Can the English trio upset the European heavyweights?
Football fans and players alike gathered in eager anticipation for the much-awaited draw for the Champions League last 16 round of fixtures to be played in February and March this year. After the nervy draw in Nyon, Switzerland, it became clear that football fans across Europe, if not the world, are in for a treat with the tantalising match ups that our favourite competition has thrown up yet again.
Chelsea v Paris Saint-Germain
Despite Laurent Blanc’s men being the strongest side that Chelsea could have drawn, Mourinho will be feeling very optimistic of progressing to the next round. This match sees the return of a thrilling fixture last year in which José Mourinho called on every last ounce of experience he could muster to defeat their Ligue 1 counterparts on away goals after an unconvincing 3-3 aggregate draw with the French Champions.
However, a year on and the respective teams have experienced very different fortunes. Chelsea have taken the Premier League by storm after recruiting world-class talent in the form of the formidable Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas and look set to carry on their ruthless streak both domestically and on the European stage. In comparison, PSG have looked less than convincing in their defence of the Ligue 1 title. They sit second to Marseille, after a drawing 7 of their opening 18 games, in a league, which they really should be dominating if one takes into account their financial superiority over their fellow French rivals.
PSG still boast a serious attacking threat with the formidable partnership of Edison Cavani and the formidable Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but under Mourinho’s guidance Chelsea have developed a remarkable ability to shutout any opposition and should be more than capable of dealing with the threat the Paris giants possess.
Prediction – Comfortable win for Chelsea
Manchester City v Barcelona
This is without doubt the highlight of the Round of 16 fixtures and it is also the toughest to predict the outcome in. Both teams possess an unquestionable amount of exciting attacking talent, but similarly have shown gaping weaknesses, particularly defensively, over the course of the season.
It has been well documented that City have failed to live up to their potential in previous Champions League campaigns and this underachievement looked set to continue after their 2-1 home defeat by CSKA Moscow. However, Sergio Aquero’s mesmorising hat-trick against the mighty Bayern Munich and the charismatic performance against Roma in the following game, suggested that maybe City have finally come of age in the Champions League. A victory against Barcelona would rightly cement their place amongst the elites of the European game for the first time in their history, no better incentive for the blue side of Manchester.
However, the star-studded attacking force of Barcelona, including the mesmorisng Messi, is a problem for any defence in world football and provides a guarantee of goals. City fans will pray their instrumental talisman, Sergio Aguero, will be fit and firing if they are to have any chance of defeating the Catalonians.
Prediction – Narrow Barcelona win, but a promising performance from City
Arsenal v Monaco
This intriguing match up will see the return of Arsene Wenger to Monaco for the first time since 17 September 1994 following his sacking after a poor start to the 1994-95 season. Not only will this have huge sentimental value for the Frenchman, but it is also undoubtedly the easiest draw Arsenal could have faced, after coming second to Borussia Dortmund in Group D. Arsene, undoubtedly, will be delighted having avoided the likes of Madrid and Bayern.
After the embarrassing defeat away to Dortmund in the group-stage opener, Arsenal put an impressive five-game unbeaten streak, averaging three goals a game together to suggest they could be a force to reckon with in this year’s competition. The highlight being a confident 2-0 revenge victory over Dortmund at the Emirates, showing their change in fortune.
The individual brilliance of Alexis Sanchez has been a real positive for Arsenal this season, scoring 13 goals and 6 assists in 21 games in his first season in the English football. Assuming Alexis keeps this rich run of form into the new year, he will provide Monaco’s defence with a whole range of problems from his direct style of play, lightening pace and creative ingenuity.
Arsenal’s defence seemingly comes under intense criticism every season, and this season is no different. However, Monaco’s lackluster and blunt attack has been a huge concern to Leonardo Jardim’s side and unless a new signing is brought in during the January transfer window, they will fail to cause the Arsenal defence any real problems.
Prediction – Comfortable victory for the Gunners
Atletico Madrid v Bayern Leverkusen
Atletico won many friends last season after securing their first Liga BBVA title for 18 years and finally breaching the stranglehold that Madrid and Barcelona have shared on the domestic title in recent years. They also achieved great success in the greatest club competition but inevitably fell short of preventing Madrid reaching their destined tenth Champions League trophy.
Despite losing many key players to Chelsea, including the influential Diego Costa, Atletico have continued to look promising domestically and in Europe, and finally saw their unbeaten home streak fall to Villarreal.
In comparison, Bayer Leverkusen have looked far from consistent and have yet to put together a run of two wins in a row and have found goal scoring very hard to come by this season, which will not be a problem for Simeone’s excellent defence.
Atletico Madrid are a class above Bayer Leverkusen and should breeze through to the quarter finals.
Prediction – Easy Athletico Madrid
Borussia Dortmund v Juventus
When looking at the results and performances Dortmund have shown in the Champions League this season, you would once again assume they were challenging Bayern Munich for crown of the Bundesliga. However, Klopp’s side lay currently in 17th. Having suffered multiple injuries to key individuals and a dramatic loss in confidence there is no doubt that Klopp has a job on his hands if he is to turn around their season.
Juventus, on the other hand, are unsurprisingly dominating Seria A again. It is in Europe that Juventus have struggled in recent years, and in particular goal scoring. A 2-0 victory over a vastly weaker Malmo were the only two away goals Juve could manage in the group stage, having lost 1-0 to both Atletico Madrid and Olympiacos.
Klopp’s men will be looking to sneak a goal or two in Turin in the first leg and then use the fantastic Signal Iduna Park atmosphere to shut down Juve’s attacking force, which consists of Carlos Tevez among others.
Unfortunately for Juventus, Dortmund are beginning to show more fight domestically, and with the return of the fans’ favourite Marco Reus, Dortmund are sure to return to their electrifying self soon.
Prediction – Narrow Dortmund win
Real Madrid v Schalke
It would be impossible for anyone to argue on the case of a Schalke win in this tie. Madrid are somehow making history yet again. Carlo Ancelotti’s men have broken the club’s record for consecutive wins with an impressive 22 win streak.
Real Madrid were responsible for destroying Schalke 9-2 on aggregate last season and a repeat of this is the most likely outcome from this tie. Schalke have weakened since this time last year and it is hard to see how they can prevent the onslaught Madrid will bombard them with, who considerably outclass the Germans. Many stronger teams will fall short of this great Real Madrid side and so this fixture will prove to be damage limitation as far as Roberto Di Matteo’s men are concerned.
Prediction – Real Madrid cruise past Schalke
Bayern Munich v Shakhtar Donetsk
Like with Schalke, Shakhtar look a sure certainty to be eliminated from this round of fixtures. During the group stages, Shakhtar failed to beat either Porto or Athletic Bilbao who proved to be their two main rivals for the qualification places. With no disrespect intended towards either of these two teams, they are a class apart from Bayern Munich who bolster one of the strongest looking teams in the competition, packed with World Cup winners.
Meanwhile, Bayern finished seven points clear of Group E that was given the title of the season’s ‘Group of Death’. The level of opposition Bayern dominated were a level above those that Shakhtar struggled against, suggesting the Ukrainian side will be in for a tough couple of games.
Shakhtar will relish the opportunity to bring Bayern Munich to the terrific and intimidating Donbass Arena atmosphere but Bayern’s array of attacking and defensive talents will be enough to breeze past into the quarter-final.
Prediction – Bayern Munich comfortably defeat Shakhtar Donetsk
Porto v Basel
Unless you happen to be a supporter of either Porto or Basel, or happened to draw them in the office’s sweepstake, this game is unlikely to spark any interest as two of the competitions surviving weaker teams match up. What it does provide, however, is an excellent opportunity for one of these two teams to make their way into this year’s Champions League quarter-finals.
Despite promising performances against Liverpool, managing to avoid defeat both home and away, the Swiss champions have not looked threatening in attack or particularly stable at the back, having only scored 7 and conceded 8 in the group stage.
Porto have looked more encouraging in the group stage this year, having netted 16 goals and only conceding 4. On second look, the influx of goals against the Belarusian punching bag known as BATE will hardly cause Basel any loss of sleep.
Basel will have to be very wary of the supreme form of Yacine Brahimi and Jackson Martinez who will undoubtedly cause Basel a whole host of problems defensively. It will be essential for the Swiss to prevent Porto from scoring in the first leg at home but also to find the net themselves. A tough task when Porto’s impressive away form is considered.
Prediction – Porto come out victorious