The last 16 draw for the Champions League has brought together some familiar adversaries in a competition that’s becoming a little repetitive in terms of its fixtures. Luckily, this is unlikely to detract from either the quality or the excitement about to unfold in February. Here’s my verdict on each of the eight matches.
Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea
Incredibly, this is the third year running that the nouveau riche of Paris have met with West London’s Russian-backed Premier League strugglers. They stand tied at 1-1. The French champions went through on away goals at the same point in last season’s competition, despite talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting sent off in the first half of the second leg.
This season, on paper at least, things should be a little more clear-cut. If domestic form is anything to go by, PSG should make light work of a Chelsea side just a point off the relegation zone in the Premier League. The French giants have also added Angel Di Maria since the two last met, and are already 17 points clear in Ligue 1.
Winners: PSG, comfortably.
Benfica v Zenit Saint Petersburg
Russian champions Zenit were perhaps the stand-out team of the group stage, winning five of their six games, and losing the final match only once qualification had been assured. Manager Andre Villas Boas has been rewarded with a return to Portugal. Benfica recorded an impressive win away at Atletico Madrid in the group stages, but will likely struggle in a tough away trip to Russia for the second leg of the tie.
Winners: Zenit, just.
Gent v Wolfsburg
Both sides are in uncharted Champions League territory, in a tie which has pitted two relative European minnows together. Gent are a well-drilled, technically good side, and did incredibly to qualify over the more established likes of Lyon and Valencia. Wolfsburg, fresh from knocking out Manchester United in the last round of group games, have the star quality to go one step further.
Winners: Wolfsburg, with plenty to spare.
Roma v Real Madrid
Given Roma’s penchant for taking massive Champions League beatings against the likes of Manchester United, Bayern and Barcelona in recent years, the last thing which should be put anywhere near their shaky defence is the formidable attacking talent of Real Madrid. Roma are a good team with some talented individuals, including former Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic and Daniele De Rossi, but Real Madrid will be too strong for them.
Winners: Real Madrid. This one could get ugly.
Arsenal v Barcelona
Wow. What a tie this promises to be. Arsenal will consider themselves unlucky with this draw. To be rewarded with a great escape from the group stages with a tie against the reigning European champions is just their luck, and once again highlights the importance of topping your group. But make no mistake, Barca will be wary of the Gunners’ attacking threat, especially on the break.
If Arsenal show the resilience and composure which helped them beat Bayern 2-0 in the group stages, we could be about to see a huge upset. If, however, they show the nativity they did in the away fixture against the Germans, things could get very messy indeed. Or should that be Messi?
Winners: Barcelona to edge it on away goals, after blowing away Arsenal at the Emirates.
Juventus v Bayern Munich
Aside from Arsenal-Barca, this has got to be the tie of the round. Last year’s runners-up against the team many consider to be favourites this time around. After a slow domestic start to the season, Juventus are beginning to hit form, but, with Robert Lewandowski in the form of his life, even the Italian’s best may not be enough.
Bayern’s home record this season is daunting to put it mildly. In the Bundesliga it’s played 9, won 9, scored 26, conceded 3. In the Champions League it’s played 3, won 3, scored 14, conceded 1. The Italians travel to Munich for the second leg, so it’s safe to say they’ll probably need a substantial lead to hang on to if they are to progress.
Winners: Bayern, with ease.
PSV Eindhoven v Atletico Madrid
PSV are a capable side who proved strong on the break during the group stages. Unfortunately, Atletico Madrid don’t tend to concede too many goals or chances, and are brilliant from set-pieces. With Madrid starting to find their rhythm in La Liga and looking close to their best, this could be the tie where Atletico become serious contenders for this year’s Champions League.
Winners: Atletico, comfortably, but by a narrow margin.
Dynamo Kiev v Manchester City
Having in the past struggled in the round of 16, with the substantial investment that’s gone in to the club, it seems as though justice has finally been served. Manchester City finished the group stages strongly to beat Juventus to first place and avoid the dreaded tie with Bayern. Whilst they will have to beat a team of that quality to go the distance, they’ll expect to progress against Dynamo Kiev.
Winners: Manchester City, without too much drama.