WOW, WOW, WOW. Is there anything better than the Champions League knockout stages? The answer is simply no! In what is the biggest yearly competition in the world, the match-ups just get better and better. This morning in Nyon, the Round of 16 match-ups were drawn. In what was a drawn out UEFA ceremony, each of the group winners was paired with a runner up. The balls were drawn as if the soccer gods wanted the greatest clashes possible. They truly gave the fans some fantastic games to look forward to. While some fan based will be looking at their meeting and cursing the soccer gods, neutrals should be praising them. This is a tough trophy to win and gets better and better as each round goes by. The first game drawn of the evening was scintillating. Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea squad face the Parisian giants and David Luiz. This is a rematch of last years’ quarterfinal, in which Chelsea defeated PSG on away goals. PSG won the first leg last year at home 3-1, and then lost 2-0 in Stamford Bridge. This should be an amazing collision of talent. Even more interesting will be the team that is knocked out of the competition. Both of these teams have dreams of reaching the final. That game was just the appetizer as the next fight pitted the Champions of England against the runner’s up in Spain. Barcelona will face Manchester City. These two teams faced off last year in the Round of 16. After failing to get out of the group stage for two years in a row, Manchester City have now been handed the Spanish Giants two years in a row in the Round of 16. The next knockout trial is Juventus vs. Dortmund. While Dortmund have struggled and continue to, see below, they have had success in the Champions League and will look to advance to the Quarter Finals for the third year in a row. Atletico Madrid got Bayer Leverkusen as they look to get back to the finals. Defending champions, Real Madrid, will face off with Schalke. Bayern Munich will look to get back to the finals after stumbling last year as they play the Shahtkar Donetsk. Basel and Porto might be the only game to pass on, but who knows. One of those two teams will make the final 8. The last match is Arsenal vs Monaco, which is the battle of Arsene Wenger. He made his name coaching at Monaco before eventually ending up at Arsenal. It will be an interesting reunion for him.
Lyon got back into the French title race with their 3-0 win last Friday. They dominated Caen behind 2 goals from Lacazette. He now has 15 goals in 18 games. The door was opened for them even further when both PSG and Marseille failed to win on their travels. Guingamp got an early goal and held on for the 1-0 win over PSG. Monaco rode their Champions League form into a 1-0 win over Marseille. The French league appears to now be a 3 horse race as Marseille, PSG, and Lyon are all separated by 1 point.
In Serie A, Juventus dropped 2 points and now only have a 1 point lead on Roma. This race heated up as Sampdoria grabbed an equalizer in the 51st minute. Roma snagged a 1-0 victory in Genoa to cut the lead to 2 points. Milan got a big win this weekend over Napoli. The 3 points brought them level with Napoli on 24 points and within 2 points of a Champions League spot. Lazio got a big 3-0 win to shoot them up to 3rd in the table, and in the last spot for next year’s Champions League
Munich extended its 7 point lead as they won 4-0. Wolfsburg was only able to draw 1-1 with Paderborn to allow Munich to extended their lead. In the battle for third, all things stayed as is as Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladach drew 1-1. The other Borussia team’s struggles continued. Dortmund went to Berlin and lost 1-0 to Hertha. They now find themselves in the relegation zone. The drama in Dortmund seems to be something that will keep on for the rest of the season.
In Spain, Real Madrid have continued doing what they do best in a 4-1 victory at Almeria. Ronaldo now has an astonishing 25 goals in 15 games. He is on a blistering pace and it will be fascinating to see where he can end up at the end of the season. Real got help from another Madrid club as Getafe held Barcelona off the scoreboard for a 0-0 draw. Villarreal beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 and Sevilla drew 0-0 with Eibar. All of these results gave Real Madrid a nice cushion of 4 points. They will now travel to the Club World Cup and will be at the top of the table at the start of the New Year.
In England, Manchester United are really making a run at not just the top 4, but potentially the title. While I feel they are still a ways behind both City and Chelsea, they are only 5 points behind City and 8 points behind Chelsea after their 3-0 victory over Liverpool. For Liverpool, the season continues to spiral downward as they sit 7 points off of 4th place and 7 points from the drop. Tottenham finally got a big win with their 2-1 victory over Swansea City. It took them until the 89th minute to finally get the winner. Burnely got a huge 3 points to take them out of the relegation zone against Southampton, who seem to be trending downward as well. City and Chelsea both won easily, as did Arsenal with their 4-1 victory over Newcastle.
This week we have some cup matches as the Copa del Rey and League Cup tournaments continue. The Germans will be playing a round of league games.
Munich will look to extend their 9 point lead at the top as they host Freiburg. Wolfsburg will look to continue the misery for their opponents as they travel to Dortmund. Monchengladach host Werder Bremen as they hope to get back to their winning ways. Likewise, Bayer travel to Hoffenheim.
In Spain, there are some Copa del Rey matchups. In the second leg of this competition, Barcelona will host Huesca with a 4-0 lead after the first leg. The rest of the Round of 32 games will be settled this week, and the bracket will start to fill in as all eyes are looking towards the potential of Real Madrid vs Barcelona in the Quarter-Finals.
The fifth round of the English League Cup takes place this week as there are a bunch of showdowns of better lower league teams and the Premier League. Derby County will host Chelsea, and Sheffield United will host Southampton. Sheffield United are from the third tier of English Football. On Wednesday, Tottenham face off against Newcastle in the only all EPL match-up. The last conflict is Bournemouth hosting Liverpool. This may be a huge match in Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool career, as a trophy in either the League Cup or the FA Cup will be needed along with a top 4 finish after failing in the Champions League.
Early and I mean way to early Champions League Round of 16 Predictions
Chelsea, Barcelona, Atletico, Juventus, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Porto
Buzz agrees and added that perhaps Juve could get upset, or maybe Arsenal because they tend to choke. Dortmund may need to re-focus efforts towards not getting relegated, therefore, Juve has an easier time. I completely agree with him.