The Torch’s UEFA Champions League knockout predictions


One of the most iconic seasons of European soccer’s UEFA Champions League is set for an extraordinary last couple of stages. Following a group stage where each team played six games each, the best 16 out of 32 initial teams, have qualified for what is set to be a thrilling round-of-16.

Multiple games coming down to the final minutes, major upsets, and brilliant individual performances have already made this year’s Champions League one of the best, but with a knockout stage headlined by a matchup between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), the final stages will keep fans on the edge of their seats.

Eight matchups, with two games each, between the world’s best 16 clubs begin on Feb. 15. A random draw in mid-December decided the eight matchups, and what follows are The Torch’s predictions.

Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain: The big headliner of the knockout stages comes in an exciting matchup between two of Europe’s top clubs. Real Madrid, leaders of the Spanish League, take on PSG, the current leader of the French league. Real Madrid is arguably the greatest club in history, having won a record number of 13 Champions Leagues, meanwhile, PSG is still chasing their first.

Although PSG might not have half as much history as the Spaniards, they surely bring the firepower into this matchup. PSG’s attack currently consists of three of the best attackers in the world, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar. All three finished in the top 20 for the Ballon D’or, a trophy given to the best player in the world, with Messi winning the prize.  

Real Madrid’s current team might not be as talented as previous teams they’ve had, such as when they won four Champions League titles between 2014 and 2018, but it is one of the most informed teams at the moment. Riding on the back of Vinicius Jr. and Karim Benzema’s excellent start to the season, “Los Blancos” have only lost one of the 19 Spanish League games they have played this season, ultimately giving them a very slight edge over PSG in what will be a great battle between two European giants. Winner: Real Madrid

Manchester City vs. Sporting CP: The second matchup features two current national champions between the English and Portuguese champions. Although both come in with trophies behind them, this contest seems to be very one-sided. Manchester City comes into this game and Champions League season off of a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in the final of last year’s campaign, but they have made every right move to put them back into contention this season.

Sporting CP is the current leader of the Portuguese league and has a very supportive fan base, but when it comes to talent, they don’t have what it takes to match with City. Manchester City once again leads the English league and looks as dominant as ever, making them heavy favorites for this meeting. Winner: Manchester City

Liverpool vs. Inter Milan: Another match between two European clubs with great history. Liverpool comes into the game having won six Champions League titles, while Inter Milan comes with three. Both have frequently competed for the title in the past, but Inter Milan simply hasn’t looked the same since their last Champions League title, over a decade ago in 2010. Although European success for Inter Milan has been hard lately, they won their 19th Italian league national title this year and the first since their extremely successful 2010 campaign.

Meanwhile, Liverpool seems to only be getting better from their Champions League title run back in 2018. Liverpool won it all between 2018 and 2019 but have spent their past two seasons trophyless, suffering from multiple injuries to their team. Liverpool seems to be getting back in shape though, and are currently second in the English league, and have already made history this season by joining a group containing only 10 clubs ever to win all six of their group games in a Champions League campaign. Liverpool hopes to continue their top form in their fixture against Inter Milan. Winner: Liverpool

Bayern Munich vs. FC Salzburg: Nobody ever wants to play Bayern Munich, no matter the tournament. The story doesn’t change for Austrian champions FC Salzburg, a young team who have already left their mark in the competition. Salzburg became the first-ever Austrian team to make it out of the Champions League group stages and qualify for the knockout rounds. The Austrians did so with one of the youngest teams in the competition with an average age of just 23 years.

Unfortunately, their campaign is likely to end here as they face the almighty Bayern Munich, who, along with Liverpool, also had a perfect group stage. Bayern Munich is the current champion of Germany and has won the title nine times in a row. Bayern Munich won the Champions League back in 2020 and hopes to begin their campaign to reconquer Europe with a breeze through the first round of the knockouts. Winner: Bayern Munich

Juventus vs. Villareal: This is the toughest matchup to predict. Juventus vs. Villareal could go either way. Both teams have had very slow starts to the year but still managed to qualify past the Champions League group stage. Juventus has won nine of the last 10 Italian league titles but sits at the fifth spot in this year’s competition. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo from the Italian club to Manchester United, combined with the change of managers, has caused a major downfall of the Italian giant, who looks to bounce back in the Champions League after being eliminated at this same stage last year.

On the other side, Villareal comes into this year’s Champions League off of extreme glory. Their first major trophy was won last May when they defeated Manchester United on penalties to win the Europa League. Similar to Juventus though, Villareal hasn’t had the brightest start to the season. Villareal sits at the tenth spot in the Spanish league, but the experience they have gained from their Europa League campaign last year might just be enough to give them the slight edge over Juventus. Winner: Villareal

LOSC Lille vs. Chelsea: Like the Bayern and Salzburg match, this one also seems to be tilted one way. European champions Chelsea won last year’s edition of the Champions League and look to handle business in the round-of-16 of the knockouts. Chelsea started the year in great form and led the English league until early December. Injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak among the team lead to a slump, taking the English side from first to third in the league.

Although not in the best form, they should still be able to handle LOSC Lille, who, although a great side with young solid players, doesn’t have enough to stop the European champions. Lille comes into this year’s Champions League as the reigning French champions, beating out PSG for the title, a classic underdog story. This underdog mentality could keep the fixture closer than it may need to be, but it won’t stop Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea team who seems to turn it up in knockout rounds. Winner: Chelsea

Manchester United vs. Atlético Madrid: The big star of this contest is undoubtedly Cristiano Ronaldo, and he meets a familiar face in this year’s round-of-16 as his Manchester United take on Atlético Madrid. Atlético is the club Cristiano has faced the most, scoring 25 goals and dishing out nine assists in 35 games against the Spanish side. Atlético Madrid has been eliminated by a Cristiano-led team in their last five of eight Champions League runs. Two of those five eliminations came in heartbreaking fashion, as Real Madrid beat Atlético in two finals in three years, 2014 and 2016, and both with Cristiano playing a major part.

Atlético fans hope the script can change this year as they once again face Ronaldo who has been nicknamed “Mr. Champions League,” by soccer fans around the world for his surreal performance throughout the history of the competition. Atlético is the reigning champions of Spain, while Manchester United holds the seventh spot in the English league. Ronaldo’s greatness gives them the edge in what has everything to be a very exciting contest. Winner: Manchester United

Ajax vs. Benfica:  Six Champions League titles between the two add a lot of history to this matchup. Ajax has won it four times while Benfica has won twice, with the last European title for either of these clubs coming in 1995, and the previous in 1973. Although both clubs have really ancient history, they both have already left their mark in this year’s Champions League and come into this matchup with as talented of teams as they have in recent years.

Ajax, along with Bayern and Liverpool, has also joined the luxurious group of perfect group stages, with six out of six wins. A very good team, with a mixture of youth and experience, led by an up-and-coming coach in Erik ten Hag, Ajax is ready to do some damage and provide a surprisingly deep run in this year’s competition. 

Meanwhile, Benfica has already left its mark by making it out of a group that included the almighty Barcelona. A 3-0 win over Barcelona in the group stage ultimately provided the spot in the knockouts for Benfica and eliminated one of Europe’s most feared clubs. Benfica looks to cause an upset once again in the knockouts, but it likely won’t be enough to stop the Dutch champions. Winner: Ajax