|UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 Draw + Mini Previews|
By: Richard O'Malley – Thursday, December 30th, 2010
In my opinion there is not a better soccer tournament than the UEFA Champions League. Earlier in life I would have said that the World Cup is a much better tournament but as good as the World Cup is to watch the UEFA Champions League to me at least is even better. With the group stage now behind us, it is time for the always exciting round of 16 to begin. This years round of 16 drawing has lead to some very interesting match-ups. Some of these match-ups were seen in last years competition and some of these match-ups have been seen in past competitions but all of them should end up being very exciting match-ups to watch. The first leg of this year's round of 16 begins on February 15th & 16th and 22nd & 23rd, the drawing was as follow:
• AS Roma (Italy) vs FC Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
• AC Milan (Italy) vs Tottenham Hotspur FC (England)
• Valencia CF (Spain) vs FC Schalke 04 (Germany)
• FC Internazionale (Italy) vs FC Bayern Munchen (Germany)
• Olympique Lyonnais (France) vs Real Madrid CF (Spain)
• Arsenal FC (England) vs FC Barcelona (Spain)
• Olympique Marseille (France) vs Manchester United FC (England)
• FC Kobenhavn (Denmark) vs Chelsea FC (England)
AS Roma (Italy) vs FC Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) - This should be a great match-up to watch, especially if AS Roma can enter into the tie in good form. AS Roma should be on watch for a tough set of matches against Shakhtar, a team that has never made it this far in Europe prior. While this should be a great hard fought battle on the pitch, the Shakhtar General Director, Serhiy Palkin has been quoted as saying, "We are up against very strong opponents, but I'm glad we avoided the likes of Internazionale Milano, AC Milan and Valencia". I would expect this match to be very tight and should come down to who's defense can rise to the occassion.
AC Milan (Italy) vs Tottenham Hotspur FC (England) - AC Milan are 7 time champions of Europe but in my opinion have drawn a very difficult match-up with Tottenham Hotspur FC. The last time that Tottenham played a team from the San Siro was in the group stage when they played Internazionale. Tottenham gave it their all in Milan but leaked goals, losing 4-3. However, Tottenham was able to beat Inter in the return leg at White Hart Lane 3-1. Because of the results in the group stage I don't believe that Tottenham will be intimidated going back to the San Siro and in my opinion have a decent chance at advancing through the Round of 16.
Valencia CF (Spain) vs FC Schalke 04 (Germany) - Schalke has a challenge in front of them having drawn Valencia, however I think that it is very helpful to them that the first leg will take place at Mestalla on February 15th, and the second leg will be in Gelsenkirchen on March 9th. If they can get out of Mestalla with a draw then Schalke will have improved their chances to advance with the deciding match being played at home. When these two clubs met in the 2007/2008 group stage Schalke lost 1-0 at home but were able to obtain a 0-0 draw in Spain. One thing Schalke has going for them is Raul Gonzalez. Gonzalez having recently left Real Madrid after 18 years knows Valencia very well and has scored plenty of goals against them. Gonzalez has scored 12 goals in 24 La Liga matches against Valencia and will need to be in great form to increase Schalke's chances of advancing through to the next round.
FC Internazionale (Italy) vs FC Bayern Munchen (Germany) - Hopefully this match-up sounds familiar to you as it happened just last year in the UEFA Champions League Final. Inter right now is in a crisis, having just fired Rafael Benítez and currently sitting in 7th place in the Serie A (13 points behind leaders AC Milan). I personally do not think this is a good draw for Inter. When I watched the drawing live on the internet and this match-up was drawn it appeared to me that Bayern Munchen was very excited to get the chance to play Internazionale again after losing 2-0 in the final last year. Bayern lost to Internazionale 2-0 in the final on two goals from Diego Milito and it was an Inter squad under the coaching of the great Jose Mourinho who of course now manages Real Madrid. Even in the media of late, there has been a lot of talk from the Bayern side about "settling scores", I just think that Bayern will be so motivated in this match-up that Inter will find it a very difficult task to advance through to the next round.
Olympique Lyonnais (France) vs Real Madrid CF (Spain) - I think that what is so intriguing about this match-up is that just last year these two teams met in the Round of 16 and it was Olympique Lyonnais that came out on top, eliminating Real Madrid 2-1 on aggregate. This years Real Madrid to me are a much better squad and as mentioned earlier now has Jose Mourinho at the helm. Mourinho has already proven that he can win in Europe and I for one would be surprised if the results of last year's Round of 16 happen again this year. Both teams feature very good defenses and it will be interesting to see who can crack in the first goal of this match-up but I would think that Real Madrid's chances of advancing through to the next round are very good.
Arsenal FC (England) vs FC Barcelona (Spain) - This is actually the draw that I am most looking forward to. Going into the drawings I think there was a 50/50 chance that Arsenal was going to draw Barcelona or Real Madrid and sure enough they drew Barca. This is also a rematch from last season that saw Barcelona advancing through on aggregate (6-3) after a masterful second-leg match by none other than Lionel Messi. Last season these two squads played to a 2-2 draw in the first leg in north London. In the second leg at the Camp Nou it was Arsenal who took an early lead but then Messi scored all 4 of Barcelona's goals in a 4-1 second leg victory that saw them through. Barcelona's European dreams were then cut short in the very next round as they ended up losing 3-2 to eventual champions Internazionale. What can you say about Barcelona? Their reputation precedes them in both European and Domestic competition. Arsenal is currently fighting to be the top of the English Premier League and made a statement just the other day beating a currently struggling Chelsea squad at the Emirates. For Arsenal to advance through to the next round Fabregas and Walcott will need to be great. This is a Barcelona team that has pretty much dismantled everyone they have played this year, including an absolute beat-down of Real Madrid a few weeks back. To me this will be the best match-up of the Round of 16. If you can only watch one game on the day(s) these two play, it should be this match-up.
Olympique Marseille (France) vs Manchester United FC (England) - While the possibility of drawing Internazionale or AC Milan was very real for Manchester United they instead drew Olympique Marseille. Manchester United are in good form and currently sit atop the table in the English Premier League with a couple of games in hand. To date they have yet to lose a league match this season with 10 wins and 8 draws to their credit. Marseille currently find themselves 5th in France Ligue 1 but only 3 points behind leaders Lille. I think that what is good news for Manchester United is that Wayne Rooney has been showing signs of returning to his good form of late. If Wayne Rooney can get going again, Manchester United can be a very dangerous team to not only advance through to the next round but also to contend for the UEFA Championship. The key for this match-up will be Manchester United's play away at Olympique de Marseille's Stade Vélodrome. Marseille are a pretty tough squad who get great support and are really good at home. Their domestic record at home is currently 4 wins 4 draws and 1 loss outscoring opponents 14-7 in those 9 games. Manchester United should hope for at least a draw in France and get a win at Old Trafford to see themselves through to the next round.
FC Kobenhavn (Denmark) vs Chelsea FC (England) - On February 22nd the first leg of the tie will take place, as Kobenhavn will welcome Chelsea to Parken Stadion. Parken Stadion has been a great place for Kobenhavn as they have not lost a UEFA Champions League match at home this year including a 1-1 draw against Barcelona on match day 4 of the group stage. FC Kobenhavn is the first Danish team ever to progress from the group stage and they will be hoping that their terrific play at Parken Stadion can continue. Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea squad is at the moment in a bit of a "crisis" by their standards anyway. Chelsea just recently beat Bolton to give them their first league win in their last 7 matches. Chelsea currently sit 4th in the Premier League, 4 points behind leaders Manchester United. The key to this tie will be the play of Didier Drogba who is very hungry for a UEFA Championship title. While I have seen stranger things in my life, I would lean that Chelsea should be able to pull it together and advance through to the next round knocking off FC Kobenhavn who may come up just short.
As the time gets closer to the start of all of these matches I would like to post some more detailed analysis of some of these Round of 16 match-ups. No matter if you are a fan of these teams or just a fan of soccer in general, this year's UEFA Championship League Round of 16 drawing has surely promised all of us some great matches to watch and enjoy!
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