PSG face Barca in knockout phase

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain, last season’s beaten finalists, will face Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League while Liverpool were paired with RB Leipzig in yesterday’s draw. French champions PSG will relish another chance to avenge their soul-destroying ‘Remontada’ defeat to the Catalan giants in 2017. Having beaten Barca 4-0 in the French capital, PSG crashed to a 6-1 defeat at the Camp Nou orchestrated by Neymar.

The Brazilian, who won the 2015 Champions League with Barca, then joined PSG in a world record move weeks later but has yet to taste similar European success with Ligue 1’s dominant force. They came closest last season when they were beaten 1-0 in the final by Bayern Munich, who claimed a sixth European crown thanks to a goal from PSG youth product Kingsley Coman. With the first legs due to be played in February, PSG seem hopeful Neymar will have recovered in time from an ankle injury which forced him to be stretchered off the pitch in his side’s 1-0 Ligue 1 defeat to Lyon on Sunday.

Yesterday PSG said Neymar’s prognosis was “reassuring” while the 28-year-old said on Instagram that his injury “could have been worse” following a rough tackle from Lyon midfielder Thiago Mendes which left him screaming in agony. Barca may not be as intimidating opponents as in the past after a troubled start to the season influenced by boardroom chaos and Lionel Messi’s attempt to leave the club in the summer. Messi saved Barca’s blushes on Sunday with the only goal in a home win over lowly Levante, but they are nine points behind La Liga leaders Real Sociedad.

Holders Bayern face Lazio
Reigning champions Bayern play Italian side Lazio, who are in the knockout phase for the first time in over two decades. “They are a very difficult opponent, we saw them in the group against Dortmund,” said Bayern’s sports director Hasan Salihamidzic. “It is always difficult against the Italian teams. But it is always nice to go to Rome.”

Lazio’s Spanish midfielder Luis Alberto described the draw as “complicated”. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team, who like PSG are still seeking a first Champions League title despite serious investment from Gulf state owners, must get past Borussia Moenchengladbach, European Cup finalists way back in 1977. “I learned when I was in Germany how big and important and historical a team Gladbach are. I respect the beauty of their football,” said former Bayern boss Guardiola.

“I want to arrive in the best condition when we play them. We want to compete as best as possible and go through.” Frank Lampard said that Chelsea, winners in 2012, have been handed the hardest possible draw with their tie against Atletico Madrid. “I think most people will say it’s the toughest draw that we could have had,” the Blues boss said. “We have to have belief in ourselves and, when that game comes around, you’re going to have to beat these sort of teams if you’re going to win the Champions League.”

Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus will play Portuguese side Porto, winners in 2004, while Real Madrid take on last season’s surprise quarter-finalists Atalanta. “We want to face them in the same manner we took on Barcelona,” said Juve vice president Pavel Nedved, referring to the 3-0 win at the Camp Nou which allowed the Italians to top their group. Liverpool will be wary of an attack-minded RB Leipzig side who ended the hopes of Manchester United in the group phase. That match will be a clash of German managers as Jurgen Klopp’s Reds face a Leipzig side led by young coach Julian Nagelsmann.

Man United face Sociedad
Meanwhile, Manchester United will face La Liga leaders Real Sociedad in the last 32 of the Europa League following yesterday’s draw in Nyon, after they were dumped out of the Champions League last week. United dropped down to the Europa League, which they won in 2017, after RB Leipzig knocked them out of the Europe’s top competition at the group stage. But Sociedad represent one of the toughest draws of the first knockout round. They reclaimed top spot in La Liga on Sunday and made it out of the Europa League group stage thanks to a dramatic late draw at Napoli, combined with AZ Alkmaar’s last-gasp defeat at Rijeka.

United meanwhile are eighth in the Premier League after Saturday’s goalless draw with local rivals Manchester City, although they are only five points behind leaders Tottenham Hotspur having played a game fewer. Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli, who are four points behind leaders AC Milan in Serie A, will face another Spanish side in the shape of Granada, while Milan have been handed a tie with Red Star Belgrade in a clash of former European champions.

New Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen will take on Swiss side Young Boys, while Ajax face current Ligue 1 leaders Lille after being eliminated from a tough Champions League group that contained Liverpool and Atalanta. Arsenal have a tricky tie with Benfica after topping their group with six wins from six, while fellow Premier League outfits Tottenham and Leicester City will clash with Austria’s Wolfsberg and Slavia Prague respectively. Scottish Premiership leaders Rangers take on Royal Antwerp after finishing above Benfica to top Group D. – Agencies

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