Right the Champions League returns next week, but who is going progress from the knockout phases to lift the trophy in Lisbon come May 24th Here’s my brief preview of each of the ‘Round of 16’ matches.
Manchester City v Barcelona
The glamour tie – two sides capable of sublime football but both also have defensive frailties and I suspect it’s whoever overcomes this the best will take the tie. The English club will be hoping that Aguero and Fernandinho can be fit for the first leg this coming Tuesday, with Barcelona sweating on the fitness of Neymar. Let battle commence and a very likely beautiful beautiful beautiful game of football.
Bayer Leverkusen v Paris Saint-Germain
The Qatar backed Paris giants are more than just knocking on the door of European success. The current French Champions (who are well on their way to retaining their title this season), have looked a very tidy outfit throughout this seasons competition only losing in a dead rubber (for them) in their final group match. Leverkusen have shown they have players who can influence a game in their favour, though their fortitude has to be questioned following their 0-5 home demolition by a Manchester United team who are no longer the force they once were. Bayer are second to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga (albeit 13 point adrift) so the opportunity is there to cause an upset.
AC Milan v Atlético Madrid
The 7 times European Champions are having a horrible season, mid table in Serie A, knocked out at home by Udinese in the Coppa Italia and they have no hope of qualifying for next seasons Champions League (via a league position) unless they actually win the competition. New manager Clarence Seedorf will be putting all their eggs into this basket, unfortunately for him and his team is that they have been drawn to play arguably Spain’s team of the season. Diego Simeone’s crack Spanish outfit are in a three way fight for La Liga and are punching way above their weight on a meagre budget compared to Real Madrid and Barcelona. They have so far, arguably been the team of this competition too with the joint best record from the group stages.
Arsenal v Bayern Munich
Another mouth-watering tie and a repeat of the previous seasons clash at this stage last year (which Bayern only just prevailed on away goals). The holders have definitely lived up to that billing throughout this year’s competition with only a shock home defeat by Manchester City their only blip and have a great chance to become the first team to retain the Champions League. Arsenal were drawn in a tough group with Dortmund and Napoli and again finishing runners up (somewhat unluckily – but them the breaks) they have ended up facing one of Europe’s giants. They did win in Munich last year so all is not lost. One thing is for sure this is going to be a humdinger.
Olympiakos v Manchester United
Well what can we say about this game, United are having a crisis season, from Champions of England to a position in their league where 4th place is merely a pipe dream at the moment, hence they will very likely have to win the competition to qualify for the tournament next season. A very tall order!!!!!!! #understatement. They have probably struck lucky mind with the draw having been pitted against the lowest seed left in the competition. However Olympiakos have nothing to lose, they will have noted United’s struggles and the fact that they are clear in the Greek Super League means they can concentrate all their efforts into this tie.
Zenit Saint Petersburg v Borussia Dortmund
For all the money and so called quality that has been brought into the club, Zenit have to be one of the biggest underachievers when they play in Europe. Despite winning the Uefa Cup in 2008 they have never really pushed on and have always struggled in their Champions League campaigns. They qualified from their group with just 6 points, only winning one match. Dortmund, last season’s beaten finalist, have proven they can mix it with the best despite having horrendous injury problems throughout the season with key players (mainly defenders) falling at will. They will fancy their chances especially as the old perennial issue of the fact that the Russian League season would not have started come the time of the first leg.
Galatasaray v Chelsea
So its Mancini v Jose and add to that the return of a legend to the bridge makes this an intriguing clash. Unfortunately for Mancini this competition has been the nemesis of his career after being sacked from both Inter Milan and Manchester City for failing in the tournament. It’s apt that his opponent in this tie took over from him at the Nerazzurri and promptly went on to win the Champions League. Add to this the return to his spiritual home for Didier Drogba there is a lot to like about this match up.
Schalke 04 v Real Madrid
Carlo Ancelotti knows this, but like Jose before him, yes domestic titles are required but the number one target for any Real Madrid manager nowadays is to achieve the ‘DECIMA’ (10th European Cup to lay persons). Along with their city rivals Atletico, Real had the best record from the group stages and are in rampant form, even if a bit leaky on occasion at the back. Schalke have come into a little bit of form recently and with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar back fit and scoring I foresee a free flowing two legged tie with plenty of goals.
Okay now it’s time for me to get off the fence my predicted last 8:-
I feel PSG will be just too strong for Bayer Leverkusen in a closely fought two legged affair.
I cannot see past Atletico Madrid to see off AC Milan and effectively end their season.
In a tight affair I can see Bayern Munich prevailing, but it will be tight maybes even another away goals triumph for the Bavarians.
Despite a season of turmoil I can see Manchester United sneaking past Olympiakos, keeping their slim hopes of Champions League participation in the 2014/15 season alive
Dortmund will overpower a soft and underachieving Zenit team and march on into the quarter finals.
Chelsea will be too strong for Galatasaray, who will put in a spirited performance but it will not be enough.
Real Madrid in their quest for the ‘DECIMA’ will sweep aside their German opponents in two highly entertaining and goal laden matches.
Barcelona – but only because they are more experienced in the competition, though if Ferrnandinho and Aguero are fit for both legs I can see Manchester City prevailing – Ok I’m decided this one is by fence sit!!!!!!!
So seven picks and one toss up for the quarter final draw come March. Let me know your thoughts – you can also follow me on twitter – @biggishmouth