Predicting the Winners of the 2014 UEFA Champions League Round of 16
Who Will Advance From the 2014 UEFA Champions League Round of 16?
The UEFA Champions League kicks off its Round of 16 on Feb. 18 with Barcelona traveling to Manchester City and Leverkusen hosting Paris Saint-Germain. Seven of the eight matchups are compelling with only Schalke versus Real Madrid being considered lopsided. Depending on your scope, there is an intriguing storyline to follow in each of the fixtures.
With the January transfer window complete, there will be some new faces in the final 16. Yohan Cabaye joins PSG and will play in his first Champions League match since 2007 with LOSC Lille. Kim Källström is eligible to play for Arsenal and Michael Essien moved from Chelsea to AC Milan.
The outcome of the Round of 16 will again fuel the debate of what is the top domestic league in Europe. The conversation has started and will be refined after these matches conclude. Germany and England have four teams in the final 16 while Spain has three.
The matches that take place on the 18th and 19th of this month will have return legs on March 11 and 12. Those that take place on Feb. 25-26 will be decided on March 18-19. The draw for the next round will follow on March 21.
It is hard to pick out the best matchup as each pairing has its own complexities, but the Man City versus Barcelona tilt should showcase the best of different leagues and game plans. Man City also has four Spaniards in the squad as well as a coach and director of football very familiar with the Spanish game. Lets start with that match trying to predict a very tough competition in the Round of 16.
Manchester City vs. Barcelona
MCFC won five of six matches, but still finished second in their group to guarantee a tough opponent. Manuel Pelligrini will hope to rely on his midfield and Yaya Toure to provide the same intensity that allowed Man City to come from behind against Bayern Munich in the group stage. However, Messi is back healthy for Barcelona and Neymar has not missed a beat. Barcelona was exposed defensively in the Champions League last year so the importance of Sergio Busquets to keep up with Toure is amplified. This could be the closest of all the pairings but the edge goes to Man City's ability to score in spurts.
Winner: Manchester City
Galatasaray vs. Chelsea
The big story will be Didier Drogba returning to face Chelsea, but this will be about the emergence of Eden Hazard as one of the best young stars in the game.
Schalke vs. Real Madrid
Gareth Bale and Ronaldo are forming quite the partnership and Schalke's team has changed a bit during the window. Real Madrid have not had success in Germany during Champions League play, but this tie will not be a problem.
Winner: Real Madrid
Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal
Arsenal knew it was going to get a tough draw after losing to Napoli on the final day of match play. Bayern knocked The Gunners out of the Champions League last year, but this is a different team showing better form. They are now led by Mesut Ozil, one of the best playmakers in the game. It helps that he is German and knows many of players on the opposite site. Bayern have emphasized possession in the Champions League averaging 68 percent in the group stage. They also recently saw the return of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.
Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Borussia Dortmund
Zenit managed only six points in the group stage and became the worst qualifiers for the Round of 16 of all-time. They are tied on points for the lead in the Russian Premier League and average over two goals a game away from home. Dortmund is sliding in the Bundesliga with injuries to many of their mainstay defenders. BVB have managed the most interceptions in the Champions League in their offensive half through the group stage. The first leg in Russia will be pivotal as unpredictable weather will play a role.
Olympiakos vs. Manchester United
Olympiacos qualified as a group stage runner up after beating Anderlecht and currently sit 11 points up in the Greek Super League. They can score and that is backed up by their +55 goal differential in their domestic league. Kostas Mitroglou is the biggest scoring threat, but it is the defense that has shown the most improvement. If United claim the title here the entire year will be saved so they should be focused. It helps that Robin Van Persie has returned. They also have won seven of the last eight ties against Greek teams. Still don't be surprised if Man U leave Piraeus with a deficit after the first leg.
Winner: Man U
Atletico Madrid vs. AC Milan
If there is another uninspiring fixture among the eight listed, this would be it. Not many are giving Milan a chance given the form of Atletico in their national league. Milan is more than 20 points back in their domestic league so the Champions League has to be their focus. The quality of Atletico is on the rise.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bayer Leverkusen
This will come down to whether or not Leverkusen can contain Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The back four for the current Bundesliga runner-ups will have to communicate well to avoid a large defeat like they suffered against Manchester United in the group stages. Ibra will be too much. Just in case it is still close in the second leg, Edison Cavani should be back from injury.