After a long winter break, Champions League soccer is set to return on February 18. The group stage has concluded and 16 teams have been eliminated, leaving the last 16 teams in the race for Europe’s top trophy. The remaining teams include the usual suspects like Real Madrid and Barcelona, as well as a couple of upsets such as Galatasaray, who beat Juventus in a dramatic match in the last round of the group stages to see them through to the next round, and Olympiacos. With that said, let’s take a look at the first four of the Last 16 matchups.
Manchester City vs. Barcelona
Arguably the toughest draw of this round, English powerhouse Manchester City will be facing off against Spanish giants Barcelona. Barcelona finished their group first with 13 points while City finished second in their own group with 15 points. It is important to note that City tied its group’s first place team, Bayern Munich, but finished second since Bayern had the better head to head record. Manchester City have turned into goal scoring machines under the guidance of their manager, Manuel Pellegrini. They have scored 18 goals and conceded 10 in the Champions League group stage. Not only do they score goals, but they get the wins they want. City have terrific form in all their competitions, as they are in a heated race for Premier League Championship and have only one loss in the Champions League.
Barcelona has scored 16 and conceded 5 goals in the Champions League group stage. They still have great form, but they’ve suffered a surprising recent loss to Valencia in their home stadium. Their manager, Gerard Martino, has voiced his concern regarding this loss, and his squad will be looking to get back to winning form before facing off against a strong Manchester City side. Furthermore, Martino’s team had to cope with injuries throughout the first half the season with Messi recently returning from injury to resume his goal scoring form. But they have now lost Neymar to an ankle injury, and he won’t be playing in any upcoming matches. In fact, his return might be the first leg of the Manchester City matchup. Any delays on his return could hurt Barcelona in the first leg of this draw.
This tough matchup will be difficult to call. Barcelona, however, have failed to perform when they faced pressure on their own side of the field, as seen in the recent Atletico Madrid match in La Liga. If Manchester City could bring that pressure to Barcelona, then City might be closer to the quarterfinals and Barcelona would be out early. No matter how it goes, the two legs will provide delightful games for fans all around the world.
Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich
If Manchester City against Barcelona is not the toughest draw, then this one surely is. Arsenal are having a phenomenal season, having managed to actually carry on their title challenge throughout the season. They are constantly changing places with Manchester City. One week Arsenal are first, and the next City take the lead. Their Champions League group was one of the hardest, and they managed to finish second. They will definitely be no pushover and Bayern Munich will have to give it their all.
Bayern Munich are also first in the Bundesliga, but are in a much more comfortable position than Arsenal as they are 13 points clear of second place. They finished the group stage of the Champions League with 15 points, only suffering a loss at the hands of Manchester City. Their manager is former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola. Their squad is the same squad, if not a better squad than the one that demolished Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals last year and went on to claim the trophy.
On paper, Bayern Munich look like the better side even if it is just a slight advantage, but Arsenal’s in-form squad will be a formidable opponent. If Mesut Ozil can work his magic, then Arsenal could be going into the quarterfinals as well. Whoever advances, soccer fans should keep an eye out for two legs of top-level competitive soccer in this matchup.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Paris Saint-Germain
The meeting of Paris Saint-Germain and Bayer Leverkusen will most likely proceed as expected. Leverkusen currently sit in second place in the Bundesliga and are not quite in the range of making a move to overtake Bayern Munich. They have performed well in the Champions League so far, but their two losses to Manchester United are a bad sign for their faceoff with a similarly lethal team.
Paris Saint-Germain have a fairly consistent run in all their competitions. They are also a goal-scoring machine with players like Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Their sheer talent would be enough to see them through to the quarterfinals. Paris Saint-Germain will be the side to advance in this draw.
AC Milan vs. Atletico Madrid
This matchup may seem balanced at first. Nevertheless, Atletico Madrid will probably easily see off their opponents. AC Milan is just not living up to its name, currently sitting in tenth place in the Italian Serie A. They finished their Champions League Group second with nine points, behind Barcelona. They are inconsistent in their performances, and this is reflected on the scoreboard. For instance, they lost to Sassuolo, a side fighting to avoid relegation 4-3 on week 19 of the Italian Serie A. This loss resulted in the manager, Massimiliano Allegri, being replaced by former Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf. Milan have managed to win their two games under Seedorf’s guidance, but how Seedorf will fare in the Champions League is still unknown.
As for Atletico Madrid, they are playing spectacular soccer this year and they are currently in first place in the Spanish La Liga, ahead of both Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have definitely brought some extra excitement to La Liga, which had been used to seeing Barcelona and Madrid battle it out for first place while the rest of the league fought for third. Atletico Madrid also exceeded expectations when they faced off against Barcelona in the league. Even though the match resulted in a 0-0 draw, Atletico Madrid was by far the better side and missed out on a numerous opportunities to pull ahead. The Madrid side has also performed well in the Champions League, finishing their group in first place with 16 points.
With new management, Milan may look to tip the matchup in their favor. But from Atletico Madrid’s have been playing this year, Atletico Madrid will most likely cruise past Milan to find a place in the quarterfinals.
The first leg of these four matchups will take place on February 18 and 19. The second leg for these four matchups will be on March 11 and 12. Be sure to mark your calendars, as these four matchups will be tightly contested in both legs and the outcome will definitely be wonderful soccer!