Champions League: 4 big questions as the knockout stage kicks off


The knockout stage of the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League season begins on Tuesday, when several of Europe’s leading teams — including last year’s winner Manchester City and record 14-time titlist Real Madrid — play the first leg of their two-match, total-goals-wins round of 16 series.

As usual, there are no shortage of questions heading into the business end of soccer’s most important club competition, which concludes June 1 at Wembley Stadium in London.

Four of the biggest are below.

Can Manchester City repeat as champs?

Although Pep Guardiola’s side won all six of their matches in the group stage, the holders haven’t been totally convincing during their title defense so far. This isn’t quite the same team that steamrolled to a historic “treble” of trophies last year, when the club’s long-coveted first European trophy was accompanied by domestic honors in both the Premier League and FA Cup.

City sits second in the current Prem standings. Star striker Erling Haaland missed almost two months of the campaign with a foot injury. 

But Haaland is back now, and the Sky Blues got a favorable round of 16 opponent in Denmark’s FC Copenhagen, which will visit the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday to open the home-and-home. Somewhat counter-intuitively, there’s also less pressure on Guardiola this time around, what with City having finally gotten over the hump in the Champions League last spring.

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