UEFA Champions League – Round of 16
The Round of 16, the start of the knockout phase, for the UEFA Champions League ramps up with the first set of matches next week. The best soccer on the planet now gets to the time when mistakes are costly. No margin for error. Here’s a preview of all eight matches coming up. But here’s a hint for this round. Learn the name that goes with that face and look for him whenever Barcelona takes the field. Or not….wait for it……
(You can discuss this on the BSL board here.)
FC Basel – Manchester City
The surprise of the group stage, FC Basel, got an unfortunate draw for the first round of the knockout stage. Basel shocked a lot of fans around the world by beating Manchester United in the group stage. And they will have to have a lot more of that magic facing Manchester City in this round. The good news for Basel is that they have been playing very well of late coming in 4-0-1 in their last five matches in all competitions outscoring their opponents 11-2 over that stretch. The bad news? Well, Manchester City comes in at 4-1-0 in their last five matches outscoring their opponents 12-4. Manchester is playing very well this season across the board and in fact are on pace to set a record for points earned in a season in the English Premier League. But Basel fans, take heart. City did finally lose a match in the EPL last month. Basel most surely will need a win at home on Tuesday to have any kind of a chance in the home and home series.
Prediction - Man City wins this round.
Previous History - These two clubs have never faced each other.
Juventus – Tottenham
Both of these teams were likely to advance to the knockout stage and many had both these teams moving to at least the Round of 8. Well that isn’t happening. Unluck of the draw but one of them will be going home after this round. Juventus has the proven experience having made two of the last three finals. And they come in on quite a roll having won five straight matches by a combined 13-0. They are known for a stout defense and it seems they have picked it up in the attack as well. This team will be very tough to beat.
On the other side of the pitch is a Tottenham team that while not having the Champions League pedigree of Juventus they did win their group stage amassing more points than any team in the competition. The come in having just played a difficult EPL stretch going 2-3-0 including a huge win over second place Manchester United at THE home of soccer, Wembley Stadium. The key in this series will be if Juventus can keep their defense organized and stymie Tottenham’s and EPL’s scoring leader, Harry Kane off the board.
Prediction - Flip a coin, but I am pulling for the Spurs.
Previous History - These two clubs have never faced each other.
Porto – Liverpool
Porto comes in on a roll having gone 4-1-0 recently. But also need to remember that the league in Portugal is not one of the stronger leagues in Europe. Liverpool has been a bit erratic of late. Back in mid January they pulled off the stunner giving Man City its first (and only) league loss. But since then they have been a mediocre 1-1-2 including a home loss to last place West Bromwich Albion, a team most assuredly getting relegated at the end of the season.
Prediction - Toss up. IF Liverpool shows up they should win. But lately that’s been a big IF.
Previous History - This will be the fifth time these sides have met. In the first four Liverpool won twice and they have drawn twice. Porto looking to change that history.
Real Madrid – Paris Saint Germain
The big one next week. Real with Cristiano Ronaldo, the leading scored in the Group Stage. PSG with Neymar and a side that led all teams in scoring in the Group Stage. Real comes in on a 3-1-1 run outscoring their opponents 15-7 in the tough Spanish La Liga. PSG comes in on an even better run, 5-0-0, outscoring their opponents 18-5. This and the return match should feature lots of attack with each side hoping they have enough defense to at least slow the other down. These will be very entertaining matches to say the least.
Prediction - So close and both teams have players who rise to the big stage. Real?
Previous History - These two sides are as even as they get. They have met six times with each team going 2-2-2. And PSG having only scored one goal more than Real.
Bayern Munich – Besiktas
Both of these sides have been playing in top form. Bayern have won their last five and Besiktas has won four with one draw. Besiktas is the first Turkish team to ever win a group in the Champions League. Don’t look for them to beat Bayern who have been just playing very well since the return of their manager, Jupp Heynckes. In fact Bayern has scored an incredible 20 times in their last five matches. In the end, while Besiktas is a good club, I believe Bayern has too much fire power with the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Arturo Vidal, Arjen Robben, James Rodriguez…..and …and….and. Oh yeah they have Manuel Neuer in the nets.
Prediction - Bayern and don’t think it will be close.
Previous History - These two sides have met twice with Bayern winning both times and Besiktas having yet to score a goal.
Shakhtar Donetsk – Roma
Here’s the good news. Shakhtar advanced. Here’s the bad news. They did so with a negative goal differential. That is not a recipe for continued success. Its quite hard to look at these teams form and make any kind of comparison. Shakhtar comes in having gone 4-0-1 but in the Ukranian League. Whereas Roma has gone a pedestrian 1-2-2 but in the much tougher Italian Serie A. Shakhtar has scored 13 goals in those five matches. Roma has only allowed 5 goals in their last five matches. Look for Shakhtar to push forward and Roma to do the Italian thing. Pack the back and hope to score on a counter.
Prediction - This is also pretty even but give the nod to Roma as a more experienced side playing in a tougher league
Previous History - I found this to be a bit of a shocker. They have met four times with Shakhtar having won 3 and only losing once!
Chelsea – Barcelona
This fixture pits two sides heading in opposite directions. The home side Londoners have been a bit weak lately having lost three of their last five matches including a 4-1 drubbing from Watford in their last match. Not the form a side wants to take into a match against one of the top clubs in the world. Barcelona on the other hand have been in fine form winning four with a lone draw in their last five matches. The Spanish La Liga leaders are led by Lionel Messi. Does he miss Neymar? Apparently not. Or at least not very much. Mess is leading all scorers in La Liga with 20 goals and teammate Luis Suarez is second in the league. And to make matters worse refer back up to the cover photo. Barcelona signed Brazilian and Liverpool superstar Phillipe Coutinho which would seem to make them almost prohibitive favorites. However, not so fast. Because he already played in this year’s Champions League for Liverpool he won’t be able to play with Barcelona util next season. So I guess they just remain as a favorite and not a “prohibitive favorite.” But next year if this team holds together …..well the they’ll be tougher yet.
Prediction - Coutinho says Messi improves every time he see’s him. That’s bad news for Chelsea and good news for Barcelona fans.
Previous History - These two sides have met 12 times over the years with Chelsea holding a slight edge with four wins to Barcelona’s three. Look for Barcelona to catch up.
Sevilla – Manchester United
Both clubs have been playing well of late, Sevilla going 2-2-1 and Man U going 4-0-1, respectively in their last five matches. Sevilla recently qualified for the Spanish Cup Final with a squad of a bunch of talented players but not household names. They rely on total communication and a team effort. Which works well for them. However, the downside is they don’t have that player who can pick them up and carry them to the end result. Man U on the other hand has several world class players that most soccer fans know. Paul Pogba, David De Gea, and Zlatan Ibrahmovic. Then during the January transfer window they obtained Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal. The issue with Man U has been their back line. However, more bad news for Sevilla. In their last five matches Man U has been playing much much better on defense only allowing two goals and both of those were scored by Tottenham in one match. So while keeper De Gea has been outstanding all season he hasn’t had to perform as many miracles lately. If this trend continues they will be tough to beat in this round.
Prediction - Man U
Previous History - Another set of matches where the two teams have never met!
So there you have it. Some really good soccer the next month starting Tuesday and all the matches will be shown on either one of the Fox Sports or ESPN channels. Enjoy and be sure to post up your comments as we go.