The draw of final 16 in Uefa Champions League is out. The top 8 seeded sides were: Tottenham, Schalke, Manchester United, Barcelona, Munich, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk. The unseeded sides were: Inter, Lyon, Valencia, FC Copenhagen, Roma, Marseille, AC Milan and Arsenal. The presence of Inter, Arsenal and Milan in the unseeded group confirmed that few of the seeded sides will have to face the music later on. Lets us have a look at what awaits us in February:
Shakhtar Donetsk vs AS Roma
In 2009 Shakhtar Donetsk bathed in Europa League glory. They continued their run of form in Champions League this season and have qualified for the round of 16 by beating Arsenal for the pole position. This achievement says a lot about their performance and character. Albeit having a not so great away record, the Kroty have been solid at home. Their summer signing, Eduardo from Arsenal, has been prolific and has scored against his former employees in both the legs. They are currently 12 points ahead at the summit in domestic league and are favorites to win it. Ukrainian Premier League will restart after March. So this clash will be their first in more than two months. They might appear to start the game fresher than their Italian counterparts, but they’ll surely lack match practice.
Can the GialloRossi make it?
Roma has been inconsistent throughout this season. They are currently placed at 6th place in Serie A and have already lost 4 times in 16 games. Giallorossi’s qualification for the next round in Champions League was in serious jeopardy following their loss to FC Basel at home. But a remarkable turnaround from being 2-0 down against Bayern Munich did pave their way to the knockout stage. Roma and Shakhtar have already faced each other once in Champions League. Roma enthralled their fans by beating their Ukrainian counterparts by 4-0. Shakhtar did respond with a 1-0 victory over Roma at the Donbass Arena. Even though the last leg will be played in Shakhtar’s home turf, their lack of match practice could very well go against them.
Shakhtar Donetsk to edge past Roma thanks to their superior home form.
Tottenham Hotspur vs AC Milan
The seven time champions will have their task cut out when they take on Champions League debutant Spurs. The team edged past Ajax to knockout stage qualification, behind league leaders Real Madrid. The current Serie A pacesetters have been playing well of late. A series of sterling performances from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which includes 4 goals from six games, helped them qualify for the next round. Milan can consider themselves lucky for being able to evade the likes of Barcleona, Chelsea and Manchester United.
Tottenham have already thrown caution in the wind by topping their group that included the defending champions. Harry Redknapp’s men showed tremendous character by coming back from a 4-0 deficit to give it a respectable shape of 4-3 at San Siro against Inter. In the next leg they dispatched Inter in style. Tottenham will not be overawed by the occasion as they have already seen enough of it in the defeat of Inter. Tottenham does have a vulnerable defense. Gomez’s bloopers in front of the goal are not encouraging at all. But they can overcome the deficit with their speedy counterattacks.
A thorn in any team’s side
Though the second leg of the draw will be played at White Hart Lane, Milan are favourites to qualify for the quarter final for having too experienced a side.
FC Schalke 04 vs Valencia FC
Valencia did not face much difficulty to qualify from this group, behind Manchester United. Los Che had a great start to their domestic season as they were at the top for the first few weeks. But injuries, coupled with disappointing performances have disposed them from the top four. Valencia has not lost a single away match in this term. This could encourage them as they play Schalke away in their 2nd leg. The last time the two teams played in the Champions League was back in 2007-08 group stage. Valencia defeated Schalke away from home and drew the home game.
Felix Magath’s team has been excellent in this year’s European campaign, despite a poor run of form in Bundesliga. Schalke topped their group ahead of the likes of Lyon and Benfica. In six games they have conceded only thrice. Though their defenders Howedes and Metzelder have appeared shaky, the team has not conceded in three of their last four competitive games, two of those stymied opponents were known for attacking prowess (Bayern and Mainz). The last time these two teams met, Schalke lost to Valencia, thanks to a David Villa, goal.
Raul – Can we see the magic again?
Valencia has already scored 15 times in this tournament. Despite the fact that Valencia will have to travel to Schalke for the second leg, they are favorites to qualify for the next round at the expense of a vulnerable Schalke defense.
FC Bayern Munich vs Internazionale Milano
The defending champions qualified for the knockout stage behind group leaders Tottenham. They have not been playing well of late. The treble winners have already suffered 4 defeats in the league at 7th place in Serie A. Injury to key players, especially to Samuels, who is ruled out for the season, has made it worse for Benitez’ men. A lot depend on the shoulders of Eto’o. The Cameroon international has so far scored 18 goals in22 games in all competitions and has already scored 7 goals in Champions League in this term.
A lot depends on the shoulder of the African Lion
Last year’s runners up are going through as lean a patch as their Italian counterparts. They are currently at 6th place in Bundesliga. The team conceded 17 goals in 16 Bundesliga games. The defense of the team is in a pathetic condition and injuries have not helped their cause one bit. If Van Gaal fails to find reinforcements in defense, Bayern might have to bow out to the Nerazzurri yet again. Ivica Olic might be out for the season. Good news is that Robben could be back after a long injury layoff. Bayern have won 5 consecutive home games and are placed at number one in terms of home form. The last leg is at the Allianz Arena and could prove to be pivotal to the outcome of the game.
Draw has placed two of the last year’s finalists against each other. No matter how awful Inter are playing currently, if Bayern does not reinforce their defense, the Italian side is expected to qualify for the quarter final.
Real Madrid FC vs Olympique Lyonnais
Two old foes meet yet again in another round of 16 clashes. Lyon qualified easily, behind Schalke. Their defense looks quite susceptible. The deficiencies of Cris and Diakhate get exposed by a combination of quick and intelligent play. Last year in the same fixture, Lyon were able to eliminate Los Blancos from the Champions League with an aggregate of 2-1.
Revenge will be in the mind of Mourinho’s men when they take on Lyon in this fixture. Last year they were eliminated by Les Gones in an ill-tempered game. Real are in a much better shape under Jose Mourinho. They have averaged more than 2.5 goals per game and have lost only once in the entire season so far. The form of Cristiano Ronaldo (23 goals in as many games in all competitions) can cause enough problems for the French outfit. Kaka is scheduled to make a comeback from injury in January, making Real Madrid stronger.
The Portuguese phenom is on song
The kind of form Real Madrid are in, a repeat of last year’s result is highly unlikely. Real Madrid are favorites to qualify for the quarter final.
FC Barcelona vs Arsenal
Last year, following a 2-2 draw at the Emirates, Arsenal were humiliated by Barcelona at the Camp Nou, eliminating the north Londoners in the process. Even though revenge is in the minds of footballers-fans alike, the club’s hierarchy will be far less enthused at the draw they have been given. Arsenal still has the defensive frailties and lack of big game mentality. In a relatively easier group, they failed to secure top spot. Not only that, they had to wait till the last game to qualify for the round of sixteen. In the domestic circuit, they have already lost to Chelsea and Manchester United. Good news for them is that by February both Vermaelen and Fabregas will be back by then.
Barcelona has been playing brilliantly of late. Recently they destroyed Real Madrid 5-0 at Camp Nou and dismantled Los Blancos from the summit of La Liga in the process. With the kind of form the Catalans are in, it is highly unlikely that Arsenal is going to pose any threat to their Champions League quest. They do not have any injury worries. Because of having a high defensive line, Barcelona often suffers against teams that play direct, counter attacking football. To win, Arsenal might have to exploit this weakness of Barcelona.
Messi – The magician!
Barcelona are favorites to win this game unless and until Arsenal repair their defensive deficiencies and play a more compact pressing game.
Manchester United FC vs Olympique de Marseille
The French outfits qualified for the knockout stage behind Chelsea. In the game against Zilina, Marseille broke their all time away goal scoring record as they scored 7 goals. Despite those 7 goals scored, the French side is now struggling with the form of their forwards. Brandao is persistently jeered for his efforts at the Stade Velodrome. Gignac has not yet settled down. Azpilicueta is still out injured. In recent times they have done well against British teams. They have defeated Liverpool at Anfield. In the last Champions League, they have also defeated Chelsea at home.
Manchester United have a tricky fixture on hand. The British side is yet to lose a single game this season. Prior to their final game of the group league stage, they did not concede any goals as well. The Premier League Leaders are up against a very physical side. Antonio Valencia might just be back with the team in January and could be available for this tie.
Ready for another shut off
Manchester United are likely to qualify for the quarter final as they are going to play the last leg at Old Trafford. United have all the ingredients within their squad to technically and tactically overpower the French champions.
Chelsea FC vs FC Copenhagen
Stale Solbakken’s side has done well under his tutelage. The team is currently 19 points ahead of the closest rivals in the Danish Superliga. His team has also gone on a 19 match winning streak. This superceded a double winning season in the last term. FC Copenhagen has also become the first Danish side to make it to the knockout round. They have also drawn a game against Barcelona at home. The team relies much on N’Doye and Santin to score goals.
The draw was a welcome relief to the West Londoners. The team has been struggling for some time now in domestic league. They have failed to win even once in the last five games. As a result of which they had to concede their pole position in the league. Their last Champions League outing also ended in a dismal 1-0 loss to Marseille. Injuries have not been kind to the Blues. Good news is that Frank Lampard is fit. Alex will be fit by February.
Despite all the doldrums, Chelsea will play FC Copenhagen at the Stamford Bridge in the 2nd leg to win the game by a margin, enough to secure a place for them in the quarter final.