After a two-month hiatus, the UEFA Champions League kicks off once again with the Round of 16 games next week. The group stage ended as expected, with all European giants qualifying for the next round, although F.C. Internazionale Milano and Arsenal F.C. disappointed their fans by finishing second in their respective groups. Both teams paid the price for their inability to seize the top seed in their group, as they were handed tough first-round matches. We are going to have a look at and analyze all the second-round matchups below.
A.C. Milan vs. Tottenham Hotspur F.C.
This matchup will definitely be one of the most exciting of the round. Both teams are having a phenomenal year, with Milan leading Serie A for most of the season, while Champions League debutants Spurs finished the group stage ahead of Inter Milan. Rafael van der Vaart and Gareth Bale have been leading Tottenham to victories with their impressive and consistent performances, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic has carried Milan on his shoulders the entire season. The key point for the Italian side will be avoiding conceding goals at home, since Ibrahimovic’s recent form suggests that they should have no trouble scoring. Ultimately, Milan’s experience as well as Ibrahimovic’s class should see the Italian giants through to the next round.
Valencia C.F. vs. F.C. Schalke 04
The two overperforming teams of the group stage will play two very evenly matched games. Valencia has shocked the pundits with its extraordinary performances in both La Liga and the Champions League after losing stars David Villa and David Silva to transfers over the summer. Schalke is eagerly waiting for this matchup since its Champions League success has not translated into wins in its domestic league. They sit at a disappointing 11th in the Bundesliga table, but the German side’s performance in the group stage offers hope as they finished ahead of the French favorites Olympique Lyonnaise. Our pick in this matchup is Valencia.
A.S. Roma vs. F.C. Shakhtar Donetsk
The Ukrainian champions shocked everyone by finishing ahead of Arsenal in Group H, but their task gets no easier in the first knockout round. Plagued by injuries and inconsistency all year, and a disappointing 10 points behind Serie A leaders Milan, Roma is still a formidable foe. Complicating things for Shakhtar is the Ukrainian League’s three-month winter break, making competitive games few and far between for them recently. With experience and quality up front in Mirko Vucinic, Marco Borriello and captain Francesco Totti, Roma has the slight edge over the Ukrainian side. However, getting a good result at home will be crucial for the Italian squad, since it likely won’t find winning the return leg in Ukraine an easy task.
Arsenal F.C. vs. F.C. Barcelona
Another Champions League season is about to end early for Arsenal due to an unlucky draw. Awaiting the London-based side for the second year in a row is high-flying Barcelona, who have lost just once all season and are riding a record-breaking 16-game winning streak in La Liga. Although the Gunners had been playing well before throwing away a four-goal lead against Newcastle this past weekend, the result of the matchup will most likely remind us of last year’s game between these two sides, when Lionel Messi led a comprehensive 4-1 Barca rout in the second leg of the Spanish side’s quarterfinal win.
F.C. Kobenhavn vs. Chelsea F.C.
The underperforming Blues of Chelsea would have struggled against a stronger team, but the young and inexperienced Danish side likely won’t be able to challenge the English powerhouse. Bolstered by the acquisition of star striker Fernando Torres from Liverpool F.C. in the January transfer window, Chelsea should have no trouble dispatching Kobenhavn and moving onto the next round.
Olympique Lyonnais vs. Real Madrid C.F.
Although Lyon, who shockingly eliminated Real Madrid in the Round of 16 last year, has historically been a tough matchup for Real Madrid, the Spanish giants are clear favorites this time around. Although the Jose Mourinho-coached side is well back of hated rivals Barca in La Liga, the January addition of Emmanuel Adebayor from Manchester City could do much to cure the injury woes of Los Merengues up top. Consistently impressive performances from Angel Di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil have proven that Real is still a cut above most European teams despite struggles to keep pace with Barcelona in La Liga.
Olympique de Marseille vs. Manchester United F.C.
The Red Devils’ unbeaten run came to an end last week against Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C., but they are still in top form and enjoy a comfortable lead in the Premier League over Arsenal. Marseille started the group stage with two losses but rebounded nicely to win their next four games and finish second in Group F after Chelsea. The French side won’t be easily brushed aside by United, especially when playing at home in front of their notorious fans. But in the end, Man U will be the team moving on to the next round.
F.C. Internazionale Milano vs. F.C. Bayern Munchen
We saved the best matchup for the last. This is the rematch of last year’s final, which Inter won, 2-0, behind a brace from star striker Diego Milito. Both teams are struggling to replicate their impressive form of last year, when both teams won their respective domestic leagues. Inter seems to have turned over a new leaf after bringing in a new manager, Leonardo, to replace Rafael Benitez. Bayern, who relied heavily on the brilliance of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery to reach the final last year, have struggled to recapture last year’s magic, especially in the wake of Robben’s World Cup injury. Nevertheless, these two legs will provide the best games of this round, but we have to give the edge to Inter, with Samuel Eto’o aiming to be the highest-scoring player of the tournament.