The stage is set for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. The draw took place in Nyon, Switzerland at 6 a.m. EST, but due to a technical, unprecedented error by UEFA, the Round of 16 ties were redrawn at 9 a.m.
Perhaps the most anticipated match-up of the first draw was the clash featuring Manchester United against Paris Saint-Germain, a fixture that was going to revive the rivalry between the world’s two highest-paid soccer players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Juventus and Inter Milan, the only two Serie A teams left in the competition, were initially scheduled to face Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon and Eredivisie reigning champions Ajax, respectively.
The new draw, which has been quite unfavorable to the Italian sides, sees the Bianconeri battle La Liga’s Villareal and the Nerazzurri take on Liverpool.
Inter Are Facing One Of Europe’s Hottest Teams
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Inter, who are back among Europe’s top 16 soccer teams after 10 years, will battle Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, a side that collected six wins in six group matches and are second in the English Premier League.
The last time the Nerazzurri reached this stage of the competition was in the 2011/12 season, as Claudio Ranieri’s men were eliminated by France’s Olympique de Marseille on away goals in the two-legged knockout tie.
Starting this year, UEFA has implemented a significant change to the away-goal rule. Whenever two teams have the same number of goals on aggregate (over the course of the home and away fixtures), it will no longer matter which team has scored the most goals as the visitors. Instead, the match will stretch into overtime and, if necessary, it will end with the penalty-kick shootout, where the tie will finally be broken.
The Nerazzurri, who have mastered their movements in manager Simone Inzaghi’s trademarked 3-5-2, have found in Edin Džeko the perfect striker to replace Belgium international Romelu Lukaku, who left the club last summer. Džeko has already scored 11 goals this year, three of which were key to pushing Inter past the UEFA Champions League group stage.
Besides displaying an exciting brand of soccer, Inter are finding success on the field this season: With 40 points in 17 Serie A rounds, they are the current league leaders ahead of AC Milan, Atalanta and Napoli.
In February, Inter will host the Round of 16 first leg at Stadio San Siro in Milan and will then travel to Liverpool for the second leg in early March 2022.
Juventus Are Under Pressure To Advance In Europe
Juventus have lately been at the center of criticism for their poor league results under head coach Massimiliano Allegri, who is the highest-paid manager in Italy alongside AS Roma’s José Mourinho.
But while the Bianconeri currently sit 12 points away from the top of the Serie A table, they have an almost-perfect record in this UEFA Champions League edition: By collecting 15 points in six games, they were remarkably able to finish ahead of 2020/21 trophy winners Chelsea in Group H.
During his first stint at the helm of the Bianconeri, Allegri led his side to the UEFA Champions League final on two occasions: in 2015, as Juventus fell 3-1 to Barcelona and in 2017, when they lost 4-1 to Real Madrid, suffering a brace by Cristiano Ronaldo.
In mid-February, Juventus will travel to Spain for the first of two legs against Villareal. They will then host the return leg in March at Allianz Stadium in Turin.
Considering the poor result from last year, when Juventus were upset in the Round of 16 by Portuguese side Porto, the Bianconeri are under strong pressure to advance in the most prestigious European tournament this year.
Looking ahead, it will be crucial for Juventus to deal with the physical setbacks of star player Paulo Dybala, whose right knee forced him out of the field once again during Juventus’s latest Serie A fixture against Venezia.
Winning the Round of 16 gives access to the tournament’s quarter finals, which comes with a $12.4 million reward, according to UEFA’s prize money distribution.
The semifinals are then worth $14.6m, while the May 28 final in Saint Petersburg, Russia guarantees $18.1m to the runners-up and $23.3m to the trophy winners.
Europe’s top-16 teams will resume UEFA Champions League action on Feb. 15, 2022.