Champions League Returns! Who Will Progress to the Quarterfinals?
While the recent mega snow storm may have brought winter afresh and right back into your life, spring is on the way, and with it returns Europe’s most exciting soccer club competition: the UEFA Champions League! Besides the World Cup, this tournament feature the highest profile games that many professional soccer players will experience, and lifting this trophy is akin to winning a Super Bowl in American football or a World Series title in baseball! Up ahead is the round of 16, where the matches become tense as the two-legged knockout rounds of the Champions League begins. So who will progress to the next round? Let’s take a look at the matchups:
Manchester City vs. Barcelona – Man City has a wonderful team that plays with flair and excitement, especially at home, but they are in a bit of a slump with star striker Sergio Aguero out injured. While at home they are very powerful and can score a bunch of goals, Barcelona is a major test that should win. Lionel Messi holds the key. The Spanish giants are always contenders for this tournament and will surely take the tie in the second leg at the Nou Camp.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. PSG – The German team is 2nd in the Bundesliga but that means little as they are a full 16 points off of impending champions Bayern Munich. PSG is the new “Yankees” of soccer, having amassed a squad featuring Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani. Without much competition in France’s Ligue 1, the Parisian team was built for Champions League matches, and they should progress.
AC Milan vs. Atletico Madrid – Two superstar strikers are battling it out in this matchup with Mario Balotelli fighting for the Italian side and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa helping this team contend in Spain. Hopefully, there will be goals aplenty in this matchup though I give the edge to Madrid. Milan seems to be in a state of rebuilding and aren’t ready to contend, while Balotelli’s immaturity is liable to result in a red card during any high-profile match.
Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich – On the one side you have a German side that is probably the strongest club team in the world, having just come off of a treble-winning season and boasting hoards of immense talents, while the London club hasn’t won a trophy in nearly 9 seasons and simply don’t show up in big games. The first leg in England should be interesting, but I simply cannot see Arsenal progressing. Expect Bayern to progress and prevail deep into the Champions League.
Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Borussia Dortmund – This should be a very interesting matchup. The Russian side has several top talents including Axel Witsel and Hulk. Dortmund was a major force last season but clearly are lacking the same spunk this year and now reside in 3rd, well behind in the Bundesliga. With top striker Robert Lewandowski in the side they can compete with anyone, but I foresee a surprise Zenit victory through this tie!
Olympiacos vs. Manchester United – Man U are a team in shambles and should be more concerned with simply qualifying for next year’s Champions League by finishing 4th in the EPL, which is looking less and less likely each week. However, as Chelsea earned a spot by winning the tournament 2 seasons ago (despite poor form domestically), David Moyes could save the season with a win. Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata are world class talents and success here could save the season. Unfortunately for the Greeks, I think they are too far behind the other European soccer leaders to contend with a team like Manchester United, even when they are having serious struggles.
Galatasaray vs. Chelsea –Here presents another fascinating tale with former Chelsea star Didier Drogba now playing for the Turkish side, who also feature players like Wesley Sneijder and Felipe Melo. Chelsea are a great team but they have been quite inconsistent this year. Something tells me that the Turkish stars like Burak Yilmaz and Hamit Altintop might come to play in this tie and spark a dramatic upset over the London giants!
Shalke 04 vs. Real Madrid – the Spanish monsters are used to dominance in this tournament, though they have yet to win it all since 2002. However, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale blazing down the wings, I think Shalke stands no chance no matter how highly rated young Julian Draxler is. This one could get ugly.
And so with the round of 16 commencing this week and wrapping up in a month’s time, you should expect to see the teams of Real Madrid, Galatasaray, Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Zenit St. Petersburg, PSG, and Atletico Madrid still battling strong in the quarterfinals. Let the most exciting soccer of the season begin!