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Arsenal, Barcelona, PSG to go out after tough UCL draw?

The path to Wembley for the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League final has now opened up, with the draw for the round of 16 taking place on Monday.

Reigning champions Manchester City and rivals Bayern Munich have been handed comfortable routes into the latter stages with ties against FC Copenhagen and Lazio, respectively. Real Madrid have to overcome a tricky tie against RB Leipzig, while Barcelona and Napoli face off in a crunch clash between the champions of Spain and Italy.

But with several heavyweight clubs not in this season's knockout stage -- Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Juventus are all absent -- the draw looks more open than ever before. So can one of the outsiders profit from a good draw and use it to propel them to the latter stages and maybe even a run to Wembley?

Here are the round-of-16 ties and how they will shape up.

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FC PORTO vs. ARSENAL

While this tie looks a good one for Arsenal's hopes of progressing to the quarterfinals for the first time since the 2009-10 season, the Premier League leaders should be wary of a Porto team that has experience and quality in abundance -- none more so than the evergreen defender Pepê, who became the Champions League's oldest-ever goalscorer at 40 with three goals in Group H.

Only Spanish champions Barcelona took points off Sergio Conceicao's team in the group stages, with Porto qualifying in second place -- level on points with Barca.

Arsenal will be favourites due to Mikel Arteta's young team leading the way in the Premier League, but Porto are a dangerous opponent with Brazilian forwards Galeno and Evanilson scoring four goals each in the group stage.

Having been eliminated from the Europa League by Sporting CP last season, Arsenal have recent knowledge of the ability of Portuguese opponents to cause an upset, and Porto are well accustomed to performing at this stage of the competition. The Gunners will be vulnerable unless they treat Conceicao's team with total respect. After coasting through a soft group, this will be a step up for Arsenal.

WINNERS: Porto

NAPOLI vs. BARCELONA

Arguably the tie of the round, with the champions of Italy facing the champions of Spain. Though neither have yet been able to replicate the form they displayed on the way to winning their respective titles last season.

Napoli are unpredictable and sacked Luciano Spalletti's replacement Rudi Garcia after less than six months in charge, before replacing him with former Inter Milan and Watford coach Walter Mazzarri in November, but they still possess the attacking threat of Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

Barcelona finished top of their group, but away defeats against Shakhtar Donetsk and Antwerp highlight their vulnerability, so Napoli will be confident of achieving a crucial win in the first leg in Naples.

Both sides displayed defensive frailties during the group stage. With both much stronger in attack than in defence, it is likely to be a high-scoring tie. It's a tough one to call right now, with domestic form in February likely to dictate the eventual winners, but whichever way it goes, it will be entertaining.

WINNERS: Napoli

PSG vs. REAL SOCIEDAD

PSG were fortunate to squeeze into the round of 16 after an unconvincing campaign in Group F in which they won just two games. A controversial stoppage-time penalty against Newcastle at home on matchday five earned a 1-1 draw which ultimately paved the way for Luis Enrique's team to qualify as group runners-up, edging out third-placed AC Milan by virtue of their head-to-head record.

But while PSG's status as a regular contender at this stage of the competition might prompt many to identify them as favourites in this tie, they face a tough opponent in La Real, who emerged from the group stage with the best defensive record of any club after conceding just two goals in six games.

Imanol Alguacil's team don't score many either, netting just seven times in the group, but they are a well-drilled unit and will be organised and resolute when they face PSG.

The French champions are no longer the exciting team of star players built by the club's Qatari owners, but they still have Kylian Mbappé. Yet the France forward was disappointing during the group stage and appears to be counting down until his contract expires next summer. La Real have nothing to fear against PSG.

WINNERS: Real Sociedad

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INTER MILAN vs. ATLETICO MADRID

They are two teams that have recently suffered defeat in the Champions League final -- Inter last season; Atletico in both 2014 and 2016 -- but both harbour realistic ambitions to make it all the way this time if they avoid the favourites.

Both came through the group stage without a defeat, so you can expect two closely-fought games in this tie as coaches Simone Inzaghi and Diego Simeone attempt to outdo each other.

Serie A leaders Inter are the team in form right now, with Inzaghi's side holding a four-point lead at the top of the Serie A table. Lautaro Martínez and Marcus Thuram provide the goal threat, with Hakan Calhanoglu also weighing in with goals from midfield.

But in Antoine Griezmann and Álvaro Morata, Atletico possess two of the joint-leading scorers in the Champions League -- alongside Man City's Erling Haaland and Man United's Rasmus Hojlund with five goals -- and remain a well-drilled defensive outfit under Simeone.

The quality of coaches and forwards in both teams point to a high-level tie, but one that will be really close. Potentially even going to penalties.

WINNER: Atletico Madrid

PSV EINDHOVEN vs. BORUSSIA DORTMUND

Dortmund's pedigree in the Champions League and their comfortable progression as winners of Group F marks them out as favourites in this tie, but PSV are the only team in Europe's major leagues with a 100% domestic record and have scored an incredible 56 goals in 16 Eredivisie games so far this season.

Coach Peter Bosz, who guided Ajax to the 2017 Europa League final against Manchester United, has transformed PSV with a blend of exciting youngsters -- Johan Bakayoko, Ricardo Pepi and Isaac Babadi among them -- and experienced stars including Hirving Lozano, Luuk de Jong and Patrick van Aanholt.

Pepi, Malik Tillman and Sergiño Dest give PSV a strong USMNT representation, but their ability to cause an upset against Dortmund depends on how well they resist interest from rival clubs in their young stars in January.

If PSV can keep their squad and sustain their domestic form, they will see Dortmund as a beatable opponent, having avoided round-of-16 heavyweights such as Manchester City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

But Dortmund will also see PSV as a favourable draw and Edin Terzic's team should come through as winners.

WINNERS: Borussia Dortmund

LAZIO vs. BAYERN MUNICH

Bayern will regard this draw as a comfortable route through to the quarterfinals and, for Lazio, it could be a case of doing their best to keep the score down.

Thomas Tuchel's team cruised through to the knockout stage as easy winners of Group A, while Lazio emerged as runners-up to Atletico Madrid in Group E, ahead of Feyenoord and Celtic -- two of the weakest teams in the competition.

With Lazio struggling mid-table in Serie A, coach Maurizio Sarri's immediate challenge will be to improve results in order to ensure he is still in the post by the time he faces off against Tuchel in the New Year.

With Harry Kane in peerless form for Bayern, the Bundesliga champions have established themselves alongside Real Madrid as one of the few serious threats to Manchester City's hopes of retaining the Champions League. And although Lazio will be backed by a passionate crowd in Rome, with the experience of Ciro Immobile, Luis Alberto and Pedro in their team, it is virtually impossible to find a valid reason to back them to beat Bayern over two legs.

WINNERS: Bayern Munich

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FC COPENHAGEN vs. MANCHESTER CITY

Although Copenhagen reached the round of 16 thanks in no small part to a 4-3 home win against Manchester United in Group A, don't expect the Danish club to repeat that shock result against City.

Coach Jacob Neestrup also guided his team to a 0-0 draw against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, so the 35-year-old deserves huge respect for Copenhagen's performances so far this season, but reigning European champions City will be a step too far for his side.

Roony Bardghji, the 18-year-old forward who scored the late winner against United, is Copenhagen's player to watch and a youngster with the potential to earn himself a move to a top club like City. But over two legs, this will be a comfortable tie for Pep Guardiola's team, who will be relieved to have avoided the likes of PSG and Napoli at this stage of the tournament.

City can look forward to a noisy and passionate atmosphere at Parken Stadium for the first leg, but they have nothing to fear from the tie itself.

WINNERS: Manchester City

RB LEIPZIG vs. REAL MADRID

This could be an awkward tie for Carlo Ancelotti's side, especially when they travel to Germany for the first leg with memories of last season's 3-2 defeat against Leipzig in the group stage.

With Jude Bellingham emerging as arguably the star of the group stage, Real Madrid certainly have the players to make this a comfortable tie, but Leipzig have become a regular in the Champions League in recent years and coach Marco Rose can make life difficult.

In attack, Loïs Openda, Benjamin Sesko, Xavi Simons and Dani Olmo all performed well in the group stage, while Timo Werner, despite still searching for his first goal in the competition this season, remains a threat. But this will only become a dangerous tie for Madrid if they allow Leipzig the opportunities to hurt them.

Madrid have their weaknesses and long-term injuries to Thibaut Courtois, David Alaba and Éder Militão have hurt them defensively, but Vinícius Júnior should be back from his thigh injury in time to play in this tie, so they should progress.

WINNERS: Real Madrid

    

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