real madrid barcelona rivalry el clasico Real Madrid’s Enemy #1: Barcelona

As the 2020-21 Champions League enters the Round of 16, we at Groundhopper Guides thought we would take a look at some of the matchups — not from a “who will win” perspective, but more like, “Who are these clubs, and what would it be like to see a game there?”

With that in mind, here are some of the Champions League Round of 16 matchups for February 16 and 17.

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First, don’t forget that you can watch all the Champions League games on Paramount+:

Watch the Champions League on Paramount+ in the US.

Tuesday, February 16, 3 p.m. Eastern: RB Leipzig vs Liverpool

The 2019 champions head off to Germany to face what is apparently the most hated team in that country. That’s because they were only “born” in 2009, when Red Bull, the energy drink company, purchased the playing rights of a fifth-tier German club. They poured many millions into the team and rose from the fifth tier to the Bundesliga in just seven seasons; they have finished top-six in that league every season since; and last year they made the Champions League semifinals.

Naturally, this kind of get-rich-quick success, combined with a real lack of history, has brought out the contempt of more traditional clubs’ fans and the resistance of established giants. This story from The Athletic goes into it a bit more. Expect to see a lot more coverage along these lines, along with the recent “what’s the matter with Liverpool” stuff.

There are 41 registered supporters groups, several of whom arose in opposition to the main sponsor and club structure, and anti-racism messages are quite common.

champions league round of 16 red bull arena

Red Bull Arena (via Wikipedia)

The Stadium: As you might expect, it’s pretty much brand new and highly rated. Red Bull Arena holds around 43,000 for football and is rated as UEFA Class 4 (the highest level) for its facilities. It was built in 2004, hosted some games in the 2006 World Cup, and was renovated in 2015.

The city: With 1.1 million people in the whole area, this was the second-largest city in East Germany. Today it’s a modern financial hub and highly rated as a place to live, having basically reinvented itself following an almost complete industrial crash on the reunification of Germany.

Tuesday, February 16, 3 p.m. Eastern: Barcelona vs PSG

In the main media, this tie will be all about the relative demise of Barca, the futures of Neymar and Messi, and “Will PSG ever win it?”

For us, this is all about, “You really should go to Barcelona for a game sometime!” The city, of course, is brilliant, with great food, nightlife, fascinating political history, beautiful surroundings, and amazing architecture. It’s also not that expensive, and if you’re coming from London like Groundhopper Paul did, you can fly over from a smaller London airport and get a package with a couple nights in a hotel for around $250 US. Amazing.

champions league round of 16 barcelona camp nou

Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona. Sadly, this is what it will look like in the Champions League.

The Stadium: The Camp Nou just means “new field,” as apparently they never got around to giving it a formal name. It’s immense, with just over 99,000 seats, but it’s also surprisingly simple and old-fashioned. It’s really just a big concrete bowl, with a small video screen that shows goofy crowd-interaction videos on a technical level with 1990s NBA games.

The city: What can you say? When England is damp and dreary, Barcelona is sunny and lovely. In fact, it seems to always be sunny and lovely. Go there and take a walking architectural tour, a tapas tour, a Barca stadium tour, and then contact us for your game tickets; our broker sells tickets for the Camp Nou.

sevilla fc champions league round of 16

Sevilla’s home, all decked out.

Wednesday, February 17, 3 p.m. Eastern: Sevilla vs Dortmund

Sevilla FC are the kings of the Europa League, having won it six times. The best they’ve done in the Champions League is the quarterfinals, most recently in 2018, when they beat Manchester United in the Round of 16 before bowing out to Bayern Munich.

The Stadium: It’s named for a longtime club president, Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, and holds nearly 44,000 in two tiers. It’s known as La Bombanera, just like the one at Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires, and is notable for the fact that no one has ever beaten the Spanish men’s national team there. They have 21 wins and five draws.

The City: Spectacular. Sevilla has 1.5 million citizens, but its old city center has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, and it’s known for sunshine, flamenco dancing, festivals, street and night life, and the scent of orange trees. In other words, we haven’t been there, but it’s way up on our groundhopping list!

fc porto champions league round of 16

FC Porto’s Estádio do Dragão (via Wikipedia)

Wednesday, February 17, 3 p.m. Eastern: Porto vs Juventus

FC Porto is the only one of Portugal’s “big three” clubs in Porto, the others being Sporting and Benfica in Lisbon. They are number two in domestic trophies but number one internationally, with two European Cup/Champions League wins, two Europa League wins and a UEFA Super Cup. They are second only to Barcelona and Real Madrid in Champions League appearances (with 23 to their 24).

For English football fans, they may be best known as “the place where Jose Mourinho got started.” He worked there under Bobby Robson and became manager in 2001; he won a league-cup-Europa League treble in his first season and delivered the Champions League in 2004 before departing for Chelsea.

The Stadium: The Estádio do Dragão holds just over 50,000; it was built in 2003 and looks quite the modern place. It’s also a Category Four stadium, like Red Bull Arena in Leipzig, and hosted the 2019 UEFA National League Final. The name means “Stadium of the Dragon,” a reference to their club crest.

The City: Also high on our groundhopping list for its, according to Rick Steves, “gritty, Old World charm (and) two high-impact sightseeing thrills: the postcard-perfect ambience of the riverfront district and the opportunity to learn more about (and taste) the port wine that ages just across the river.” Sounds good to us!

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