At 11:30 a.m. CET (5:30 a.m. ET) on Thursday, Dec. 20, the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 draw will take place in Nyon, Switzerland.
As always, there are peculiarities and nuances to each team's potential matchups that will influence the draw, leaving some extremely fortunate and others with a one-way ticket back to domestic toil.
Numerous high-profile teams will be sitting at home and watching the draw with little interest.
Manchester City finished dead last in the Group of Death, and Ajax faced elimination with just one more point in the same group. Rather incredibly, defending champions Chelsea will not be able to defend their title past the group stage, having just been edged out by Shakhtar Donetsk.
Elsewhere, Galatasaray barely skated past Cluj-Napoca, and Scottish giants Celtic surprisingly ousted Benfica, finishing a mere two points behind Barcelona in Group G.
As always, group winners will be paired with runners-up.
So here are your group winners, and who they can play:
- Malaga (Arsenal, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic, Galatasaray)
- Schalke 04 (Porto, AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Galatasary, Valencia, Celtic, Real Madrid)
- Juventus (Porto, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray)
- Borussia Dortmund (Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray)
- Paris Saint-Germain (Arsenal, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray)
- FC Barcelona (Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Arsenal, Galatasaray, AC Milan)
- Manchester United (Porto, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic)
- Bayern Munich (Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic, Galatasaray)
As it always does, this list contains a few surprises. Schalke, for example, have sunk to seventh place in the Bundesliga, costing manager Huub Stevens his job. Despite the fact that they dominated Arsenal to finish top of the group, domestic failure was too much for Stevens to carry.
Schalke's rivals, Borussia Dortmund, somewhat surprisingly finished atop the Group of Death, after succumbing to Arsenal and Marseille in last season's group stage.
With the likes of Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic, Dortmund are playing some of the best, most clinical and most efficient football in Europe at the moment. It was certainly too much for Real Madrid to handle.
Malaga's success has been quite surprising. Here was a team whose oil-rich owners had lost so much interest that they did not pay their own players last summer but topped AC Milan by four points and Zenit St. Petersburg by five.
Despite the loss of Malaga's best player, Santi Cazorla, to Arsenal in August, they just keep humming along.
Here, on the other hand, are your esteemed runners-up and who they could play:
- Valencia (PSG, Schalke, Dortmund, Juventus, Manchester United)
- Celtic (PSG, Schalke, Málaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United)
- Galatasaray (PSG, Schalke, Málaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona)
- Real Madrid (PSG, Schalke, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United)
- Shakhtar Donetsk (PSG, Schalke, Málaga, Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United)
- Porto (Schalke, Málaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United)
- Arsenal (PSG, Málaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona)
- AC Milan (PSG, Schalke, Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United)
This is obviously an extremely distinguished group of teams, and no first place team will be given an easy draw. There was very little advantage this season to finishing top in one's group.
Arsenal, of course, will be an enigma that people will enjoy watching for the thrill of possible self-destruction.
One never knows when they will travel away from home and concede four goals (like they first did against AC Milan last year) or get into their swashbuckling rhythm and thump one of the best sides in Europe (like they did in the second leg against AC Milan).
Real Madrid are probably the strongest runner-up, but they will be hoping for either Schalke or PSG.
Neither team is an easy opponent, but Los Blancos will probably not want to begin their chase of a fabled tenth Champions League against arguably the best team from Italy, Germany and England.
To a certain extent, though, chance takes over. Arsenal fans might cry if they get drawn against Barcelona yet again, but that is the reality of the Champions League.
From here on out it's win or go home, but we'll just have to wait until Thursday to find out who exactly everyone is going to have to beat.
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