UEFA Champions League Round of 16 draw analysis
So, ten days ago took place the UEFA Champions League draw for the round of 16, and I wasn’t able to update for a while due to a full schedule. Never mind that, let’s take a look at the draws.
Manchester United – Paris Saint-Germain
Manchester United is passing through a not so favorable period. Honestly, I can’t refer to the post-Ferguson United as a force anymore, but this half season they had a horrible display rivaling only with the season they spend with David Moyes as coach, which led to Jose Mourinho’s sacking. Manchester United are now managed by caretaker and former player Ole Gunnar Solkjaer, who spent 9 years on Old Trafford (1996-2007) and is currently Molde’s manager since 2015. There’s been rumors of former Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane coming on Old Trafford, but meanwhile Solskjaer’s caretaker term extends until May 2019, Molde releasing a statement that the Norwegian is just on loan and will return to the club after that period. Of course, I don’t think United will come up with a new manager until the first leg of the draw happens, or until Solskjaer’s term ends, so I don’t think United will improve enough to think of advancing to the quarter-finals (or saving something of this season in the Premier League, for that matter). Now let’s take a look at PSG. First place in the pathetically weak championship of France (13 points above second placed Lille), Thomas Tuchel’s appointment seems to have added something to the team after Unai Emery’s departure to Arsenal, and the attacking trio of Neymar-Mbappe-Cavani has scored a total of 45 goals in all competitions. Of course, Paris’ display in the group stages was not so satisfying, having lost points to both Liverpool and Napoli, and literally enjoying Red Star Belgrade’s help to not only make it further, but also finishing first place. But this United doesn’t look like it can take on PSG; I mean, they blew up the chance to climb first place in their group as Juventus was being beaten by Young Boys by losing to Valencia.
Qualifies: PSG. And I’m not having any doubts on this one.
Liverpool – Bayern Munchen
This one would seem trickier at first, but I do know my facts writing this. Yes, Bayern Munich has shown signs of revival recently, but it still looks like the club is simply too much for Niko Kovac. They have barely succeeded in climbing the second place in Bundesliga, and are still 6 points behind Borussia Dortmund. This hasn’t happened ever since before Jurgen Klopp left Borussia Dortmund to join Liverpool 4 years ago, and I think there’s a real chance for Borussia to win the championship this year, but that’s not the point. I’d say, let’s take Bayern’s games against Ajax in the group stage. Surely, Ajax has a young team who has managed to score a couple of performances in recent years, but people seem to forget not only this is Ajax’s first qualification in the knock-outs ever since that defeat against Inter in 2006 and the Dutch have suffered eliminations against teams like Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Rostov, but regardless of this being the group stages, Bayern would have normally not had any problems against this fallen giant. 1-1 on Allianz Arena, and 3-3 on Johan Cruyff Arena, with Bayern conceding a last minute goal after turning the tides from 2-1 to 2-3 in the last three mintues. Yes, a spectacular game, but it also shows Bayern’s weakness. Liverpool, on the other hand, at least internally, has one of its best seasons in a while, leading the Premier League 6 points above second placed Tottenham Hotspur and third placed Manchester City, with which they seemed to be competing for the league not long ago. It really seems like Klopp will finally lift his first Premier League trophy since his move to Anfield. Well, that being said, I’m not forgetting Liverpool’s display in the group stages either. Defeats with both Napoli and PSG, and the loss at Belgrade with Red Star (0-2) seemed to rule them out until they defeated Napoli in the last matchday. Yet, Klopp has battled Bayern a couple of times, and I’d say he knows how to kick them when they’re down, if two Bundesliga titles with Dortmund are any indication.
Qualifies: Liverpool. I’m not really sure, though, but I’m saying there’s a 51% chance they might.
Juventus – Atletico Madrid
Well, this is definitely the trickiest one. This because both Juventus and Atletico had remained a little bit too constant on their recent results. Juventus keeps on dominating the dead weight championship that is Serie A, and having results in Europe in the meantime. Yeah, sure, there’s the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid, this summer’s biggest hit on the market. Then again, it seems Ronaldo is only adapting his new team well, he’s 33 years old, and to dream he’ll be on the same level he was when he part of Real Madrid is far fetched, given he’s basically nearing the end of his career. To further prove the point, he is the goalscorer of the last four editions of UEFA Champions League, yet in this one he only scored one goal (the irony is that he scored against his former team, Manchester United); of course, he had that suspension, but still. Atletico, on the other hand, have developed from that overly defensive playing style Diego Simeone had promoted so successfully, and are still having their fair share of success (if you ignore last year they got knocked into Europa League by Chelsea and Roma, they won Europa League, not to mention Roma actually managed to eliminate Barcelona despite a 3 goals disadvantage which is something PSG, with a 4 goals advantage after the first leg, failed to do). It’s hard to make the right prediction here, due to not seeing how any team is superior over each other on paper.
Qualifies: I’m gonna go with Atletico on this one, but then again, I’m not really sure.
Tottenham Hotspur – Borussia Dortmund
Borussia has a fantastic season, half season leading the Bundesliga 6 points above Bayern and having finished their Champions League group on first place after Atletico bottled it up. The transfers of Achram Hakimi and Paco Alcacer, from Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively, are doing a great job in strengthening the already experienced squad of the Black and Yellows, Luicen Favre’s side looks like it can score goals from every position and the team looks like they can win their first Bundesliga title since 2012. Tottenham, on the other hand, took advantage of Manchester City’s losing rounds to grab the second place, for the moment, but 6 points behind Liverpool doesn’t mean they actually have a bigger chance at fighting for the Premier League. Their performances have been pretty much internal at best, and Tottenham didn’t surprise in the Champions League much recently, apart from two wins over Real Madrid in the group stages last year. Not to mention Tottenham wouldn’t have gotten here without Inter Milan bottling up, since after 3 rounds, few would have given the Spurs real chances of making it to the knock-outs. Luckily, Inter being Inter meant Tottenham actually managed to recover a 5 points deficit to grab that second place. However, Spurs don’t actually look like they can pull it off against an opponent like Dortmund.
Qualifies: Borussia Dortmund, unless the end of the world comes.
Real Madrid – Ajax
I would like to say Real Madrid is suffering so much from the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and from its rooster getting older that a young and talented squad like Ajax has a chance of taking the champions of the last three Champions League winners out this early in the game. But I’m not. I admit, there’s a little temptation to say that when I look back at Real losing 6 points to CSKA Moscow in the group stage, and we’re talking about a side which didn’t even make it to Europa League, for god sake. But, as I said, Ajax’s last participation in the UEFA Champions League knock-outs was in 2006, and they picked up eliminations against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (sure, you can say they were the runner-ups in Europa League that season, and now they’re in the Ukrainian second division relegated for debts, among other things…) and Rostov, not to mention they actually lost the Europa League final against an opponent like Manchester United. Are they different now? Yes, somehow. Do they have what it takes to take advantage of Real’s struggling form? No, I don’t think so.
Qualifies: Real Madrid
Roma – Porto
I would like to say these are two teams of close value, but Porto keeps getting Europa League groups to make it so far in the game, else their presence on this stage wouldn’t be explainable at all. On the other hand, Roma simply pulled out a big stunt last season, with their appearance in the semi-finals and all, Eusebio Di Francesco’s side is left on 7th place in Serie A half-season and might experience difficulties in making it for the European football next season. Yeah, is their most disastrous season in a while, not being able to steal Juventus the Scudetto aside. Yet I think Porto’s true value could come a bit more clear in a more difficult group to begin with.
Qualifies: Roma. I might be wrong, but I don’t really think Porto can do much.
Schalke – Manchester City
Manchester City couldn’t have gotten an easier draw than this. Ignoring the obvious difference in value, Schalke’s season in the Bundesliga is a disaster, leaving them 13th place in this half season. Yes, Manchester City has somehow cracked down from being on par with Liverpool only twp rounds ago to 3rd place and 7 points behind the Reds after losing to both Crystal Palace and Leicester City, but we’re talking about a really big difference between these two.
Qualifies: Manchester City
Barcelona – Lyon
Do I even have to? Lyon is not the same side with footballers like Benzema, Fred, Malouda, Tiago Mendes, Eric Abidal, that used to win against Real Madrid whenever, while Barcelona is Barcelona. Yes, yes, they won against Manchester City, but as you can see, I don’t think the Citizens are experiencing a good season so far.