Rematches, Wenger reunion headline Champions League knockout draw
After a group stage in which the main lesson was that Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are still the teams to beat in this competition, the draw for the round of 16 took place Monday. The odds on the two favorites will have shortened considerably after decent draws, and two big guns will fall by the wayside after Paris Saint-Germain was drawn against Chelsea and Manchester City against Barcelona in a pair of repeat matchups from last season.
There was also a moment of sentimentality in the draw, as Arsenal was drawn against AS Monaco, where coach Gunners coach Arsene Wenger was manager from 1987-1994.
Here’s a breakdown of Monday's draw:
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea
Jose Mourinho said that facing PSG would be his ideal draw when he was asked last week, but you sense that was typical Mourinho bluster. Last season these teams met in the quarterfinals, and Chelsea went through on away goals after a last-minute strike from Demba Ba, a PSG fan.
Having added Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas in the summer, there’s no doubt Chelsea is a stronger side compared to last season, but is PSG? It went 17 games unbeaten in Ligue 1 until this past weekend’s slip at Guingamp, but performances, short of a group-stage win over Barcelona, have been unconvincing and the team maintains reliance on star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Tipped to go through: Chelsea
Manchester City vs. Barcelona
This clash is another repeat from last season, which for City must be bizarre given it also faced Bayern Munich and CSKA Moscow in the group stage for the second season in a row.
While Barcelona won 4-1 on aggregate last year, the Spanish power might not find things so easy in this matchup; the club's current form is not so special under Luis Enrique.
Meanwhile Man City’s 2-0 win at Roma without Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany available suggested a corner may have been turned in this competition.
A lot can change in 10 weeks though: Aguero missed the fixture last year, but his presence, especially with Barcelona’s defense as it is, could tip the balance City’s way. Expect plenty of off-field subplots too. City directors Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain used to work at Barcelona and are none-too friendly with the current Catalan board.
Tipped to go through: Manchester City
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid
Leverkusen can breathe a sigh of relief that it does not face a giant in this round; in its last two appearances at this stage, it lost 6-1 on aggregate to PSG and 10-2 to Barcelona. One thing is for sure; the German team won’t get battered like that by last season’s runner-up.
Leverkusen coach Roger Schmidt, who has won plaudits from Pep Guardiola and will measure up against Diego Simeone, has the additional ability of dead-ball specialist Hakan Calhanoglu, a summer signing from Hamburg, this time around.
With Atleti normally the set-piece scoring specialists, this time the boot could be on the other foot. It will be a close one, and might even go all the way to penalties.
If so, Leverkusen will have the edge, as goalkeeper Bernd Leno has the best saving record of any goalkeeper in the top five leagues from 12 yards.
Tipped to go through: Bayer Leverkusen
Juventus vs. Borussia Dortmund
This is a classic fixture and a repeat of the 1997 Champions League final, which the Germans won. But it is impossible to call so far away from the game itself – not least because all season we have been waiting for the Dortmund ‘crisis’ to correct itself, and so far it hasn't. The team is in the bottom three in the Bundesliga and has been unable to replicate its Matchday Two demolition of Arsenal.
Juventus, on the other hand, has corrected its European wobbles of last season, and while progress under Maximilliano Allegri has not been smooth sailing, there has indeed been progress. Through 15 matches, the three-time reigning Serie A champions sit in first place, and in Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, Juventus has players to finish off chances, and that's what Dortmund has lacked.
Without anyone injured and with both sides playing at their best, Dortmund could win this – but as Jurgen Klopp is finding out this season, that's not a likely set of circumstances for his hobbled side.
Tipped to go through: Juventus
Schalke vs. Real Madrid
This is yet another repeat matchup from last season and this one could well give the German contingent nightmares. Last year the tie ended 9-2 on aggregate, and with Real Madrid on a run of 20 straight wins, it’s hard to bet against the defending champions to progress.
Once again, Schalke continues to develop promising young talent, and perhaps the best it can hope for is that Julian Draxler or Max Meyer can attract the attention of La Liga’s leaders for a high-profile summer move.
Not that Schalke coach Roberto Di Matteo would agree: he’s had an inconsistent run in charge but his best moments at Chelsea came in this competition. Don’t expect any shocks though.
Instead, Ronaldo might be licking his lips at the opportunity of increasing his tally in the race with Messi (and Shakhtar's Luiz Adriano) to finish as tournament top scorer.
Tipped to go through: Real Madrid
Arsenal vs. Monaco
After two years of drawing Bayern Munich in the round of 16, Arsenal finally caught a break by facing one of the weaker group winners, Monaco. The French side scored four goals across all six games but its real strength was in defense, where it conceded only once (it has also had five shutouts in its last six games).
Will that be enough to keep out Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck? That could depend on when Arsenal’s traditional spring meltdown occurs.
“I’ve got great memories of Monaco, because they gave me a chance when I was a very young manager,” said Wenger last week of the club where he spent seven years as coach, winning the French League and Cup as well as guiding the team to the European Cup semifinal and the European Cup Winners’ Cup final.
In many ways, his time at Monaco defined his philosophy.
He remains bitter about the Marseille bribery scandal in the late-1980s and early-1990s that he believes cost Monaco at least two French league titles. That’s partly why he has in the past accused the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City of “financial doping” and why he refuses to spend beyond, or sometimes even within, his means.
The irony is that Monaco only qualified for the Champions League after an incredible spending spree in which it bought Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho for over £100 million in the summer of 2013 (it has since transferred Falcao and James to Manchester United and Real Madrid, respectively). So don’t be entirely taken in by the romantic reunion narrative.
Tipped to go through: Arsenal
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Bayern Munich
Anyone fancy a 0-0 in this one? Thought not. These sides are the goal kings in Europe this season, with Shakhtar scoring 15 goals in the group stage – though 12 of which were against BATE Borisov – and Bayern tallied 16.
Shakhtar’s Brazilian forward Luiz Adriano has scored a competition-leading nine goals, but he only has two in 13 league appearances.
Bayern, meanwhile, reached near-perfection with a 7-1 drubbing of Roma on Matchday Two and its only loss of the season was a 10-man defeat at Manchester City, when despite being a man down, it dominated the game for over an hour.
Mircea Lucescu is a canny coach and could cause Bayern problems – but the Germans should still progress.
Tipped to go through: Bayern Munich
FC Basel vs. FC Porto
The winner of this clash of the dark horses may well be the team that everyone wants to draw in the next round, but the same was said about Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid in previous seasons. FC Basel has shown that selling your best talent every year need not be a deterrent to success – it has won the Swiss league five years running and has a decision to make on whether it keeps center back Fabian Schaer beyond the January transfer window.
FC Porto, meanwhile, has unearthed one of the young stars of this season’s competition, winger Yacine Brahimi, whose trickery, crossing and goals lit up the group stage. This is another tie that could go the distance.
Tipped to go through: FC Basel