The Biggest Flaw for Every Team in the Champions League's Final 16

Nick Akerman@NakermanFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2012

The Biggest Flaw for Every Team in the Champions League's Final 16

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    Champions League 2012-13 has whittled itself down to the final 16.

    Each of the remaining teams has shown weakness along the qualification route. We've got leaky defences, an unhealthy reliance on key players and the ability to squander vital leads.

    Let's check out the most prominent reason for each club to worry. Enjoy the article!

Porto: Lack of Experienced Superstars

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    Seeding: Second place, Group A

    Traditionally, Porto's dominant sides have been built on superstars. The current side is without a Radamel Falcao or Hulk. Portugal's finest club possess plenty of talent, but none that is going to frighten the opposition as we progress into the knockout stages.

    James Rodriguez, Jackson Martinez and Silvestre Varela are the club's best striking options. Aside from fixtures against Paris Saint-Germain—which finished one victory apiece—Vitor Pereira's side are yet to face rivals who pose real danger on a weekly basis. This side isn't used to losing, but also very rarely has to dig itself out of trouble.

    Is a Hulk-less Porto really going to challenge as we move forward?

Paris Saint-Germain: Lofty Expectations

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    Seeding: Winners, Group A

    A huge cash injection always leads to lofty expectations. The signing of individuals such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi underlines the notion that PSG should compete across all competitions.

    As we've seen with Manchester City, the dream is easier than the task. While the French side have already achieved more than Roberto Mancini's expensive squad, qualification from the group stage isn't enough.

    The media continue to heap pressure on Carlo Ancelotti. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger recently had to deny claims he is being lined up to replace the Italian when he is inevitably sacked (via ESPN). A Champions League failure could bring the guillotine down with more velocity than a Eurostar trip from London to Paris.

Arsenal: Holding onto a Lead

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    Seeding: Second place, Group B

    Many tipped Arsenal to comfortably win Group B. Arsene Wenger's side started excellently by taking six points from their first two games. A home loss to Schalke ramped up uncertainty across the squad and, combined with poor Premier League form, left fans wondering if they would escape the group at all.

    Arsenal took the lead in their next two Champions League games. Away at Schalke, the English outfit dropped a two-goal cushion. In Greece, Olympiacos overturned a 1-0 deficit to confirm Wenger's men as runners-up of the group.

    These occurrences have also arisen during domestic games. Despite possessing the talent to comfortably beat most opponents, the Emirates crowd is learning to never celebrate a victory before the final whistle blows.

Schalke: Competing on All Fronts

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    Seeding: Winners, Group B

    Progressing into the final 16 of the Champions League can be a burden for sides like Schalke. The German side played some wonderful football in the group stages, remained unbeaten and deserved to fill a seeded spot in the next round draw.

    Take a quick glance toward the Bundesliga. Despite occupying a healthy fifth place, Schalke's recent record indicates the team's domestic efforts are beginning to suffer from the weekly workload.

    Huub Stevens' side failed to beat 10-man Eintracht Frankfurt after seeing off Olympiacos in European competition. This result was followed by losses to Hamburg and Borussia Monchengladbach—sides that are fighting for a decent league position alongside Schalke.

    One win in 10 games should have fans worried.

Milan: Scoring Goals

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    Seeding: Second place, Group C

    Milan have failed to score in half of their Champions League matches so far this season. Nearly 50 percent of the team's seven group-stage goals came against Belgian whipping boys Anderlecht.

    Oddly, the Italian side have scored just one European goal at the San Siro this season. Alexander Pato's equaliser against high-flying Malaga is the only time Massimiliano Allegri has been able to celebrate a Champions League strike in front of his own crowd.

    This could be a real problem going forward. Alongside Galatasaray, Milan are the lowest-scoring team to remain in the competition. A total of seven goals disappoints in comparison to Champions League dropouts Olympiacos, Bate Borisov and Cluj—who all managed more.

Malaga: Seeing out Tight Games

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    Seeding: Winners, Group C

    It's extremely difficult to criticise a Malaga side that is working well beyond the realm of expectation. Unbeaten across six Champions League encounters, the La Liga team continue to post results that defy the club's early-season financial troubles (via BBC Sport).

    Even so, there's still plenty of room for improvement. Malaga have struggled to maintain the lead in tougher away fixtures. As previously mentioned, the Spanish side conceded Milan's only goal at the San Siro so far.

    Zenit St. Petersburg also capitalised on sudden slackness when the two sides met in Russia. Despite being 2-0 up in nine minutes, Malaga only ended up with a point. These mishaps seeped into the final group game against Anderlecht, where the Spanish team went ahead twice and still failed to win.

    Aggregate scores are unlikely to be so kind.

Real Madrid: Conceding Goals

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    Seeding: Second place, Group D

    Jose Mourinho will be more than happy with Madrid's progression into the knockout stages of the Champions League. The Portuguese manager is well versed in leading his teams to success—but he knows the Spanish champions must keep on improving.

    Successfully getting out of Group D is, by itself, an achievement. Madrid faced tough tests against Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City. Unfortunately for Mourinho's men, they conceded more goals than any of the other teams left in the competition.

    Similar to Manchester United, outrageous firepower often pulls Madrid away from trouble. The La Liga team have a bad habit of getting cut open in the Champions League—even when the team is on top. Madrid's inability to keep a clean sheet could become fatal when aggregate scoring is taken into account.

Borussia Dortmund: Reliance on Reus and Lewandowski

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    Seeding: Winners, Group D

    Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski scored six of Dortmund's 11 group-stage goals. Without them, the Bundesliga champions lack a cutting edge. Don't get me wrong, Jurgen Klopp's team is full of exceptional individuals—but there's no denying Dortmund aren't the same without their attacking stars.

    As we head into the January transfer window, Lewandowksi is once again being touted for a move to the Premier League (via The Daily Mail). Right now, I still believe this is unlikely to materialise. Having recently moved to Dortmund, Reus is at the Westfalenstadion for the foreseeable future.

    If either receive an injury, Dortmund's chances of Champions League glory plummet. The more optimistic amongst you will outline Julian Schieber's winning goal against Manchester City as a remedy to the hypothetical problem. I'd suggest Dortmund would need more to land Europe's top prize.

    As expected, it's difficult to criticise a team that has escaped the "group of death" without tasting defeat.

Shakhtar Donetsk: Unpredictability

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    Seeding: Second place, Group E

    Shakhtar are so exciting to watch because you never know what you're going to get. The Ukrainian team score plenty of goals and concede plenty of goals. They can thrash Nordsjaelland 5-2 away from home or lose 3-2 against Chelsea. Either way, their net often bustles.

    Much of this comes down to the structure of the side and its players. Individuals such as Willian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Luiz Adriano are capable of troubling any side. They often attack relentlessly, looking to outscore the opposition through creative firepower. As we've seen, this doesn't always work.

    Willian is rumoured to be on his way this January (via Sky Sports). Would Shakhtar's unpredictability remain so enthralling if the Brazilian leaves?

Juventus: Giving the Opposition a Head Start

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    Seeding: Winners, Group E

    A strong finish to the group masks Juventus' ability to play with fire. The Old Lady was forced to secure points from a losing position in each of the first three games.

    While it seems a long time ago now, a stirring second-half comeback against Chelsea was vital to the Italian side's qualification hopes. A 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge was an excellent result—one that would eventually contribute to the European champions' downfall.

    Both Shakhtar Donetsk and Nordsjaelland also netted the first goal in their opening matches with Juve. After the third week of fixtures, the Italian side's trio of slow starts left them winless in the group. This simply cannot happen in the knockout stages. Giving any opponent a head start is likely to crush the hopes of victory.

Valencia: Lack of Strength in Depth

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    Seeding: Second place, Group F

    As is the case with Schalke, I worry about Valencia's long-term credentials for the Champions League. This vastly talented side whizzed through the group stage without a care in the world. Any opening day defeat against Bayern Munich barely registered as Bate Borisov and Lille were pushed aside with ease.

    Individuals such as Roberto Soldado, Jonas and Sofiane Feghouli continue to shine on the world's glitziest club stage.

    In fact, the rampant threesome have been accountable for 11 of the club's 12 Champions League goals this season. If one of these players were to get injured—or, worse yet, sold—the Spanish side don't have the strength in depth to compete at the top level.

Bayern Munich: Great Expectations

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    Seeding: Winners, Group F

    If it wasn't for that Didier Drogba fella, Bayern Munich would have captured the Champions League trophy in their own stadium. The German giants suffered heartbreaking defeats at the end of last season that confirmed major silverware wasn't destined for the Allianz Arena.

    Many expect Bayern to challenge once more—especially now Jupp Heynckes' side are 11 points clear in the Bundesliga. These expectations were brought to a halt when Bayern suffered a 3-1 walloping at Bate Borisov. The Belarusian minnows showed the world that a second run to the final will be extremely difficult work for Mario Gomez and company.

    The hard labour is yet to begin for Bayern. Until the team faces one of Europe's elite, expectations will continue to grow.

Celtic: Away Form

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    Seeding: Second place, Group G

    It takes a heartless soul to encroach upon Celtic's path to the knockout stages. Well, reach into my chest and feel a great nothingness.

    The Scottish side's 3-2 away win against Spartak Moscow was lauded as a stunning result. While pivotal to qualification, the Russian team only managed one victory across six games. Celtic were spirited against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, but were eventually undone with Jordi Alba's late goal. Against Benfica, the SPL leaders offered very little threat.

    The famous Hoops are far more likely to grab three points at Celtic Park. Aside from the wins against a poor Spartak Moscow side, Celtic didn't actually beat Benfica or Barcelona on aggregate.

    This is something Neil Lennon must think about. His team are to face one of the mighty group winners—meaning away form could dismantle the enticing underdog story before it kicks into overdrive.

Barcelona: Reliance on Messi

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    Seeding: Winners, Group G

    Let's get this straight: Barcelona are not a one-man team. Tito Vilanova's side is crammed with classy individuals who would contribute to any team in the world.

    Even so, in the wake of Lionel Messi's record-breaking goal tally (via BBC Sport), you have to wonder exactly how Barcelona would make up for his presence if a spell on the sidelines were to happen.

    The entire universe seemed to hold its breath when the Argentinian maestro came close to a serious injury last week. This was quickly dismissed as nothing more than a minor knock, but the reaction was staggering (via Goal.com).

    Messi is the icon of Barca's success. Without him, the opposition can't help but gain a psychological boost. He has scored five of his team's 11 Champions League goals thus far this season. While the squad is perfectly capable of winning the tournament without relying on its star man, his influence is inescapable.

Galatasaray: Winning Games

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    Seeding: Second place, Group H

    Galatasaray are the underdogs of the knockout stage. Heading into the toughest part of the competition, it's perhaps telling that the Turkish outfit have only won 50 percent of their games.

    This ratio pretty much lends itself to overall defeat in the final 16. Aside from a first-week trip to Old Trafford, Galatasaray didn't face continuously tough opposition in the group stage. Failure to beat Braga and Cluj at home underlines a side that is extremely lucky to remain in contention.

    Manchester United's reserve lineup competed excellently at the Turk Telecom Arena. Even though the home side eventually nabbed three points with a 1-0 win, the victory was far from convincing. Only a superior head-to-head record saw Galatasaray overcome the threat of Cluj for a spot in the latter stages.

    Highly unconvincing, indeed.

Manchester United: Leaky Defence

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    Seeding: Winners, Group H

    Manchester United were expected to blitz through Group H. The first team wrapped up qualification in four games—but defensive problems plagued the Premier League leaders.

    This is a common theme right now for Sir Alex Ferguson's men. United had to overturn three deficits in order to progress as group winners.

    The most important came in two games against Braga. Old Trafford watched in horror as 33-year-old Alan tore United's defence apart. The Portuguese side couldn't hold onto the 2-0 lead—eventually succumbing to a brace from Javier Hernandez and a rare goal for Jonny Evans. Braga also went 1-0 up in the reverse fixture and, once again, failed to maintain the win.

    United's leakiness is likely to play a huge part in any potential downfall. Real Madrid could be their next opponents—they won't waste such a precious head start.

    Do you agree with the flaws of each team? Let me know in the comments section below and be sure to follow me on Twitter:

    All statistics in this article are courtesy of Whoscored.com