The UEFA Champions League returns today with four round of 16 games over the next two days and another four next week. Thanks to some unpredictable results in the group stage, we’ve been blessed with some juicy matchups in the round of 16.
PSG (FRA) vs. Barcelona (ESP) (Tuesday)
The last few years, the blueprint for PSG was defeat Chelsea in the round of 16 before losing to someone bigger and better in the quarterfinals. But this isn’t your (slightly) older brother’s PSG. The loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has hit them very hard and to put it simply, they just haven’t been the same team. They come into this second in Ligue 1, when in previous years they would have had their domestic campaign all but wrapped up at this stage.
As for Barcelona, there’s not much to say that we don’t already know. As usual, they’re marred in a three way title race with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid (though Barca and Atleti have both played two more games than Real), while Messi, Neymar and Suarez continue to score goals in bunches. In previous years, this might have been a must see tie. But this year, Barcelona should walk over them.
Benfica (POR) vs. Borussia Dortmund (GER) (Tuesday)
Goals. This tie will see a lot of goals. Benfica have always been the team that can score in Europe which normally sees them make a nice little run in Europe most years. Their undoing is that they usually can’t defend, and eventually come up against a bigger club that they simply can’t outscore.
On paper, Borussia Dortmund are that club. On the field though? That’s a completely different story. Dortmund have attacking talent on attacking talent on attacking talent but what they lack are reliable defenders. Their youth has often led them to be very inconsistent, but somehow the Champions League has yet to phase them as they scored 21 goals in their six group stage. This tie should feature plenty of goals, with Dortmund ultimately pulling it out at the end at home.
Napoli (ITA) vs. Real Madrid (ESP) (Wednesday)
Very similar situation to Barcelona and PSG in this one. That’s not to say Napoli have been poor this year, but they haven’t been the force in Serie A that they were last year when they finished second in Serie A and pushed Juventus most of the season. If you don’t follow Italian soccer, you’ll recognize Slovakian stud Marek Hamsik who had a fantastic Euros last summer patrolling the midfield for Napoli. Hamsik is a game changer, but the problem is while Napoli have one game changer, Real Madrid have a near endless supply.
It’s been a crazy year for Real Madrid, who at one point had gone 40 matches unbeaten. The craziest part of it all is that their three headed monster up top, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Gareth Bale are having what is far from their best seasons. It’s been Real’s other stars who have been propelling the winning this season. However, when the lights are shining brightest, so are Ronaldo and Bale. Real’s stars will show up and propel Los Blancos to the quarterfinals.
Bayern Munich (GER) vs. Arsenal (ENG) (Wednesday)
Arsenal fans were happy that they finally won their group for about 15 minutes this year before they inevitably got drawn against Bayern Munich in the round of 16 again. Arsenal now face a problem as they are not exactly riding the best form at the moment, and a fluky win against Hull isn’t going to have them feeling good ahead of a trip to Bavaria.
Of all the ties happening this week, this is the one that can actually go either way, if Arsenal can get a favorable result in the first leg. An away goal is absolutely crucial for Arsenal in the first leg as Bayern are more than capable of putting a 3-0 scoreline up and wrapping this thing up before the return trip to London. That’s what the Gunners need to prevent from happening, the only question is can they?