soccrates Images/Getty

Fred is pushing for a place in the side having scored off the bench at Elland Road, though Rangnick may keep faith in Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba behind Bruno Fernandes in the middle of the park. Chelsea beat Atlético Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League last season and went on to win the competition, so that is something to motivate the United players. Prediction: Atlético Madrid 1-1 Manchester United

Benfica v Ajax, Wednesday

Benfica were held to a 2-2 draw at Boavista on Friday night, losing further ground in the title race. They now sit 12 points behind league leaders Porto and will need to put in a much improved performance against Ajax on Wednesday night if they want to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League – something they have not done since 2016. Álex Grimaldo is available for Benfica, which is a boost for the hosts, but Lucas Veressimo is absent.

Ajax, who are top of the Eredivisie having won their last seven league matches, may be without centre-back Jurrien Timber after the young Dutchman took a knock to his calf while scoring their winning goal against Willem II at the weekend. He was replaced by Perr Schuurs for the final minutes of the 1-0 victory and Schuurs may start alongside Lisandro Martínez at the heart of the defence in Lisbon.

Perr Schuurs (left) and Lisandro Martínez (right) could pair up once again.
Perr Schuurs (left) and Lisandro Martínez (right) could pair up once again. Photograph: Seskim Photo/Getty

Brian Brobbey, Sean Klaiber and Maarten Stekelenburg are all absent, with goalkeeper André Onana set to miss out to Remko Pasveer. Ryan Gravenberch was a second-half substitute at the Koning Willem II Stadion and may return to the starting XI at Davy Klaassen’s expense in the middle of the park. Sébastien Haller is the top scorer in the Champions League this season – he scored 10 goals for Ajax as they won all six of their group games – so he will be keen to find the net again in this battle of two former European champions. Prediction: Benfica 0-2 Ajax


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