UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Preview
Although these matches are still several months away, the UEFA Champions League draw occurred this morning, and we now know who will play who when the tournament returns. For 8 teams, this will be the end of the line for their European soccer dreams, yet for the victors, they will be one step closer to the ultimate prize in club soccer. Here is how these matches will likely pan out:
Manchester City vs. Barcelona – This is Manchester City’s furthest foray into the Champions League in the last 50 years, and their task will simply get harder, putting them against the mighty Spanish side of Barcelona. While Barcelona’s rich and distinguished history do leave them as the favorites with star players like Neymar and Lionel Messi, expect Man City to hold their own in this tie. With Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and former Barcelona star Yaya Toure, they can match up with anyone. Prediction: Barcelona progress 4-3.
Olympiakos vs. Manchester United – The Greek Champions for 3 years running are severe underdogs in this matchup. Yes they have several players of note, including Javier Saviola, Joel Campbell, and Greek star Konstantinos Mitroglou, but when they travel to Old Trafford they will be pummeled by the likes of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Prediction: Manchester United progress 7-2.
AC Milan vs. Athletico Madrid – In most years you would expect AC Milan to progress, and they do have a superstar striker in Mario Balotelli. But Milan is currently 12th in the Italian league. Meanwhile, Athletico Madrid is tied for first in Spain with Barcelona, 5 points ahead of rivals Real Madrid. They have two incredible strikers in Diego Costa and David Villa, and they will win this tie. Prediction: Athletico Madrid progress 5-3.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Paris Saint-Germain – Leverkusen is a decent team featuring the budding German star Lars Bender, as well as several other good players like Emir Spahic and Simon Rolfes. However, PSG is a monstrous force with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, and Javier Pastore. They are buying everyone to assemble a Champions League contending team, and they should put Leverkusen aside. Prediction: PSG progress 6-3.
Galatasaray vs. Chelsea – It will be a dramatic return to London for Didier Drogba who has worked Champions League magic in the last several seasons. Will he do it again? You would expect Chelsea to do well with Jose Mourinho leading the club and with superstars like Eden Hazard, Oscar, and John Terry, but I sense a big upset here. Wesley Sneijder and Burak Yilmaz will want to win this trophy, and they will win the tie in a thriller. Prediction: Galatasaray progress 4-3 in extra time.
Schalke vs. Real Madrid – While Shalke have certainly improved in the last several years, they are no match for Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. There will be American interest with midfielder Jermaine Jones for the German side, as well as stars like Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Julian Draxler. While they play exciting soccer, Real Madrid is a far superior team and should win quite easily. Prediction: Real Madrid progress 5-2.
Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Borussia Dortmund – Zenit is a team on the rise. The Russians have once before reached the last 16 of the Champions League (in 2009), but they have a far more talented side this time around. With a squad full of Russian internationals (who will be at the 2014 World Cup) and several prominent stars like Hulk and Axel Witsel, Zenit should compete. However, last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund will certainly have other plans. Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, and Marco Reus are ready to prove that last year was no fluke. I see this as a tie that goes down to the wire and could go either way. Prediction: Zenit progress 3-3 (win on PKs).
Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich – Poor Arsenal have been handed rough draws in the early knockout rounds in the past few years, including Bayern Munich, AC Milan, and Barcelona. However, it is their fault for finishing second in the group stage year after year. They have hope for this game, as evidenced by their 2-0 victory in Munich last year, even though they would still lose the tie on that day. I expect them to be more prepared this year. However, they will surely be tested by the likes of Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery. This tie could go either way. Prediction: Arsenal progress 4-3.