On Friday, the Champions League Round of 16 draw was announced at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, and there are some juicy match ups. Who isn’t excited about a rematch of last year’s championship match (Bayern – Inter)? Or rematches between Barcelona and Arsenal, and Lyon and Real Madrid.
All in all, I didn’t do a bad job of picking the teams that would make it to the round of 16. I correctly predicted 14 of the 16 teams (though not always finishing in the right position). The only real surprise was FC Copenhagen making it out of the group stage. My other mistake was thinking that AC Milan was too dysfunctional to beat out Ajax in Group G. The Dutch narrowly missed pipping the Italians, placing 1 point behind the Rossoneri.
Check out my predictions; how do they compare to yours?
Group A – 1) FC Internazionale Milan; 2) Tottenham Hotspur FC . Actual: 1) Spurs; 2) Inter
Group B – 1) Olympique Lyonnais; 2) FC Schalke 04. Actual: 1) Schalke; 2) Lyon
Group D – 1) Barcelona; 2)
Panathinaikos. Actual: 1) Barça; 2) Copenhagen
The most impressive stat is Shakhtar’s dominance at home. This season, they have won every home game (in all competitions) and have given up just 3 goals in 13 games.
AC Milan vs. Spurs – This pairing presents an interesting match up between the Serie A leaders and the Champions League debutantes. Milan made it to this point by narrowly escaping Group G, finishing 1 point ahead of Ajax. While their form in the Champions League has been inconsistent, they sit atop the Serie A table after several down years (by their lofty standards). They boast an attack led by Zlatan Ibrahimović, the always mercurial Robinho and fellow Brazilian Alexandre Pato, and enjoy the largest goal differential in Serie A.
Spurs, making their first appearance in the Champions League, acquitted themselves nicely by winning Group A over Inter. They narrowly lost to Inter (4-3) in Milan, so they will certainly be familiar with their surroundings when they travel to northern Italy on February 15. Domestically, Spurs are contending for a Champions League sport again this season, but sit 4 points behind Chelsea for the last spot. If Spurs want to advance past the round of 16, they will have to do better at home than their current record (4-4-1) .
Valencia vs. Schalke – The second match up that doesn’t exactly spark excitement from non-soccer fans, but this should be an interesting match on the field. Valencia currently sit 4th in La Liga, 5 points adrift of Villareal. Valencia finished 2nd in Group C, behind Manchester United; though they did score 15 goals in 6 games. Los Che scored 10 of those goals in their two games against Bursaspor. While they have played well in spurts during the season; they must find consistency.
Schalke, winners of Group B over Lyon, have been a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They have played well in Europe, but have been mediocre in the Bundesliga. Schalke posted a 4-1-1 record in Group A, only losing to Lyon in France; however, they sit 10th in the Bundesliga with a 6-4-7 record. Which team will show up for the match in Valencia on February 15?
Inter vs. Bayern Munich – One of the most exiting match ups of the round of 16. I know that I will be watching this match on my computer at work come February 23. Inter, winners over Bayern last year, have struggled in Seria A this season. The Nerazzurri are just 6-5-4 and have dropped games to the likes of Chievo Verona and lost the Milan derby. With Rafa Benitez supposedly under fire, Inter need to find a measure of stability. Clearly the team that won last season is missing José Mourinho. Their form in the Champions League has also been less than stellar, finishing behind Spurs in Group A. Recently, however, they did win the Club World Cup, so perhaps they are righting ship.
Bayern, a bit like Schalke, has been a team with two personalities. Currently 14 points behind Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, Bayern diced their way through Group E in the Champions League. Bayern nearly lost a 4 goal lead against VfB Stuttgart before winning their last match, and have been inconsistent all season. Just as with their German brethren, which team will show up for their Round of 16 match?
Prediction: Bayern - If Rafa Benitez’s status is still up in the air when these two teams meet in Milan, I just don’t see how Inter will beat Bayern. Even if Rafa is fired before that match and Inter figures things out, the Germans have played better all season and should win the day.
Lyon vs. Real Madrid – Another juicy match up, and another rematch from last year. Last year, Lyon got the best of Real Madrid en route to the semifinals. This season, Les Gones are fighting for their spot atop the Ligue 1 table. Currently, 10 teams are within 5 points of the top spot, with Lyon one point behind league leading Lille. In the Champions League, Lyon finished 2nd behind Schalke in Group B, a group they should have won.
Real Madrid continue to be one of the top teams in Europe. With the Special One at the helm, Los Blancos are challenging Barcelona atop the La Liga table and easily won Group G, which looked, at the beginning of the campaign, like one of the most competitive groups in this years Champions League. Real Madrid have lost just 1 game this year in all competitions (though it was a drubbing at the hands of arch rival Barcelona), and look to make it past the round of 16 for the first time since 2004.
Arsenal vs. Barcelona – The third of the absolutely awesome match ups in the Round of 16. Also a rematch from last year, where Barcelona defeated Arsenal in the quarterfinals. Arsenal have enjoyed a good deal of success this season, battling for the top spot in the Premier League. Currently in 2nd place, 2 points behind Manchester United, the Gunners are have been nearly as inconsistent as Inter and Bayern. Domestically, The Gunners have loses to Newcastle and West Brom on their résumé, while they finished behind Shakhtar Donetsk in Group H. Arsene Wenger and his charges are talented enough to win this much, but will be facing a much tougher opponent when they host Barcelona at the Emirates on February 16.
Barcelona has been its usual dominant self this season. A loss to Hércules CF in the second round of La Liga competition is the only blemish on an otherwise sterling record. Barça are 14-1-1 in La Liga and won Group D with a 4-2-0 record. Lionel Messi has been in fine form all season and new addition David Villa has added even more scoring punch.
Prediction: Barça - As much as it pains me to pick against the Gunners, Barcelona have been a buzzsaw this season. The Gunners have been too inconsistent to truly threaten Barça, though this should be fun to watch.
Marseille vs. Manchester United - This is a match up that pits the defending French champions against one of the preeminent clubs in the game. Sir Alex Ferguson had to be happy with the draw, as Man U avoided both AC and Inter Milan. Man U, though, have been in fine form all season, having yet to lose a game in the EPL or the Champions League. That said, they have 9 draws in 22 games. The Red Devils already have a win over Arsenal to their credit this term and will face Spurs before their February 23 date with Marseille.
Marseille are one of the teams fighting for the top spot in Ligue 1 this season, sitting 2 points behind Lyon and 3 behind Lille. Marseille haven’t lost a game in Ligue 1 since a 2-1 defeat by PSG in early November. Marseille have already improved on last year’s showing in the Champions League showing by making it to the round of 16, though the French side will certainly want more. They ended the group stage on a high note, winning 4 in a row and beating Chelsea in the final group game.
FC Copenhagen vs. Chelsea – This has to be the most unlikely match up in the Round of 16. Who, other than a few Danes, would have predicted Copenhagen making it out of the Group Stage. Sure Group D was Barcelona and three “outsiders” but both Rubin Kazan and Panathanikos play in stronger leagues than the Danes. Copenhagen are the first Danish side to make it this far in the Champions League and haven’t lost a Champions League game at home. The Lions drew with Barcelona in the Danish capital and were able to secure an away win in Athens to advance. In addition to their impressive run in Europe, the Lions have run away with the Danish SAS-Ligaen. Copenhagen currently sit 19 points clear of second place Odense BK, and have yet to drop a match.
Chelsea are another team with consistency issues. After jumping out to an early lead in the EPL, Chelsea haven’t won a league game since November 10. Didier Drogba’s absence due to malaria is a huge part of Chelsea’s poor form, however the team has too many stars to use that as an excuse. Chelsea will feel confident that they can improve on last year’s Round of 16 exit, as Copenhagen lack big game experience. Carlo Ancelotti will need to inspire the troops, or Chelsea could find themselves in a hole, as Copenhagen hosts the first game in this match up.
What do you think of my predictions? Agree? Disagree? Would you be excited to see a final 8 consisting of: Chelsea, Man U, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Shakhtar, Bayern, Valencia and AC Milan? Let me know what you think.