Wembley Stadium, UEFA Champions League trophy
Wembley Stadium will host this season's UEFA Champions League final; it will be the 8th European Cup final to be hosted at the legendary ground (3rd final at the new Wembley) Via uefa.com

SEATTLE - The month of February is known for three things: the Super Bowl, Valentine's Day and the start of the UEFA Champions League knock-out stages.

After a months-long wait, the last 16 teams standing in this year's elite European competition will start battling for a place in the final, to be played at London's legendary Wembley Stadium. This will be the third time the new Wembley hosts a Champions League final (2013, 2011) and the eight time overall, the most by any other stadium in Europe.

The teams in charge of kickstarting the Round of 16 include contenders Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris-Saint Germain, reigning champions Manchester City, dark horses RB Leipzig and Lazio, as well as the surprise appearances of Real Sociedad and Danish team FC Copenhagen, just the second time in UCL history that a team from Denmark makes it this far in the tournament.

It is extremely important for a team's hopes and dreams to win the first leg of a knockout tie, especially if they play it at home. In the almost 70-year history of the European Cup (now UEFA Champions League), only nine teams have advanced to the next round after losing a first leg at home, curiously, three of those nine happened during the 2018-19 Champions League season that finished with Liverpool being crowned champions of Europe in Madrid.

Knowing the importance of starting off in a good way, it will be imperative that these key Latino players have a great performance for their teams in their respective roads to Wembley.

Lazio vs Bayern Munich

If the Italian team wants to have any chance to eliminate Bayern Munich, they will need to have an inspired Taty Castellanos. The former New York City FC star moved to Serie A this past Summer, but Lazio fans are still waiting to see the best version of the former MLS MVP. The Argentine has managed to score just two goals in his first 27 games for the club in all competitions.

It is a far cry from his first season playing in European soccer, when Castellanos reached double-figure goals for Girona while in loan with the Spanish team, the most goals he scored in his career besides the 19-goal season he had with New York City FC when he was named MVP in 2021.

RB Leipzig vs Real Madrid

Fourteen-time winners Real Madrid will travel to Germany in their first-leg matchup with RB Leipzig. Even though the 'Merengues' are top of LaLiga this season, they have suffered many injuries and are currently without five players of the first team.

Most of their chances to advance rely on star forward Vinícius Júnior, who has been the team's most important player in the competition in the last few years. Since their title-winning campaign in 2021-22, only Karim Benzema (now in Saudi Arabia) has scored more UCL goals for Real Madrid than Vini Jr. (13).

Madrid's record in two-legged ties with German clubs in UEFA competition is a very positive one, having advanced in 18 of its 26 ties, including winning the last eight in a row. The last time they were eliminated by a German team in the KO stages was more than 10 years ago by Borussia Dortmund during the 2012-13 season.

PSG vs Real Sociedad

The French club will try to bounce back from their Round of 16 exit last year when they face Real Sociedad, the first time both teams play each other in European competitions. This will be the PSG's sixth Round of 16 tie against Spanish opposition, having advanced in just two of those occasions.

If they want to keep their European dreams alive, they will need Kylian Mbappé at full force. Since arriving to the French capital, Mbappé has managed to score 37 UCL goals but only in two of his six seasons did PSG manage to advance past the Round of 16.

The French striker has been on a tear this season, scoring 30 goals in 29 games played in all comps. He has scored 12 goals in nine games since the end of the UCL group stages and only failed to score once in those matches.

Just last month, Mbappé set another PSG record by scoring his 111th goal for the club at the Parc des Princes -the venue for the first leg-, surpassing Edinson Cavani's previous total of 110.

FC Copenhagen vs Manchester City

The reigning UCL champions will face FC Copenhagen in their Round of 16 tie, and with Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne still trying to find their best version after spending some time in the sidelines, they will need Julían Álvarez to continue his fantastic form that has seen him score 15 goals in all comps so far this season.

With almost half the season remaining, Álvarez is two goals shy of tying his total from his first season at the club (17) and has already scored more UCL goals than last year.

Considering Manchester City have only won one of their four away games against Danish opposition, Álvarez will be a key factor if they want to keep their record 20-game unbeaten streak in Europe alive.

© 2024 Latin Times. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.