The thought of drawing another Portuguese side in the round of 16 gives me PTSD from the Andrea Pirlo era, and there are two Liga NOS potentialities in Monday’s draw.
The slightly less daunting option is Benfica, who currently sit third in the Portuguese top-flight and qualified for the round of 16 at Barcelona’s expense.
Jorge Jesus is back in town and he has his side playing a dynamic but stout brand of football. They press high in a man-oriented fashion, but they’re also capable of blocking space resolutely. This flexibility in the defensive phase makes them a threat.
Overall, they’re a well-balanced group that has enough talent to stun a supergiant. Darwin Nunez enjoyed a productive group stage, Rafa and Alejandro Grimaldo are two long-time Benfica stars, while Roman Yaremchuk and Everton have both made a difference since joining the club.
If this was the Europa League, then I’d be tempted to put Villarreal at number one. There isn’t a more iconic duo in the sport than Unai Emery and that competition.
But, victory over Atalanta on Matchday 6 saw them advance into the knockout stages of the Champions League, and they could face Juventus for the very first time in this competition.
It’s been a woeful domestic season for Emery’s side thus far, but their performances in Europe have depicted their potential. They ran Manchester United close on two occasions and found themselves 3-0 up away at Atalanta last week.
Villarreal are technically superb, and they’re capable of taking contests away from opponents through sheer technical supremacy. They now boast a pair of effective outlets in Arnaut Danjuma and Boulaye Dia that helps them stretch the pitch, while Gerard Moreno, their top goalscorer from last season, will hopefully be fit and firing by the time the round of 16 rolls around.
The Spaniard has struggled with injuries this term and has made only six La Liga appearances as a consequence. His presence makes a major difference.