February 12, 2013 by jstevenson0804
Here we are again, the 2013 edition of the Champions League is set to get back under way. Only the top 16 are left in the competition and everything is still to play for. This season’s competition has already thrown up a few shocks, most notably Celtic beating Barcelona, but we’ve also seen the English champions knocked out at the group stage for the second consecutive season. Not to mention defending champions Chelsea becoming the first of their kind to fall at the first hurdle. However, all of the other giants are still fighting for the greatest prize of them all. So here is our look at the last 16 ties.
CELTIC VS JUVENTUS
Season So Far: Both of these teams will be pleased with their current campaign. Celtic sit atop the SPL with an 18 point cushion and are all but certain to clinch yet another title. Juventus, similarly, are once again top of Serie A, although they haven’t quite replicated the form of last season. No longer unbeaten domestically they have suffered a few recent wobbles, but remain unbeaten in Europe. Celtic fans will, unfortunately, have to hope for a repeat of their infamous victory over Barcelona in the group stage.
Key Players: Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who showed tremendous capability in the group stage, will be the best hope for the Hoops and will have to put in some more strong performances to give his team a chance. At the tender age of 33 Andrea Pirlo has proven that he is still one of the very best and he will aim to control the midfield area and put a stranglehold on the match.
Prediction: On paper it should be a comfortable Juventus win, but Celtic may manage to steal a draw at home.
VALENCIA VS PSG
Season So Far: Domestically Valencia have struggled and very much been a team of inconsistency. This has been epitomised by their recent 5-0 home demolishing by Real Madrid. On the bright side, they recovered from that horror show to go four games unbeaten, including 1-1s with Real (in the cup) and Barcelona. PSG, on the other hand, are having a tremendous season. Aiming to become a powerhouse of Europe, the French league leaders could well be on their way to something special. 9 wins in their last 10 in the league has seen them open up a 6 point gap at the top of the table.
Key Players: The ethereal Zlatan Ibrahimovic has led the way both at home and in Europe and will surely prove the decisive factor in this tie. Valencia too will rely upon a super striker with Roberto Soldado providing their main goal threat.
Prediction: This should be a close affair but the Parisians will probably have just a bit too much power to see of Valencia.
SHAKHTAR DONETSK VS BORUSSIA DORTMUND
Season So Far: This tie should prove to be one of the most exhilarating of the round with two of Europe’s biggest flair teams. Both teams have had domestic successes in recent years and will be looking to transfer this across to Europe. Shakhtar did win the last edition of the UEFA Cup and reached the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League two seasons ago, but last season fell at the group stage. They currently boast the best league record from any of Europe’s top leagues with 17 wins and just 1 defeat so far and will surely fancy their chances of a win here. Dortmund, on the other hand, have had a mixed season and it is almost certain now that they will not be winning the Bundesliga for a third consecutive season. Trailing Bayern by 15 points and a 4-1 drubbing at the weekend, confidence may be low. This clearly gives Shakhtar a great opportunity to take advantage of the Germans’ struggles.
Key Players: The loss of star player Borges Willian, who left in January for a record €35 million, may well prove a decisive factor. His replacement, Taison, has a lot to live up to, but Henrik Mkhitaryan will be another to take up the slack. Dortmund have a squad full of top class players, but the attacking play of Mario Götze and Marco Reus will be key to any German success.
Prediction: This tie really is too close to call, both have had ups and downs and this may well come down to penalties, although I slightly fancy the Germans to maybe steal a one goal aggregate win.
REAL MADRID VS MANCHESTER UNITED
Season So Far: Undoubtedly the tie of the round; two of the greatest managers of all time, one of the game’s best players, who has played for both teams and a fair few points to prove. Last season’s La Liga champions Real Madrid have suffered this season and still trail cross-city rivals Athletico, with Barcelona long gone. This could work to their favour as the Champions League will be their biggest priority. United, to the contrary, have now gone 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League and in spite of some sub-standard performances have still been able to do what they do best and get the wins.
Key Players: All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo, who will be hoping to make it a happy return to Old Trafford in the second leg. His performances will be heavily scrutinised whether they win or lose, and so he will be the key man to watch. United’s main threats will be Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney, who have adapted well to each other’s styles and are seemingly capable of performing well when the other is not quite up to par.
Prediction: Another very close one to call, Madrid has the better squad (albeit without ’keeper Iker Casillas who misses out with a hand injury); United has the better form and can grind out victories so this one will go to penalties after two terrific legs of enthralling action.
ARSENAL VS BAYERN MUNICH
Season So Far: A battle of two of Europe’s giants, this game should provide a fast flowing attacking game. Arsenal is once again there or thereabouts in the league, in terms of qualification for next season’s Champions League, but defensive frailties could well be exposed by Bayern’s slick attack. Many times this season Arsenal’s defence has been picked apart and this will be their toughest test yet. Bayern’s defence, on the other hand, has been superb all season conceding just seven in the league. At the other end they have been just as formidable with a league-leading 55 goals after 21 games and certainly both at home and abroad they have been near invincible. After two seasons of relative failure they look set to make amends and reclaim the Bundesliga title.
Key Players: Arsenal’s main hope will be that of Jack Wilshere. His return from injury has gone far better than expected and has already proven to be the main creator of the team and with Theo Walcott’s ever-improving form the English duo will hope to create a shock. Full of star players Bayern have the complete squad to challenge any team in the competition, but up front they have their biggest strength with messrs Mario Gomez and Mandzukic both capable of scoring many many goals.
Prediction: Realistically Bayern are the only winners here and could well go all the way and win the title in May. Although the result should be straightforward it will still be a cracking tie and both teams, at their best, can demonstrate some fabulous play, so let’s hope for two legs of pure excitement.
FC PORTO VS MALAGA
Season So Far: Portugal’s sole remaining representative will be looking to restore some pride to the country. After their famous win in 2004 they have not returned to such heights. It is normally at this stage that they disappear, but here they have a great chance to make it to the last eight. Unbeaten in the league and neck-and-neck with Benfica they will not be keen to put all their eggs into the proverbial European basket but Malaga, with no disrespect, is prime for the taking. Malaga currently occupy the last qualification spot for next season’s competition but some on-off form, especially of late, has seen them lose ground on the top three. Financial turmoil off the pitch and rumoured big-name departures has inevitably caused some disruption but they escaped January without any major losses.
Key Players: Not only did Alarcon Isco remain at the club, but he signed a new contract with a rumoured €35 million release clause – something of great news for all concerned at the club. His performances on the field have attracted much attention and it has been the Champions League where he has shown his best form, so hopefully he can continue to do so. Porto’s main threats come from Columbian duo James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez. The trickery of the former and the goals of the latter make them a formidable partnership.
Prediction: Porto will probably have just a bit too much for Malaga to handle and the Portuguese will seal this Iberian clash by a couple of goals from star-striker Martinez.
GALATASARAY VS SCHALKE
Season So Far: Arguably the weakest tie of the round, it nevertheless represents a great chance for both of these sides to make the last eight. Galatasaray has been Turkey’s main representative for the last few years and with the big signings of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder they will expect to earn a win against the Germans. Schalke made a very promising start to the season and did very well to beat Arsenal to win the group, but things took a considerable downturn before Christmas. The sacking of the manager has not yielded fast results and with no win after the winter break they have slipped down to 10th in the league, although they remain in contention for the European spots.
Key Players: UEFA’s Player of the Group Stage, Burak Yilmaz will be the key to Turkish dreams and his goals could ultimately prove the difference. Schalke, similarly, will rely upon the goals of Klaas Jan Huntelaar or maybe the attacking threat of new German prodigy Julian Draxler.
Prediction: Schalke’s form will more than likely decide this tie. They have the capabilities to win over two legs but recent form will probably see an end to their European adventure.
AC MILAN VS BARCELONA
Season So Far: In the last meeting of the round we have another classic-in-the-making. Seven-times winners versus many people’s best team in the world, this tie represents the past winners against the newer European giants. Milan’s season has been another of ups and downs, namely downs in the first half. Having recovered from a terrible start they have made their way back up to 5th and look set to book a place in Europe next season, although it may well not be the Champions League. Barcelona, after last season’s displacement, have returned to the top of La Liga and have lost just one game so far, a shock 3-2 to Sociedad a few weeks back. In spite of this blip they have still performed excellently throughout most of the season and have never really been tested bar the Clasico’s with even second place Athletico failing to provide a significant test.
Key Players: The arrival of Mario Balotelli has given some much needed urgency to the Milan attack and his three goals in two games has given the fans something to cheer. It will be interesting to see how his partnership with youth talents Stephan El Shaarawy and M’Baye Niang develop over the rest of the season. Barcelona’s squad has remained virtually the same and once again Lionel Messi has put opponents to the sword with 34 goals already in the league.
Prediction: Another interesting tie that should produce some high-quality football, but realistically Barcelona will control both matches and should be able to see of the Italians barring another ‘Celtic’ slip-up.
That concludes our preview of the last 16 ties and all that is left now is to see what happens. There should be some terrific matches played over the next few weeks and by the end we’ll all be one step closer to finding out which team will win the 2013 UEFA Champions League.