Champions League Draw

This past Monday, the draws for the Champions League and the Europa League knockout stages took place in Nyon, Switzerland.  Here is a quick look at these draws and an early prediction for winners.

In the Champions League, the first legs will be played on the 16th, 17th, 23rd, and 24th of February with the second legs taking place on the 8th, 9th, 15th and 16th of March in 2016.

Here is a quick look at the matchups…

Paris Saint-Germain (France) vs. Chelsea (England)

The champions of France and England will face off in the round of 16.  Both teams have been hoping to avoid each other after having faced-off in the round of 16 last year.  Last year, the two teams played out to a 3-3 aggregate draw that saw PSG advance thanks to two away goals.  This year, PSG is running away with the Ligue 1 title and might have it won by the time this round is over.  Chelsea, on the other hand, will need to advance if they want to play in the Champions League next season as they find themselves dangerously close to the relegation zone.

Leg 1 – February 16, 2016 at Parc des Princes, Paris

Leg 2 – March 9, 2016 at Stamford Bridge, London

Player to Watch: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain) – This could be his last season in Europe and the one trophy that seems to have evaded him in the Champions League trophy.  He has won just about every other trophy he has competed for.  Is this his year?

Predictions: Look for Chelsea to play very defensive and try to nick the games 1-0.  A lot will depend on Chelsea’s form in 3 months time, but I am going to go for PSG to advance over two games.

Benfica (Portugal) vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russia)

This will be a very close tie as both teams will hope to advance to the Quarter-finals.  Benfica has finally made it out of the group stage after three straight exits there.  The last time they were in the knockout stage was 2011-12 when they lost to eventual Champions, Chelsea, in the quarterfinals.  Zenit meanwhile will be coming back from their winter break to play in the two legs.  Zenit is back in the knockout stage after missing out last year when they failed to qualify from their group.  These two teams met in 2011-12 when Benfica knocked Zenit out in the Round of 16.

Leg 1 – February 16, 2016 at Estadio da Luz, Lisbon

Leg 2 – March 9, 2016 at Petrovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg

Player to Watch: Artyom Dzyuba (Zenit Saint Petersburg) – In the group stage Dzyuba scored 6 goals in the 6 games, putting him third on the top goalscorers list.  He will be the focus of the Benfica defense and the reason that Zenit can advance.

Prediction:  The winter break has notoriously hurt Russian teams as they have not played in the league since December 3rd and will not play again in the league until February 29th.  This break will hurt them in terms of match sharpness and why I am going with Benfica.

Gent (Belgium) vs. Wolfsburg (Germany)

Gent was the team that most of the big boys wanted and it appears to be Wolfsburg’s lucky day.  They should easily see out these two legs and advance to the Quarterfinals.  Wolfsburg and Gent are relative new boys to the competition, as this is their first foray into the knockout stages.  For both teams, this is their deepest trip yet.  Wolfsburg fans will feel excited that they are favorites to advance.  The German side has had its ups and downs, but this could be a nice first trip to the knockout stages.

Leg 1 – February 17, 2016 at Ghelamco Arena, Ghent

Leg 2 – March 8, 2016 at Volkswagen Arena, Wolfsburg

Player to Watch: Julian Draxler (Wolfsburg) – The new attacking midfielder has really started to find his form and he will look to dictate the game.  He also can score some brilliant goals.

Prediction: I think this one should be straight forward for the German side.  If they can get a nice win in the first game, then they should be able to coast to the knockout stages.  The game in Ghent should be a great atmosphere as the Belgian side makes their first appearance in the knockout stage.  Wolfsburg should go through though.

Roma (Italy) vs. Real Madrid (Spain)

The 10 time Champions League winners did not get the easiest draw in the world, but they are favorites to advance as they take on the team from the Italian capital.  Roma was the runners-up in 1983-84 when they lost to Liverpool.  Last season, Roma went out of the competition during the group stage but this season they would like to make another deep run in the competition.  However, they will not be favorites as they face the most successful team in the competition.  Real Madrid has made 5 straight trips to the Semifinals or finals.  Real Madrid last won the title two seasons ago for their tenth time.  Real Madrid may have a different manager by the time this game takes place with more and more rumors coming out surrounding the future of Rafa Bentiez.

Leg 1 – February 17, 2016 at Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Leg 2 – March 8, 2016 at Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

Player to Watch: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) – The Costa Rican goalkeeper has been instrumental in the success that Real Madrid has seen.  If they are going to make another deep run in the Champions League, Navas will need to continue to perform.

Prediction:  This could be a lot closer than people think.  If Roma is able to get a result in the first leg at home then they could make some Madridistas nervous.  However, Real have more talent and the second leg at home.  Look for them to advance.

Arsenal (England) vs. Barcelona (Spain)

The defending champions will be beginning their defense of the title in London this year as they take on Arsenal.  Barcelona is looking to continue their run of 8 straight trips to at least the quarterfinals.  These two teams have meet in the past.  They last met in the round of 16 during 2010/11.  Arsenal won the first leg at home 2-1 but lost the second leg 1-3.  In 2009-10 they meet in the quarterfinals.  The first leg in London was a 2-2 draw.  The second leg was the Messi show as he would go on to score 4 goals in a 4-1 win.  Arsenal has had some luck in the first leg at home, but will this be a repeat of these last two accounts?  They also met in the final in 2006 when FC Barcelona won their second Champions League trophy.  Barcelona has gone on to win 3 trophies since then, meanwhile Arsenal has only reached the semifinals once.

Leg 1 – February 23, 2016 at Emirates Stadium, London

Leg 2 – March 16, 2016 at Camp Nou, Barcelona

Player to Watch: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – The best player in the world should be back to full health by the time these legs take place.  He has also really enjoyed playing against Arsenal.  Can he lead Barcelona back to the final?

Prediction: History says that Arsenal will get a result in the first leg and then lose in the Camp Nou.  Either way, I think Barcelona will advance to the Quarterfinals.

Juventus (Italy) vs. Bayern Munich (Germany)

This has to be the best matchup of the round as the runners-up from last year face the 2013 champions.  These two teams have been really hot lately and could both make a run really deep into the tournament.  Juventus got off to a bad start this year but has now picked up their form.  Juventus has climbed themselves back into the top end of the table and are within shouting distance of the title.  Bayern Munich is on top of the Bundesliga and looks set to win the title again this season.  It should be a great matchup with both teams looking to win.  Juventus has won the tournament twice in 1985 and 1996.  They have been runners-up more than any other team.  Bayern Munich has won the trophy 5 times in 1974, 1975, 1976, 2001, and 2013.  This is a heavyweight clash and should be a great show.

Leg 1 – February 23, 2016 at Juventus Stadium, Turin

Leg 2 – March 16, 2016 at Allianz Arena, Munich

Player to Watch: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) – He finished the group stage with 7 goals in the 6 games.  He has been in sparkling form so far this season and he will need to continue this form against a strong Juventus defense if Munich is to dominate and make a long run.

Prediction:  This is probably one of the closest matchups, but I am going to go with Bayern Munich.  I think they will pull it out.  Pep Guardiola really needs to make a statement in his potentially final season in Munich.

PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) vs. Atletico Madrid (Spain)

After a six year absence from the Champions League, PSV have come back with a bang.  They have not made it the knockout stage since 2007 when they went out in the quarterfinals.  Their opponent in the round of 16 is Atletico Madrid.  Atleti was the runner up in 2014 and went out in the quarterfinals last season.  This season, Atletico Madrid have been very consistent.  They have one of the strongest defenses in the world and this should carry them back to the quarterfinals.  Atletico have finished runners-up on two occasions in 1956 and 2014.  PSV hoisted the trophy once in 1988.  Atletico will be looking to make a deep run into the tournament.

Leg 1 – February 24, 2016 at Philips Stadion, Eindhoven

Leg 2 – March 15, 2016 at Vicente Calderon, Madrid

Player to Watch: Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) – The French forward has been a great player for Madrid this season and has really made a name for himself.  He will need to score goals for Atleti to make a deep run.

Prediction: I see this one going only one way as Atletico have the stronger team and better defensive set up.

Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) vs. Manchester City (England)

In the final Round of 16 matchup, Dynamo Kyiv faces Manchester City.  City has really struggled in the Champions League.  City has qualified for the Champions League each of the last five seasons, but has not made it past the round of 16.  Is this their chance?  They have a strong side that started the year in scintillating form.  Dynamo Kyiv returned this season to the Champions League after missing out the last two years.  Can they upset the favorites in City?  A good result in the first leg could give them hope but having to get a result in Manchester might be difficult.  The first leg will be played behind closed doors due to the Ukraine club being punished for their fans racist behavior during a game with Chelsea.

Leg 1 – February 24, 2016 at Olympic Stadium, Kiev

Leg 2 – March 15, 2016 at Eithad Stadium, Manchester

Player to Watch: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) – This is his first time playing in the knockout stages of the Champions League.  He has been slowly finding his feet at Manchester City and will look to make a difference in this round.

Prediction: Manchester City will finally advance to the Quarterfinals.  They have their best ever chance to advance and should take their chances.

Europa League Draw

The first leg will be played on the 16th and 18th of February and the second leg will take place on the 24th and 25th of February. My pick to advance is in bold.

Valencia (Spain) vs. Rapid Wien (Austria)

Fiorentina (Italy) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (England)

Borussia Dortmund (Germany) vs. Porto (Portugal)

Fenerbahce (Turkey) vs. Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia)

Anderlecht (Belgium) vs. Olympiacos (Greece)

Midtjylland (Denmark) vs. Manchester United (England)

Sparta Prague (Czech Republic) vs. Krasnodar (Russia)

Galatasaray (Turkey) vs. Lazio (Italy)

Sion (Switzerland) vs. Braga (Portugal)

Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) vs. Schalke 04 (Germany)

Marseille (France) vs. Athletic Bilbao (Spain)

Sevilla (Spain) vs. Molde (Norway)

Sporting CP (Portugal) vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)

Villarreal (Spain) vs. Napoli (Italy)

Saint-Etienne (France) vs. Basel (Switzerland)

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