Nyon, Switzerland was at the center of the European football world, as the Champions League draw was held early this morning. Looking at the draw, early buzz is going to be key as fans get to see big match-ups right at the beginning.
Christiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid CF vs Wayne Rooney and Manchester United are the headline opening round game. However, a second interesting matchup to watch will be Bastian Schweinsteiger and FC Bayern Munich vs Theo Walcott and Arsenal, who hope to reach the finals at Wembley Stadium just a few miles north in London.
All in all, there are only five returning teams from last year’s knockout stage: Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Milan, and Real Madrid. Málaga is also making their first appearance in the knockout stage of the Champions League, which is represented by nine different countries.
So what matchups can fans be looking forward to on the four match days, February 12-13, February 19-20, March 5-6 and March 12-13?
Just looking through, one will notice the top leagues in the English, German, and Spanish leagues all have multiple teams. There is also the possibility that a team outside the favorites could sneak in, as the headline games are early in the competition. Let’s take a look at the round of 16 games.
Galatasary A.S. (Turkey) vs FC Shalke 04 (Germany)
Shalke, winners of group B, are clearly the weakest team from the pot of winners. Since beating Arsenal, Shalke has been on a downhill slope, culminating in the firing of manager Huub Stevens. Now, Shalke has Lewis Holtby and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, but they will need more help, especially if they want to stop Burak Yilmez who has six goals in six games Champions League games this year.
Celtic FC (Scotland) vs Juventus (Italy)
Celtic FC were going to have a tough draw against any of the winners, but playing Juventus might be the best for them. Juventus will in the middle of a tough stretch of games in Serie A when they play, which could be an opportune time for Celtic to pull off the stunning upset. Juventus, having done their job and winning group E, now could be in line for a serious run at the title with a victory of the Scottish side.
Arsenal FC (England) vs FC Bayern München (Germany)
Call in the German National team split across both teams, as German forward Lukas Podolski and centerback Per Metersacker will face their teammates on the national team in Mario Gomez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer, Jéröme Boateng, Phillip Lahm, Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos. This also doesn’t include Holger Badstuber. Both teams have suspect back fours, but Bayern has the better attacking midfield. Arsenal was lucky to avoid having to play Man U, but drew what many consider to be the second best team in the field.
FC Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) vs Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Shakhtar Donestsk has a tough draw against Dortmund, when they will have to play their first Champions League game before the winter break, as Ukraine’s top league does not play in December through February. Marco Reus is becoming a constant threat for his German team, scoring 15 goals in 31 games this year. Though not the headlining game, it could be one of the best.
AC Milan (Italy) vs FC Barcelona (Spain)
Just days after star forward Lionel Messi set a record for most goals in a year, Barcelona extended his contract through 2018. Barcelona could be playing with heavy hearts, as manager Tito Vilanova was just given the news that a tumor had returned and had to have emergency surgery. Milan squeaked into the knockout stage thanks to a strong stretch, but will have to be at their best to even think about knocking off the Spanish giants.
Real Madrid (Spain) vs Manchester United (England)
Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo are set to go at it just a few years removed from playing on the same side. Man U has added the firepower in the front with Robin Van Persie in what should be the most exciting matchup of round of 16. With both sides behind the league leader in their respective leagues, a Champions League win could keep the fans’ anger at bay over not winning the league.
Valencia CF (Spain) vs Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Valencia was just one win (or tie) away from taking Group F from Bayern, but have suddenly gone into a tailspin that also culminated in the firing of Mauricio Pellegrino. PSG was oh so close to finishing second in Group A, but they finished strong and secured an easier round of 16 opponent. If Valencia can play like they did in their matches against Bayern, they can give PSG fits. However, with PSG rolling in the money, it would be considered an upset if Valencia can pull it off.
FC Porto (Portugal) vs Málaga CF (Spain)
Málaga is making their first Champions League Knockout Stage appearance, but have a chance to make at least the round of 8 against an equally formidable side. While this matchup is not the sexiest, the winner has an outside chance of making a deep run in the knockout stages.