In the wake of one of the least eventful UEFA Champions League group stages in recent years, the soccer gods have seen fit to bless us with a fantastic slate of knockout round matches. The Champions League Round of 16 draw was held Monday morning and, hoo boy, there are some amazing pairings to look forward to.
So to get ready for the second half of Europe's grandest tournament, which resumes in mid-February, let's rank the eight knockout round pairings from least to most entertaining.
8. Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas
Considering the matchups in the top half of this list, Bayern will be thanking its lucky stars for drawing Besiktas. While the Turkish club is good enough to challenge the German giants, it probably doesn't have enough talent to overcome Bayern over a two-leg contest. On the other hand, Besiktas will be cursing its luck. The Black Eagles won their group with an undefeated record and wins in every away match. They are rewarded by getting paired with Bayern, which finished second to PSG in its group. The Besiktas roster is full of old names you'll remember such as Pepe, Ricardo Quaresma and Negredo, but it doesn't figure to be much more than a nostalgia act against Bayern. The Germans should advance easily and will await a tougher test in the quarterfinals.
7. Basel vs. Manchester City
City is in a historic run of form in the English Premier League right now, extending its league-record winning streak to 14 games with a victory over arch-rival Manchester United on Sunday. The Premier League is essentially in the bag, so the Sky Blues will be fully focused on the Champions League and winning Ol' Big Ears. That's bad news for Basel. The Swiss team is solid defensively, finishing second behind Manchester United in its group while nabbing clean sheets in four of six matches. Basel's best hope will be to keep City off the score sheet, which is easier said than done against the Sky Blues' elite attackers.
6. Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma
While this matchup features two clubs that neutral fans might not be familiar with, Shakhtar vs. Besiktas should be a good contest. It'll be a sight to see Roma in the Champions League without Francesco Totti, the club's talisman for decades, but it will be interesting to see who steps up to be the big-game star in his stead. Roma doesn't lack for options between Edin Dzeko, Radja Nainggolan and Diego Perotti. It should be able to find a way past Shakhtar, but it will be a difficult few matches for the Italians.
5. Sevilla vs. Manchester United
Sevilla made a name for itself as the B-Champions of Europe by winning the Europa League three consecutive times from 2014-16. Life has been harder for the Spaniards in the Champions League, but they still managed to advance out of their group in second place despite some struggles. Sevilla drew Liverpool while allowing multiple goals twice, lost to Spartak Moscow and also lost to Maribor. Jose Mourinho and Manchester United will be heavy favorites to advance. And since the Premier League now seems out of reach, there's a good chance United opts to focus primarily on the Champions League and take out some frustrations on Sevilla.
4. Porto vs. Liverpool
Porto vs. Liverpool is a contest between two exciting upstart teams fighting for recognition among the world's elite. Porto makes it onto or near this stage every year, but it rarely gets credit for being one of the better clubs in the world because it comes from Portugal's Primeira Liga, which is seen as a second-class league compared to the EPL, Bundesliga and La Liga. Liverpool was once one of the world's greatest and has spent decades fighting to reclaim that status. Between Liverpool's high-flying attack -- it set the group stage record for goals scored -- and Porto's poor defense in a weak Group C -- it conceded two goals per game -- the Reds will be favored. But a lot can and will change between now and February. I expect this to be a close contest.
3. Juventus vs. Tottenham
Now we get into the meat of the Round of 16. In many seasons, Juve-Spurs would be the marquee contest of the first knockout round, but this year it's third-best. In any given year, Juventus is probably better than Tottenham. But this is arguably the best Tottenham team ever against a Juventus side that's having a relative down year considering its sky-high standards. Winning a group that also featured Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund will give Spurs confidence it can beat the Old Lady over two legs, a laughable notion only a few short years ago. Even in a down year, Juventus is better than most clubs, and it will want to make the final for a third time in four years. For Spurs, it's a chance for the club and a few of its fantastic players -- Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen -- to truly arrive on the world stage and stake their claim at the top of the game.
2. Chelsea vs. Barcelona
The Chelsea-Barcelona Champions League rivalry is one of the best organic rivalries of recent years, but normally it's saved for the late stages. In 2009, Barcelona triumphed over the Blues in a highly controversial semifinal thanks to an away goal and went on to win the Cup. Three years later, Chelsea exacted revenge in the semifinal on the way to a UCL title of its own. But that's all old news. Presently, these are two of the best teams in the world. Antonio Conte's magical three-man defense, which has taken over the world in the past year, will be tasked with stopping Lionel Messi, the best in the world, and Luis Suarez. If these matches are anywhere near as good as the last two times Chelsea and Barca met in the knockout rounds, expect fireworks.
1. Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain
This is quite simply the most star-studded matchup I've ever seen this early in the Champions League. A quick rundown of some of the names involved will give you an idea: Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Kylian Mbappe, Luka Modric, Edinson Cavani. I could go on and on. These are the two most talented (and most expensive) teams in the world. Just drop the ball in the center of the pitch and you're guaranteed a thrilling and unpredictable match. Neither is perfect, though. Each has flaws that the other has to be ready for and able to exploit. Tactics and intangibles aside, this will be one of the greatest collections of attacking talent assembled on a single pitch in recent memory.
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Cy Brown writes about football, golf, soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.