Barcelona: Potential Champions League Round of 16 opponents

EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 28: FC Barcelona logo during the UEFA Champions League match between PSV v FC Barcelona at the Philips Stadium on November 28, 2018 in Eindhoven Netherlands (Photo by Geert van Erven/Soccrates/Getty Images)
EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 28: FC Barcelona logo during the UEFA Champions League match between PSV v FC Barcelona at the Philips Stadium on November 28, 2018 in Eindhoven Netherlands (Photo by Geert van Erven/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

Securing first place in the group has increased Barcelona’s chance of a nice draw, but there are still a few potentially tricky ties.

Barcelona made light work of a tough group to finish unbeaten with 14 points and they were already guaranteed to finish top by the end of matchday five, so Ernesto Valverde was able to rest key players for the final match against Tottenham Hotspur. The Champions League is the main priority for the club this season after three consecutive quarter-final exits including the humiliation against Roma last season.

Finishing first means they can only play the teams who finished second in their group at this stage, but Spurs and Atletico Madrid are ruled out due to being in the same group and being from the same country respectively. This leaves Ajax, Liverpool, Lyon, Manchester United, Roma and Schalke as the potential teams they can be drawn with.

Liverpool stands out as the hardest possible opponent even though their group stage campaign was far from convincing due to losing to all three of their opponents away from home. They possess a fearsome attack and appear to have solved their defensive woes from last season with Virgil Van Dijk’s leadership and defensive nous playing a large part in that. Beating them would be a tough task, but they would have to play at Anfield first and Barcelona could take advantage of their poor away form to repair the damage from the first leg.

Fellow English side Manchester United have been hugely disappointing this season, but they did manage to beat Juventus away so they shouldn’t be underestimated. Having the chance to knock the Portuguese manager out of Europe is likely to be popular among cules. There are sides in the draw that would be easier to face, though, because United’s physical style through the use of players such as Marouane Fellaini could cause issues for the Catalans.

Lyon are a side filled with talented individuals ready to become top players, although that is likely to be dependent on a move away from the French side that has proven itself to be one of the best developers of talent in Europe.

They are similar to the Monaco side from 2016/17 in that they have a unique chance to go far in the tournament due to assembling a hugely talented team which is likely to start breaking apart in the summer. Their lack of experience showed during the group stage in that they were dependent on a draw in the last match to qualify from an entertaining but not hugely challenging group, however, they did beat and draw with Manchester City.

Ajax are another side that looks easy on paper yet they could cause issues as Bayern Munich found out during the group stages. Erik ten Hag has implemented a possession-based system that has three playmakers in the side: Hakim Ziyech, Dusan Tadic and David Neres. His style has brought purpose to their possession with sharp passages of play that isolate defenders in dangerous situations or get players in behind the opposition defence.

Barcelona have been heavily linked with wonderkids Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, so it would be interesting to see them match up against a side that at least one of them is likely to join in the summer. The similarities in approach between the two sides could make this an open, entertaining game.

Schalke were gifted an easy draw on their return to the Champions League after a three-year absence and they took advantage of that to finish second behind Porto. Domenico Tedesco has had a tough second season so far because he has been unable to recapture the form that saw them finish second in the Bundesliga last season as they currently occupy 13th place in the league. It’s hard to see how they could upset Barcelona due to the difference in quality as well as the collective issues so they should be the easiest opponent.

Next. Barcelona finish Champions League group stage unbeaten with Tottenham draw. dark

Roma would be the ideal opponent on so many levels. They barely made it through their Champions League group and are currently down in eighth place in the league. More importantly, Barca need to get revenge after the humiliation last year. Dealing with their demons from last season could give them some much-needed confidence going into the quarters. If not Roma, then Schalke, Lyon or Ajax would all be good opponents to be drawn with.