Victor Wanyama vs Pierre Emerick Aubameyang
Wanyama’s influence at the base of Tottenham’s midfield since joining last summer has been transformative. The former Celtic man first came to prominence playing in this competition with the Bhoys, and will hope to make a more telling contribution than last season, when Tottenham exited with a whimper.
Aubameyang has been the lynchpin of Borussia Dortmund’s attack for many years now, and Die Schwarzgelben will hinge their goalscoring ambitions on his searing pace in behind.
The enforcer in the Tottenham side, Wanyama will be tasked with ensuring that the supply never arrives for the Panther. His ability to do this effectively will go a long way to determining the fate of Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs.
Seydou Doumbia vs Mehdi Benatia
With the sale of Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan, Mehdi Benatia will no doubt be expected to slot in at the heart of the Juventus backline. The worst of his injury troubles looks to be behind him, and if so there may be life after Bonucci in a solid partnership with Giorgo Chiellini.
That pairing is sure to get a stern examination from Jorge Jesus, whose uber-attacking style has been transplanted to Sporting from his Benfica sides. Bas Dost is the prolific goal-getter, and in Seydou Doumbia there is a big man-little man dynamic that can be incredibly difficult to handle. The Ivoirian is full of pace and tireless running, and is a handful in spite of his low centre of gravity.
If Sporting have any designs on progression, they will have to get at last season’s beaten finalist. Winning this duel holds the key.
Eric Bailly vs Aaron Samuel Olanare
Simply put, this is unstoppable force meets immovable object. Eric Bailly is a no-frills centre-back who relishes physical battles, and Aaron Samuel certainly puts himself about. The Nigeria international is only feeling his way back to fitness after an extended lay-off, but at his best is an absolute oak of a forward, making up for a lack of real mobility with strength aplenty.
While Bailly is no slouch, surely clever movement would be a better means of attack for CSKA. However, who doesn’t want to see these two hammer away at each other for 90 minutes? It would provide an interesting subplot in a tie which Manchester United will almost certainly win.
Karim El Ahmadi vs Yaya Toure
The Ivoirian powerhouse will definitely see his playing time reduced this season, but should still play a vital role, especially with Ilkay Gundogan’s fitness continuing to be a huge question mark. The draw pits him up against Moroccan El Ahmadi, a midfield battle between two hugely experienced heads.
Both are ostensibly midfield playmakers who have had to repair to a more defensive style to accommodate the passing years and an increasing lack of mobility. However, El Ahmadi remains indispensable to the Dutch champions, keeping the play ticking over and being at the heart of Feyenoord’s build-up. A meeting with Yaya will be nothing short of a masterclass for young African midfielders, and gaining the upper hand will be key in controlling the midfield zone.
Vincent Aboubakar vs Naby Keita
While these two are unlikely to come into direct opposition by virtue of their positions, the meetings of their respective sides will largely determine who joins Monaco in the Round of 16.
Aboubakar had a productive spell at Besiktas last term, and scored in this competition for the Eagles. While he has found his scoring boots back at Porto, he remains frustrating for his profligacy in front of goal, in spite of his impressive approach play.
Keita is the dynamo at the heart of RB Leipzig, posting freakish numbers in all phases of play as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side sprung a surprise to finish second in Bundesliga last term.
The relative lack of experience at this may count against Leipzig, especially if Aboubakar is having a good day. On the other hand, Keita certainly has it in his locker to dominate any midfield, and his unique skill set could decide the tie and, ultimately, the group.