The final 16 teams for the greatest tournament in the world are set, as UEFA announced the pairings for the first stage of the knockout round in the UEFA Champions League on Monday.
Certainly the fortune cookie-like process of spinning balls in a bowl and cracking one open to find a slip of paper with a team’s name did no favors to some clubs—Arsenal, we look in your general direction—while giving others a relatively smooth ride to the quarterfinals. Manchester City, for example, may have the best draw of any team in the final 16.
Here is the full list of participants, with a ranking of which match-up will provide the most exciting tie.
— Copa90 (@Copa90) December 14, 2015
8. Gent v Wolfsburg
For American fans, this tie has the least amount of interest. Sure, Wolfsburg is a formidable team, winning Group B over PSV Eidenhoven and a team you may have heard of called Manchester United, who did not advance out of the group stage.
Gent finished second to Zenit in Group H, pitting the Belgian side against the Germans in a match that should see Wolfsburg advance. Just don’t expect to see either of these matches getting a lot of run on television here in the States.
7. Benfica v Zenit
The second of three final-16 match-ups that leave something to be desired for American fans, Zenit won Group H, scoring 13 goals in their six matches, bested only by the likes of Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid in the group stage.
Benfica finished second in Group C to Atletico Madrid, part of a group that felt more like “well, someone has to advance.” This tie feels a little like that again, given some of the power teams facing each other in the same round.
6. PSV v Atletico
PSV advanced by finishing second in Group B to Wolfsburg, surprising many with a victory over Manchester United in September in the Netherlands, then beating Wolfsburg at home as well in November. PSV won its third home match, over CSKA, last week to advance over Manchester United, but it was the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in November that really sealed the deal for the Dutch side.
Atletico advanced by winning Groupc C with relative ease, outscoring opponents 11-3 while losing just once, in somewhat surprising fashion at home at Estadio Vicente Calderon to Benfica in September. Atletico are two years removed from a trip to the Champions League final with as good a chance this season as any to return. Atletico, through 15 matches, are tied with Barcelona for the La Liga lead, five points clear of Real Madrid with just seven goals conceded in league.
5. Dynamo Kiev v Man City
Manchester City drawn to play Dynamo Kiev in Champions League last-16 … a closed stadium in Kiev due to racism sanction
— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) December 14, 2015
Of all the English teams, Manchester City got the most favorable draw by some margin. Not only do the Group D winners face Dynamo Kiev instead of PSG, like Chelsea, but they get their road match in Ukraine behind closed doors. This should be a walk for one of the Premier League favorites.
In terms of watchability, I’m not too naïve to think that watching English sides lose in Champions League is always more entertaining than watching them win, which is part of the reason this is ranked where it is.
4. Roma v Real Madrid
Roma finished second in Group E with six points in six matches and a goal differential of -5, but because of a tie-breaking victory over Leverkusen in November, Roma gets the unenviable task of facing Real Madrid in the knockout round.
Madrid are a joy to watch, if only because their flashes of brilliance are buoyed by their frustratingly hilarious lapses on both sides of the field in big situations. On talent, there may not be a better team in the tournament. They should advance easily to the quarterfinals, but something tells me this match-up will be worth watching for more than just Ronaldo’s goals. Through the group stage, Madrid scored 19 times, with Ronaldo netting 11 and assisting on another three. Someone else will have to step up at some point.
3. PSG v Chelsea
The two most confident men on the planet face off in the round of 16, with one on the pitch for PSG (ZLATAN) and one patrolling the sidelines for Chelsea.
Jose Mourinho: Chelsea can win the Champions League https://t.co/aElLhJFHSs
— 101 Great Goals (@101greatgoals) December 10, 2015
PSG finished second in Group A to Real Madrid, so Chelsea get saddled with having to face one of the top teams in the tournament in the next round despite winning its group. Chelsea’s season in England has been a disaster, with the only hope for success coming in Europe. This was not a great draw for them, but it should be amazing for the rest of us to see.
— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) December 14, 2015
2. Juventus v Bayern
Last year’s runner up against the title winners from three years ago. Bayern and Barcelona are on a collision course to meet at some point in this tournament—hopefully the final—but Juventus proved last season they can spoil plans for any side, surprising many to get to the final in 2015.
This year, Juventus sit fourth in Serie A behind Napoli, Fiorentina and Inter, while Bayern are five points clear on top of the Bundesliga.
In European competition and league play, Bayern are 19-1-2 with 60 goals scored and just 12 conceded this season. That’s just nuts.
1. Arsenal v Barcelona
Arsenal are atop the Premier League as we tumble toward Christmas, but the Gunners needed some work to escape Group F behind Bayern. Their reward? A date with Barcelona, which boasts one of the best offensive units in the history of the game. A healthy Messi, plus Neymar, plus Suarez? This is how Arsenal fans feel today.
— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) December 14, 2015
Wenger on the phone to Van Gaal, trying to swap Arsenal's CL round of 16 place for Man United's Europa League place right now.
— Brooks Peck (@BrooksDT) December 14, 2015
1 – Arsenal have won only one of their seven Champions League games against Barcelona. Predictable.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 14, 2015
ARSENAL v BARCA!!!!
— 101 Great Goals (@101greatgoals) December 14, 2015
Can Wenger’s side pull off the Gunner stunner? (No.) Will it be fun to watch? (Yes.) Am I talking about all the Arsenal fans complaining when they lose? (Probably.)
The round of 16 kicks off in mid February, so some of these teams could look quite different after the transfer window. Will it matter for Arsenal? (No.)