In the last year of the "old" Champions League before a radical change of format, the knockout round is going to bring us something entirely new thanks to the draw pairing the petrodollar-funded Paris Saint-Germain with the academy-powered Real Sociedad.

The Txuri-Urdin, coached by Imanol Alguacil, who's spent his life at Real Sociedad, have never before faced Les Bleu et Rouges. PSG are an anomaly of an institution whose manager, former Spain and Barcelona boss Luis Enrique Fernández (born May 8, 1970), is a couple of months older than the club (Aug. 12, 1970) itself. And although the "sizzle" for the tie is the visit of the billionaire French aristocrats -- with the stellar Kylian Mbappé as their cutting edge -- to a club where you could add up the top five transfer spends in Real Sociedad's history and still not quite reach what Mbappe is paid per season, the message must be "Watch out, PSG!"

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The first evidence of that is that until the 59th minute of the Group F matches last week in Matchday 6, it was Mbappe, Ousmane Dembélé, Marco Asensio & Co. -- not Newcastle United -- who were bottom of their group and heading out of Europe. Meanwhile, La Real were toughing it out at San Siro and comfortably drawing 0-0 to ensure that they, not Inter Milan, became Group D winners.

That said, Luis Enrique won't need much reminding of what awaits him at Anoeta when the tie's decisive match is played. PSG's coach was born only three hours drive along Spain's north coast from San Sebastián and, during his playing career at Sporting Gijon, Real Madrid at Barcelona, came up against former Real Sociedad and Villarreal midfielder Alguacil seven times with mixed results. Then, in the winter of 2015, a few weeks after Alguacil took over coaching duties with Real Sociedad's B team, Luis Enrique came to Anoeta with his Barcelona side which would go on to win the treble that season. It was an infamous weekend.

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On Saturday, Jan. 3, 24 hours before the match, Luis Enrique was refereeing a training match on the Tito Vilanova pitch of Barcelona's Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper. He was already planning to rest a few of his Barca stars who'd used the nine-day Christmas break to head back home to South America, and whom he suspected would still be jet-lagged.

During the practice match, he opted not to whistle for what Lionel Messi thought had been a foul on him. The Argentine angrily shouted at the "ref" (his boss) and the hot-tempered duo instantly went into a nose-to-nose standoff that staff and players needed to separate with huge delicacy and care.

By the next night in San Sebastián, Messi was benched, as were Neymar, Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué and Ivan Rakitic, as Real Sociedad won 1-0. The Catalan newspapers were full of coverage of the row, TV images showed Neymar smirking to Messi as Barcelona went a goal behind early in the match, and on the Monday, Messi didn't report for training, claiming he had a stomach bug.

In due course, club captain Xavi intervened, tensions dropped and Luis Enrique's three musketeers -- Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez -- drove Barcelona to a stunning Champions League-La Liga-Copa Del Rey treble. But it was a useful apprenticeship for how Luis Enrique is handling his latest global superstar, Mbappe, and a cautionary reminder about what can happen to any unwary visitor who arrives at Anoeta off-form, distracted or under-strength.

The tie also provides warmer memories for the PSG coach, who is a huge admirer of La Real captain Mikel Oyarzabal and, when Spain coach, used the Basque striker to set up two Ferran Torres goals in San Siro as La Roja won the 2021 Nations League semifinal against European champions, Italy. Both teams are whole-heartedly committed to attacking football, the Spanish side will relish their "underdog" status and PSG will be fuelled by the fervour of not wanting to get eliminated this early in the competition. In other words, this might easily be the most dramatic, most open and enjoyable tie of the round.


Laurens picks Barcelona vs. Napoli as the best of the UCL draw

Gab & Juls react to the Champions League round of 16 draw, as Barcelona are handed a tough tie with Napoli.

Next, there's a photo-finish between Barcelona vs. Napoli and Atletico vs. Inter as to which has more riding on it, and which tie is harder to predict.

Let's start with the audible groan that emanated from Barcelona's training ground and stadium offices when John Terry, guesting at UEFA HQ, paired them with a Napoli side which seems to be gathering form and momentum. Since taking the Barca job, Xavi has legitimately moaned about the horrible luck his Bambi-team (all gawky and unsteady on their legs, but determined to persevere) had had over the last couple of grim European years. Facing Bayern (thrashed twice), Inter (eventual finalists), Napoli (twice now), Manchester United and Eintracht Frankfurt (eventual winners) across two seasons meant that the UEFA draws never threw up a "gimme" kind of opponent ... until this season, when Shakhtar Donetsk and Antwerp both strolled into their patch and then beat Barcelona.


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TUESDAY, DEC. 19 (all times ET)• Chelsea vs. Newcastle United (Quarterfinals Carabao Cup) (3 p.m.)Port Vale vs. Middlesbrough (Quarterfinals Carabao Cup) (3 p.m.)Everton vs. Fulham (Quarterfinals Carabao Cup) (3 p.m.)

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 20 (all times ET)• Liverpool vs. West Ham (Quarterfinals Carabao Cup) (2:30 p.m.)Bayer Leverkusen vs. Bochum (2:30 p.m.)Wolfsburg vs. Bayern Munich (2:30 p.m.)Barcelona vs. Almeria (1 p.m.)

THURSDAY, DEC. 21 (all times ET)• Alaves vs. Real Madrid (1 p.m.)

SATURDAY, DEC. 23 (all times ET)• Atletico Madrid vs. Sevilla (10:15 a.m.)Real Sociedad vs. Real Betis (10 a.m.)

The simplest thing to say is that if the Spanish champions show anything approaching the turgid, uninventive, porous football they did when losing those apparently simple group matches over the past few weeks, Napoli will wipe the floor with them. And what will be a malicious, but accurate, talking point over the weeks between now and the first tie, at the volcanic and daunting Diego Maradona stadium in February, is that Barcelona's 4-2 away victory to Napoli in spring 2022 is actually the last time Xavi's team produced a hugely impressive and convincing European performance. That was in the third month of his now two-year reign.

Right now, the Blaugrana, who'll still be missing Gavi and Marc-Andre ter Stegen by the time they travel to Naples, are playing much less convincing or attractive football. Napoli duo Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia will be licking their lips while Barcelona fans cry into their cafes con leche.

There's a similar song to sing about the how the other LaLiga vs. Serie A tie profiles at this early stage. Inter and Atleti have only met competitively once, with Los Rojiblancos winning the UEFA Supercup 2-0 some 13 years ago. But right now, it'll need a massive upturn in competitive aggression, form and self-belief from Diego Simeone's team to oust Italy's champions-elect.

Kudos to Atleti for winning an admittedly weak Group E (Lazio, Feyenoord, Celtic), but their unimpressive away defeats to Valencia, Las Palmas, Barcelona and the mauling they took at San Mames at the weekend mean they're looking backwards at the prospect of Athletic Club overtaking them in fourth, rather than looking ambitiously at winning LaLiga as, frankly, they should be.


Real Madrid need to 'hang in there' after David Alaba ACL injury.

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said his team needs to hang in there following another serious injury after David Alaba, who went off in Madrid's 4-1 win over Villarreal with an ACL injury.

Two storied returns are involved in this tie, too. Antoine Griezmann, easily Atleti's best and most important footballer, once told me that even if he won the Champions League, he'd still always be haunted by hitting the bar with a penalty in the San Siro Champions League final of 2016 against Real Madrid. He's scored in the beautiful San Siro stadium since, against Milan, but if a penalty is awarded against Inter then, before he takes it, there'll be ghosts for the Frenchman.

You'd imagine that Inter's fans will reserve some respect for Simeone himself who had two stirring seasons for the Nerazzurri including winning the UEFA Cup, but no one in Inter's squad or their management offices will be looking at this version of Atleti and quaking.

Finally, to Real Madrid. It's truly horrible to see their squad once again depleted by a brutal knee-ligament injury (David Alaba's the latest, following Thibaut Courtois and Éder Militão), but they are a squad of solutions and a club that's simply used to smashing expectations in this competition. No disrespect intended to RB Leipzig, or ignoring the fact that they beat Los Blancos 3-2 at the Red Bull Arena a year ago, but so many of Marco Rose's star players have left the club since and Carlo Ancelotti's team are, somehow, against an awful injury crisis, beginning to look like dark-horse Champions League winners. Again.

It's not an easy round-of-16 draw for LaLiga's sides, but there's loads of fun and drama in store.