Who has the edge in Champions League Round of 16?
The Champions League round of 16 draw left good matchups. The outcome of some of the matchups will determine the fate of some coaches and could be the difference between failure and relative success in the season for some teams.
The Round of 16 of the Champions League is where the quality and intensity of the matches rise. It’s when the real tournament starts, when fans watch great games as teams are facing the pressure of elimination.
The group stage saw teams like Nordsjaelland and Dinamo Zagreb perform very poorly, and who, unfortunately, have a level much below the tournament’s average, affecting the quality level of the competition. Their participation is the result of UEFA president Michel Platini’s initiative of including more ‘league champions’ in the tournament, which in theory is fair, but the performance of the Danish champion (Nordsjaelland) and the Croatian champion (Dinamo) was very disappointing.
However, it is also true that the group stage saw 2 ‘big’ teams leave the tournament, current Champions League holder Chelsea and EPL champion Man City left the tournament surprisingly. Chelsea especially was a team nobody expected to get eliminated so early. With results like these ones, the group stage serves its purpose to let one small team to be among the best in the continent (Shakhtar is the clear example).
All eyes point to the Real Madrid-Manchester United matchup, two of the most powerful soccer clubs in the world. Besides the history of both clubs, the current situation of the Spanish club makes this pairing a special one. Currently 16 points behind leaders Barcelona in La Liga, Madrid’s only chance to save the season is the European tournament. From now on, every match they play in Europe will be like a final.
Already in an apparent internal crisis, Real Madrid could see coach José Mourinho get fired (he will never quit because of contractual reasons) should the ‘Merengues’ get eliminated. On the contrary, if the ‘White’ team advance past the ‘Red Devils’, it may get the Portuguese coach a much needed breath of air that will keep him in Madrid’s bench at least until the club’s Champions League adventure ends. Given the current situation of Real Madrid, Manchester United has the advantage.
Almighty Barcelona will play Milan which has had a season of ups and downs, having its most recent down, the defeat against Roma 2-4. The Catalans are clear favorites, but given the history of the ‘Rossoneri’, this showdown also raises great interest. Milan’s slight chance of success will depend on how the defense performs. They will certainly have to do much better than in Serie A where they have one of the most quantity of goals allowed in the league (average of 1 per match).
Porto will have a difficult rival with Malaga who is the most surprising team of the tournament. The Portuguese club, commanded in attack by Colombians Jackson Martínez and James Rodríguez, will face a Spanish team that is going through its best moment in club’s history, led by Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini who, as I said in previous blogs, deserves a lot of credit for his team’s performance.
Based on what they showed in the group stage, the winner of this matchup will be in capacity of bringing down one of the favorites in later stages. I would bet on either ‘Dragoes’ or ‘Boquerones’ to go far in the tournament. Malaga, in this case, I think is the slight favorite.
Bayern Munich has the edge over Arsenal. The London team’s performance is unpredictable, and although it has improved in the Premier League lately, the inconsistency of their game puts them as underdogs in this pairing. The Germans look more solid in all their areas, and 9 different players from the midfield and attack have scored in Champions this season, which make them much less dependable on an individual performance.
Valencia-PSG, Galatasaray-Schalke, Celtic-Juventus and Shakhtar-Borussia Dortmund complete the round of 16. In all these matchups the favoritism belongs to the group winner (that is PSG, Schalke, Juventus and Borussia). The most unbalanced face off is Shakhtar-Borussia. The Ukrainians, although performing well enough to eliminate Chelsea, lack the quality players and game to beat Borussia which, in opinion, is the best team of the tournament so far.