The draw for the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League took place this morning, and once again did not fail to produce a host of enthralling clashes between some of Europe’s heaviest hitters. A couple of the standout ties involve the two English sides who failed to top their groups, with Manchester City – in the first time they’ve made it to this stage of the competition – being pitted against Tata Martino’s Barcelona, while Premier League leaders Arsenal face a daunting examination against current champions Bayern Munich, for the second year running.
Other notable fixtures include AC Milan vs Atlético Madrid; the Italian side boast an astonishing European pedigree, with seven Champions League triumphs to their name, but are desperately struggling for form domestically this term, whereas the Spanish outfit can claim quite the opposite. The closest Atlético have come to tasting Champions League success is set of runners-up medals that date back to 1974, however their sparkling form this season sees them level on points and goal difference with Barcelona at the summit of La Liga, having stormed through Group G of the Champions League undefeated, winning all but one game.
Didier Drogba has been set the task of sinking his old club, as he makes an emotional return to Chelsea with Turkish giants Galatasaray, and has already said that he “will be playing at home in both legs”. Meanwhile Bayer Leverkusen, flying high in 2nd in the Bundesliga, face an intriguing challenge against Ligue 1 leaders Paris St-Germain, who themselves aren’t short on talent – or cash. The remaining three fixtures are: Olympiakos vs Manchester United, Schalke vs Real Madrid and Zenit St Petersburg vs Borussia Dortmund. Real and Dortmund are the clear favourites to progress through their ties, while in seasons past under Ferguson, Man United would have been expected to brush aside Greek champions Olympiakos, however United have been well below par so far this term, and it may yet prove to be a tight encounter.
The Barcelona-Man City tie is certainly one that will cause a stir of excitement amongst lovers of the beautiful game. The English side, funded by billions of Abu Dhabi pounds, have proven to be a devastating strike force this season with an array of attacking prowess including the likes of Sergio Agüero, Álvaro Negredo, Edin Džeko, David Silva, Samir Nasri, and the list could go on… While Barcelona haven’t been at their blistering best in the absence of the injured Lionel Messi, who will be back for the Man City tie, they still top La Liga having won 14 of their 16 games so far, and have found compensation for Messi in the outstanding Neymar, signed from Brazilian club Santos last summer. Argentinean compatriots Messi and Agüero promise to display a captivating battle before they rejoin forces in the 2014 Brazil World Cup, with this tie set to joyously dazzle neutral spectators.
Arsenal will be bemoaning their luck – or lack of it – having again been drawn against a Bayern Munich side on a phenomenal run, this time under the reigns of the illustrious Pep Guardiola. Bayern are currently steamrolling the Bundesliga, having taken 44 from a possible 48 points so far this season, and are favourites to retain their Champions League title. However, Arsenal will take solace in the fact that they are on a run of their own, topping the Premier League and narrowly missing out on winning an extremely tough Champions League group to Bayern’s rivals Dortmund, just by goal difference. They lost only to the away goals rule in the tie against Bayern last year following an impressive 2-0 win at the Allianz Arena, a game which proved to be a benchmark performance for Arsenal’s great run of form which has lasted to this day. In addition, acquiring Mesut Özil from Real Madrid in the summer, and demonstrating a defensive stability on a consistent basis, suggests that this will not be a one-sided tie.
The Champions League Round of 16 will take place on the 18th, 19th, 25th and 26th of February and the second leg games on the 11th, 12th, 18th and 19th of March 2014.