After a botched first attempt, the last 16 draw for the UEFA Champions League is here! As usual, there is plenty of Portuguese participation across Europe’s elite football tournament, with all but two ties featuring Portuguese players and/or coaches. Aaron Barton for Próxima Jornada gives you all you need to know.
A reminder that the last 16 will commence after the January transfer window, so the players are subject to change!
The Portuguese Abroad
Manchester City (Opponents: Sporting)
Manchester City are one of the foreign clubs with the most Portuguese players left in the competition. They boast a world-class trio of Bernardo Silva, Rúben Dias and João Cancelo and given that all three are SL Benfica youth products, they will need no motivation for this game against Sporting. Bernardo in particular has been in unbelievable form so far this season, winning Manchester City’s Player of the Month award for September, October and November!
Lille OSC (Opponents: Chelsea)
Despite their less than impressive Ligue 1 form, defending league champions Lille topped their Champions League group, with help from no less than FOUR Portuguese players in Tiago Djálo, Xeka, Renato Sanches and José Fonte, making them the non-Portuguese club with the most Portuguese players. Les Dogues face a tough test in Chelsea but they’ve only lost once in the UCL so far this season, so should go into this clash with confidence that they can play and compete on the big stage.
Former Boavista loanee Angel Gomes is also eligible to play for Portugal, he managed to score a goal and provide an assist in their last group game v Wolfsburg, despite only being on the pitch for 22 minutes!
Atlético Madrid vs Manchester United
Where to start with this one! Cristiano Ronaldo aka Mr Champions League takes on Atlético Madrid, a side he has tormented time and time again. Aléti have only conceded four hat-tricks since Diego Simeone has been in charge, every single hat-trick was scored by Cristiano. Alongside him will be midfield magnifico Bruno Fernandes and a resurgent Diogo Dalot, who has been playing much more frequently since Ralf Rangnick has taken over.
For Atlético, they will be hoping boy wonder João Félix can inspire them with a bit of magic like he did for his assist against Liverpool in the group stages. He will be looking to get some consistent game time and stay clear of injuries, having started just 19% of La Liga matches thus far this season.
PSG (Opponents: Real Madrid)
The boys from Paris have two Portuguese internationals at the club, Nuno Mendes and Danilo Pereira.
Mendes has established himself as the first-choice left back in the Champions League so far, starting in five of PSG’s six games, in contrast he has only played 105 minutes more in Ligue 1 for PSG than he has in the UCL, despite there being significantly more games. He will be hoping to continue being PSG’s left back for the round of 16, as he encounters knockout UCL football for the first time in his short career.
Danilo Pereira has managed just one start in the UEFA Champions League so far for PSG and he will have to be patient for his chance and hope he makes an impression if he is to feature more prominently in the latter stages.
Liverpool (Opponents: Inter)
Diogo Jota is the sole Portuguese representative in this clash, but he is by no means of any less importance! With 9 goals and 2 assists across the Champions League and Premier League, Jota is having a very productive season indeed. After manoeuvring the ‘Group of Death’ with ease, Liverpool will be looking to once more go far in the competition, on a personal level, Diogo will be hoping he can make it past the round of 16 and the quarter-final and into the semi-final for the first time in his career.
The Portuguese Clubs
Sporting CP (Opponents: Manchester City)
The last 16 tie which will no doubt have the most Portuguese involvement sees Rúben Amorim’s men go head-to-head with Manchester City.
After winning their first Liga title in 19 years last season, Sporting have continued their fine form this campaign. They are still unbeaten in the Liga and have recently manoeuvred through a tough UEFA Champions League group with Ajax, Besiktas and Borussia Dortmund, who Sporting qualified for the knockouts at the expense of.
Manchester City is of course a step up in quality from the sides Sporting have faced thus far, but anything can happen in football and Amorim’s lions will certainly be up for the test.
Benfica (Opponents: Ajax)
Jorge Jesus’ men face Dutch heavyweights Ajax. Despite some faltering here and there in the Liga, Benfica have been fairly strong in the Champions League this season, with a 3-0 hammering of FC Barcelona the standout moment so far. The fact Benfica finished above Barça and sent the Catalan club into the Europa League is a testament to how well they’ve done in the competition so far, not to mention that Benfica had to beat both Spartak and PSV in the qualifying rounds simply to get to the group stage. This is the first time Benfica have made the last 16 since the 2016/17 season and they haven’t been past this point since 2011/12, they’ll be hoping they can utilise some of their great attacking talent and once more make the quarter-finals.
Other ties not involving Portuguese players or coaches:
RB Salzburg v Bayern Munich
Villarreal v Juventus