With the latter stages of the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League upon us, it’s time to start getting warmed up for some potentially exciting match-ups.
With the Champions League gearing up for some mouth-watering last 16 second-legs, let’s take a look at who is almost certainly secure of a spot in the quarter finals.Manchester City’s 5-0 demolition away at Portuguese champions Sporting Lisbon has effectively sealed their spot in the next stage of the Champions League, meaning Guardiola might be able to afford some of his stars a rest amid a Premier League title charge and an FA Cup run.
City will be favourites to take home Europe’s premier club competition, but will have to overcome the mental barrier of last season final defeat to fellow Premier League side Chelsea, in a game in which they were heavy favourites for.
Speaking of Chelsea, they also look set for a spot in the quarter finals following a 2-0 first leg victory over French champions Lille.
Though this tie isn’t done and dusted, you’d imagine a two-goal advantage would be difficult for the struggling Ligue 1 side to overcome, and Thomas Tuchel will be prying against complacency for the return leg in France.
With a spot in the top four looking pretty secure for the West London side, and a title challenge unlikely, there is no reason as to why Tuchel won’t be putting all his eggs in a Champions League/FA Cup basket for the remainder of the season.
Liverpool also have one foot in the last eight, with a 2-0 away victory at Italian champions Inter Milan, meaning the Reds have a decent advantage going into the second leg at Anfield.
Jürgen Klopp has witnessed stunning European comebacks from his Liverpool side against Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona in 2016 and 2019 respectively, so he won’t think this tie is done, though he will take some comfort in the fact Liverpool didn’t have to get out of second gear to take a comfortable lead back home.
Manchester United’s tie with Atlético Madrid hangs in the balance, with Anthony Elanga’s second-half equaliser pulling the tie level at 1-1 after João Félix had put the hosts in front after seven minutes.
Ralf Rangnick’s side will feel they were fortunate to escape Madrid with the tie on a level-footing, having struggled to contain Atlético for long periods of the game, and will need to provide a much better showing at Old Trafford to progress to the quarter finals of the competition.
There are other ties that remain in the balance across Europe that don’t involve English sides, which will be well worth keeping an eye on.
Paris Saint Germain grabbed a last-minute winner against the Champions Leagues’ most successful club, as Kylian Mbappé stroked the ball through Thibault Courtois’ legs to secure a 1-0 win for the Parisians over Real Madrid.
In what has potential to be the tie of the round, Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid side will have to show more attacking intent at the Santiago Bernabéu than they did in Paris, if they have any chance of progression over the French giants, whilst Mauricio Pochettino will be hoping for more of the same from his star-studded PSG side.
Meanwhile in Austria, Bayern Munich needed a 90th minute equaliser from Kingsley Coman to draw level with Red Bull Salzburg with the German side now comfortable favourites to secure passage to the quarter finals.
But Salzburg have proved they are no mugs after the last few years, and will hope that starlets such as Karim Adeyemi and Benjamin Šeško can fire the Austrian Bundesliga side to a shock victory.
Juventus got themselves off to a dream start at Villarreal with January star-signing Dušan Vlahović giving the Italian side the lead within a minute of the first leg, but Spanish midfielder Dani Parejo levelled midway through the second half for the Europa League holders to set up a compelling second leg.
And Benfica and Ajax played out a compelling first-leg at the Estádio da Luz, with a 2-2 draw, with goals from Dušan Tadić and Sébastien Haller for the visitors whilst the latter’s own goal and a Roman Yarmechuk header, setting up a thrilling finale in Amsterdam.
This concludes the first legs from the last 16 of the Champions League, with Manchester City and PSG perhaps justifying their placing as favourites, whilst the other main contender, Bayern Munich, still have a job to do to prove themselves as potential holders for Europe’s most prestigious club trophy.
The Europa League and Europa Conference League’s last 16 phase is about to begin, after an unprecedented round of play-offs, cut 24 teams down to 16.
West Ham United are the only English side remaining in Europe’s second-tier competition.
They face a stern test from Spanish side Sevilla, a club that has won this competition six times, all of them coming from 2006 and beyond.
The Irons made it straight into the last 16 having topped their group, but this will be the sternest test they have faced so far, with Sevilla last winning the tournament in 2020, where they knocked out fellow Premier League sides Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United on route, before disposing of Inter Milan in the final.
David Moyes’ side will hope to at least be within a goal after the first leg in Seville, before they head to the London Stadium for the second leg.
Scottish Premiership side overcame competition favourites Borussia Dortmund in a play-off to set up a two-legged affair with Serbian outfit Red Star Belgrade.
In what was arguably the tie of the play-offs, Rangers overcame the German giants 6-4 on aggregate, following a 4-2 win at the Signal Iduna Park before a 2-2 draw at Ibrox secured Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side a spot in the last 16.
Red Star will provide stiff opposition, especially in the second leg in Belgrade, but after toppling a genuine European giant, the Glasgow side will fancy their chances of securing a spot in the quarter finals.
The new tournament favourites Barcelona (who are usually perennial latter stages of the Champions League competitors) have been drawn to play Turkish giants Galatasaray, having just overcome a strong Napoli side of Italy.
German Bundesliga side RB Leipzig had been drawn to play Spartak Moscow of Russia, but after FIFA and UEFA suspended all Russian football clubs from their competitions following the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, it is unclear what will happen to RB Leipzig, but you could probably safely presume they will receive a bye to the quarter finals.
The other ties in the competition consist of Monaco travelling to Portugal to take on Braga in the first leg, whilst Porto will host Lyon in the first leg of their tie, in another Portugal vs France tie.
Italian side Atalanta will welcome Bayer Leverkusen of Germany for their first leg, whilst fellow Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt will travel to Spain to take on Real Betis.
In the Europa Conference League, Leicester City will host French side Stade Rennais in the first leg of their last 16 tie.
Brendan Rodgers’ side have faltered in the Premier League this season and having been knocked out of the FA Cup by their biggest rivals in Nottingham Forest, they will be taking this competition particularly seriously, knowing that there is a genuine chance of silverware.
The Foxes comfortably disposed of Danish side Randers 7-2 in the play-off stage, but the Rodgers’ side know that it will only get tougher from here.
Marseille of France and Roma of Italy are the two other favourites for the competition, alongside the team from the East Midlands.
FC Basel will travel to France to take on Marseille in the first leg, whilst Roma travel to the Netherlands to take on Vitesse.
Elsewhere in the first legs of the last 16 in the competition, PAOK of Greece will welcome Gent of Belgium, FC Copenhagen of Denmark will travel to PSV Eindhoven of the Netherlands and Slavia Prague of the Czech Republic will host LASK Linz of Austria.
As well as this, the conquerors of Celtic, Bodo/Glimt of Norway will face a stern test at home with AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands aiming to take a lead back home, whilst yet another Dutch side in Feyenoord will travel to Serbia to take on Partizan Belgrade.
All three competitions are shaping up nicely this term, with lots of twists and turns and unpredictability guaranteed in the coming months.
The finals of each respective competition may seem a long way from now, but the business end of European competition is here, and it promises to be as thrilling as it’s ever been before.
Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for some pure sporting theatre in the coming months!
Harry is a Sports Journalism graduate, with a keen eye for sports as well as previously working on a multitude of podcasts.