Champions League: Juicy storylines, matchups headline round of 16
The Champions League draw for the round of 16 was conducted Monday, with intriguing ties unfolding across the board. Galatasaray's Didier Drogba will get the chance to return to Stamford Bridge, playing against Jose Mourinho for the second straight Champions League competition (he did so while Mourinho was at Real Madrid last season); Arsenal has the misfortune of being drawn against Bayern Munich yet again, with one of the two European giants sure to not make the quarterfinals; the same can be said of either Manchester City or Barcelona, with the two powers having front office connections as well.
Here's a breakdown of the eight knockout pairings that were drawn on Monday:
MANCHESTER CITY vs BARCELONA
Probably never before has there been such a marked difference in the quality of sides topping their Champions League groups and those finished second. With an extra goal away to Bayern, City would have finished top -- something Manuel Pellegrini seemingly didn't know -- and his oversight has set up the most intriguing last-16 tie, as two highly attacking sides face off.
There's also the subplot of City's CEO Ferran Soriano and its director of football Txiki Begiristain facing the club they left in 2011. As they have acknowledged, they are trying to create at City a club on the model of Barcelona with every department integrated into a holistic unit. City has been improving while there remain doubts about the extent of Gerardo Martino's influence at Barcelona: this will be a fascinating test for both sides.
OLYMPIAKOS vs MANCHESTER UNITED
On one front, at least, things continue to go well for David Moyes. United stuttered at times in the group, but two superlative performances against Bayer Leverkusen earned top spot in the group and it only has to look across town to City's draw to see how important that is.
Olympiakos lost twice in the group to PSG but took four points from Benfica and has in Konstantino Mitroglou one of the most in-form strikers in Europe, so it will be no pushover, especially in the fury of Piraeus, but United should be confident of progression.
AC MILAN vs ATLETICO MADRID
It says much for how the balance of power has shifted to Spain that Atletico will be overwhelming favorite against the lone remaining Italian representative. It stands level with Barcelona at the top of la Liga, having lost just one of 16 games all season and it won five of six games in the group stage, dropping points only away in St Petersburg.
Diego Godin and Miranda lead one of the best back fours in Europe, while Diego Costa and David Villa, supported by the creativity of Koke create a potent strike force. Milan, meanwhile, struggles, having won only four of 15 games in Serie A this season.
BAYER LEVERKUSEN vs PARIS ST-GERMAIN
Sami Hyypia's side has been the revelation of the first half of the Bundesliga season, and it will go into the winter break second in the table. It was weirdly supine in being beaten twice by Manchester United, though, and defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday perhaps suggested the bubble is beginning to deflate.
PSG, meanwhile, two points clear of Monaco in the French league, is desperate to make an impression in the Champions League -- and was unfortunate in losing to Barcelona last year.
GALATASARAY vs CHELSEA
Jose Mourinho said he would like to draw Galatasaray so that he could welcome Didier Drogba back to Stamford Bridge and he had his wish granted. Given how Chelsea's strikers have misfired this season, he may wish Drogba was still at Stamford Bridge.
Neither side has been in great form this season, Chelsea somehow only two points off the top of the table despite, by Mourinho's admission, struggling for fluency, while Galatasaray is 11 points adrift of Fenerbahce, something that cost Fatih Terim his job and saw him replaced by Roberto Mancini. It will be the former Manchester City boss's first game in England since last season's FA Cup final.
SCHALKE vs REAL MADRID
Schalke rather limped through its group, getting the rub of the green in a final-day victory over a Basel side that paid for two draws against Steaua Bucharest. It sits only sixth in the Bundesliga and, as such, shouldn't pose too much of an obstacle to Real Madrid, even if Carlo Ancelotti's side is still some way short of potential.
No side scored more than the 20 goals Real Madrid managed in the group stage -- spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo's nine goals -- and that firepower should be enough to overwhelm Jermaine Jones' Schalke, even if doubts remain about the coherence of the defense and midfield.
ZENIT vs BORUSSIA DORTMUND
Dortmund's recent wobble is largely down to a desperate injury crisis -- itself perhaps a result of the workload on the players with its ferocious pressing game -- but it should be back to something far closer to full strength come February. What state Zenit will be in by then is anybody's guess: the manager Luciano Spalletti continues to be linked with jobs in western Europe and it would be no great surprise if Hulk or Axel Witsel left in January.
Zenit is level at the top of the Russian league, but it qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League with a record low of six points.
ARSENAL vs BAYERN MUNICH
Arsenal paid a heavy price for those two goals conceded in the final 16 minutes away to Napoli, drawing the European champions while the side that topped its group got Zenit. It can take heart from having beaten Bayern the last time the sides met, in the away leg in the last 16 season, but Bayern's performance at the Emirates was perhaps a more realistic measure of the gulf between the sides.
This Arsenal, if it can retain a level of freshness, is better than last season, but then so too, arguably, is Bayern, finding new patterns under Pep Guardiola. It will not help Arsenal that the away leg comes in a two-week spell in which it will also go to Tottenham and Chelsea and host Manchester City in the Premier League.