The UEFA Champions League is soccer’s most prestigious tournament at the club level, involving all of Europe’s biggest teams. 32 teams qualify for the round-robin stage of the tournament which begins in July. The round of 16, which starts in February, is comprised of the eight winners and eight runners up from the round-robin group stage. These 16 teams are randomly matched up against each other, although no two teams from the same country can play each other. The eight matchups, known as ties, are comprised of two games, known as legs, with one at each team’s home stadium. The team with the best aggregate score after the two legs moves on to the quarterfinal knockout round. In the event of an aggregate tie, the number of away goals scored is the first tiebreaker.
Round of 16 matchups include Paris St. Germain vs. Chelsea; Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Bayern Munich; FC Basel vs. FC Porto; Schalke 04 vs. Real Madrid; Manchester City vs. Barcelona; Juventus vs. Borussia Dortmund; Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid; and Arsenal vs. AS Monaco. The makeup of the final 16 includes four German teams, three English teams, three Spanish teams, two French teams, one Portuguese team, one Swiss team, one Ukrainian team and one Italian team. Three ties are rematches of last year’s round of 16: PSG vs. Chelsea, Schalke vs. Real and Man City vs. Barca. Additionally, Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger gets paired against a Monaco club that he knows well, as he was the club’s manager from 1987 to 1994.
Bayern Munich and Real Madrid both were granted fairly easy passes to the quarterfinals with matchups against Shakhtar Donetsk and Schalke, respectively. Shakhtar and Schalke both did well to advance but were in relatively weak groups and finished second. On top of that, Bayern and Real are the last two champions and are debatably playing like the two best teams in the world right now. Any result other than both Bayern and Real moving on would send shockwaves throughout the soccer world.
Barca vs. Man City presents the most intriguing tie of the round given that it is a round of 16 rematch and includes two of the most exciting teams in Europe today. Barca has three of the most explosive offensive players in the game today with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. The trio’s offensive chemistry seemed to be struggling during group play, but of late in La Liga they have been scoring at will and blowing out their opponents. Man City is also without their star midfielder Yaya Toure, who is finishing up a three-match ban he received back in November. The loss of Toure will put even more pressure on a banged up Sergio Aguero, who is City’s leading scorer this season. In any event, the pressure is on City in the first match as they need to produce a solid result at home. Going into Barcelona down on aggregate in the second leg and trying to claw their way back seems like it would be an almost insurmountable task given the way Barca’s trio has been scoring at home.
Juventus vs. Dortmund also presents a very intriguing matchup. Dortmund has been an enigma this season in the Bundesliga, as they have only recently clawed their way out of relegation talks, but still stand squarely in the bottom half of the table. The Germans have a team full of superstars that have had trouble meshing this season, but after three consecutive wins, it seems that they may be coming around at just the right time. Juventus on the other hand has just about run away with Serie A this season, as they continue to show that they are essentially the only quality team in Italy. The maestro, midfield veteran Andrea Pirlo, will be the difference in this matchup. If he has truly become comfortable in manager Massimiliano Allegri’s new system, the Italians should be able to ride him, young gun Paul Pogba and Carlos Tevez to the quarterfinals at the expense of the underachieving Germans.
PSG vs. Chelsea rounds out the rematches from last season’s round of 16. Chelsea are well poised to go through after gaining an away goal during a 1-1 draw in Paris in the first leg of the tie. Chelsea is running away with the Premier League this season while PSG is two points behind a very young, but talented Lyon team in Ligue 1. Although Chelsea will come back to Stamford Bridge for the second leg in great position, PSG’s Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic always have the potential to surprise as they are two of the most dominant scorers in the world. The second leg in London is sure to be a thriller as PSG will at the very least need one away goal and potentially a second, neither of which are easy tasks.
Leverkusen will most likely fall to Atletico, last years finalists. Under the guidance of eccentric manager Diego Simeone, Atletico should be able to handle the German side. Leverkusen has performed moderately well this season, as they are sixth in the Bundesliga, but unfortunately have not been in good form of late. The German squad has only won two of its last ten matches dating back to December 6. Atletico should be able to ride their remarkable young striker, Antoine Griezmann, on to the next round.
FC Basel and FC Porto both played extremely well in group play. Basel was able to beat out Liverpool for a second spot to move on. Porto had a relatively weak group, but they were able to finish first with ease. In the first leg, Porto was able to go into Basel and secure an extremely important away goal and a 1-1 draw, setting them up nicely to secure a result at home in the second leg that would send them through.
Arsenal vs. Monaco is an interesting matchup given Wenger’s homecoming. Arsenal is surely favored to go through with world class players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez running the offense. Additionally, Monaco will be without their leader in the midfield, Jeremy Toulalan, who is out on suspension. After receiving such a favorable draw, the Gunners fully expect to go through to the quarterfinals for the first time in five years.