UEFA Champions League returns with a thrill of emotions
It’s the mid of February, which means the knockout stages of the Champions League, and the ride to the final match – which will be held in Berlin on June 6th – is just round the corner. And I am sure that it would be nothing less than thrilling.
Before the league officially begins, I think it would be a good idea to look at all the teams and assess their chances at winning. So here goes:
Schalke 04 versus Real Madrid
Schalke got a run for their money when they played Real Madrid the round of 16 ties last season, losing 6-1 at home. And even this time, Real Madrid, under Carlo Ancelotti, looks amazing and has the ability to play phenomenal football.
The key to their success is their strong midfield – they have one of the best strike forces in the world with Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, which makes the record 10 times Champions League winners favourite to win the tie and the trophy once again. If they do win their 11th trophy, then this would be the first time that such a feat is achieved by a club.
FC Basel versus Porto
Although Porto played a brilliantly in the group stage matches, it is still expected to be a tight affair with the Swiss league leaders. Porto’s captain and star striker, Jackson Martínez, will be of key importance to their success. And with the second leg at Porto’s home ground, it gives them an edge.
Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) versus Chelsea
This would be like a rematch of last year’s quarter-final, which Chelsea won with a closely fought encounter on away-goals. And this time, David Luiz will face his former club in battle. It is expected to be another tight affair.
The English league leaders look splendid this season and are playing quite fluently with Diego Costa, Cesc Fàbregas and Eden Hazard, who form a brilliant partnership. Even though PSG has a lot of fire power in their squad, I don’t think they will be able to sustain the Blues.
With Chelsea’s master tactician, José Mourinho, by their side, the club is one of the favourites – predictions are that Chelsea would not only win the tie but also make it through to the semi-finals.
Bayer Leverkusen versus Atlético Madrid
Last year’s runner-up, Atletico Madrid, under Diego Simeone, is a very formidable side, capable of defeating anyone on their day. And it becomes even more dangerous when we see the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandžukić on the team – these two players form a very dangerous combination with each other.
Since Bayer Leverkusen has been largely struggling in the league, it clearly marks Atletico Madrid as the winner in this match.
Manchester City versus Barcelona
While such a match would undoubtedly by a treat for the fans, it would not be so for City players. Facing Barcelona in the round of 16 again, to whom they lost the league last year, is unfortunate.
Many had lost all hopes for City, seeing their dismal performances throughout the previous sessions; therefore, it was quite a surprise to see them competing in the league. Their performance in the last two matches has been nothing short of brilliant and that was what got them the ticket to stay in the competition. Their comeback against Bayern Munich left the fans dumbfounded. City would probably be depending upon towards their Argentinean striker and talisman, Sergio Agüero, to get past Barcelona.
But somehow I feel that won’t be enough.
Barca currently has a deliciously riveting strike-force – one which has the ability to unlock any defence. The magic that Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez display on the field cannot be explained – it can only be experienced.
Containing them will be a tough proposition for City and, according to my view, after the two legs are done, Barca should make it through to the next round. The only thing that City might be able to manipulate to its advantage is Barca’s aging midfield – which is Barcelona’s only weakness right now. Otherwise, the match is pretty much one-sided.
Juventus versus Dortmund
It’ll be somewhat like a repeat of the UEFA Champions League final in 1997 which Dortmund won by 3-1. However, it’s hard to believe how badly this club has fared in recent league seasons keeping in mind that Dortmund was the 2011 and 2012 Bundesliga Champions, They are reeling at the bottom of the table currently. But people are hopeful that Jürgen Klopp will put things right for the club this time.
On the other hand, Juventus is flying high with Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal – who’ll play brilliantly well in the midfield – and Carlos Tévez – who’ll have a fine season while scoring some much needed goals. This combination makes Juventus the clear favourites to win the tie.
Shakhtar Donetsk versus Bayern Munich
With Luiz Adriano, Shakhtar Donetsk has a small chance of winning the ties, since he is the highest goal scorer in the Champions League so far – with nine goals this season. But except for him, the team has little to offer. The club will depend upon Adriano to take them into the next round.
However, with Bayern Munich, they face a very daunting opponent. The club, under Pep Guardiola, is one the favorites to win the competition and should make it to the semi-finals with ease.
Arsenal versus Monaco
Arsenal’s boss, Arsene Wenger, will go against his old club, AS Monaco, where he spent seven years of his career. Needless to say, the tension will make up for much entertainment. The second leg at Monaco will be quite an emotional ride for Wenger.
The Gunners have been playing some very excellent football lately and with players like Alexis Sánchez and Santi Cazorla, Arsenal is expected to move to the next round.
However, the problem for Arsenal will begin when they’ll face the bigwig teams – as the club has a history of messing its game up while playing against bigger, more established clubs. And it’ll be then, precisely, that the club would need Wenger’s tact to rectify this destructive trend and help the club progress.
The knockout rounds have already started and till the Champion League finals arrive, the fans of different clubs as well as those who are neutral and just love football, will have a roller coaster ride filled with excitement and thrill… and maybe even some bitterness.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.