With the dust settling on Champions League group stages, the draw for the next round took place in Nyon on Monday. There were some very interesting draws which were made and I thought today would be a good time to comment on them, giving my opinion as to who I think will qualify from each game.
Man. City (ENG) v Monaco (FRA)
On the face of it, this is one of the teams that City would have wanted to be drawn against. However, if you look in to it a bit closer, Monaco should not be under-estimated. Currently second in Ligue 1, they are a very well organised unit who rely on more of a team ethic rather than individual brilliance, although players like Bakayoko, Fabinho and Mendy looked very good in the group stages. Manchester City should just edge this over two legs, but expect Monaco to push them close.
Real Madrid (ESP) v Napoli (ITA)
Whilst Real Madrid will be pleased they avoided one of the bigger teams in this round, A trip to Napoli’s San Paolo stadium is going to be one of the hardest games of the season for Zidane’s men, who are on a remarkable unbeaten run this season. Hamsik, Insigne and Callejon will cause Madrid trouble, but Ronaldo & co should have too much for them overall.
Benfica (POR) v Dortmund (GER)
Dortmund have got to be happy with this draw. After breaking the Champions League record of scoring the most amount of goals in a single group stage campaign with 21 goals in 6 games, the side from Germany will be hoping they can add to that tally in the knockout rounds against a Benfica side who will need to win at home, before playing the second leg at the Signal Iduna Park. I predict a comfortable qualification for BVB.
Bayern (GER) v Arsenal (ENG)
They’ve drawn each other yet again. Experts and fans did say that finishing top of the group this year did not necessarily mean an advantageous draw in the last 16 and it has proved to be the case for Arsenal this year as they draw the giants from Bavaria. However, this is not as clean cut as it looks for Bayern and Arsenal fans should be confident they can qualify. Ancelotti has got off to a shaky start as head coach, with performances and results not matching expectations in the Bundesliga and Champions League. Lewandowski is the main goal threat for Bayern, but Arsenal have their own threats, with Alexis Sanchez being their main man. I predict Bayern to (just) get past them over two legs.
Porto (POR) v Juventus (ITA)
A favourable draw for Juventus, who would have pinpointed Porto as one of the teams they would have liked to be drawn against going in to the last 16. Porto will hope that their experienced players such as keeper Iker Casillas and Maxi Pereira can see them over the line. Juventus have had a great run in the Champions League over the past few years, even reaching the final in 2014, finishing runners up to Barcelona. They have a squad littered with world class talent and players such as Higuain, Marchisio and Bonucci will see them qualify comfortably.
Leverkusen (GER) v Atlético (ESP)
An interesting fixture, this one. Both sides are famous for playing with a relentless high pressing style, which has worked very well over a number of years under their highly rated managers Schmidt and Simeone. However, both Leverkusen and Atletico have struggled in their respective leagues this year, with Leverkusen sitting 8th and Atletico sitting 6th. I feel Atletico are prioritising the Champions League this year after their heartbreak in 2 of the last 3 finals and they will see off Leverkusen quite easily. Simeone’s last stand?
Paris (FRA) v Barcelona (ESP)
With PSG struggling in Ligue 1 this season, this tie is perhaps not as difficult as what it would’ve been in previous seasons. However, with players such as Edinson Cavani and Angel Di Maria in the PSG ranks and with boss Unai Emery’s track record in European competitions, they are not a team to be taken lightly. As good as PSG can be, you have to think Barcelona will qualify from this one. MSN will provide the firepower to get at an ageing Thiago Silva and with Iniesta returning from injury, he will be match fit by the time the two legs come around which will be a huge boost for the Catalan Club. My verdict; Barca to qualify, but it won’t be as easy as some people think.
Sevilla (ESP) v Leicester (ENG)
With most fans around Europe still in disbelief that Leicester were even pulled out of the hat for the last 16 of the Champions League, the club itself should be relatively pleased with drawing Sevilla. Their victory against Manchester City in the Premier League last weekend proved that they can still blow away teams in a 4-4-2 formation when they are in the mood and in Mahrez and Vardy, they have genuinely top class players who can hurt teams. However, Sevilla are a club with enormous European Pedrigree, especially in the last decade. Jorge Sampaoli is an astute coach who has got them playing good football this year in La Liga and they will provide a tough test for Claudio Ranieri’s side. My Verdict; Sevilla to edge it. I think Leicester will win the home leg, though.